Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Caucuses' Greatest Hits: 4th Edition Revised 2019

And a revised mission statement as well.

My dual role as press-activist, which was what led to the invention of the beret as the "blogging hat," back in 2007 when I unexpectedly found myself back in a professional journalism job for a year and a half, has been getting in the way of the activist role. (It's actually a TRIPLE role, but we'll leave my job out of the mix for the moment.)

Lately I found myself not able to have conversations that were critical to my activist role. I was getting left out of other things I wanted to do.  And I felt less and less like I really "belonged" on press row - including a few nasty looks the last time I sat there at the Hall Of Fame event in Cedar Rapids in June.

It's a lot harder to justify the travel and time at events when it's a hobby, not a second job. I haven't really written enough in a long time to justify a press pass - including no long form blog posts at all the entire month of July and nothing in August but a music post. Twitter has really been my main medium for a long time.

Another problem for me as "press" is that I really, really, really hate doing interviews. As I get more open about being on the autism spectrum I can confess that I always felt extremely uncomfortable and awkward asking the questions. But if YOU interview ME about MY favorite subjects I'll talk all day (again: the spectrum).

So the beret is going into semi-retirement. I'm not going to attend events as "press" anymore. This isn't "quitting" as much as it is an acknowledgement of what my reality has been for some time.

Irony: At the first event where I deliberately decided not to go as press, Elizabeth Warren's Thursday rally on campus. I walked out of the closed door, no-press pre-event and out to the main rally - and Team Warren was playing my song as pre-rally music.



Literally the only good thing about Prince's death is that now you can find his videos on the internet. He was extremely aggressive about blocking his content online.

I'm always happy to be a source for real working journalists. The actual beret may appear on special occasions. And I'll still write occasional long form posts when I feel like it,  when that medium works best, and when it's my specialty: number crunchers, caucus process, election law, and history.

Like this.

In a post I first wrote back in 2006 and have updated periodically. I've looked at and ranked all the caucus cycles back to 1976.  As for history and the caucuses themselves, a mixed bag.  Irrelevant nearly half the time, critical a little less often.

Not Worth The Airfare To Waterloo

19. 1984 and 2004 Republican. The Republican tradition was to hold no presidential vote at all in incumbent re-elect years.That tradition looks likely to end in 2020, not because of Trump's minor opponents but because state party leadership seems to think not having a vote in 2020 hurts the case for First in 2024. Ironically, this is happening as other state Republican parties are canceling their contests.

18. 1996 Democratic. The word went down from Des Moines to the Democratic county chairs: “The President would like a unanimous re-nomination and this WILL happen.” Self-starters in a couple lefty college precincts elected a very small handful of Nader and Uncommitted protest delegates, but those results got swept under the rug. Clinton came out and campaigned the final weekend, largely to step on the GOP story (Actually Being President trumps winning the caucus), but it was in basketball arenas, not chat n’ chews.

17. 2012 Democratic.  As close to an unopposed caucus as possible short of “The President would like a unanimous re-nomination and this WILL happen.” The state party went to bat for actually having an alignment, which Chicago didn't want. But without a live person as an Obama opponent (despite Bernie Sanders' suggestion), the dissenters were split between Uncommitted and crossing over for Ron Paul. In the end the Uncommitteds, mostly made up of folks allied with the simultaneous Occupy movement, made a lot of noise out of proportion to their 1.5% of the delegates. Rated up one notch because that 1.5% actually got honestly reported, not suppressed as in 1996.

16. 1992 Republican. The Pat Buchanan Brigade was looking like a serious threat to win New Hampshire - he ended up at 37.5% there - but the inside the Des Moines Beltway crowd stuck with the tradition of not having a vote in an incumbent year. That decision was a small win for George HW, so this gets the highest rank of the uncontested caucuses.

Ultimately Irrelevant

15. 1992 Democratic. Hometown boy Tom Harkin runs and wins big, though not as big as it looked because of some skilled realignment work at viability time. That 76% Harkin delegate count included a lot of stealth supporters of other candidates.

Paul Tsongas was already on the ground in Iowa when Harkin announced, but he quickly bailed. There were a couple feints from Bob Kerrey and Jerry Brown but nothing serious. Everyone showed up for the cycle's lone cattle call, the then-Jefferson Jackson dinner, but between low interest and a blizzard the hall was half empty.

In the end, Iowa kept first place after `92 only because Tom Harkin was the only Bill Clinton rival who enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon. The other also-rans could barely hide their obvious contempt for Clinton. (Kerrey and Brown probably wrote themselves in that November.)

The long term importance of the 1992 caucuses may be that Bill, and by extension Hillary, Clinton did not have to retail campaign in Iowa, and that had a ripple effect into 2008 and 2016.

