Sanders Has Flipped Clinton’s “Experience” Frame

This piece over at Mediate is well worth reading–two good video clips that present a campaign issue very clearly: Did Clinton change her view of a Credit Card industry backed bankruptcy bill as a result of getting elected to the Senate and being on the receiving end of support from that industry?  It’s a good piece of journalism from Tommy Christofer at Mediate.
Elizabeth Warren says she did changer her view when elected specifically because of the influence (e.g., money) of the industry. Clinton disagrees. She says she was lobbied by women’s advocacy groups and struck a deal with Republicans to vote for the bill in exchange for provisions that helped women. The interview with George Stephanopoulos is particularly telling to watch. Clinton is visibly angry. 
Heres what I think is going on at the moment with this issue and the overall dynamic of the campaign narrative.
So, Clinton is accused of being corrupted by the consumer debt product industry–a big finance, soulless, make-money-off-debt-addicted-families lobby–and she responds by saying she was contacted by women’s advocacy groups to get provision into the bill that would help women. Or, if not help so much, provisions that would harm women less. She’s correcting the record by saying, in so many words, yes I voted for a bill designed to boost the profits of one of the most immoral industries in the world, but I did it because I was acting as an advocate for women in my new capacity as a Senator–and so, my vote in favor of this bill that I once worked hard to stop–that vote was the end result of a negotiation in which I helped women.  Here’s the quote:
When I got to the Senate in 2001, one of the first big votes there was on a version of the bankruptcy bill and I was deluged by women’s groups and children’s advocates groups to do everything I could to make sure that child support and women’s precarious financial situation in case of divorce or not being able to get the kind of funding they needed from a partner or a spouse in bankruptcy would not be endangered. And it was. The current — that bill was making it a very low priority. So I did go to work on behalf of all these women’s groups and children’s groups because they needed a champion. And I got that bill changed. And in return, it had nothing to do with any money whatsoever — and I resent deeply any effort by the Sanders campaign to so imply. It had to do with trying to get a deal…
But if you go back and check the scorecard, it’s not exactly a win to say that you weren’t corrupted by donations because you were showing leadership on behalf of underrepresented women. 
Here’s the big framing issue: Clinton is sinking into the narrative that she has been corrupted by money–or more specifically: that he has been corrupted by money, power and time.  
Keep in mind that this narrative surrounding Clinton has reframed the debate concerning Clinton’s “experience” because it has turned act experience into process that has undermined her character.  Her demeanor in the Stephanopoulos interview speaks volumes to how damaging this has been for her campaign. Her strongest card was the big story about experience and the Sanders team has not taken it away from her.  I don’t care who you are supporting for the nomination–you have to stand back and marvel at what the Sanders folks have done.
Now, this doesn’t mean the Clinton team is defeated, but so far they do not seem to have a plan to get out in front. Instead, they are pushing narrative about “unfairness” being gendered. Here’s what I mean by that: Increasingly, Clinton’s reactions to Sanders pushing her on big money influence is to pivot to a story of herself as a champion of women. Nothing wrong with that. She is a champion for women. Reminding her base of that gets them charged up in a way that’s good for her campaign. Honestly, it’s probably good for the country, too. But it doesn’t take away the $153 million elephant in the room.
What’s worse for her, though, is that the “unfairness” narrative does not change the broad narrative that Sanders now controls because it commits the cardinal sin of bad campaign framing: it reinforces your opponents frame. She is essentially saying to America: It’s unfair of Sanders to be talking about how money has influenced me and he’s being unfair because I am a woman.  The first half of that statement benefits the Sanders narrative. The second half falls into what I think of as the identity politics abyss. You make an assertion about gendered unfairness in a college seminar and people will listen to your arguments and respond with thoughtfulness–you do it in a Presidential campaign and people just vent at each other for a while on the internet, but there’s no real dynamic of persuasion that unfolds.
So, I think in terms of the big story of the primary campaign on the eve of the New Hampshire primary–Clinton is in trouble. Her strongest card (“experience”) has been taken from her in a way she was clearly not expecting.  One of her most symbolic allies–Elizabeth Warren–is now speaking out against her over and over again in a viral internet video. And her communications team does not seem to be able to get out in front of this fast enough to give the candidate a confident demeanor in a network interview.
I still don’t think Clinton has lost the nomination, yet. But this is starting to feel like a tipping point. Remember–Sanders is going to win the NH primary and when that happens, most media outlets will have no choice but to roll out their “human, all too human” stories about Clinton the once and future inevitable nominee.

