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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

The Amash Dilemma

In the era of Trump, Michigan’s Justin Amash has made a name for himself. Not only has he shown the ability to go tweet to tweet with the President, but he has also shown a willingness to meet with constituents, as The Hill reports

He has faced packed town halls in his home state recently with hundreds of constituents, many of whom are anti-Trump.

“I think it is critical that members of Congress hold in-person town halls like this,” Amash said at an event about two weeks ago. “There aren’t enough of people on either side of the aisle who do it.”

This puts a problem to local Dems. On one hand we actually like being listened to; there’s a respect here that is rather ego-gratifying. And we do like having some one who actually stands up to the President, who even in his libertarian ways nonetheless appears to have a backbone.

Of course, what that all means is that no one serious will run against Amash. The already steep odds have gotten psychologically steeper. To oppose him one needs to draw contrasts, but at least psychologically, he deflates this. At the same time his “moderation” buys him freedom from outside money. The path for engagement then lies less on the issues, but on the philosophical — how do establish our life together — and on the empirical. The former begins to create a space to draw in Republicans, the latter can help establish what the actual policy questions are. And then, what are their consequences.

 

 

Filed under: Politics, , ,

Listening to Bad Advice

Gabriel Sanchez at the Bridge was thinking about the past elections and his decision not to vote. Formally, he was appalled by the choice between Justin Amash and Bob Goodrich, both deeply offensive to his Catholic values if in different ways.

Faced with such impossible choices (and I suspect others) Sanchez decided that the best answer was to sit this one out. This is certainly culturally understandable: there is something of this despair in the air, the stench of disconnection. But sadly, that was not his point, but rather there was another path to be followed, one pioneered by Alasdair McIntyre

I have chosen to keep faith with moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s provocative dictate: “When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither.”

He expands this later,

MacIntyre, we cannot forget that in our present political environment “a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives.” As such, “The way to vote against the system is not to vote.”

McIntyre’s branch is a poor one to try and hang much on.

McIntyre’s proposal cleaves participation in the political process with its fundamental questions of how power is to be distributed, and the act of ratification — the vote. In contemporary terms, we may see the political process in both its advocacy and actions as a kind of secular liturgy — a set of acts we collectively engage in. Voting, then is a ratification of these decisions; my vote participates in the process. Again to steal from religion, there is something sacramental about it.

Political participation without voting is either a tacit acceptance of the status quo, or an appeal to a non-electoral model of change. An end around of some kind; it’s McIntyre as an anti-democrat.

What about justice?

As an acceptance or willingness to accept the status quo, non-voting makes another statement: it denies the possibility of justice. Whether it is the hunkering down despair of the working poor, the too-busy indifference of the young adult, or the belief that they’re all the same — the action testifies to a belief that what finally counts is power, power alone. The notion that power can be rightly ordered (the actual stuff of politics) is glossed over. McIntyre ends up with Nietzsche.

While there is a temptation to withdraw, especially from educated conservatives of a certain ilk (e.g. see Rod Dreher’s “Bendict option”), it is one clouded by a lack of hope. In the name of principle, it denies the possibility of principled action.

It is the peculiar evil of this age of partisanship to devolve issues of all kinds to simply that of power and self interest without the possibility of something better, greater, a good. At the end of the day politics is an exercise in hope, in believing the best about our neighbor; that’s why there can be no walking away.

Filed under: Community, Politics, , , , , , ,

The problem in a word

Well, two: “single women.”

“I am available to share a platform with Congressman Amash. My campaign isn’t about battling the Republican incumbent. My campaign is focusing on messaging to women, especially single women, what they appropriately expect government programs can do to help them and those who depend on them.” – Bob Goodrich, Democratic candidate for the Third Congressional District.

This might have had a chance against a Brian Ellis who wanted to be a truer-than-true Republican, less so with Amash with his maverick reputation, who has invested significant energy on the National Security Administration (NSA) and away from social conservative issues.  Counting on single women for victory is not unlike the imagined path to deficit control through austerity measures alone. There are no magic bullets here, only the hard work of coalition building.

 

 

 

Filed under: Democratic Party, Politics, , , , ,

What’s Wrong with Brian Ellis

By all lights, Brian Ellis is a nice guy. Nice family. In fact he keeps reminding us of that constantly, his wife Joan, his three wonderful blonde daughters, his time on the EGR school board. And if the robocalls are any indication, his friends like him, too.

Ellis is running for Third Congressional District against Justin Amash, the enfante terrible of Congress, Dr. No, the libertarian scourge of all that isn’t pure, our own Savonarola on the Grand.

