Truth and Democracy

Inviting those who live in the right-wing alternate universe to join the rest of us out here in reality.

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Location: Hackensack, New Jersey, United States

Monday, March 08, 2010

The GOP: PowerPointing Out The Marketing Of Politics

Lest you think that I am just going to jump on the Democratic party bandwagon and take advantage of the publication of a very embarassing Republican party fundraising strategy document, think again. There’s a lot more here than just a partisan opportunity to drive a wedge between the GOP and it’s biggest sponsors. So far, the Democrats are doing a pretty good job of that anyway, as well as using the document to give their own base a much needed stirring up. I would prefer to explore the larger issue here; the development of direct marketing in political fundraising.

When I meet with political cynicism, all too common these days, I invariably respond by pointing out that I know a lot of politicians personally. Most of them, both republicans and democrats, venture into the political arena with the noblest of intentions. Once in the game, however, they are soon corrupted by what it takes these days in order to get (and stay) elected. The average member of the United States House of Representatives, for example, will spend more than half of their efforts on raising money alone, every day of their lives. Being that they must run for reelection every two years, they remain in a near perpetual state of both campaigning and fundraising. They are forever speaking to either those individuals who have enough money to make a difference or to the representatives of large organizations which pool their finances in order to wield massive influence.

The notion that a few regular Americans who attend a few “town hall” meetings during Summer recess in order to voice their feelings can ever compete with the larger organized interests is absurd. Most of America feels drowned out of our national political conversation. They just don’t stand a chance. A potential remedy has emerged to this situation. Fundraising through the internet. But internet fundraising has a glaring negative side. Since you are no longer meeting donors face to face but rather reaching out to an anonymous and unseen throng, a strategy must be used to make your efforts as effective as possible. Enter, the science of marketing.

I read somewhere recently that thirty years ago the average American saved nearly 9% of their yearly income. Today that number has plummeted to just over 2%. I will be the first to blame this on the dominance of right wing economic policies which have frozen real incomes while the cost of living continues to climb. However, this is not the entire story. Advances in the science of parting us from our money must also be considered. If you’ve ever worked in retail you know exactly what I’m saying. If you’ve ever joined an organization of any kind only to find yourself inundated with mailers from twenty similar groups, then you’re familiar. Heck, if you’ve recently seen a television commercial or any other advertisement, you know there’s been major advances in this science. With their constant need for more and more organizational and advertising dollars, is it any wonder that the two major political parties in this country have availed themselves of marketing experts? The only mystery is why it took them so long to catch up to private industry.

As with most innovations in politics lately, Democrats lagged years behind Republicans in utilizing this valuable tool. From the development of “wedge” issues to the narrowing of presidential campaigns down to specific “swing” states, the Democrats have always been second across the finish line. Despite this, it is clear now that the GOP has fallen behind in the race to raise large sums of cash through modest contributions from masses of internet donors. Federal Election Commission numbers as of Feb. 25, 2010, as reported on, show that the Democratic party has 50% more “cash on hand” than the Republicans and has been outraising the GOP by almost 2 to 1.

If such numbers seem like a direct contradiction to the current “liberal” news media narrative that Democrats are running for the hills, as a Johnstown-like flood of conservatism bears down upon them, you can join me as a skeptic of Republican certainty of majority status next year. More money does not always result in more votes, as Ross Perot can tell you. It is a pretty good indicator, though, of which party has the more motivated base, a crucial factor in the mid-term election year. It was in this atmosphere of GOP frustration, where their fundraising numbers don’t even come close to expectations, that Republican Finance Director Rob Bickhart set out to redefine their entire strategy. His presentation may now seem both offensive to liberals and condescending to conservatives but this is just how marketers see and attempt to motivate their target demographics.

Marketers must view people in broadly defined groups. There is no room for individuality in marketing. A marketer never sees your face, doesn’t know your kids and is only concerned with your core values as much as they can help him/her successfully connect your money with his/her client. Political marketing is no different and you really can’t expect it to be. If there’s a Tea Party activist out there who believes that anyone from the staff of the RNC Finance Dept. would even consider joining them and carrying a sign about Obama’s birth certificate, let me deliver the disappointing news now; not happening. These are paid professionals, not true believers. Democrats should not imagine that things are much different on their side either. I may not currently work for the DNC but, if my email inbox is any indication, there’s probably an equal amount of crass marketing strategy going on there as well.