14. 2000 Both. On the Democratic side Al Gore easily beat Bill Bradley in what was merely the first moment in the overall national dynamic; Dollar Bill made his stand on friendlier turf in New Hampshire and fell just short there, and that pretty much ended it.

On the Republican side it was like one of those boycott-era Olympics: W won but the toughest competitor, McCain, was a no-show playing a Screw Iowa strategy. The truly significant GOP event was the straw poll that winnowed out more candidates (E. Dole, Quayle, and Buchanan bolting to Reform) than the actual caucus (Orrin Hatch, as if that wasn’t obvious).  Comic relief: People who took Gary Bauer seriously, Alan Keyes in Michael Moore’s mosh pit.

Secondary event in nomination contest

13. 2016 Republican. Whichever contest was first would have narrowed a field that peaked at 17 candidates. The biggest event of the cycle was actually a non-event - the Ames Straw Poll that had been the dominant pre-caucus event from 1987 to 2011 was first moved out of Ames, then canceled entirely when the leading candidates refused to show up.

The field was down to a mere 12 by caucus night. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio, in that order, each took about a quarter of the vote, with the other nine splitting the remaining 25%. The immediate two past Iowa winners, Huckabee and Santorum, fizzled, and that effectively ended their campaigns.

Rand Paul failed to keep his father's coalition, because all of the "he's alternative, dude!" vote was caucusing for Bernie Sanders. The dudebro overlap between Ron/Rand Paul and Sanders supporters, which makes little ideological sense but is clearly a Thing, is a Ph.D. dissertation for someone.

Cruz's win turned out to be an anomaly and a relatively minor event. Cruz wasn't even Trump's final opposition - that turned out to be John Kasich, merely because he refused to quit.

12. 1980 Democratic. The incumbent won the first test of Kennedy-Carter, but that battle of giants was played out on a national, even global, stage and Iowa was a bit player.

11. 2008 Republican. Important to the dynamic of the contest, but not central to the result.

Mitt Romney was looking like the guy to beat in December 2007. Which Mike Huckabee did in January 2008, after first beating Sam Brownback at the straw poll to win the mantle of THE religious conservative candidate. Had Iowa Republicans gotten behind the Mitt, they may have headed off the chaos that was the GOP field in January. Instead, we proved that there was no there there for Fred Thompson, and that the Ron Paul Яэvoutionaries were noisy in disproportion to their actual numbers (but see 2012 below). But really, we just stirred the pot, and the decisive event was in Florida between two men with Screw Iowa Lite strategies, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

Our next contest was very similar, but the tiebreaker is that the Iowa winner actually won the nomination:

10. 1996 Republican. What might have been: Pat Buchanan was within 3% of Bob Dole, but the social conservatives in Cedar Rapids backed Alan Keyes instead; Keyes thus won the second biggest county. One minister at one mega-church makes a different choice, and we’d have had a major upset.

Some all too obvious field winnowing (Dick Lugar???) happens. Phil Gramm gets out too, but his real stumble was in Louisiana’s jump-the-starting-gun contest a week earlier. 

Comic relief: Easily the funniest caucus! Dole, genuinely witty in his non-Satan mode, Steve Forbes the android, Alan Keyes… but they all pale next to Morrie Taylor, the tire magnate who literally tried to buy a win one vote at a time. Failed miserably but looked like he had more fun than the rest put together.

9. 1988 Democratic. Other than Tom Harkin's favorite son run, this is the only time in the post-Carter modern era of the caucuses that Iowa Democrats did not vote for the eventual nominee. The nomination contest came down to Dukakis vs. Jackson, neither of whose fortunes were affected by Iowa.

In `88 Al Gore, dirty Prince lyrics still ringing in his ears, was the first candidate to use the Screw Iowa strategy.  It's never worked (save for the Harkin year), but nevertheless Gore wound up outlasting the two Iowa leaders.

There's a story, long told by Paul Simon loyalists, that a county chair sat on his Simon-friendly results until the Register had printed its GEPHARDT WINS headline, which mattered in the pre-internet era. Rules got changed after that so that results are reported direct from the precinct to the state without going through a county chair, but this one proved the winner-take-all-news theory that was prevalent at the time (and which was supposed to be the anchor of my aborted masters' thesis).

Comic relief: Gary Hart’s last minute return to the race, campaigning with his wife.

8. 2012 Republican. The real importance of the 2012 Republican caucuses was not its relatively small role in designating the nominee. That was always going to come down to Mitt vs. Not Mitt.  Rick Santorum never really got the bump from the win, because of the dead heat, the botched result announcement, and the recount that delayed the final result. And also because Sheldon Adelson kept Newt Gingrich on life support far too long,

No, the real importance was what happened to the Republican Party of Iowa after the presidential vote. The Romney and Santorum people both said "yay, we won," went home, and both in turn were right. The Ron Paul people stuck around, elected themselves as all the delegates and committee people, and took over the state party structure.

