Our First Bernie Volunteer

It was about 12:30 this afternoon.  I had just walked back from work, and Kish and I were getting ready to go out for some lunch and a trip to the Short North when we heard a knock at the door.

Kasey ran to the door and started barking like crazy.  I scooped her up and opened the door, and a pleasant college-type kid who looked like he was about 20 was on our doorstep, wearing a “Bernie for President” t-shirt and carrying a clipboard.

IMG_0735“Hi, I’m here for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, encouraging you to get out and vote on Tuesday,” he said.  He consulted his clipboard and asked for Kish by name, revealing that the campaign had given him information from the voter rolls and he knew she was a registered D.  When she came to the door, he asked her who she was voting for, and she said she was feeling the Bern.

He smiled and had a look of real relief on his face, like he was afraid we were going to yell at him or slam the door in his face.  “So, can I put you down as a strong likely vote for Bernie?” he asked.  “I know that sounds silly, but this is the first time I’ve done this, and I’m kind of nervous.  This is the first house I’ve stopped at,” he added.  Kish said sure, and as he made a check mark on his sheet she asked him for one of those “Bernie for President” pieces you can hang on the doorknobs of people who aren’t home.  He gladly gave us one, said goodbye and left, consulting his clipboard for the next registered D on the list.

That’s the first door knock and canvassing effort we’ve had at our German Village place.  If people are wondering whether the Sanders campaign has a “ground game” in Ohio, we’d just seen our first tangible evidence that the answer is “yes.”  It made me glad, too, that we’d been the first house the nervous kid had visited, and he came away with a “yes” vote for his candidate.

Democracy is pretty cool.

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Selfies With Hillary

Recently I saw some footage of Hillary Clinton campaigning, and it seemed like she was spending most of her time with a plastic smile on her face, stopping for “selfies” with people in the crowd.  The candidate would pose with an admirer who wanted a picture, walk a few paces, pose as another person manipulated their handheld to get their face and Clinton’s face in the shot, and that silly process continued, again and again and again.

If I were Hillary Clinton, this kind of  stop-and-go, photo-centric approach to campaigning would drive me nuts.  I also wonder what the Secret Service has to say about the physical security of selfies.  It’s one thing to have candidates walk the rope line, doing the grip and nod as they move steadily along before or after a speech, but the stop every few feet, cheek-to-cheek nature of constant selfies would seem to pose greater security risks.

I think the apparent obsession some people seem to have about taking “selfies” whereever they are, whatever they are doing, is curious — and, at times, off-putting.  In my view, the cell phone camera/selfie stick world has wrecked the experience at some art museums like the Louvre.  (I’m not alone in this; some art museums have banned selfie sticks because of their irritating, disruptive, view-obstructing tendencies.)

But I also guess I don’t understand why people want to take, and have, so many pictures of themselves. Is it simple Narcissism?  Is it a desire to have photographic proof that you were where you claimed to be?  Is it a desire to perfect your very best selfie pose?

The last time I was at the Louvre I watched a young man taking individual selfies of himself standing in front of every one of the dozens of paintings along one wall in a gallery.  What in the world was he going to do with them?  Was every one of those selfies posted to the guy’s Facebook page so that his friends could see dozens of nearly identical pictures of his smiling mug in front of a painting on their news feeds?  Was he going to have a mind-numbing slide show upon his return home?

Hillary Clinton, and no doubt other candidates who have to do the selfie stops, probably will end up being among the most selfie-photographed people in the history of the human race.  It would be interesting to get her unvarnished views about how she feels about it.

Three Debates Down, Two Weeks To Go

With all three presidential debates in the books, we can fairly ask:  what is the role of debates in a modern election?  According to the polls, the pundits, and the talk about momentum, the first debate this year was a significant game-changer in favor of Mitt Romney.  Why?  Was it because President Obama turned in a performance generally regarded as desultory, or was it something else?

I didn’t think the President’s performance during the first debate was as bad as it has been depicted to be.  I think, instead, the key point is that people forgot the presidential debates are one of the few political events that are unfiltered.  The candidates get a rare opportunity to speak to a national audience, in an unscripted setting, without any yakking by pundits or talking heads.  And the national TV audience for the debate, moreover, is interested enough to pick a presidential debate from all other programming options in the modern video world, and therefore probably consists mostly of people who are likely to vote.

