Monday Reads: Political Bright Shiny Objects and Voter ADDPosted: October 27, 2014
I have to admit to being really tired of a number of things. Last night, I was regaled with yet another anti-Muslim trope. This time it was about Muslim nurses refusing to wash their hands and you know, EBOLA! Several people jumped right on it even though right below was a Snopes piece clearly debunking the lie. Oh, and this was from those so-called Hillary Clinton supporters from back in the day. Some folks will pounce on any old piece of shined up shit.
Nothing quite characterizes this election year as way the so many Americans with short attention spans bounce around the Political Pin Ball table after the latest “shiny object”. They just panic then move to the next thing before finding out how wrong they are about so many things. What should they blame on Obama next? What should they pearl clutch about? Muslims? Ebola? Benghazi! Resurgent Communists?
The short-attention span generation has birthed the shiny-object election.
The theme of the 2014 midterms — to whatever extent one is discernable — has been an explosion of one crisis after another, each of which demands an enormous amount of media attention before fading for the next one.
From the Secret Service to ISIS, Ebola to immigration, mistreated veterans to Ferguson and race relations, candidates and the president have been forced to react to the controversy du jour.
Strategists and experts say the result has been bad news for Democrats, who have had a tougher time underscoring their preferred campaign messages on their party’s support for women and the middle class.
Instead, each shiny object captivating a media that craves the hottest story has helped Republicans making the elections for the House and Senate all about President Obama.
“Every time there is a major issue — or as were now referring to everything, crisis — it seems to reverberate on Obama,” said Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. “It plays into what was already a sour political mood and compounds it.”
Crisis management has forced the White House to name new czars, fire political appointees and drop bombs, even as Republicans point to missteps as signs of Obama’s weak leadership and the government’s lack of competency.
Vulnerable Democrats are put in the unenviable position of either backing the president or lobbing criticism at their party’s leader.
“It totally threw the Democratic game plan off,” said Princeton University political historian Julian Zelizer. “They wanted to focus on the economic recovery, Republican extremism, and it’s hard for candidates to speak about that with these issues coming up.”
Democratic strategists say that their candidates would have been better able to account for crises if they had done a better job organizing around a cohesive message earlier in the campaign.
Jamal Simmons, a veteran Democratic aide, said politicians never “get to choose what the public thinks is important so they must hit the balls that come their way.”
“What makes this cycle seem especially dominated by errant issues is the lack of policy proposals or substantive messages about agendas coming from either side,” he argued. “In campaigns about nothing, election debates tend to be dominated by anything.”
There’s also been a shift in media, with even the 24-hour news cycle appearing dated in the era of the internet and social media.
“Part of what’s going on is the way the media works,” Zelizer said. “It’s not necessarily that there’s more issues, it’s the quick attention span media cycle where we move from one crisis to another.”
Nothing says “look, shiny objects!” like anything on CNN. Candy Crowley actually thought the two heads of the ruling parties could rationally discuss issues pertinent to the U.S. vote. Alas! Too many shiny objects in such a short time!
A CNN “State Of The Union” debate on the midterm elections between Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus and Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) quickly devolved into complete chaos on Sunday.
Host Candy Crowley first asked Priebus if this election is about scaring voters into voting a certain way. And when he responded with a line about President Obama’s policies being on the ballot, Crowley asked Wasserman-Schultz if that was true.
As the DNC chair responded, Priebus jumped in to insist that Wasserman-Schultz answer the question about Obama’s policies.
After Crowley asked another question, the two chairs quickly started talking over each other again, discussing completely different topics.
“This is ridiculous,” Priebus noted.
Crowley then asked Wasserman-Schultz again whether Obama’s policies are on the ballot, and Priebus jumped in once more.
“Are they the president’s policies or not? Are the president’s policies on the ballot or not?” Priebus echoed.
“Reince, maybe you could let Candy ask me the questions rather than you,” Wasserman-Schultz retorted.
“She’s been doing a great job of it so far — you haven’t been answering them, though,” Priebus hit back.
The two party chairs continued to interrupt each other and bring up new topics for the rest of the debate.
C0ntrol of the U.S. Senate is coming down to the wire, with Democrats and Republicans locked in tight races in the key contests that will determine the majority in that chamber of Congress, according to six new NBC News/Marist polls.
The momentum in these races, however, has swung mostly in the Republican Party’s direction, giving the GOP a clear path to winning the majority.