The consequences had a huge ripple effect through state, and even national, internal Republican politics for the next two years, until Terry Branstad, Jeff Kaufmann and the rest of the grownups took party control back in 2014 (the most important OFF-year caucus). This one may move up the charts depending on the long-term fate of the caucuses, and so may the next:

7. 2016 Democratic.  Iowa was a big deal - in the same way that the first post in an epic flame war that eventually breaks Godwin's Law is a big deal.

Had Hillary Clinton solidly beaten Bernie Sanders in Iowa, 2016 would have been over as fast as you can say "Bill Bradley" and the whole Sanders phenomenon would never have happened. Oh, he might have stayed on some ballots and accumulated a few votes. But without the dead heat in Iowa, and the money and attention that followed, he would have been an asterisk, like Dennis Kucinich playing out the string in the late states in 2004 after John Kerry had clinched and everyone else had quit.

I have long said that half the Sanders vote was simply Not Hillary, and that alone would have gotten Martin O'Malley to 30 points in Iowa had Sanders not run. Indeed, that was probably O'Malley's whole strategy, to be the only person willing to run against Clinton.

The fact that Sanders was even allowed to run in 2016 without joining the Democratic Party was a decision by the DNC - ironically, headed at the time by the same Debbie Wasserman Schultz who supposedly "rigged" the nomination against Sanders. DWS's inability to take Sanders seriously as a threat to Clinton, and her under-estimation of Clinton's negatives, are just more signs of her ineptitude.

Sanders himself may have faded (from 49.9999% in Iowa on Caucus Night to 11% in last night's Register poll) but his campaign mainstreamed a progressive stance that other candidates without Sanders' negatives, most notably Warren, are now seeing success with. The long range ranking of 2016 may move up if this turns out to be a permanent change.

Significant event in nomination contest

6. 1988 Republican. Pat Robertson pushes George HW into third place. Robertson was insignificant thereafter, but the blow made Bush go on a fight of his life attack against Bob Dole in New Hampshire. Dole took the bait and was goaded into “stop lying about my record.” This convinces HW that hard negative was the way to go. That road went through the flag factory and Willie Horton, and ended at the White House. Comic relief: Al Haig.

5. 1984 Democratic. Gary Hart barely squeaked past his old boss, George McGovern. But second, no matter how distant, was enough to make him the Not Mondale and propel him up about 40 points in eight days for a New Hampshire win, a brief but genuine shot at the nomination, and (pre-Donna Rice) 1988 front-runner status. The Right Stuff sank like Gus Grissom’s capsule, and you're an old timer if you catch that reference.

Decisive event in nomination contest

4. 2004 Democratic.

Iowa was the whole ball game in 2004. Nothing that happened after Iowa mattered nearly as much as what happened in Iowa.  The guy who won got the nomination, and the guy in second got VP.  And the guy in third?



The Dean Scream goes down as the single most memorable caucus moment, but everyone forgets The Scream was after The Much More Important Disappointing Third Place. After Dean had been the front-runner for months, Iowans got scared at the last minute - mostly thanks to Dick Gephardt, who went on a suicide attack that took them both out and set Gephardt up for reward in the Kerry Administration.

Made History

3. 1976 Democratic. This one made both Jimmy Carter and the caucuses themselves. Carter didn’t actually win this, you know. He was second to Uncommitted. But I know folks who still brag “Jimmy Carter slept on my couch.”

I’m torn about ranking a caucus that directly produced a president below one that didn't. But read on.

2. 1980 Republican. In the first true Iowa Republican caucus, an obscure former ambassador, spy boss, and failed Senate candidate George Herbert Walker Bush shocked the ten foot tall colossus of the GOP, Ronald Reagan. This one win puts Poppy on the map and ultimately on the ticket (after the botched Ford “co-presidency” deal at the `80 convention).

So why rank this ahead of Jimmy Carter, especially since Bush Sr. lost that 1980 nomination? The ripple effect. No Iowa win = no Bush 41. And with no HW, do you REALLY think Bush 43 or 45 (please clap) would have made it on their own? 1976 made a president, but 1980 made a dynasty.

Number 1: 2008 Democratic. There's no question the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses created a president. Iowa was the honing ground for Barack Obama's message and appeal and ground game. We eliminated the entire second tier, and proved that voters in one of the whitest places in America would support a black candidate. Remember, a lot of African-American voters were sticking with Hillary Clinton before Iowa, because Obama "couldn't win." Iowa shattered that myth and the perception of Clinton's inevitability.

It's too soon to tell, and Trump's win blurred things, but the 2008 caucuses may have ushered in not just one president, but a whole era, a new alignment of states that ends the 1968 Nixon-Wallace southern-western coalition for good, at least at the presidential level.