In this election, President Obama’s campaign strategy had been to run countless attack ads painting Mitt Romney as a heartless, out-of-touch moneybags who was George W. Bush, Jr.  When all you saw was the ads, the strategy worked fine.  But Romney’s debate performance was inconsistent with the ads.  People watching thought:  “Hey, this guy isn’t so bad.  He seems pretty reasonable and knowledgeable.  Maybe he really can get us out of this mess.”  And with that unfiltered realization, millions of dollars in negative ad buy by the President’s campaign went out the window.  In fact, Romney’s performance was so contrary to the ads that it probably not only helped Romney but also had a negative impact on the credibility of the Obama campaign commercials going forward.

Another reality is that the after-debate period is longer and more diffuse.  People get their sense of how the debates went not just from a few talking heads on the major networks, but from countless TV stations, blogs, comedy shows, Twitter snarf, and social media sites.  It may take days, and a few choice “Facebook ads” or Daily Show mocks or heavily reposted blog items, before people settle on what really happened.  People in the spin room immediately after the debate no longer control public opinion, if they ever did.

In this election, we now turn to the “ground game” and the contest of which campaign can do a better job of getting their supporters off their duffs and out to the polls.  Political operatives, however, will no doubt study the debates in the 2012 campaign and draw some significant conclusions.  First, if you are going to go negative on your opponent, make sure you aren’t attacking on character or personality grounds that can be readily disproven in a 90-minute debate; otherwise, you will be flushing your hard-earned campaign contributions down the tubes.  Second, don’t forget the after-debate period.  As those precious undecided voters are trying to decide who did better, they’ll be looking at a lot of things — and if your candidate came across as disinterested and disengaged, or clown-like, or phony, it will eventually be detected and outed . . . and that will ultimately be the prevailing view of the masses.

Should “Foreign Policy” Be Off Limits In A Presidential Election?

After the storming of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Mitt Romney condemned the attack but also criticized a statement by the embassy that condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”  Romney called that statement “disgraceful,” and he was criticized by the Obama Administration, and others, for “launching a political attack” on that issue.  The tiff raises the question of whether criticism of an Administration’s handling of foreign policy issues is fair game in a presidential election.

There may have been a time when politics “ended at the water’s edge” and the parties spoke with one voice on foreign policy, but that era ended long ago.  All of the presidential campaigns I can remember — from the days of Vietnam War protests, to the Iranian hostage crisis, to the more recent debates about how to proceed in Iraq and Afghanistan — have involved some kind of foreign policy issues.  Indeed, often one of the presidential debates is devoted exclusively to “foreign policy.”  And the Obama Administration obviously feels that foreign policy issues are important; the recent Democratic convention emphasized the killing of Osama bin Laden and sounded the theme that the United States is more secure and respected abroad under the President.

The President is our Commander-in-Chief and establishes our foreign policy by appointing and instructing ambassadors.  It’s obviously an important role — and in a world made ever-smaller by technology and advanced weaponry, where many countries and groups have targeted America for harm, some argue it is the most important responsibility the American President has.  In view of that, how can anyone reasonably argue that the President’s approach to foreign policy shouldn’t be considered and debated during a presidential campaign?

That leaves the issue of whether Romney can fairly be criticized about the tone and timing of his comments.  Is it too harsh to call the mewling statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo disgraceful, and should he have waited until a day or two later before voicing his views?  I don’t think so, in either case.  Romney had every right to strongly criticize the official statement of an American embassy, which struck an unseemly appeasing tone that seemed to undercut the core American value of freedom of speech.  If Americans don’t stand up for our freedoms, they won’t be our freedoms for long.  And as far as timing goes, the Obama Administration itself quickly disavowed the embassy statement, too.  In view of that, and the fact that the embassy statement apparently wasn’t officially sanctioned, why shouldn’t Romney also be permitted to have his say?

I’m all in favor of robust free speech.  So long as Romney isn’t leaking state secrets or giving aid and comfort to the enemy, he should be free to voice his views about foreign policy in whatever way he sees fit — and American voters then have the right to agree or disagree with his statements and vote accordingly.  That’s how our system is supposed to work.

