Sanders Seeks the South

As the Clinton Campaign continues to essentially refuse to campaign in the American South outside of South Carolina (and maybe Arkansas), despite how many Democratic delegates the Southern states will contribute early in the primary season next year, Bernie Sanders is ramping up efforts there. AL.com News from Alabama reported last weekend:

Earlier in the day, Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, said on “Face the Nation” that his Democratic campaign for president would be a grassroots effort that “will bring more people into the [political] process,” in part by campaigning in areas that Democrats have written off for decades, including the Heart of Dixie. “We’re going to go to Alabama, we’re going to go to Mississippi, we’re going to go to conservative states,” he said.

 
An organizing meeting/rally in Birmingham, Alabama also drew 300 people that day, without the candidate’s presence. It seemed to tap into exactly that “written off” segment Sanders mentioned:

the 40-year-old Blount County resident is no longer apathetic about politics, now that independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is running for president. Hewitt said Sanders’ platform on income inequality persuaded her to get off the sidelines in 2016.
[…]
Stuart said he never volunteered for a campaign before, but has donated to Sanders and plans on giving “a little bit each month.” He said Sanders’ democratic socialist views are aligned with his Christian beliefs.

“I think Jesus was a socialist,” he said, adding that Republicans “talk Christian values and family values, but they don’t do them.”

 
The Sanders Campaign is also planning major rallies (which he will be attending) in Phoenix, Arizona; Dallas, Texas; and Houston, Texas. Thousands are expected to attend each event.

In 2008, Clinton attacked Obama for gun control support

But in 2015, Clinton is attacking Bernie Sanders for insufficient gun control support. Let’s track the intense flip-flopping, solely meant to destroy rival Democratic nomination candidates, both times.

Now (Washington Post, July 9, 2015):

“I’m going to speak out against the uncontrollable use of guns in our country because I believe we can do better,” Clinton said Tuesday in Iowa City.

A few days earlier, she said in Hanover, N.H.: “We have to take on the gun lobby. . . . This is a controversial issue. I am well aware of that. But I think it is the height of irresponsibility not to talk about it.”
[…]
Gun control is one of the few issues on which Clinton has a more left-leaning record than Sanders, who represents a rural, pro-gun-rights state and has voted in the past for legislation to protect the firearms industry. Although Clinton has not attacked Sanders by name, by invoking guns she makes an unspoken contrast.
[…]
Despite his mixed voting record, Sanders did support the 2013 background-check bill and ­assault-weapons ban. And on the stump, he is trying to sound more forceful. He notes that “guns in Chicago and Los Angeles mean a very different thing than guns in Vermont and New Hampshire” but says — as he did two weeks ago in Bow, N.H. — that the next president must “come forward with a common-sense proposal on guns.”

In the Democratic field, former Maryland governor Martin O’Mal­ley has the strongest record in favor of gun control. He supported an assault-weapons ban as mayor of Baltimore in the early 2000s and then signed one into law as governor in 2013, along with a suite of gun restrictions that stand as among the nation’s toughest.
[…]
Howard Wolfson, for many years a top Clinton aide before going to work for Bloomberg, said Clinton’s avoidance of guns in 2008 should not be mistaken for a lack of interest in gun control.

 
Then:
In Indiana, “Clinton mailing attacks Obama on guns” – Ben Smith for Politico – May 4, 2008

2008-clinton-campaign-mailer-obama-guns
Hillary Clinton has re-opened her sharp attack on Barack Obama’s position on guns, with a mailer in Indiana that seeks to raise questions about him with both supporters and opponents of gun rights.

The mailing — perhaps the sharpest-edged of Clinton’s five negative mail pieces in Indiana — casts him as a typical politician, saying different things to different audiences. It also revives his damaging comments in San Francisco that small town people cling to guns.
[…]
The piece is particularly striking coming from Clinton, who has been seen for most of her career as a firm advocate of gun control, but more recently has emerged — without dramatically shifting her stance on specific issues — as a defender of the Second Amendment who fondly recalled being taught to shoot by her grandfather in Scranton.