There is an upside to this story. While internet fundraising may be the domain of marketers who couldn’t care less about your causes, the rise of internet organizing and activism have put a little more political power back in your hands or, more precisely, your fingertips. Activists from both left and right can claim recent victories as the result of such immediate communication. For example, the left used the internet to kill a 2004 attempt by the Sinclair Media Group (an activist conservative company which owns a network of hundreds of local TV stations) to air a film smearing then Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry under the guise of a “special news report”. The right can point to the rising momentum of the Tea Parties. If you’re a believer in civic participation and representative democracy, as I am, then this use of the internet is a welcome part of the evolution of our democracy.

My partisan feelings did cause me a moment of sheer delight at first sight of this story. reported that an unnamed Democrat, who said that a hard copy of the presentation had been “left in the hotel”, had provided the internet news service with said document. This fact leaves me to wonder if there isn’t a left wing counterpart to ACORN “Pimp” James O’Keefe running around out there. Political espionage is so much fun! Less fun in this case for the RNC who, upon being asked a question about the fundraising presentation, immediately fired off a preemptive email to their regular donors. The Politico story also quoted a major GOP donor as describing current relations between the party and their financial sponsors in a single word, “disastrous”. So much for “putting the fun back in fundraising”, the presentation’s title. Not only has this further upset their formerly reliable “country clubbers” but it could serve to alienate the more socially conservative grassroots as well. Both subgroups were treated more callously in this strategy session than the RNC would ever want to see the light of day.

In less than twelve hours from publication of this story, I received emails from the Democratic party (DNC), Democratic Senatorial Committee (DSCC) and Democratic Congressional Committee (DCCC), each using the Republican document in order to raise money for Democrats. When the other party gets to use your own fundraising strategy ideas to boost their donations while the presentation of this strategy will likely turn off your donors, it can be considered a screw up of collossal proportions. Permit a liberal to smile, if only for a moment. After all, for now it is but a tempest in a teapot. It won’t alter the debate on health care. It won’t jump start job growth. It won’t defeat terrorism and it won’t cause any of those rabid right wingers to suddenly treat President Obama with a single ounce of respect. The curtain has only momentarily been lifted on the cynical nature of political marketing. What we do with this information will determine whether this story gains importance over time or simply fades into historic anonymity.

A Follow Up: Politics Daily is reporting tonight that a major GOP donor, Atlanta’s Mark DeMoss, who is also founder of The Civility Project, a bipartisan group dedicated to restoring an atmosphere of mutual respect between political rivals, has written a publicized letter to RNC Chairman Michael Steele in which he states that he will no longer contribute to the Republican party directly.

Maybe this story will have more long term impact than I expect?

Paul Roth, Jr.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"The Compassion Thing" - from Facebook

The following are excerpts from a "debate" I had with a right wing true believer on the Facebook fan page of Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln. I will not identify him (thus possibly inviting one of those "frivolous" lawsuits) but his words, which I was responding to, appear in quotations before my remarks:

" May I remind you that many "wealthy" individuals penalized by this legislation work very hard and are business owners, both small and big,and who are not living extravagantly."----

Problem is you and I have different definitions of the word "wealthy". I grew up in Bergen County, NJ. One of the wealthiest counties, per capita, in the United States. Where I come from, the wealthy don't own small businesses. I am talking about the top .01% of Americans who reside in towns like Alpine, Franklin Lakes or Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. They can flick your "small business" off of them like swatting at a mosquito. I am friends with many of them.

And "penalized", no. Most of them understand the problem well enough to know that you can't solve any one health care issue without taking on the whole. If you don't understand that you, and everyone you think you're defending and everyone I'm defending and everyone in the United States who HAS insurance and is either on the verge of being "priced out of it" or just watching it eat up more and more of their money, federal and state governments included, ARE ALREADY PAYING MORE NOW FOR THE "MOOCHERS" YOU FOLKS REFER TO THAN YOU WILL BE OVER THE NEXT 20 YEARS WHEN, NOT IF, THIS BILL PASSES, then I give you more credit by responding to you than you deserve.

"Government run healthcare has been the moniker for the bill in Washington" -------

Correction, "Government Run Healthcare" has been the moniker for the bill ON THE RIGHT WING AND AMONG ELECTED REPUBLICANS ONLY! Why? Because the phrase tested negatively in some Frank Luntz focus group somewhere. "Death Panels" tested even worse, so IN IT WENT! Then someone whispered, "If we tell people they'll have to pay for illegal aliens, they'll hate it even more! IN IT GOES!!