Is Hillary Clinton a “Progressive”or Not?

A bunch of Senate Democrats, today, came out in defense of Hillary Clinton and against Sanders, today. Politico identifies, in particular, “13 female Senators” who back Clinton and who bristle at the idea they are “establishment” by association.

The piece raises a question about the meaning of what has become a key term in the Democratic primary: progressive.

Sanders has claimed that Clinton is not a true progressive, where Clinton has said she is. I don’t think anyone is rejecting the idea that Sanders is progressive–something that by itself suggests there is normative or accepted understanding of this term that Sanders fits within comfortably. But what about Clinton? Is she a progressive, too? Or is Sanders right.

The political piece implies–doesn’t come out and say–but implies, that because Clinton garners the support of women seeking to elect a woman to the White House, that this constitutes Progressive bona fides in the form of fighting of the under represented. To be an advocate for women’s rights, a feminist in other words, is to be inherently progressive.

Maybe. I don’t know that anyone can really dismiss that claim.

But I am also not sure that puts us at the basic understanding either because progressive, historically and today implies a certain approach to economics: in particular a rejection of an all powerful big financial industry, an embrace of a tax code aimed at bringing in fair levels of revenue from the very wealthy, and an attempt to regulate the marketplace so as not to let it be controlled by a few players holding all the chips.

Progressives, nowadays, are recognizable because they talk about the problems posed to society by corporations that have become too big.  Progressives talk about breaking up big banks. Progressives talk about restructuring consumer debt and forcing banks to pay for their mistakes.

Given this, Hillary Clinton is probably not a progressive.

The odd thing, though, is that the Clintons have an historical association with the word “progressive” as part their long term rejection of economic leftist policies within the Democratic party.

When the DLC that the Clinton’s set up to advance “Third Way” politics and reject what they saw as problematic leftist economics, among other things, was aligned with a think tank called “The Progressive Policy Institute.”  The DLC was set up in 1985, the PPI was set up in 1989.

If you look at the “About” page for the PPI, it doesn’t sound very progressive by contemporary standards.  Here’s the whole spiel they give to explain their approach to domestic policy–note in particular the last bit about government and private capital (I’ve added the emphasis):

We seek to advance progressive, market-friendly ideas that promote American innovation, economic growth and wider opportunity. Our work focuses on four main areas:

Competitiveness and the “production economy.” We believe in regenerating America’s capacity to produce—ideas and services as well as goods. Our work focuses on removing governmental barriers to innovation, including antitrust, and regulatory reform; tax policy; trade; education and workforce development; infrastructure and telecom

Energy. As supporters of all-of-the-above “energy realism,” we focus on natural gas, nuclear and renewables as keys to greater energy independence and new jobs.

Medical innovation. We believe more innovation—not less—is central to raising productivity growth in health care and bringing down costs. We promote FDA regulatory reform and seek to change the debate around innovation’s role in controlling costs.

Housing and financial services. We believe in a robust housing market and a healthy balance between government and private capital. Our work focuses on housing and homeownership, Fannie and Freddie reform, financial services regulation and retirement security.  (link)

Now, I suspect this was written around 1989 and maybe revised a few times. I suspect very few people who call themselves “progressive” in 2016 actually believe in an idea like “energy realism” or antitrust reform or “removing governmental barriers to innovation” or “regulatory reform” or–the big zinger, here: “healthy balance between government and private capital.”