 
So which is it?

Is she now the candidate who “told people” in conservative states she “was for the 2nd Amendment, in order to get their votes” as her 2008 mailer alleged of Sen. Obama?

New Hampshire starts to feel the Bern

The Wall Street Journal — reporting from Keene, New Hampshire (population 23,409 as of the 2010 Census) — “Bernie Sanders Draws Crowds With Matter-of-Fact Message”:

About 800 people squeezed into a rec center on a sunny afternoon to get a glimpse of Mr. Sanders as he made his case that America needs him in the White House.

With all the metal folding chairs taken, people stood against the walls for a speech and question-and-answer session that lasted more than an hour altogether.
[…]
The Sanders campaign has the feel of an underfunded startup coping with unanticipated demand. Almost as an afterthought midway through his speech, Mr. Sanders mentioned that people should take a look at his campaign website. An aide later grabbed a microphone and gave the crowed more explicit instructions, asking them to text the campaign for regular updates on Mr. Sanders’s activities.
[…]
In his speech, he called for a “Medicare-for-all” health-care system, free tuition at public colleges and universities, and a breakup of the big financial institutions.

 
The comparison to a “startup coping with unanticipated demand” interests me in light of my suggestion yesterday that his campaign might gain substantial traction by mimicking the growth strategy of “[s]uccessful internet apps and platforms [that] generally seem to rise initially through favorable, viral word-of-mouth from early users” rather than the “expensive ad buys” of a conventional modern candidacy or an established corporate behemoth. This is merely the latest big crowd being reported in New Hampshire (or Iowa).

Waiting for a “Disruptor” candidate

The ill effects of big money’s domination of our political system are indeed multitudinous and heavy. But I’m not as pessimistic as you might think about the possibilities of reversing that trend.

True, there are candidates who simply don’t care about the corrupting and corrosive influence of the sea of campaign cash on American politics and governance. But many of the candidates who do care (or would at least prefer not to have to do so much fundraising) have also made themselves excessively dependent on “consultants” and “strategists.” These operatives literally get compensated based on the number and cost of television ads that run — and quite often nothing else. In other words, the more ads that run and the more they cost, the more the consultants and strategists get paid (to tell the candidate to run more ads or lose the race).

5000-dollar-bill-madison-slider

This is actually one reason why the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign could be genuinely fascinating. He’s reportedly planning to rely far less heavily on TV advertising and use the money for things that are probably genuinely more productive for delivering votes. This also very likely means he can run a solid campaign with vastly less money. If he can win some states and put up a decent showing, it might encourage other Democratic candidates in future (at various levels of government) to ditch the failed media-consultant model. Already there have been some low-profile victories in recent non-presidential races for Dems who emphasized cheap ground game over costly TV ad wars.

There’s a model from outside politics that demonstrates the potential of eschewing the costly TV-oriented campaign model in favor of something else. Successful internet apps and platforms generally seem to rise initially through favorable, viral word-of-mouth from early users. Not from expensive ad buys. People try the thing, they like it, and they tell everyone else to get on board. Yes there’s also less likely to be barrages of attack ads from a rival company against the new product, but the main factor in boosting consumer adoption is the positive and enthusiastic word-of-mouth reviews. (Negative ads in politics, by the way, tend to depress turnout rather than persuading someone to switch from one candidate to another.)

Of course, the media networks that cash in big on these advertisement purchases won’t be happy if such a transformation occurs. But legacy media has less total control than they once did. I believe it’s easier than ever for a candidate to break through by other means and get their message out with the help of enthusiastic voters who like them.

So: which presidential candidate is going to be the first to try being a “disruptor” and ditch the media-consultant/ad-buy model? Which candidate will win on the strength of favorable word-of-mouth from voters meeting him/her in person, without omnipresent TV ad exposure?

The toxicity of expensive TV campaigns and the consultants who push them is a relatively small, fixable problem to tackle that also carries fairly large ramifications for our political system.