2008 was a whole new map. As late as the first John Edwards campaign, people were sill seriously saying it was impossible to break the Republican "electoral college lock" without southern rural white male voters. Trump has since proven those voters are gone forever - maybe in the urban and exurban North as well.

But that old South has been replaced by the new South, driven by suburban voters who migrated from the North, women, and minorities. Virginia three times, Florida twice, North Carolina once, Georgia becoming an in-play mega-state, and even Texas on the horizon. Barack Obama fueled this alignment, which would not have been possible without that Iowa win.

The 1976 caucuses made one president, but his victory is a mere footnote to a Republican era, brought about by the intensity of Watergate and the Nixon pardon. The 1980 Republican caucuses made two presidents, but they followed the electoral footsteps of others.

How many presidents in an era? Obama wasn't able to transfer this alignment to a successor, because some anchors of the old coalition fell in 2016 (Trump essentially drew three cards to an inside straight with his narrow Wisconsin-Michigan-Pennsylvania wins). If the 2008 caucuses ushered in an Obama Realignment, like the FDR Relignment or the Nixon-Wallace Realignment, they could lead to four or five presidents.It's a weaker case than it was four years ago, but 2008 still deserves the number one spot.

Friday, September 06, 2019

No One Wants An Absentee Caucus

Virtual Caucus is dead.

That became official today when a Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws meeting confirmed what was loudly leaked last week: that the phone-in "Virtual Caucus" plan that the Iowa Democratic Party developed, with nods of approval from DNC every step of the way, was unacceptable because of security concerns.

The most likely outcome, hinted at already last week, was that DNC would be willing to grant a waiver to Iowa and fellow early caucus state Nevada from the new requirement that caucus states be required to provide an absentee voting process.

The uncomfortable truth is: No one really wants the Iowa Democratic caucuses to have an absentee process.

Iowa Democratic leadership - both in the official Iowa Democratic Party structure sense and in the elected official-donor-activist base sense -doesn't want it because they're scared about risking First.

The bully of Concord, inscrutable New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, doesn't want Iowa to have absentees either, because he thinks that's an election and HE insists on the first election.

The DNC doesn't really want Iowa absentees, despite lip service to the new absentee requirement, because they are really more concerned about the much older standing fight about preserving the early state calendar.

The DNC found out the hard way in 2007, when Florida and Michigan broke the rules and went too early, that a broken calendar is unenforceable against states that are unwilling to cooperate. In part that's because election law is mostly state law, and in part that's because the only possible penalties are so nuclear that they won't be used. There was no way the DNC was ever going to refuse to seat the delegations from two huge swing states at the 2008 national convention, and everyone knew it. It ends up making the party look weak and they want to avoid having to referee between Iowa and New Hampshire.

Iowa haters and caucus haters don't want the caucus to have absentees because they think this may finally be the way to kill us. (And they have cynically recruited the tech security community as allies.)

The presidential candidates, despite rhetoric from one or two campaigns, don't really want the Iowa caucus to have absentees. They have already made battle plans that actively discouraged Virtual Caucus because "it counts less."

The Des Moines Register in particular, and the rest of the Iowa media in general, are against absentees at the caucuses because they believe it risks First - and thus risks their polls, editorial boards, national TV appearances, and bottom line.

Iowa Republicans don't want Iowa Democrats to have an absentee process because they are worried about First and about double voting - people voting for the Democrats early and then attending the Republican event on caucus night (because they want to vote against Trump twice?). That's technically illegal - but can only be discovered after the fact and only with an unusual level of bipartisan cooperation.

Rural Iowa Democratic county activists who like to brag about how badly their county swung from Obama to Trump don't want absentees because they worry that without forced attendance in order to vote, no one will show up and they will not be able to organize their county committees.

No, no one really wants the Iowa Democratic caucuses to have an absentee process...
...except for two small groups. And no one seems to much care what we think.
The first is made up of actual normal Iowans who don't want to or can't spend three hours on a Monday night just to vote, and who care more about that than about the benefits (?) of First. These are not the people asking questions or getting selfies or even going to candidate events. They don't care how many candidates are at your county party event or how the platform is worded or who is on the county central committee. They just want to VOTE.

These are also the people who work second shift or get mandatory OT or are traveling or who have small children or can't drive at night or who have problems standing or who (like me) can't handle the stress of large and sometimes hostile crowds.

The other group that wants absentees is also like me - actually, I'm pretty sure I'm the loudest: Urban county Iowa Democratic activists who are concerned about literally not being able to fit into the biggest room that exists in the precinct. No one at IDP has ever given us any constructive suggestions as to what we should do about it. Even honest acknowledgement is rare. We just get the occasional "it won't be so bad" pep talk.