Now it's "Let's say that passing addendums to the Senate bill through reconciliation is the Nuclear Option, it sounds so ominous, even though that was the name WE gave to ABOLISHING THE FILIBUSTER ENTIRELY just a few years ago, WHEN WE WANTED TO DO IT! Hey, remember when we hated the filibuster? Back before WE USED IT FOUR TIMES MORE OFTEN than any minority in Senate history!

Read: The Republican Noise Machine by David Brock
Your propaganda arm is really quite skilled. I can't deny that. The fact that it's all BULLSHIT, however, makes things here far too easy for me. I shake my head in disbelief at those who really absorb and repeat their crap. And you claim that I AM THE ONE parroting what someone else is saying?! Yeah, right.

"If you would like to get down to brass tacks, government-interference in the insurance industry is more appropriate." ------

I know, I know. Why don’t we big liberal meanies just leave those poor little insurance companies alone?! Here’s the problem. In 2009, health insurance profits rose by 56% while nearly 3 million Americans lost their coverage. If this was a coincidence it would be one thing. But these two phenomena are not mutually exclusive. They are quite closely tied. When your industry’s profit margins are based on how many sick, or previously sick, people you can screw over, there’s a little bit of an ethics problem in your business model.

Why is it that the right wing seems okay with the fact that we as individuals live under a Constitution which prevent us from harming or otherwise screwing over our fellow Americans and yet, at the same time, feel that once you put together enough individuals working toward the same purpose (See Socialism) to incorporate yourself, you should just be able to do whatever the hell you want with no legal responsibility?! Therefore regulation, which you see as so darned evil, does nothing more than hold businesses to the same moral responsibilities our founders preserved for the individual.

Can you provide examples where regulations go too far? Of course you can and I don’t pretend that it never happens. But, in health insurance, among other industries (credit cards for one), I can provide more examples of why regulations are needed. It’s because the entire industry’s profit motive turns any definition of business ethics upside down. Don’t conservatives believe in “old-fashioned values”? What, only in the bedroom? Not when it comes to business? Is a monopoly a “free market” now? Is telling a woman that she can’t partake of your vitally necessary product because her husband used to beat her, an expression of “moral values”? Do you see the point in paying health insurance premiums for years only to have the company drop you when you actually need their services? This is ethics in reverse and about as immoral as you can imagine.

During his Healthcare Reform Address to Congress last September, President Obama rightly observed that “Insurance executives don’t do these things because they’re bad people”. (In less than one hour, FOX News’s Sean Hannity turned this quote into, “I was shocked to hear the president call insurance executives “bad people”!) Nice one, Sean. They do it to turn a profit. That’s what businesses are supposed to do. However, when Americans are dying as a result of the pursuit of your bottom line, then life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have been turned on their ear. This is exactly what government is for, to provide protection to Americans when no other force can do so. Can you tell me with a straight face that the insurance companies will fix all this if we just give them more power to do whatever the hell they want? Don’t bother trying; I’ll just crack up in your face anyway.

I guess it all comes back to your point of view. American conservatives see health insurance and health care in general as no more than another good or service from which as much profit as one can get away with should be derived. Whereas nearly the entire rest of the civilized world has recognized that, while profit is an important motive, the preservation of a “commodity” like your personal health should also be motivated by some level of human compassion. Maybe you’ll catch up with us liberals some day on the compassion thing? I’m not holding my breath though.

Paul Roth, Jr.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Racism 2.0

“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did," – Rep. Richard Baker (R-LA)

"people who could not even spell the word 'vote', or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House." – Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Col)

"When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds…I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African American.” – Former President Jimmy Carter

Welcome to racism 2.0. In 21st Century America, it defeats your purpose to go parading down main street in white robes and hoods. Burning a cross on a neighbor’s lawn will get you thrown in jail for a hate crime. Racism has unquestionably diminished in the last 50 years but to suggest that it is gone would be incredibly naïve. It has merely sunk deeper into the guts of those who still embrace it as they struggle to find more “socially acceptable” ways to express their sentiments. Tom Tancredo found his way, calling for a return to so called civics/literacy exams for prospective voters, in front of an approving and virtually all white, conservative audience. If challenged, he can try feigning ignorance as to how such tests were previously employed by southern states in order to prevent blacks from voting. He can claim that he envisions the test being used indiscriminately among all Americans. But since anyone with even the slightest knowledge of how voters break down by education level can tell you that such an evenly applied testing system would guarantee more elected liberals, it seems a very weak explanation. This is racism by implication. Stealth racism, if you will.