As Ellis defined himself on Facebook,

I am running for Congress because we deserve a representative who will work for solutions, reflect our values, and listen.

This word “deserve” is the give away. It promises nothing except perhaps a kind of entitlement. The laundry list that follows reveals that “deserve” is mostly about being nice and very little about working for solutions. Among the stances are the typical  ones, the sort that can be found from nearly any Republican candidate: balanced budget amendment, end Obamacare, more fracking and drilling, Second Amendment.

If this is all that “deserve” includes, then nearly any old Republican would do. And that is precisely the problem with Brian Ellis. Instead of separating himself on the basis of what he would work for (as opposed to merely oppose), he chose the safer route, that of simply being one of the many. That’s safe, but it is not likely to win at the polls today.

 

Filed under: Elections, Republican Folly, Uncategorized, , , ,

Opportunity Knocked

In one sense, it was the least surprising news of the day.
Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner removed West Michigan’s own Justin Amash from membership on the House Budget committee. The move represents a lost opportunity to both Amash and the West Michigan community.

The business of crafting budgets is a function of power. Amash had the opportunity to serve on perhaps the singularly most important committee in the House. His initial position was a testimony to his promise, but it was a promise that does come at a cost, the surrender of ideals for the messier work of governance. A deal must be done, and really, there’s no sense in giving a dissenter, even an up-and-coming member the megaphone. Especially if the same person is being trumpeted as the true heir of the libertarian wing of the GOP.

And while Amash’s idealism served an important role in his first term, rallying young Republicans and serving as a foil to the President, that day is over. His is the prophet’s reward: the wilderness.

Unfortunately in this journey to the wilderness, he takes the region with him. The gift of the seat on the Budget committee was a gift to W Michigan and its civic leadership; the idealistic stances of Amash that prevented him from taking up the work of governance may have kept him pure, but the deprived this community of opportunity. And that’s to every one’s loss.

 

Filed under: National,

Campaign Notes

[I will be enjoying life far away from the polls next week. But before then, here are some notes on various campaigns]

Quite Likely the Whitest Campaign Ever

That would be Pestka-Thomas primary. Were one to look at the visuals of their websites, their Facebook pages, or for that matter the material that comes in the mail, why one would think there were hardly minorities anywhere in the region. Sort of like Ottawa County (if you’re a Republican).

This is more than an oddity, however. In the general election, minorities will play a crucial role, the challenge being to draw the occasional voter to vote the rest of the ballot.  While the voting decision for poor and minorities is often made fairly late in the campaign, candidates cannot wait until then. Moreover, the lack of face time undercuts both candidates’ claims to being progressive.

I live in the city. I know how important Democratic values and Washington decisions are to my neighbors. I would like to see more evidence that they will get heard.

Too Conventional?

When the Pestka campaign chose the standard “Defend the Retiree” stance to push back against Thomas, one can hardly blame them. This is the common tactic for appealing to a core Democratic base; it seems like an easy win. But it is also a trap, one that will become painfully clear on Wednesday, August 8.

There is something rather old-fashioned about this, almost charming. And that’s the danger. “Old fashioned.” Something from the 80s or 90s. Against a 32-year old tyro, does it work?

If anything, this defensive approach gives the opposition two avenues of attack: old ideas (that presumably don’t work), and since most adults know that entitlements will need to be looked at — the defensive approach becomes easily portrayed as a form of “do nothing-ism.” At a time when the GOP will be running on “fiscal austerity” (albeit of the sad Paul Ryan approach), the defensive position gives them the mantle of “reformer.”  It cedes the frame to the other side. And as a matter of practical politics, coming across as a conventional Democrat is a fair way to keep moderate conservatives from voting for you. Oh, they may despise Amash, but the more Pestka sounds like one more Democrat — well the campaign begins to bleed the voters it needs.

And that would be a shame. In other forums  Pestka has demonstrated a real appreciation for the budget decisions confronting the nation. By becoming known as that sort of practical, economically informed candidate, he can successfully whittle away at the Amash support.

Schmidt throws a Hail Mary

Another flyer in the mailbox is this, from Rep. Roy Schmidt

The Catholics are his last bastion, it would seem. Running as a social conservative would have been a good stance for the general, but the drumbeat of condemnation, from the County Prosecutor, Schmidt’s own nephew, and of course the press on MLive — standing up for new life and babies, but not standing up for your friends and constituencies? That doesn’t work. So he ends up simply being a Catholic candidate instead of a social conservative one, the former being a parochial stance, the latter at least in theory, one that represents a region.