These ideas are not radical, but they all seem like attempts to move beyond classic Leftist policies. Some of this language seems overtly branded to not sound like what it is: an attempt to get government out of big business.

Remember: the Clinton era was not just marked by a booming tech economy. It was marked by a rise of a certain breed of Democrat who believed in the economic miracle of corporations–who believed that good corporations had the power to do what classical Leftist ideas of good government could not.  And that was the kind of “progressive” that Hillary Clinton was instrumental increasing.

Fast forward 30 years and this stuff seems relatively benign. But the conversation has shifted radically and this is no longer what it means to be a progressive–unless you are buying into the 1980s branding from the DLC.

Progressive, nowadays, means to most people a distinct concern that the economy has been taken over by big capital.

Elizabeth Warren’s critiques of Wall Street are probably the most noteworthy examples of progressivism. As are Bernie Sanders concerns that big money has eroded public confidence in and the integrity of our government.

The missing term, in this discussion, of course is “liberal.”  By most accounts, most people would have no problem identifying Clinton as a liberal and they would be right.

And advocating for a woman to become President is a classic definition of liberalism in America, with it’s emphasis on equal rights.

In this election–in this moment–progressive has come to mean something that runs through ideas of economic justice and a proactive attempt to limit the power of big finance in our world. And to use government to do that.

Hillary Clinton is a fighting liberal in many ways, but it does not seem that in contemporary terms she is a progressive.


Framing to Win: The 2016 Election

One of the great anxieties running through the Democratic Party is a concern that the candidate who wins the nomination will doom the party to in the general.

For backers of Clinton, a Sanders nomination would trap the election in an “enemy within” frame: the Republicans will spend all their time convincing voters that Sanders is a Communist totalitarian who wants to destroy America and throw everyone in concentration camps. They tried it on Obama, they’ll try it on Sanders. But this time it would work: they spend hundreds of millions telling people Sanders is worse than Stalin and Mao combined–he loses, Trump or Cruz wins. That’s the fear from the Hillary camp.

For Backers of Sanders, the fear is a little different.

They believe a Hillary nomination would trap the election in an “anything but the establishment” frame: the Republicans will realize how much their angry populism turns out voters and spend all their time and money casting Hillary Clinton as the face of do-nothing, weak, anti-Christian, anti-American exceptionalism, entrenched government get-rich-for-myself politics. Trump and Cruz have been successful with this frame in the primary season–even if Rubio manages to beat them, they will have the populist scripts in place. They will hurl it at Clinton until the whole country thinks she is the reason America is coming up short–she loses, Trump or Cruz wins. That’s the fear from the Sanders camp.

So, who is correct? What is the best frame to win the 2016 election?

The answer, I believe, is playing out in both primaries: populism.

The GOP primary race has shown that populism is what moves conservative voters right now. Jeb Bush, heir apparent to the throne, can barely get any traction despite his mountains of money. Why? Because his quiet reasoned expertise sounds dull by comparison. He has not inspired voters to see a larger vision and embrace his proposals as  the sweeping change needed to right the ship. Both Cruz and Trump have been able to channel the populist frame: Trump pushing xenophobic chauvinism, Cruz pushing ardent religious militarism. Both have worked. Rubio is clinging to their wings–barely–by picking and choosing from Trump and Cruz populism.

The Dem race has show that populism with an emphasis on confronting and correcting economic inequalities has generated far more energy and enthusiasm than a narrative that wraps job experience in tempered identity politics. Clinton is neither pushing a passionate frame to break the glass ceiling for women–a potentially very powerful form of populism–nor is she rallying the public to a specific foreign or domestic policy vision–despite having a deep range of possibilities in her arsenal. Her policy proposals are the most specific and her credentials are the most convincing, but she has not charged the atmosphere with any soaring vision. Instead of hope, she is promising overwhelming competence.

