June 27, 2008
Sticking to Obama
By Bill Kraus
It’s been a week now since Barack Obama succumbed to incumbent paranoia, the main symptom of which is taking bad advice, and stumbled his way out of taking public financing this year.
He gave as his reason that the system is broken until and unless the participation of the 3rd party participants is either restrained or, at the very least, subject to the same kind of financing transparency that candidates adhere to.
What he did not say was that he had found the key to the Internet vault and could raise enough money to run a campaign so well financed that he could do everything everywhere (including in places where even doing everything is considered fruitless), and that was what he was going to do.
What he did not do was sit down with John McCain as promised to see if there was a way they could both be freed to take on the 3rd parties without embarrassing themselves by breaking faith with each other.
McCain’s reaction was expected, but the bipartisans were critical as well. David Brooks and Mark Shields were unusually acerbic on the PBS evening news.
A week later, the attention level has dropped. The New York Times follow-up news stories were well back in the paper and muted. The issue didn’t even make the Wisconsin State Journal’s Sunday column on whose political stock is rising and falling.
A prominent national reform organization with which I am affiliated, and which shall remain nameless, sympathized with Obama’s stated reason for opting out and then went to the trouble of criticizing in very harsh language one of its less obviously Obama-addicted subsidiaries for departing from the party line.
By and large, then, the “this too shall pass” advice that Obama must have gotten from his feet-on-the-ground advisors is holding up.
The only thing he has to lose is his position in the political stratosphere.
Are those clay crumbles we see on the ground beneath his feet?
June 20, 2008
By Bill Kraus
When the political parties and citizen politicians had power the bane of their existences was the hyper-partisans, the demonizers.
Demonizers despise their adversaries’ ideas, and their adversaries themselves.
The Arena Effect where battles are waged over proposals and philosophies by people who respect each other as professionals and who respect as well each others’ rights to advance their wrong-headed but sincerely held opinions has never been in play for the demonizers.
This was okay as long as the center held and the demonizers were marginalized.
But somehow they got loose and candidates began to worry more about them and their money and their zealotry than they did about the majority of voters who occupied the civil middle ground.
The screamers and their blogs and their TV-and-radio-shout shows became mainstream. Civility was sidelined. The hired guns who orchestrated campaigns to an increasingly passive audience wanted blood not discourse.
Those of us who regarded politics as, mostly, an honorable trade practiced by, mostly, superior people were dismissed and disdained.
It is no longer enough to think John McCain’s platform is flawed. You must also think John McCain is an evil person. And attacking Barack Obama’s ideas as fanciful must be accompanied by attacking the man as some kind of dangerously inexperienced dreamer.
A friend and I watched a very funny tongue-in-cheek (or kidding on the square) video of John McCain urging Hillary and Obama to keep their campaigns going as long and as hard as possible. My friend was upset because I was amused and told me that this man was not only not funny he was not a war hero (“What did he do besides getting shot down?”) and a wife dumper with no redeeming virtues. Get a life.
Barack Obama is being characterized as barely out of diapers and too inexperienced to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. Not unlike Abraham Lincoln, one assumes, whose experience on the national stage was, what? Two years.
Ad hominenism has not only taken the fun out of politics. These non-stop attacks on the character of candidates and office-holders have pushed debates on issues and ideas aside and demeaned the trade and those who practice it.
It gives us a world where compromise is surrender, and what William Safire predicted 30 years ago in one of his New York Times columns: a serious case of hardening of the arteries.
This expensive, endless primary season has given us two candidates who are not creatures of or beholden to the demonizers.
So far so good.
June 14, 2008
Four pledges and a law
By Bill Kraus
While I still have hope for some kind of legislated campaign finance reform, I have pretty much decided it is not a near-term prospect.
If anything meaningful is to be done it will have to be over the dead bodies of the recalcitrant Republicans while avoiding the flim flams of the duplicitous Democrats. Not likely, but even if these formidable barriers were to be surmounted, we could pretty much count on the U.S. Supreme Court to put a stop to anything that gave candidates a fair shake.
So I am looking for free market solutions for the players in this rigged and expensive game to do the right things for the right reasons.
I would propose a series of pledges.
Starting with the candidates. They could reject ad hominem rhetoric and charges and disown the anonymous or mostly anonymous third parties who are supporting their candidacies.
Then there are the hired guns who have taken over the management and direction of campaigns and who are addicted to money and the TV commercials that it buys. They could take a page from the Obama book, which did not eschew either of the above but showed that retail, grassroots, people-based politics can deliver large sums of money in small packages and even larger numbers of votes. I know it’s hard work. I know it’s labor intensive. But it still works.