You cannot "organize" and "party build" when precinct attendance is approaching quadruple digits. You can't fix The Biggest Room Is Too Small with "better planning." You CAN fix it, you can ONLY fix it, with absentee ballots.

If you're with me in those last two groups, we have two weeks to convince Iowa Democratic leadership that we NEED an absentee process and that the apparent direction from both Iowa and DNC - a waiver from the absentee requirement - is the wrong way to go.

In today's conference call, DNC Rules and Bylaws chair James Roosevelt (yes, grandson of FDR and Eleanor) said:


If Nevada can have in person early voting for caucuses, Iowa can and must do the same.

It is time to stop caring about New Hampshire thinks. It is time to stand up to Big Bully Bill Gardner.

DNC approved a calendar with Iowa first and New Hampshire second. They also approved rules that said caucus states need absentees, and we should not let New Hampshire break the rules just because we are following the rules.
If New Hampshire moves in front of Iowa, let them - and then throw their delegation out of the national convention, the way Florida and Michigan should have been thrown out in 2008.

We also have one last chance to convince Iowa Democratic leadership that the 10% delegate cap, no matter what the attendance, on an absentee process is unfair. Absentees should be reported back to the individual precincts and counted equally, and should also be actively encouraged in order to address overcrowding.

We need real early ballots and we should not settle for anything less.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why Taylor Swift Matters

One of the great rituals of my youth was the release of a major album by a major artist. Some of my fondest memories are the treks to the actual physical vinyl record store on release day to buy Synchronicity or Born In the USA or Purple Rain or, later, the midnight trip to the CD store for Use Your Illusion.

Such moments are rare in our fragmented era of infinite selection and the death of the monoculture. An Avengers movie opening was as close as we got, and before that a new Harry Potter book.

But yesterday something important happened. A major musician, probably the most important of our time, released an album.

Popular music is supposed to be, well, popular. Even Joe Strummer knew that. The ideology that commercial success was UnCool literally killed Kurt Cobain. But as Cobain re-proved but never understood, popularity does not preclude great art. The most popular rock group of all time is also universally acknowledged as the creatively greatest of all time.

Which brings us to the most popular artist of our time.

Taylor Swift transcended the narrow niche of the country market segment as long ago as 2012, with her brilliant singer-songwriter album Red and her first pop number one hit "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." She was bigger by that point than country music itself.

Some. me among them, would argue that she outgrew niche popularity as long ago as her breakthrough 2008 album Fearless - still very country in sound but with the massive crossover success of "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me."

Which sets up part of the problem. Swift was introduced to us as a VERY young artist, with her first record at 16. She wrote of that stage of life in a style that was at once eloquent, realistic, and, well, girly. The imagery of that era, lyrically and in videos, was literally set in high school, cheerleaders and band uniforms and prom dresses and crying with your best friend over her first broken heart. "When you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you're gonna believe them," she wrote as a wise old woman of (checks notes) eighteen.

And it connected. Deeply. Which is what art is supposed to do. The emotions were universal, but they connected most deeply with Swift's peers, young women.

From there her popularity exploded into tabloid celebrity, with more attention to the identity of the inspirations of her songs than to the excellence of the work itself. "If I could talk to my 19-year-old self I'd just say, 'Hey, you're going to date just like a normal twenty-something should be allowed to, but you're going to be a national lightning rod for slut-shaming,'" she said in 2016, as people forgot that Swift was first and foremost a musician - and first and foremost within that a songwriter.

I’m so sick of running as fast as I can
Wondering if I'd get there quicker if I was a man

And I'm so sick of them coming at me again
 
'Cause if I was a man, then I'd be The Man
Taylor Swift, 2019

Genres and works of art made and enjoyed largely by female audiences and young audiences get taken less seriously. Double that if the artist is female. Square that if the artist is a young woman. Cube that if the artist in question is working in a field other than acting or modeling, and is tall, slim and blonde. And add yet another dimension if the artist comes from a background of family wealth and privilege that unlike, say, diplomat's son Joe Strummer, Swift readily acknowledges - because we ALL know that Real Art comes from the streets, right?

Taylor Swift is not a mere pop star. She is a serious artist using pop music as a medium. That's how I have approached her work since Red and that's how Lover should be evaluated.

Bigger that a genre? Taylor Swift now is phrases-entering-the-language big, bigger than the music industry itself - able to get Apple Music to back down and offer artists more money with little more than an Instagram post, and probably able to blow up a $300 million industry deal by simply talking about re-recording her old music (which I do NOT actually expect to happen - it's a negotiating tactic). And able to get bodies into stores to buy physical copies of music which is unheard of in 2019.

So it's impossible to listen to Lover the album without taking into account Taylor Swift The Persona. You can't pretend it's some indie record that's MUCH cooler than mine. (You also can't appreciate how smart and hilarious "Blank Space" is without knowing that persona.)

