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

That Hoekstra Dog Whistle

Bad ads are rarely an accident. Quite the contrary, sometimes the things most offensive are the very things most planned. Ask GoDaddy. Or perhaps Peter Hoekstra.

Hoekstra’s infamous  Asian-bashing xenophobic Super Bowl ad went viral, receiving mention in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the New Yorker and countless other blogs (including those in China). A disaster. And now it’s pulled — a mercy death, surely. Still, it deserves an autopsy, in part because in examining the corpse, we we may be able to see something of the thinking of the Hoekstra campaign and its electoral strategy.

After all, this is a Michigan MBA, the former vice-president of marketing at Herman Miller, a smart guy. So just what was he thinking?

Her Lips say Finance but Her Eyes say Jobs

Advertising works on two levels: there is the direct cognitive message, charged with the main marketing points; then wrapping it are the associations created by allusions, the visuals, the manner of presentation.  This latter makes another unspoken argument.  When these two go together the effect can be can be quite powerful, as Ronald Reagan’s  Morning in America ad demonstrates. The twin message paths also lure political advertisers to create ads with two messages, a nominal message and a “dog whistle” inside message created for some subset of the audience.

And the two message approach seems to be the approach of the Hoekstra ad.

On the face of it (and in subsequent ads, here) Hoekstra goes after Sen. Debbie Stabenow and her (profligate) spending, positioning Hoekstra as a fiscal conservative. This is actually boring and forgettable. The images, the emotional vehicle is something else again.

The “dog whistle” is about jobs.

For all the mocking tone of our debt to China, in Michigan the issue of the economy is less that of finance than of manufacturing. The story of the past decade is the near-death of domestic auto manufacturing, the loss of 800,000 jobs from GM alone; a story of shuttered factories, faltering communities, and nation-leading unemployment.

It goes to the gut.

And that seems to be what  Hoekstra was looking to do: a two-fer.  Nominally, this was going to be an ad about Debbie Stabenow and her (profligate) ways and positioning Hoekstra as a fiscal conservative. A good message for the managerial suburbs like those of eastern Kent County or Oakland County. Underneath, in visuals a different emotional message was going to be told, one aimed at the working class suburbs of Muskegon, Wyoming, Downriver or  Macomb County.

In looking at the presentation of this appeal, we can see the subset Hoekstra was hoping to reach. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Michigan, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Self-Inflicted Injuries

A version of this post also appeared at Michigan Liberal.

Michigan native and gimlet-eyed blogger Nate Silver asks what’s wrong with Obama in Michigan. It’s not a pretty picture, all the more because some of the reasons are clearly self-inflicted.

The campaign’s late start is a big reason. As he explains:

In conversations with friends and family during the Democratic primaries (I am originally from East Lansing), I did not sense much frustration with Obama in particular for his decision to withdraw his name from the state’s primary ballot after Michigan moved ahead of the DNC’s February 5 cut-off date and had its delegates revoked. But I did sense aggravation and dampened enthusiasm for the Democratic Party in general.

Of course, there’s a name for this: Mark Brewer. The diminished standing of the Democratic Party in Michigan can be laid at the doorstep of the botched primary, and that bungled constitutional proposal, Reform Michigan Government Now. Together, both have put the official party in something of a public relations hole. The disaster of the primary is further underscored by an observation many offered then, that the McCain team laid a solid Michigan reputation as a maverick, inoculating him from the national charge of “McSame.”

Failed Leadership.

Silver goes on Governor Granholm’s diminished standing also hurts. Last year’s meltdown in the state house has eroded the sense of trust in state leadership. Sadly, the lack of leadership in the Kwame Kilpatrick affair let a sore in Michigan politics get dangerously close to gangrenous. If nothing else, her silence let West Michigan distance itself even further from Detroit and the east side generally; and it certainly has let the racism of the northern suburbs fester. (And of course, there is the small part of Michigan’s business image).