Take away Clinton’s front-loaded advantage of super delegates and she is, arguably, behind Sanders considerably because of the enthusiasm gap opened up by a Sanders campaign pushing economic populism–in particular, a vision of economic justice that focuses on the robber barons of big finance.

Sanders has elicited voter anger and responded with compassion and hope. And that has given him an advantage in the early war of position.

What does this mean?

It means that populism in various forms has proven effective in both party nominations. Given that, if one party nominates a candidate who is anti-populist to compete against a populist–chances are the populist will win.

For it to be a fair contest, Democrats must not only nominate a populist candidate, but must get out in front with the winning populist message–one about economic justice, rather than barring the gates from the invading hordes.

Hypothetically, could Clinton tack to a populist message that she could then take to the general election to win? Maybe. Whether that is possible, however, depends on whether or not Clinton is capable of seeing success in the general at the end of some road other than a “turn to the center”–the classic idea of a winning strategy lodged like a seed in the minds of 1990s Democrats.

Remember, Al Gore used this strategy successfully–he ran in the primary on competence and experience, then turned to a more populist tone in his campaign against George W. Bush (which he won, technically, using that strategy–even though the court awarded the White House to Bush).  Clinton could do the same, if she ended up as the nominee.

But it seems unlikely she would. If Clinton beats Sanders for the nomination, she will likely be convinced that she did so because her frame of competence and experience was the best. A Sanders nomination, by contrast, would take a strong belief in a populist message to compete against the GOP populist message. No doubt Sanders would face many challenges–chief among them: getting out in front of the “commmie” swift boating no doubt being prepared for him right now.

In the end, a populist frame wins. And Democrats would be wise to see that–and to control it, before the GOP controls it and the executive branch.



GOP Must Be For Something Or Be Gone

For those of us who follow real news and actual facts about the election, it was no big surprise that Barack Obama outlasted Mitt Romney to win a second term. David Plouffe ran a disciplined, micro-targeted closing four weeks that pushed every swing state in the direction of the President, mobilized another historic turnout, and kept the party on message to bring home the prize. Mitt Romney, by contrast, sank deeper and deeper into desperation after a brief, albeit limited, post Denver surge. Game, set, match, Obama.

And this brings us to the GOP.

Basically, the GOP the day after Romney’s loss is the party equivalent of an ocean front house on the Jersey Shore after the Sandy storm surge swept through.  They are still there, but the election washed them off their foundation and scattered everything that used to be inside to the four winds–even that old stuff in boxes above the work table in the garage.  Trying to clean up would be futile.  The time has come to acknowledge the cataclysmic scope of the disaster, grieve for a short time, and then start over from the ground up.

Where to begin?

My advice is focused on one particular aspect of the current party: The GOP must be for something or it will never recoup.

Think about this: In every policy area, the current incarnation of the GOP does not advocate for, but against.  Republicans in 2012 do not talk about building a future, they obsess over dismantling aspects of American Society that have been with us for decades.  Republicans are not “conservatives” in the sense of wanting to keep what is good here. They are just demolitionists obsessed with gutting, sledge hammering, and knocking down.

The result of this policy approach is an internal party culture in the GOP that is pessimistic verging on depressing.  Republicans do not draw voters into their vision, so much as they trap voters in an endless cycle of grousing.

Just about only thing that Republicans talk about in positive terms is Ronald Reagan–but even that hagiographic narrative has a bitter tone to it.  “Things were so much better under Reagan,”  Republicans say. Or:  “There will never be another like Reagan.”

Reagan for Republicans is no longer a positive symbol. He is now the hero in an endless lament about a world overrun by debt, government, and liberal debauchery.  No wonder the GOP base was so fickle about their nominees.  The slightest hint of Reagan-esque charisma sent flocks of GOP running to this candidate or that, only to be disappointed when the newest flash in the pan turned out to be less-than by comparison to the distorted memory of Saint Ronald.