But set aside the notion that art made with mass popularity in mind is a least common denominator. Taylor Swift is an important artist, my children's generation's equivalent of the great singer-songwriters of my generation and the 60s generation.

I fell in love with Swift's music because it reminds me of being young. So I revived the old ritual for a release day trip to a store.



Just 36 hours and four or so listens in, I am still getting to know Lover the album. I know I prefer it to 2017's Reputation, and I see it rivaling 1989 and my personal favorite Red in quality. The title song, issued a week ahead, is one of the greatest odes to stable and serious love I have heard in a very, very long time. And near album's end, she offers continuity between her past tales of broken hearts and her current state of mind:



So along with enjoying the art, I feel personal happiness for an artist closer to my children's age than my own who has given so much of herself to her fans -  not just the music, but a personal touch that goes far above and beyond the call of duty. So far this cycle she has invited fans into her homes for private listening sessions, paid a fan's college tuition, sent her dad with dozens of pizzas to fans waiting in line, and showed up at a Target to greet fans checking out with CDs. That's just THIS MONTH.

And she's making six figure donations to gay and pro-choice groups.

While this summer's ubiquitous "You Need To Calm Down" was sometimes mocked for placing the straight cisgender Swift at the center of a pride narrative, it's inherently powerful for someone with such massive popularity to send a positive message. Far from a least common denominator, mainstreaming pride still matters in vast purple and red swaths of America. . So does the unspoken touch of casting a black man as a love interest in a video, and so do Swift's emerging political thoughts. An ally with more than 80 million followers is a good friend to have, and I hope and expect that Swift will use this powerful voice between now and next November.

Unity is rare in both our culture and our politics. So as Lover takes over the world, in this moment now, capture it, remember it. There are few moments like this anymore and this moment matters.

But I will forever believe that spelling is fun.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Biden's Brilliant (?) Bumble

Well, Joe Biden is in trouble for something he said again (evergreen tweet), this time for discussing his long-ago personal friendships with long-dead segregationist senators James Eastland and John Stennis.

Obviously this is a mistake - but maybe not quite in the way you think.

Biden has premised his candidacy and his prospective presidency on the idea that Trump is an anomaly and that with The Donald out of the way, the collegial folkways of the past can return to government.

Now, political Twitter knows that those days are gone forever, and have probably been gone since Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill shared their last Irish whiskey some 30 years ago.

But, hear me out, what if Biden knows that too?

What if Biden is not simply nostalgic for the past, in a sign of his age, but instead is positioning himself in a popular niche? The salient political question is not "can we bring the bourbon and branchwater era back." The important question is: How many rank and file primary voters either think or wish that era could come back?

Over and over we see polls and hear voters saying they want politicians to "cooperate" and "get along." Biden knows this too. Is he deluding himself thinking this era can come back - or, I think more likely,  is he just playing to that sentiment in a segment of the electorate?

Personally, I think it's a myth that there's all that much real support for Getting Along and The Sensible Center - because people are taught by the Objective Journalism paradigm that we are supposed to Vote The Person Not The Party, and because if you scratch the surface "compromise" usually means "compromise by YOU changing to MY position."

But at least it's an argument one could reasonably make with some data to point to, and I think it's a more plausible explanation for Biden's approach than "he's old and dumb."

If that's what he's doing, then his mistake was not arguing that personal friendships across the aisle can fix things. His error was in naming the wrong friends, men who while they may have been genial in person were committed to the wrong side of history and justice. Had Biden named colleagues like, say, Bob Dole or even Barry Goldwater, very conservative men yet men who were not primarily (despite Goldwater's vote against the Civil Rights Act) identified as segregationists, he would have made his point more effectively.

Joe Biden is a lot of things, and in many ways he is the last son of a bygone era. He may be far enough behind the times that he won't win the nomination. But Joe Biden is absolutely not dumb, and I think his longing for the past is more strategic than nostalgic.


Sunday, June 09, 2019

Random Thoughts On A Random Order Day

It used to be a presidential election had an "Invisible Primary" stage before the early states. Candidates tested the waters with low profile visits and events in the midterm cycle, gathered their families and core people, and made a decision. Many opted out, and only a few opted in.

It's not unusual for two dozen people to think about running for president and look into it.

But what is unusual, or perhaps is the unfortunate new reality, is that ALL of those people are opting in. In 2016 on the Republican side, and this cycle on the Democratic side, the Invisible Primary phase of the campaign seems to have vanished, and this backstage first phase of narrowing the field is playing out in public with declared candidates.

So today we had the spectacle of  NINETEEN candidates giving speeches at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame event in Cedar Rapids.