- In Colorado’s Senate contest, Republican challenger Cory Gardner holds a one-point lead among likely voters over incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., 46 percent to 45 percent. Back in September’s NBC/Marist poll, Udall was ahead by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent.
- In Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst edges Democrat Bruce Braley by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent. Earlier this month, Ernst’s lead was two points, 46 percent to 44 percent.
- In Kansas, independent Greg Orman has a one-point advantage over Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, 45 percent to 44 percent – down from Orman’s 10-point lead earlier this month in the NBC/Marist poll.
- In Arkansas, Republican challenger Tom Cotton gets the support of 45 percent of likely voters, versus incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., at 43 percent. In September, Cotton’s lead was five points.
- And in North Carolina, incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and GOP opponent Thom Tillis are tied at 43 percent each. That’s down from Hagan’s four-point lead earlier this month. Libertarian Sean Haugh gets 7 percent of the vote.
“Senate contests are coming down to the wire,” says pollster Barbara Carvalho of Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion. “ In a reversal from 2012, when there were multiple paths for [President] Obama, now the Democrats are struggling to protect their firewall in Iowa, North Carolina and Colorado.”
All five of these races are within the polls’ margins of error. The lone exception is the NBC/Marist poll of South Dakota, where Republican Mike Rounds enjoys a 14-point lead over Democrat Rick Weiland, 43 percent to 29 percent, while independent Larry Pressler, a former Republican senator, gets 16 percent. To win control of the Senate, Republicans must gain a net of six seats. Two pick-up opportunities – in Montana and West Virginia – appear to be slam dunks for the GOP. And South Dakota, per the NBC/Marist poll, looks to be a safe bet for a third.
That means Republicans need to win three out of these seven other Democrat-held seats to get to a majority: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
But if Democrats win a GOP-held seat – say Georgia – or if Orman decides to caucus with Democrats, that means Republicans must win an additional seat (or two) to net six Senate seats.
The truth, though, is that the most-hyped threats are often not actually that threatening to Americans, while larger dangers go mostly ignored. That should tell you something about how our political system and media can distort threats, leading Americans to overreact to minor dangers while ignoring the big, challenging, divisive problems — like climate change — that we should actually be worried about.
Obsessing about possible threats is something of a beloved national past-time here in America, which is objectively one of the safest places on Earth, so we want to help you do it right. Here, then, is a highly un-scientific and incomplete ranking of threats to the United States — sorted by the current danger to Americans, worst-case danger to Americans, and how freaked out you should be.
We’re a lot more likely to have our lives impacted by heart disease, cancer, or gun violence than Ebola or ISIS, so why do so many people follow the imaged threat over the real?
Danger to Americans: Guns kill more than 30,000 Americans every year, about as many deaths as caused by motor vehicles. But only about one in three of those deaths is a homicide. A few thousand are from accidents but most are due to suicide.
Worst-case scenario: We have already chosen to live in a society with the world’s highest gun ownership rate and some of its loosest gun control laws, so the worst-case scenario is pretty much here. Still, gun deaths per year are on the rise.
How freaked out should you be: It all depends on whether you see America’s uniquely permissive gun laws as worth the trade-off. But you — and, yes, your children — are at risk, regardless of your views about gun regulations.
White House officials warned the governors of New York and New Jersey of the “unintended consequences” of quarantining all medical workers returning from west Africa, as a political crisis deepened on Sunday over how to counter public fears about the spread of Ebola in the US.
Amid a barrage of criticism from aid organisations, medical experts and the mayor of New York, the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, and his New York counterpart, Andrew Cuomo, staunchly defended their plans, which provide for the mandatory 21-day quarantine of anyone returning from west Africa after direct contact with people suffering from Ebola.
Kaci Hickox, a nurse who was detained in New Jersey despite testing negative for Ebola, described her treatment as “inhumane” and said she had been made to feel like a criminal.
The White House made it clear that it objected to the hurried introduction of “policies not grounded in science”.
The tougher rules were introduced hurriedly on Friday by Christie and Cuomo after it emerged that a New York doctor, Craig Spencer, had moved widely around the city in the days before he tested positive for Ebola.
Spencer, who worked for Doctors Without Borders in Guinea, is now in isolation at Bellevue Hospital. Hickox was stopped at Newark airport in New Jersey just as the new rules were announced.