I cannot help but ask: What is it that Republicans want to actually do? I know what they want to undo–but what do they want to do?

This was a huge part of Mitt Romney’s problem.  “On day one,” Romney would say in his stump speeches,”I will dismantle Obamacare” and unravel the  tax code and gut business regulation and slash Medicare and cut loose Social Security and open public lands to drilling, etc., etc.  Given power, Romney had no blueprint for building anything that he wanted to start following.  He just wanted to stop things that were long running.

All this pessimism–all this cutting and gutting–it can garner about 25% of the vote for the GOP, maybe more in some districts.  But it cannot get them a majority of the vote in a national election because voters want to believe in something, not just stand around and grouse.

Consider, for example, the GOP position on science.  Maybe talking about science as if it is some liberal conspiracy is a good way to get partisan crowds to cheer or a good way to seed fake debates on a FOX news show.  But it does not give people a sense of being apart of something larger than themselves–of joining a party that has a payoff of accomplishment at the end.

Moreover, no child makes decisions about their future based on grousing about science.  Nobody says “When I grow up I want to complain about science.”  So, the GOP narrative of demolition fails to provide a big story inside of which young people can see themselves for a lifetime.

Now, if you present this critique to Republicans in your family or network of friends, it is very likely that you will elicit nothing but rants and raves about Obama and debt, about how the country will soon be worse than Greece, and about how “government” should not have a role in our lives. All these responses are symptomatic.

“What is the GOP for–what do they want to do, as opposed to undo? Why would a growing number of people want to be a part of a movement built on pessimism and demolition?”

It is unlikely that anything approaching an answer will emerge.

The larger problem, therefore, is that allegiance to the GOP has become less a about ideas than a way of responding negatively to anything that smacks of vision or achievement by government.

This issue, I believe, has a far greater implication than whatever problems the GOP may be causing for itself at the level of how its members talk about women, cultural diversity, and religion.

It is possible, for example, to build a far-reaching, uplifting political narrative grounded in the idea that religious principles form an integral part of American democracy.  One could argue that Martin Luther King, Jr., did just that.  The GOP does the opposite: religion becomes a way of grousing about all the things in contemporary America that need to be demolished.

The same for women’s issues and questions of race or diversity.  Democrats speak about these issues as a way of talking about the hopes and challenges of building the future. Republicans, by contrast, talk about them within a broader lament about how bad things are now compared to how they used to be. “Tear down affirmative action,” “Get rid of Title IX,”–these are the cries of a party that cannot talk about social issues in a positive light because it has no positive mode in its vocabulary.

What do you want to build? What will you do if given the opportunity to lead?

None of the leading lights of the GOP know how to talk this way anymore.

Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan, arguably the heirs apparent to the GOP 2016 field, are candidates whose entire modus operandi consists of talking demolition.  What does Rick Santorum want to build? Nothing.  He is obsessed with tearing things down.  What does Paul Ryan want to build? Zilch. He spends all his time complaining about the things we need to dump.

Mitt Romney, for all the wealth and jobs and opportunity he supposedly created in the career that made him a millionaire many times over–he was never able to talk about the GOP vision in a way that would get people excited about building the future.

Be for  something or be gone.  That is the choice facing the GOP the morning after the re-election of President Barack Obama.

Ready it or not, Republicans, the bulldozers are on their way.

Polling Talk: What’s Really Real In This Election?

If you are like me and you check Nate Silver’s blog a few times a day to see the state of the most current election polling, you will have noticed that the “polling” narrative has not just taken over the election, here in the closing period, but has invaded each our minds.  emotional well-being.  So, with just a few days left, I wanted to consider why “polling”–not in terms of mathematics (I will leave that to Nate), but as a narrative component of the race.  Why is polling talk so, well, everywhere right now?

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