As a matter of electoral politics, one also has to ask how this plays in the context of a senatorial primary. With Hoekstra well on his way to the win, the social conservative wing of Hekman (and once Glenn) is simply too small. Here, Bing Goei’s connection to regular GOP members gives him an edge. With the Hoekstra train coming through, the one play that Schmidt did have would be casting himself as a proto-Tea Party member, but then again, that would violate his implicit appeal of the “same old Roy.”

All these troubles arise because the original plan to defect was handled tactically rather than strategically. Without consideration of how to position oneself after the switch, he ends up with surprisingly little to say. And of course, if you are going to run for office, you will have to say something.

Farm? What Farm?

Last, one of the odder pieces of politics has been the attempted return of Jim Vaughn to his county commission seat.

Vaughn takes a resolute stand for jobs and for attention to the black community, but then draws a sharp (and negative) contrast with Farmland preservation. For most Democrats, this is an odd position. It does suggest another form of older politics. In the post civil rights era, one of the compromises black politicians made was the sort that secured direct advantages for communities, but largely ceded the issues outside the neighborhood to the dominant party (i.e. the Republicans). This style of politics works both ways, for the white politician, it allows for some sense of doing good, after all one is supporting their elected representative –even conservatives want to do justice — and at the same time, it provides another vote on items of concern for the conservative wing, such as opposition to farmland preservation.

This pattern of mutual benefit can also be seen in various redistricting schemes that consolidated black voters in guaranteed districts, thus freeing up other districts for more conservative white candidates.

As I said, this is an old pattern.

What Vaughn misses is the more integrated way of both parties. For the GOP, this has been shown in greater party discipline. There is less room for the older style on the part of whites, too. It is now ideological. For the Dems, issues are also more integrated. We no longer think in terms of simply our separate boxes, not even that of union, non-union. The wiser heads have come to see that the attention to the environment is every bit as important as addressing the problems of the City. The pulling it apart, the notion that Green has no place at the (economic) table is over.

Last, Vaughn’s approach might have some traction in a more purely black district, but redistricting has tossed in a number of precincts that are less inclined to make the same economic trade-off, and certainly more inclined to value the environment.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , , , , , , , ,

Roy Schmidt’s four-fold path

As Nate Reens notes, the Schmidt-storm continues on the editorial pages across the state. Particularly brutal was the Detroit Free Press

No one in Schmidt’s district (maybe even in the state) can trust him at this point. He clearly believes more in his own political preservation than he does in the integrity of his office or the democratic process.

“No one can trust him…” That is not necessarily the death blow that the Freep assumes, more damaging is the blow to the image. As a brand, Roy Schmidt needs to rebuild, because the brutal electoral math is that Republican base or no, the district is won by the persuadables. Roy desperately needs to rebuild some trust. So what is a poor boy to do? Four paths suggest themselves.

Do the Hardiman.

It’s one of the better if shameless plays out there: when caught in an ethics lapse propose a reform to outlaw what you just did. For then Senator Hardiman, it was robo-calling against his opponent — calls without party identification. He was “shocked” even as he benefited. Robo-call reform became one of his calling cards. Of course this is shameless for Schmidt, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be effective. He stands with that vigilant defender of voter integrity, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to introduce new reforms to the registration process. In fact, for Johnson it could be win-win, with the new legislation confirming her as a fighter for integrity while distracting from her own campaign of voting restriction. And Schmidt doesn’t even have to really think what those reforms could be, turns out Stephen Henderson already has a list for him to borrow from.

Of course there are drawbacks. This has to be put forth sooner rather than later, since the notion is to replace a “he’s corrupt” narrative with a “he’s a reformer” one. That takes time and attention. Of course, it also needs the sign-off from the House leadership, and that’s the problem. The House Dems already have a set of reform proposals, so any Schmidt-led reform runs afoul of internal House politics.

Do the Amash

One of the hallmarks of our present Congressman, Justin Amash, is his ability to take seeming independent stands. The recent kerfuffle over a missing Right to Life endorsement would be one such move (overlooking the fact that his actual stand is to the right of the organization). So Schmidt could find a cause that he could immediately advocate, that separates him from the GOP while re-establishing himself as the “Roy we all knew.” Possible issues could be education, revenue sharing — but does Roy have the freedom for this move? Will the militant wing of the GOP really tolerate such a move? Already the rumbles on the SE side suggest that this path is not available. In an election cycle, it is even more difficult to see how such a strategy could be advanced. Were he re-elected, then perhaps. But as part of the campaign? Again, a difficult play, and so, not likely.