Buying Barack And Marketing Michelle (Cont.)

By coincidence, on the same day that I wrote about the marketing of President Obama, I ran across a news article that, I think, highlights the issue.

According to ABC News, the Obama re-election campaign is suing a website called Demstore.com that is selling t-shirts, bumper stickers, and buttons with the Obama campaign logo.  The lawsuit charges that the website is infringing on the re-election campaign’s trademark.  The article also notes that every sale of such items by Demstore.com means lost revenue for the Obama re-election campaign, and also means a lost opportunity for the campaign to get name, address, and other contact information that would allow  the t-shirt purchaser to be approached for additional campaign contributions later.

The owner of Demstore.com says he’s worked cooperatively with Democratic candidates in the past and is disappointed at being sued.  He says his website supports only Democrats and is used primarily by state and country Democrats who don’t want to pay the high prices charged by the Obama campaign website.  Whereas a single t-shirt on the Obama website costs $30, you can get 500 t-shirts from Demstore.com for $5.49 each.  (I suppose that bit of information tells you something about the Obama campaign’s product mark-up, doesn’t it?)

It’s odd to think that a presidential candidate would object to someone else selling shirts with messages that support that candidate’s election, but we apparently have moved past that innocent notion.  In politics today, business is business.

Buying Barack And Marketing Michelle

The world has come a long way since Joe McGinniss wrote The Selling of the President about the role of marketing in the 1968 campaign of Richard Nixon.  Back then, many people disapproved of that trend and criticized the Nixon campaign for commercializing the serious business of electing a President.

Forty-four years later, the Nixon campaign tactics seem old-fashioned and tame.  Campaigns employ pollsters to gauge public opinion, advertising gurus to target the message as the internal polling indicates, and spinmeisters to try to make sure that public opinion moves the way the campaign wants it to move.  All of this is widely accepted in our digital, hyper-communicative age.

I still balk, however, at the sale of product by presidential campaigns.  Go to barackobama.com (the official reelection campaign website) and you will see a “store” tab.  Click on the tab and you’ll find a wide range of products for sale, ranging from t-shirts and hoodies and ball caps and coffee mugs to an “I Meow for Michelle” cat collar — and that’s just on the first page of items for sale.  Some items are even marked down, and you can get discounts for others if you enter the right “promo code.”

I suppose this is the logical extension of a culture where presidential campaigns last forever and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and fundraisers need to produce money however they can.  I suppose you can even argue that t-shirts are just a logical extension of the campaign buttons of days gone by.  Still, I can’t help but wonder if pushing the President and First Lady as celebrity “brands” detracts from our perception of President Obama as a President.  With the focus on money, money, money, how can you not help but wonder if his decisions aren’t motivated, just a bit, by a cold-blooded desire to sell a new style of t-shirt that gets rolled out a few days later?

Teetering On The Brink, And Stuck In The Mud

Today the April unemployment report is released.  It probably will be read more closely in the lobbying offices on K Street than in the trading pits on Wall Street.

Americans vote with their pocketbooks.  For all the recent talk about Mitt Romney’s roof transportation of a family pet years ago, President Obama eating dog meat in the distant past, and other silly issues, the economy is what most ordinary people really care about.  Contrived issues like prior treatment of dogs have no impact on everyday American life — but a shrinking economy, or a robust one, reaches every kitchen table in every home.  We don’t need to be instructed by the media elites about the importance of the economy; we see it every day in unemployed or underemployed friends and struggling local businesses.

That’s why today’s report is significant.  Unfortunately, our economy seems to be teetering on the brink.  After marginal job growth over the holiday season, March’s jobs report was poor.  More and more people seem to be giving up on finding a job — so much so that the government doesn’t even bother to count them in calculating unemployment statistics.  If another bad report comes out, it probably means that our economy is mired in the mud and we’re in for more hard times.

Political campaigns focus on “messaging” and packaging their candidates and working to spin everything in their favor.  Economic performance, however, doesn’t need messaging or packaging, and can’t really be spun.  It’s a uniquely powerful political force, beyond the control of the spinmeisters and talking heads — and that’s why the campaigns will be carefully scrutinizing today’s report.