June 3, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 129

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

AFD-logo-470

Topics: Why the media should take Bernie Sanders more seriously, the raid on FIFA, and remembering Beau Biden. People: Bill, Nate, guest UD alum Kevin. Produced: June 1st, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Why is the media devoting negative coverage (or little coverage at all) to Bernie Sanders relative to many Republican presidential candidates this year?
– Why did the U.S. government finally step in on FIFA corruption?
– A few personal recollections about the late Beau Biden

Episode 129 (50 min):
AFD 129
(If you are unable to stream it in your browser on this page, try one of the subscription links below.)

Related Links/Stats

Columbia Journalism Review: “Bernie Sanders can’t win”: Why the press loves to hate underdogs
Media Matters: Daily Show Blasts Media’s Dismissive Coverage of Bernie Sanders
Quinnipiac May 28, 2015 Poll
NY Times: Democrats Seek a Richer Roster to Match G.O.P.
Press Think: Campaign reporters: you are granted no “role in the process.” It is your powers against theirs.

Additional notes:
– On this episode, Bill mistakenly implied that Jay Rosen is affiliated with Columbia University. In fact, he is affiliated with New York University’s journalism school. We regret the error.
– This episode was recorded prior to the announcement of Sepp Blatter’s plans to resign in a few months.

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Free college AND a better Wall St? Sanders sees a way.

Sanders-021507-18335- 0004Senator Bernie Sanders has unveiled his latest policy proposal as part of his Democratic presidential campaign: Free public college, funded via a new financial transactions tax to discourage damaging Wall Street speculation. It’s a step up from his earlier pre-campaign proposal of cutting tuition only in half. Here’s a summary of his new plan:

Annual tuition costs at those institutions add up to roughly $70 billion, according to a fact sheet from Sanders’ office. The proposed legislation would require the federal government to compensate for two-thirds of that sum, with the states making up the additional third.
[…]
The federal funding for Sanders’s proposal would come from a tax on financial transactions. Stock trades, bonds, and derivative trading would be taxed at rates of 0.5 percent, 0.1 percent, and 0.005 percent, respectively. Supporters of the financial transaction tax […] say it is not only a progressive way to raise revenue but would also discourage dangerous levels of Wall Street speculation.

A recent report from economist Joseph Stiglitz and the Roosevelt Institute, intended to provide a comprehensive framework for reworking American economic policy, endorsed a financial transaction tax as a way to “penalize short-term traders and incentivize longer holding periods, thus reducing instability and encouraging longer-term productive investment.”

 
Unfortunately perhaps the biggest pitfall of this plan — though it is (abstractly) an excellent starting point for a negotiation in Congress — is its dependence on state governments for a third of the funding. Low-cost public colleges and university educations are already being demolished in the name of dogmatic tax cuts. This plan depends on somehow convincing dozens of states not to slash funding / hike tuition and fees for their public colleges. But it’s a lot better than nothing.

Related reading on…

How much would it cost to make public colleges free?
Corporate borrowing diverted to shareholders, not investment
Putting Finance Back in the Box
Stock market speculation
Billionaire stock speculation

What Bernie Sanders stands for

I’m delighted to see the media taking the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign quasi-seriously, which is way better than my expectations. For example, this LA Times op-ed:

Let’s consider some of Sanders’ wild ideas:
– Free college tuition.
– A $1 trillion program to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges.
– Break up giant financial institutions.
– Publicly funded elections.
– Higher taxes on the wealthy.
– Government-run healthcare.
[…] he will have done this country a great service if, through his blunt talk and grandfatherly presence, he gets more citizens to stop being distracted by scare stories and political labels and to start considering ideas on their merits. A 40-hour work week, a minimum wage and restrictions on child labor were once thought of as subversive, socialist doctrines, but they have turned out to be pretty good ideas for Americans — except maybe for the billionaires.

 
(NOTE: Each point is further elaborated and commented on in the full piece. I’ve just included the headers above.)

This 1989 Bernie Sanders interview on C-SPAN is incredibly compelling television, even at 40 minutes long:

Obviously I think he’s changed his mind on some things, procedurally at least. After all, he’s not running as an independent or third-party candidate this time. Still, it’s pretty riveting.