On Sunday evening Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, hit out strongly against her treatment. “The problem is this hero, having come back from the front, having done the right thing, was treated with disrespect, was treated with a sense that she had done something wrong when she hadn’t,” he said.
Speaking at a press conference at Bellevue, de Blasio added: “We respect the right of each governor to make decisions that they think are right for their people. But we have to think how we treat the people who are doing this noble work and we must show them respect and consideration at all times. And we owe [Hickox] better than that and all the people who do this work better than that.”
The White House indicated that it was urgently reviewing the federal guidelines for returning healthcare workers, “recognising that these medical professionals’ selfless efforts to fight this disease on the front lines will be critical to bringing this epidemic under control, the only way to eliminate the risk of additional cases here at home”.
“We have let the governors of New York, New Jersey, and others states know that we have concerns with the unintended consequences of policies not grounded in science may have on efforts to combat Ebola at its source in West Africa,” an administration official said.
The governors’ moves have created another political crisis for the Obama administration, which is already facing criticism of its handling of the Ebola crisis in the run up to the midterm elections.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, on Sunday became the highest-ranked administration official to officially comment on the crisis. She told NBC: “We need to make sure [returning healthcare workers] are treated like conquering heroes and not in any other way.”
Power, who was in Guinea’s capital Conakry on the first leg of a tour through the three West African nations hardest hit by the epidemic, said: “All of us need to make clear what these health workers mean to us and how much we value their services, how much we value their contribution.”
In New Jersey, Hickox, who returned from a stint working for Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone, appointed a lawyer to free her and called her treatment “inhumane” and “poorly planned”.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease, said quarantining health workers could have the unintended consequence of stopping US aid workers from tackling the disease at its source in West Africa.
“There’s a big, big difference between completely confining somebody so that they can’t even get outside and doing the appropriate monitoring based on scientific evidence,” he said on CNN. “The harm is that it is totally disruptive of their life. We want them to go because they are helping us to protect America to be over there.”
Ebola cannot be transmitted until someone with the disease begins to display symptoms; even then it is only transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids.
A spokesman for Doctors Without Borders said a total of 52 people from the US have worked with the organisation in west Africa on the Ebola response since it began in March. The spokesman said 31 Americans were currently working in West Africa, with 20 due to return sometime in the next four weeks.
A spokesman for SIM, Palmer Holt, said the international missionary organisation had one American doctor in Liberia, “who is planning to return to the States soon, but if he has to undergo mandatory quarantine, he may not be able to do that, as his plan is to do a brief visit and then quickly return.”
Meanwhile, we can’t even get through the hysteria of this election season before some one starts going off the rails on the next one. The journalistic magpies are at it already.
In November’s Harper’smagazine, Doug Henwood, a longtime progressive economics writer, editor and publisher, takes a deep dive into Hill-and-Bill land and resoundingly bursts the bubble that’s now taking shape across America’s Democratic provinces.
His article, “Stop Hillary: Vote no to a Clinton Dynasty,” turns the notion that Hillary and the White House are an inevitable match made in heaven into a restive rejoinder filled with deflating details from the Clintons’ long careers in high offices.
“What Hillary will deliver, then, is more of the same. And that shouldn’t surprise us,” Henwood writes, saying the country would be far better served by anyone but Hillary the hawk, Hillary the centrist, Hillary the corporatist, and Hillary the appendage of Bill. “Today we desperately need a new political economy—one that features a more equal distribution of income, investment in our rotting social and physical infrastructure, and a more humane ethic. We also need a judicious foreign policy, and a commander-in-chief who will resist the instant gratification of air strikes and rhetorical bluster.”
“Is Hillary Clinton the answer to these prayers?” Henwood asks, then answering, “It’s hard to think so, despite the widespread liberal fantasy of her as a progressive paragon, who will follow through exactly as Barack Obama did not. In fact, a close look at her life and career is perhaps the best antidote to all these great expectations.”
Harper’s and Henwood, to their credit, are trying to jump ahead of the curve and answer the most obvious question looming in American politics. That question is not, as posters from her rallies pose, “Are we ready for Hillary?” According to Henwood, it’s more like, “Really, Hillary? Really?” as he offer readers an answer filled with details we thought we had forgotten.
Some days it just doesn’t pay to look at the news. I’m feeling it’s going to be a long November.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?