Rep. Baker also found his voice. He combined eye-opening insensitivity for residents of his own state with evidence that he also clings to the old testament view of a wrathful interventionist deity, a concept still very popular amidst the more religious right wing. Baker’s comment leaves plenty of wiggle room from which to deny any racist intent. He doesn’t use the “N” word or any other ethnic slur. It’s the attitude behind what he says, one which finds some of his fellow Louisianans to be far less important than others, in which you can feel racism bubbling just beneath the visible. As with Tancredo, you must first acknowledge other facts, such as the population of New Orleans’ public housing being largely minority, before racial motivation becomes obvious. Once again the racism is clearly there but hidden under the words actually spoken on the surface.

The accusations of racism which follow these kinds of remarks are inevitably fended off by turning the tables on the accuser. Since the racial intent lurked beneath the surface and you had to look deeper in order to identify it, it becomes you instead who are motivated by race. You are “playing the race card”. Baker could say, “I didn’t say anything about race, just public housing”. Tancredo might argue, “I only want American voters to understand the ballots and how their country works before they cast their vote”. But there’s an old saying, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. The recent revelation that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), an early Obama supporter, commented on the Illinois Senator’s electability by observing that he is “light-skinned”, “non-threatening” and has a good command of the english language, shows that racial insensitivity has not been copyrighted by conservatives. Though Reid’s words and intent lacked the malignancy which emanates from the right wing, they do indicate the fact that all of us have yet to rid ourselves of certain ingrained stereotypes. We’re not perfect and we probably never will be. We’re only human.

A friend I have known for some 25 years moved to central Florida about a decade ago. His political convictions are similar to mine but he likes to play “devil’s advocate” and debate me on public issues. He has a tremendous grasp of both domestic and international issues and a legal education and background. Because of this, he makes an extremely good sparring partner for someone who discusses politics as much as I do. Over the last decade a frequent topic for these “throwdowns” was Affirmitive Action programs, with him taking the opposition. This back and forth would always boil down to the current state of race relations and whether such “preferences” were still of any necessity. In early 2008 my friend called me to announce that he had decided to support Barack Obama in the Democratic Presidential primaries. This led to a debate for the ages since, at the time, I was helping run a Bergen County, New Jersey office for Hillary Clinton. One major agreement was arrived at during that epic conversation. By vocally supporting Obama in the largely white, and right, northern suburbs of Orlando, Fl., my friend had learned first hand the fallacies of his previous anti-affirmitive action stance. He was horrified by the extreme racial hatred he encountered. This from a midle-aged man who was raised Jewish and yet feels the need to hide this fact from both friends and strangers where he currently resides.

I have also seen in-my-face examples of how and where unapologetic racism still flourishes. Between 1998 and 2002 I made my living as an Assistant Golf Professional at different private clubs in northern New Jersey. The examples of two of those establishments point out a misperception which most of us still might carry about race in America. One club, located in the town where I grew up, was occupied mainly by folks of a certain heritage (See Goodfellas) who were no more than one generation removed from blue collar roots. Another, one of the most prestigious facilities in the northeast, was populated with some very old money, prominent family names and hosted celebrity guests so often that one got used to seeing famous faces. This club has since been included in the yearly circuit of courses which host PGA Tour events. The knee-jerk assumption might well be that racism and arrogant, ignorant attitudes would be predominant at the latter club. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

It was at the former establishment, among the far less privileged, that I encountered overt racism. For example, every caddy at the first club is white. Others are quietly turned away as is still legal for a private membership organization. The membership is obviously just as uniform. One quiet afternoon I was sitting at the pro shop counter of the first club, when an older member entered and observed the television, which was perpetually tuned to sports. He watched a tennis match on the TV for a moment and then turned to me and said, “You like her?”, refering to a young Venus Williams. When I responded that I don’t really follow tennis (this was true, although I could also sense the gist of what was coming), he replied, “I think she looks like a fuckin’ gorilla!” I simply retreated into the back office while our resident zookeeper made his way to the men’s locker room. I was momentarily taken aback but hardly shocked. I knew exactly where things stood at the club which I’d love to name here but prudence prevents me. I never once remember sensing that kind of hate among the far more upper-crusty members of the extremely prestigious other facility.

Overt racism, though, is increasingly relegated to places of privacy, such as that small pro shop, where the unashamed racist knows that they won’t be called out publicly for their hatefulness. The more militantly liberal among you are likely angry at me right now for not telling off that “gorilla” individual. Suffice to say that it too would have been inappropriate as well as pointless. Most public expressions of racism these days resemble the remarks from the opening of this piece. The type which force you to read between the lines. Those who sympathize with such remarks fully understand the meaning behind them as well. If the speaker were to give an overly dramatic wink to his audience just as he made such a statement, the message could not be made any clearer. In the political world, stealth racism is far more prevalent on the right. It may not be an exclusive domain, as I pointed out, and yet, from Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck to folks like Savage, Coulter or Dobbs, disapproval of different cultures has long been and still is a top priority of America’s right wing. “Multiculturalism” is as much a Tea Party taboo today as socialism, budget deficits or taxes.