Do the Matt Davis

MLive commentator suggests simply toughing it out.

Judging from Kent County Prosecutor William A. Forsyth’s epistle, you would think that their effort was the precursor to Western civilization falling on its ear.
Piffle.

And there is something actually attractive about being so hard nosed. The proverbial, “So? What’re you going to do about it?” is rough on the good government folks, but it’s a nice stand-up style. As the saying goes, politics ain’t beanbag. Nonetheless, there’s a fly in this: to claim the tough guy stance you have to first win. The one outstanding feature of the entire Schmidt-storm is the basic failure of the plan. If you are going to play a dirty trick, you need first to carry it through. Instead, Schmidt hesitates, looks weak. The tough guy approach is basically an assertion of competence: sure I did it, I know what I’m doing. Obviously, that is not the case, here.

As tempting as doing nothing or being defiant may appear, it remains a declaration of unsuitability for office.

So what’s left?

Leave.

Indications are already in the air that this may be the path. The emergence of Bing Goei as an opponent is not mere opportunism, but a sign of distrust within the centrist GOP ranks — the very folks who would otherwise welcome Schmidt. With plenty of outrage directed at House Speaker Jase Bolger, the politically opportune move would be to cut one’s losses. Were Schmidt unable or unwilling to mount one of the other counter plans above, then the resignation looms as an easier option.

Of course, he could stay, and win the primary. That gamble rests on a more polarized electorate, closer to 2010 than any of the presidential years. But that very inactivity, that passiveness about his future simply pushes him into the role of “politics at its worst” and far from the Roy folks thought they new.

Filed under: Elections, Republican Folly, , , , , , , , , ,

The Man who Can’t Get Love

That would be our own, Justin Amash.

First, it was Right to Life denying him the endorsement.

“Amash’s pro-life voting record is the seventh worst of all House Republicans,” Douglas Johnson, legislative director for national group, told the Christian Post last month. “With such a record, he is unlikely to rally pro-life support to his new flag – a flag that seems designed mostly to cover his backside back home.”

Well, maybe. Then again, it’s not like there is any backside at home to cover (where are those primary opponents?). And the reality of Rep. Amash’s position is clear, he may be principled, but when it comes to life issues, those principles are pretty striking:

Amash’s stance is that abortions should never be performed and he doesn’t believe in the exceptions for rape and incest to which many subscribe.

That clears it up nicely, the problem with Right to Life is that they are too moderate, too pragmatic, while Amash goes absolutist.

Interestingly, something like that same criticism emerges at The Weekly Standard. Michael Warren launches a snark on the young congressman, but the quotes get to the heart of the difference between Amash and the Regular Republican Party:

House Republicans call him the “black sheep” of the conference, and Amash does seem to have an unscratchable itch to buck his own party. Take a recent bill designed to restore the flow of water to California’s Central Valley. A court ruling in 2009 halted the flow under the Endangered Species Act—the irrigation system supposedly harmed a species of smelt. Ten moderate Democrats joined 236 Republicans to give the drought-ridden Central Valley access to its water supply, with Amash the only Republican opposed. There’s no explanation for this vote on his Facebook page.
“He is a well-intentioned guy with very different goals than most people up here,” said one House Republican aide. “He’s not interested in governing.”

At the end of the day, the itch to go his own way, this absolutism is a danger. It’s easy as the Hotspur heir apparent to Ron Paul to start letting that adulation seize his attention. When your audience is a bunch of cranky libertarians, it becomes all too easy to forget back home. That’s the danger to the local GOP as well. A congressman more in love with principle than pragmatics loses clout in Washington. “Doesn’t play nice with others,” is how Tea Party conservative Rep. Renee Ellmers puts it. And without visibility in Washington, local initiatives simply go under supported.

The longer the GOP persists, the more the case for a moderate Democrat increases. At least that person would build connections.

Filed under: Elections, Republican Folly, , , , , ,

Off to the races

The beginning of the month saw the financial reports for the looming congressional races, primary and general. And with it, also came some useful positioning as to how the upcoming campaign may go.

First, the money; Nate Reens provides the details:

(Steve) Pestka, a former Kent County judge and state lawmaker, banked nearly another $130,000 in contributions from others to put him on even footing with incumbent Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, according to the records that cover the first quarter of fundraising this year.

Given the national stature of Amash, it would be foolish to think this $200k is anything more than pocket change. A serious threat — and Pestka is clearly approaching the serious threat threshold — will be the motivation. As the proclaimed heir to Ron Paul, Amash can tap some incredibly deep pockets.