The mindset seems to be: Err on the side of inclusion. But it's just so much. Not sure how someone could decide or even narrow from this - or from two nights of 10-candidate debates - unless you start from the self-fulfilling prophecy of polls and limit yourself to candidates that are registering at least a smidgen of support. We got a handy checklist last night:



The problem is, by including EVERYone, you have less time to focus on the serious players. I would have liked half as many speeches but twice as long.

The beret has been semi-retired for a while, but I figured this show was too big to pass up. So I dutifully drove north for what I expected would be a brutally long day and night.

I arrived to witness, as expected, Sign War.

I do not love Sign War. Staffers and volunteers love Sign War. We had two solid blocks of Sign War. But with pretty good collegiality between most campaigns (except the one that does its own thing), it wasn't much of a "war." At one point the Klobuchar, Harris and Gillibrand campaigns were all chanting "we need a woman in the White House" together. (Warren was based a block away and Gabbard's contingent was about six people.)

So Gabbard was the clear sign war loser; the whole experience was too overwhelming to name a winner.

Chris Dodd had a blimp, too.

Sanders only dabbled in the main drag of sign war; his alternative was a Fight For $15 pre-rally at a nearby McDonalds. On message, and a good cause - but also on brand for Bernie being the one who does His Own Separate Thing. Their march over from Mickey D's almost collided with Corey Booker's arrival. Buttigeig also did a pre-rally rather than Sign War.

As for Team Biden, they clearly decided that with no candidate, they were just going to bypass the event entirely and not even attempt visibility. Not a bad decision, because with no candidate you have no draw and any effort looks weak. All in or all out.

The speeches began, 14 minutes late. I had turned down dinner tickets from Teams Beto and Booker since I had gotten a press pass, but I thought I might regret that decision by suppertime.

Most candidates stuck close to the podium and the teleprompter, trying to stick to their tightly scripted five minutes that needed to compress the Greatest Hits into one five minute medley, touch as many issue bullet points as possible while at the same time hitting the Overall Campaign Theme and some biography. Each speech flashed by about as fast as a total eclipse.

To the delight of most of the room, the sound crew was ruthless. At exactly five minutes, they turned up the music to play the candidates off. And in a solstice miracle, it worked.
  • Beat the clock: Beto, Bullock, Warren, Gillibrand, Booker
  • Did not beat the clock: Klobuchar (barely), Pete (barely), Williamson, Delaney, Swalwell, Sanders, Gabbard
  • Total clock management failure: de Blasio, Bennet
  • Did not notice: Hickenlooper, Yang, Harris, Ryan, Inslee

Best Speeches: The two who moved away from the podium, and who gave the strongest speeches, were Warren and Harris. (Yang also walked, but seemed rushed.) Booker, Beto, and Pete were also good, as were Klobuchar and Gillibrand - the two trailing candidates who I can still imagine making a breakthrough.

Honorable mention:

Special Category: This event was not a good setting for Bernie Sanders. I'm not especially objective about him - but I have seen him enough at enough different kinds of events to know that his strength is at a rally of his own faithful, and that he's not great at multi-candidate events like this. The audience today was party regulars and elected official types, which is definitely not a Bernie-friendly crowd. His applause was only scattered other than at the Sanders tables, even when the words themselves were acceptable to the whole room.

Biggest gap between audience enthusiasm and position in Register poll: Klobuchar. 

Missed opportunity: Jay Inslee was really good on climate change. It could have been a breakout moment (no one had one of those today). But that was only a minute or so of his five. He should have junked the rest of the speech and done five solid minutes on climate - that's where his heart is. But: his ask for a debate focused only on climate change, which is becoming a litmus test for parts of the activist base, seemed to only get cheers from his table.

Weakest speech (serious person category): Most of the small fry were undistinguished, but Michael Bennet failed to even manage a graceful exit when the music played him off. He just kept talking, they had to turn it up and the audience had to applaud to get him off stage. Not good when you speak 18th of 19.

Weakest speech (special category): Marianne Williamson is a joke and we need to find a way to not have to invite her to things like this.

Death Valley: Speaking order was random drawn and we had a brutal mid-show three in a row of Tim Ryan, Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson.

Best self-deprecating line: "I have 8.6 million highly opinionated constituents" - Bill de Blasio

Best stage music: Was hard to hear most of the time but I did note that Beto O'Rourke took the stage to the Clash. They are obviously trying to get a commit card out of me.


Cheapest shot: Ideological elbows are fair, but Andrew Yang was the one person who criticized Joe Biden for not attending. Now, maybe Biden IS trying to limit attendance at multi-candidate events, but he had a grand-daughter with a graduation which 1) is totally on brand for Biden and 2) most Iowans would count as an excused absence.

Had to look it up:  Other than Biden, candidates missing were Seth Moulton, Some Dude Mayor Wayne Messam, and... had to look it up... Julian Castro.