When Jimmy Carter, in his above quote, insinuated that some of the most severe opposition to the new president stemmed from a place of racism, right wing voices portrayed the former president as nothing more than a foolish old jackass spewing a tired liberal mantra for which they no longer have patience. Methinks the teabaggers doth protest too much. If they’re capable of a guilty conscience, they were exhibiting one loudly. When former Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) clumsily attempted to compliment Strom Thurmond on his birthday by stating that if Thurmond, the 1948 Segregation party Presidential candidate, had only been elected, “we wouldn’t have all of these problems we have today”, he provided preemptive proof of the veracity of Carter’s remarks. That most on the right were all too ready to defend Lott only adds to the evidence. A quick search of Google Images or YouTube will net you enough ammunition to adequately affirm Carter’s thoughts on right wing racism.

The fact that an African-American with a name like Barack Hussein Obama has been elected President of the United States by no small margin, shows us that we have come a very long way from where we were in the early 1960’s. We have indeed come far and make no mistake about that fact. However, the way that too many conservative Americans view Mr. Obama and his presidency indicates that we still have quite a way to go. From conspiracy theories about his place of birth to internet postcards depicting him as a monkey to t-shirts and bumper stickers from “religious” sources which offer up prayers for his imminent death, some on the right appear unable to even accept as reality that this man is their president. It is this extroardinary level of personal contempt and disrespect for the man himself which indicates that racial undertones may be to blame. As I’ve said elsewhere, the right has no one but themselves to blame for this perception. Not TV pundits from that “liberal media”, not political correctness, not nefarious multiculturalist plots and not even liberal old me.

I’m not going to bore readers with statistics like how many young black males are in prison as opposed to college or the striking differences in likely causes of death among whites and blacks. There will be no comparisons of median income levels here. No tales of crumbling school systems or gang violence ensnaring kids who have yet to see their 10th birthday. We all know these things, though some on the right prefer to live in that alternate universe I often speak of, the one in which there is no longer any need to increase opportunity for some because everyone already has the same chance at success. That attitude, in itself, is just another excuse to hate or, at the very least, dismiss someone else. “It’s their own fault. It’s how they choose to live. Look at me, I wasn’t born rich either but I worked hard and made something of myself.” The twisted logic necessary to convince oneself that opportunity is equal between a white male from even a humble middle class upbringing and a black male from the projects of New Orleans, for example, is further indication of ignorance.

I grew up in a predominantly white, upper middle class suburb of New York City. My neighborhood was extremely safe. Our school system had the best of everything. I was never pulled over by the police for no apparent reason. No one has ever viewed me suspiciously because of how I look. No woman has ever clutched her purse with both hands when she saw me walking toward her. I have been interested in politics all of my life but I never had to swallow that none of the historic leaders of my country looked anything like me. They all looked like me, until now that is. If I tried to claim that I had no advantages in life as a result of these facts, I would be guilty of tremendous ignorance. I, like Tom Tancredo, Rush Limbaugh or any of those other right wing activists, must admit ignorance as to the experience of African-Americans as well as other minorities in this country.

What sets left and right apart, in regard to race, is a willingness to examine yourself and your attitudes and try to progress. There is also a genuine desire on the left to treat others with respect. The right wing choose to mock these principles as political correctness and multiculturalism. How can they demand respect that they are not willing to give others? I know that I carry with me certain stereotypes about those who are different from me, I acknowledge it and I try to evolve as an individual. If this makes me a “bleeding heart” then so be it. I would rather have a bleeding heart than a dead one. From literacy tests to regretting segregationist losses to angry Tea party crusades against immigrants, America’s right has chosen to see our differences as a threat rather than a continuation of a beautiful American legacy. They have enjoyed decades of political triumph from this stance but, as American attitudes continue progressing in the decades to come, it will only serve to further isolate them from most of this country. It’s going to take more than the laughably crass GOP appointments of folks like Michael Steele or Sarah Palin to remedy their ailment. Talk about affirmitive action! Some very deep soul searching is in order before the right wing can move forward on the issue of race, if they ever do. If Mr. “Gorilla” is still alive and kicking then, I doubt he’ll ever join them in advancing down that path.