Another beneficiary of the dominant money/media/marketing-driven campaigns is the TV broadcasting industry. It is too much to ask them to shut down this money machine. I suppose putting a disclaimer like “the only thing we know about the people buying this ad is that their checks don’t bounce” is also going too far. How about something milder...like saying, “This is not a candidate commercial,” in a prominent, unmissable place?
This could then lead to another step towards candidate fairness (defined as giving the candidates the right to be able to identify their enemies) if large numbers of voters made it known that they were not going to watch or respond to advertisements sponsored by people or organizations who insist on remaining anonymous. “Want me to listen to you? Tell me who you are. Specifically.”
And last, but not least, the newly reviled members of the lobbying business could return to their roots which was delivering information on behalf of clients whose business or interests were involved with the public sector. They could do this by telling candidates and campaign organizations that they are forgoing the role of bagmen or women.
Or do the candidates and voters like what is going on now better?
June 8, 2008
One man's experience
By Dick Vander Woude
Even before Barrack Obama locked up the votes to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination the McCain forces started with the experience issue, which was quickly echoed by some of Hillary Clinton’s most ardent supporters. “Three years and a great speech does not a president make,” their rant goes.
Certainly, experience counts. It is important in the development of leadership. But the experience ought to add up to something of value. I recall an education professor of mine, many years ago, who shaped my understanding of the value of experience with a simple comparison. He asked us to consider the value of a teacher with 10 years of experience compared to another teacher who had attained one year of experience, 10 times.
The lesson is clear. Longevity is not experience. Repetition is habit forming, and habits are hard to break. Now apply this view of experience to the candidates' positions on war. McCain is a long-time supporter of Bush’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq. Does his position represent a habit he cannot, or will not, break? This is not a cynical question. McCain announced the surge is over (which it isn’t), and said that it would be all right with him if U.S. troops remained in Iraq for 100 years. Oh? For what purpose?
McCain's recent statements suggest that he has either forgotten that the surge was designed to achieve political accommodation within Iraq, or he wants us to forget so he can continue the Bush administration’s policy of democratic imperialism.
Obama, by contrast, had the wisdom -- gleaned from his experience -- to know this war was wrong and to oppose it from the outset. Obama’s experience is broad, while McCain’s only long. Which experience will best serve our country? Give me experience that represents change I can believe in.
June 7, 2008
Pressing the press
By Bill Kraus
An item in the NY Times of June 6 reported that the Chicago Tribune is going to print fewer papers, reduce the news hole in those they print, and fire a bunch of reporters.
This is the latest in a long series of journalistic cuts in papers across the country. Even in Madison, where we now have a paperless newspaper, the Capital Times, transition to the Internet was accompanied by a one third reduction in the reporting staff.
Cuts and consolidations are widespread and have been particularly severe in Wisconsin where we have gone, for example, from two statewide newspapers to one and then none as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel emulated the parochial outstate papers by becoming a mostly regional paper.
All of this has been driven by the dismal economics of the newspaper business and has evoked no noticeable public outcry.
There are several reasons for this silence, some of which are legitimate.
Papers are too liberal.
Papers are too conservative.
Reporters are lazy.
Reporters have an instinct for the capillary.
Reporters don’t get stories right.
And if the reporters do get it right, editors screw it up.
And, best of all, the Internet makes newspapers, journalism itself, unnecessary.
Let’s get a couple of things straight.
The Internet is a goldmine of information for anyone looking for information. It is also an undisciplined Tower of Babel where people like me can impose my view of the world on an unsuspecting public. It is not journalism. It is not even journalism at its most flawed.
This democracy cannot survive, no democracy can, without a free and fearless press that speaks truth to power and makes those in power turn square corners.
Technology may reshape the journalistic function. Radio and 24/7 television has had an impact on how the trade is practiced, although it is pretty clear that both of these mediums are mostly regional and rely pretty heavily on the “outdated” “outmoded” “inefficient” print press for the raw material for their broadcasts. (Want your story on the evening network news? Get it into the NY Times.)
Most important newspapers have online versions which are probably undermining their traditional product’s economic viability while it caters to the appetites of the, mostly, young and, exclusively, computer addicted.
I have no idea how to put the economic wheels back on the journalism business; I have no idea where this essential trade will light in a cyberspace world; but I do know that a world without journalism is both unimaginable and unworkable to say nothing of tyrannical.
This is worrisome.