Other notes from small fry: Gabbard led with Aloha and talked about peace; Delaney talked Big Tent Party and rural, Tim Ryan was all White Working Class and bringing the Rust Belt back. Bullock played his one Iowa card: the inexplicable endorsement by Attorney General Tom Miller.

Special gold medal: to Troy Price and IDP staff for the miracle of getting the whole show done in 2 hours 57 minutes. Extra special thanks to the sound crew for being ruthless with the play-off music.

More random notes on the Deeth Twitter Feed.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Kinney NOT running in 2nd CD

I would have been proud to have been represented by Kevin Kinney in Congress, and I'm also glad to keep him where he is. In 2014, a horrible year for Dems, Kevin GAINED a seat from the GOP, and that one seat held the majority for two more years. The excesses of 2017 would have happened in 2015 if not for Kevin Kinney.

Kevin doesn't look like or carry himself like an Iowa City liberal. He's a big quiet cop and farmer. But when he speaks it means something. Kevin has seen crimes worse than most of us can imagine - and he spoke eloquently this session against the death penalty. He's the kind of candidate who can win a district like he has - half is a non-Peoples Republic part of Johnson County, the other half is two rural counties. There's a lot of turf like that in the 2nd CD.

Plus, knowing Kevin, he's a great guy and a great dad.

Some other good people are still looking at this seat and I look forward to a good primary.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

DeBlasio Phoning Into Iowa

We may not yet be done with candidate announcements: Just sat through a nearly half hour survey call that was very clearly message testing for Bill DeBlasio.

Started with likelyhood of caucusing (do you KNOW who you are talking to?) and Iowa right/wrong track (WRONG!)

Was then asked fav/unfav on some candidates, DeBlasio listed first, Harris, Warren, Sanders, Buttigeig, Biden. Then did who would you support, choices were those names plus Beto, Booker, Gillibrand. (Names may have rotated?)

I had to coach the caller on how to pronounce "DeBlasio," this was before I figured out the call was actually for DeBlasio! He stayed with correct pronunciation for rest of call. You're welcome. Caller had touble with some other names, too; Gillibrand was "Christy Anne" and Beto was "O-ROAR-a-key."

Was then asked a series of characteristics; still had not figured out who call was for. Progressive policies, experience, bring country together not divide, "real results that matter to families," cares about people like you, can beat Trump... will support workers and the middle class, shares your values, inspirational, honest and trustworthy. Still had not figured out who call was for.

Was then asked a series of two statements, which I liked better. gets things done vs. ideas and polices Best to beat Trump. vs. views same as my own Progressive vs. pragmatism. Last one gave it away: Mayor of NYC out of touch vs. mayor of NYC an experienced executive.

Was then read a series of statements about DeBlasio and asked how I liked them. They were loooong. Health care, family (including specific mention of multiracial family), "compassion not hate," "experience standing up to Trump," "always on the side of the people."

I was also re-asked at the end about presidential preference. Names again rotated; Gillibrand was in the mix this time and the dude had more trouble with that than he had with "DeBlasio"

Closed with demographics: party, liberal/moderate/conservative, education level, employment, income, union membership, black or Hispanic. Not asked about age, they asked for me by name so I assume they had my voter record.



Sunday, April 07, 2019

Settling for 10%

Disappointed that Iowa Democratic Party state central committee did not increase the delegate allocation of virtual caucus participants from the pre-set 10%. That said, Virtual Caucus is much more a Good Thing than a Bad Thing.

I have no doubt that far more than 10% of caucus participants will choose the virtual option – meaning those votes will be under-represented in the delegate count. Bu how much does the delegate count matter?

The importance of Iowa and First is not the relatively small national delegate count. It’s the year before caucus night when we get to see everyone, and it’s the news bounce that happens on caucus night.

This cycle for the first time IDP will give the national media what it has always wanted: a raw vote count. The complicated state delegate equivalents, while technically more important to the nomination, will be ignored.

If all you care about is “my vote getting counted,” Virtual Caucus is going to do you just as well as attending. Virtual caucusers can also sign up to be county alternates and can do platform stuff.

If we are going to make this process work in the large urban counties with overcrowding problems, we need to encourage people to choose the virtual caucus process and encourage emphasizing the raw vote in order to sell people on virtual caucus.

Johnson County’s votes are under-counted anyway – we had 11% of statewide turnout in 2016 but only got 6% of state delegates. And we are already organized within an inch of our lives so “party building” is less critical. You’ll be doing us a favor if you call your vote in.

I may choose virtual caucus myself. In 2016 I needed to chair my own caucus in a student precinct with no experienced chairs. The precinct we moved into in 2017 has other experienced people, so I can phone it in and then be on standby to help fix any problems that come up in other precincts.