That’s why for the D’s it is less a matter of dollars than of organization. Of the two Dems, the Pestka campaign has the present advantage here over that of Trevor Thomas — certainly it has deeper connections into the community.

Second, the frame. Of more interest than the numbers was the social media frame from the Thomas campaign, providing a sharp contrast between themselves and the Pestka campaign

Total Facebook Likes: Trevor For Congress: 566 / Vote Pestka: 268
Weekly Facebook Mentions: Trevor for Congress: 113 / Vote Pestka: 44
Total Twitter Followers: Trevor For Congress (@TrevorThomasMI + @Trevor4Congress): 1,106 / Vote Pestka: 86
Total YouTube Views: Trevor For Congress: 6,904 / Vote Pestka: 60

So let’s score this. Social media and the internet generally facilitate five political tasks: Content, Messaging, Fundraising, Networking and Branding.

Content — That would be web site and YouTube views. The continuing, puzzling absence of content from Pestka and the YouTube views from the Thomas campaign together suggest an early lead. Score Thomas.

Messaging — Twitter and Facebook are both classic push media for this task. Moreover, they reach national audiences. Strategically, the battle will be fought in a four county district. Seemingly large numbers are at best non-conclusive unless made geographically more precise — the number of followers in the district or region are far more important. No score.

Fundraising — if the Obama campaign is any indication, this is a function directly of Facebook and to a lesser extent of web sites with their more passive appeals to Give Now. A secondary indication of capacity would be the Facebook mentions (though an even better would be the Twitter mentions) — these indicate potential sources. For now,  the numbers are likely too small to really offset the advantages of ordinary fundraising, and there Pestka has the lead. However, strategically the Thomas campaign cite of the numbers indicates an appeal to national donors. For now,  a draw.

Going into the general the networked base will be a significant resource for the Amash campaign. So every effort now is useful when anticipating that turn.

Networking — A classic function for Facebook (and before that, MeetUp — do we use that still?), particularly useful when tasks like petitions or door-to-door call. Thomas Facebook numbers do not look especially large, given their national character and the Pestka campaigns obvious organic connections. This is an area needing work in the Thomas campaign. Call it Pestka.

Branding — Political branding (and its evil twin sister, negative advertising) is typically  a function of heavy advertising cycles, with direct mail. Here, social media provides a means to circumvent these onslaught through directly appealing to likely voters and supporters. However, to be effective these efforts need to be done earlier, and more consistently than in conventional campaigns.  Tempo and quantity are parts of the brand. Since the beginning of April and after the above data, the Thomas campaign has noticeably stepped up its messaging/branding campaign.

As the unknown in the race, the task of branding is paramount for Thomas, whether it will be enough to claim voters is an open question. In contrast Pestka has a brand but it likely needs refurbishing.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , , , , ,

Jobs, training, and education

Today’s New York Times tells the story of another part of the proposed congressional budget: cutting of job (re)training.

Whether Congress is willing to consider more aid is uncertain. The federal budget endorsed by House Republicans calls for reductions in a broad category that includes job training.

Now this should concern most folks in west Michigan. The shifts in jobs have put a number of workers in economic jeopardy; re-training is one of the crucial skills the region needs for economic health. And it is not only re-training, but simply the training itself.

As Rick Haglund pointed out Sunday, Michigan jobs are not only going unfilled, but the State continues to underfund

One of the state’s biggest problems is that it doesn’t have enough workers with the skills to fill about 76,000 available jobs posted on Michigan’s online jobs bank.
What is the Legislature’s response to that? Squeeze K-12 and university budgets.

More expected than disappointing has been the stance of “Congressman No,”  Rep. Justin Amash. His profound skepticism about the civic infrastructure robs the future prosperity.

On the surprising side, there is the silence from the Democratic challengers, either to Amash’s own votes, or for the general cause of education. After a month, the Steve Pestka campaign has yet to put out any information as to what the candidate stands for. On anything. The web site is little more than a bill board with a space to contribute. The campaign site of Trevor Thomas provides more information — one would expect that, they are in some sense the challenger, the unknown — but again, not a word about education. Not even where he was in high school, ten years ago.

Such silence is confusing for two reasons. First, for constituencies, education and retraining are essential. The African-American community has especially supported the cause; the districts to the east of Grand Rapids (East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills) are state-recognized leaders in education. Meanwhile in Calhoun County, the federal government provided $5 million in stimulus retraining. Second, knowing that the Republican campaign can pull out serious financial guns, it simply makes no sense to wait as to messaging. Like or not, the November election campaign has already started.

Filed under: Economy, National, , , ,

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