Silver also points to the relative moderation of the GOP congressional delegation — I wish. But that only shows how low the bar has been set in the present conservative era.

The Task Ahead.

The work ahead will involve more national face time in Detroit and especially Macomb County For those of us out-state, it certainly means greater attention to motivating all the potential voters in those hard-R districts. A tight race means that margins become incredibly important, so those precincts and districts Dems normally avoid, must now be challenged. The ground game is more important than ever.

In short, there’s a whole lot of work to be done, all the more since we now belong to one of those official “Swing States.” All I can say, is that if we are going to swing, we’d better not whiff.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , ,

Selling Out Our Values

The item is relatively small, almost a toss away. Under the guise of election reform the Reform Michigan Government Now! proposal would “prohibit illegal immigrants from registering or voting” (as the UAW PowerPoint summarizes it).

Who could be against that? By definition you need to be a citizen to vote.  Rather obvious, really. Unless, of course,  our county clerks actually are registering large numbers of illegal immigrants. Were that the case, you would think Mike Cox would be all over this problem; the silence from his office certainly suggests that something else is going on.

So what motives would there be for this clause?

Motive 1: The Sweet Smell of Xenophobia. At the most obvious, RMGN is selling its reform based on xenophobia, on the fear of “illegal immigrants.” But not just any illegals — it’s not that the coffee shop conversations worry about Canadians or Irish sneaking in, it’s Hispanics. So we build a wall; we criminalize the worker (and force her to have her baby in jail); we abuse them. Or go to the conservative site and read the discussion, the casual contempt. The clause, then, can be seen as an appeal to a resident popular prejudice, one with more than a whiff of racism to it. As a Democrat, does this make sense? Hasn’t the anti-illegal immigrant stance o the Republican Party alienated the political affections of Hispanics and sent them to our side of the street?

Why then are we helping the other side out?

Historically, such a stance is not that foreign to some wings of the Democratic Party. It was, after all, the party of the segregationist South. On occasion, unions have barred access based on race. And the blue collar neighborhoods of Macomb north of 8 Mile have (home of the so-called Reagan Democrats) have their own complicated relationship with race.

Motive 2: “Protect” the ballot. It may be that this measure is there to tap the resentment expressed the recent voter ID measure. But as repeated reports have shown, this concern about voter fraud has been repeatedly shown to be a non-problem. Instead, it appears to be the creature of Republican operatives designed to raise the barriers to voting directly, or by creating doubts in potential voters. Not surprising, many Democrats and others concerned with civil liberties have raised objections to such measures: these have the intent of barring the poor and racial minorities from voting — populations that coincidentally tend to vote Democratic.

Again, should we suppose that RMGN would support such a flawed policy from the other side? Does it even make sense given the operational success of the voter registration drives of the past two cycles?

Motive 3: Trap Cox and Land. I suppose we could come up with a rather Machiavellian interpretation, that such a measure is designed to somehow embarrass Terri Land. Or perhaps to encourage Cox to overplay his hand as Attorney General. I suppose. I love the idea of setting up the other side. But since they already have helped us out with Voter ID and the like such a motive would be too clever by half.

So then, should we consider the phrase is there only as a matter of stupidity? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, Democratic Party, Michigan, , , , , , ,

Weekend Redistricting Playroom

One of the better ways to understand Reform Michigan Government Now! is to look at the county by county impact of its redistricting.  Here is an Excel worksheet for your amusement, with counties listed from most Democratic to least.  In between (clear background) are the Swing Districts.  And what bounces up immediately is the presence of Macomb and Oakland counties. As noted before, redistricting in those counties alone would be enough to meet the criteria of the proposal.  A little more tweaking, and one can start splitting up the state.  Practically speaking, it means the outposts in Kent, Muskegon and Manistee would all be swamped in any GOP plan,  and a generation of work gets lost

Filed under: Elections, , , , ,

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