Windmillin'

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

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.

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

The Memory Landscape of Willard Romney

It was one of those awkward moments, made all the more so by its very earnestness: Mitt  Romney spoke of his love for Michigan. Before the campaign leaves the State, perhaps its time to unpack his love, and why it fell so short.

For the record, here’s part of what he said:

“A little history — I was born and raised here. I love the state. It seems right here. Trees are the right height.

“I like — I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes. Something very special here. The Great Lakes but also all the little inland lakes that dot the parts of Michigan.

The words are made even the more awkward by a peculiar little hand twitter on “inland lakes,” but rather than dwell on the failure, a better question is to ask, what was he trying to communicate in the first place? What did he hope to connect to? Even the bad — especially the bad or disastrous communications come packed with intention. Disasters are rarely accidental.

So let’s  scrape away the phrasing. Underneath, this is a landscape those in Michigan recognize: the country dirt roads shadowed in summer; the way the big trees hug the state highway, the mix of sumac, elms, and chestnuts at the hedgerow; the dark rhythm of old oaks etched with new snow; the last blaze of yellow on a football Saturday.  These are not the trees of our North, but those nearby, near our towns, nestled by the lakes left by glacier with names like Gun, Chippewa, Big Star, and Murray, Silver, Crooked, and Whitmore. While commentators look at our Great Lakes as the dearly loved, it is this other, inland landscape that’s interesting.

These are the kettle lakes, the leftovers from the great glaciers, folded in by the gently rolling landscape of moraines and modest hills.  We do not have escarpments or towering heights. We lack the great defining rivers. Nor is ours the fertile prairie landscape of Indiana or Ohio. These are the lakes close to home, the Saturday destination in a landscape before interstates. Their shorelines often partially undeveloped, dotted with little resorts of small cabins that offered working men and women (and executives) a place to go on the weekend, a refuge.

Romney is on to something, his words point not to the present, but to that earlier time, when he was the teen, when this landscape was not yet consumed by development. It is, as his reference to cars indicates, the landscape of Mitt’s remembered youth.

Mitt’s earnest awkwardness arises then, with his memory. The repeating, the turning back to his themes — this is the language of emotion that does not have the words; the words that seem so inadequate to convey the lost time and its rich associations.

But if memory betrays him, there is another rhetorical betrayal tucked into his words. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: National, , , , , ,

The Things They Do

No analysis this evening, but in passing two items today certainly caught my attention.

First there was the continuing puzzlement over Peter Hoekstra. Now campaigning with . . . Herman Cain? This, to prove that he’s not a racist. I suppose it works, but this seems so tone deaf. Again, it seems to be a conscious play for the Tea Party. A move to the sectarian right may make a sort of sense for the GOP nomination, but even here it smacks more of weakness than of self-assuredness.

Of course, self-assuredness has not been a problem with Justin Amash. On the Facebook feed he proudly announces that he voted against the payroll tax cut. Oh, really? Again there is much to admire in the actions from principle, but it is something of a free vote on two points. First, the Third is a fairly safe district (underscore the word “fairly”, as this could change), and second, Amash’s own circumstances leave him reasonably immune to the impact of the legislation. It is always easier to stand for principle when it is some one else’s money at risk.

Filed under: Republican Folly, , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Failing Grade

Peter Hoekstra certainly launched a small to-do the other day with this ad released for the SuperBowl broadcast in Michigan.

One can see what the message goal was, that the Obama administration response to the economic crisis plunged us into hock to the Chinese. However, as the saying goes, it’s all in the execution. One doesn’t know whether to flunk the campaign for its political tone deafness, its failed advertising, or for flunking strategic thinking.

The politics, like too much of the current conservative thinking, is especially deaf (blind?) to the actual deeds. Move past 2009, and stances now condemned by Mr “Spend-it-Not” were apparently business as usual. Over his tenure Peter Hoekstra voted to add more than $5 trillion to the deficit — the dreaded free-spending Democrats, spending it now? A net increase of $800 billion (see  the chart from the Washington Post). The resulting deficits are simply the engine that drove the economy into the hands of  foreign investors. Peter “Spend-it-Not” Hoekstra? Alas, only if this isn’t the same Peter Hoekstra who once served in Congress.

One may also point out that the Senator hasn’t been sitting on her hands.

Stabenow, who’s running for a third term, has pushed for trade policies aimed at China that impose duties and penalties on countries that manipulate their currency and penalize companies that steal intellectual property from U.S. companies.

But let’s talk about the imagery used. Racist? Xenophobic? Those are the words of GOP consultant Nick De Leeuw.

“Stabenow has got to go. But shame on Pete Hoekstra for that appalling new advertisement,” De Leeuw wrote on his Facebook page Sunday morning. “Racism and xenophobia aren’t any way to get things done.”

As far as advertising goes, the image is further off. If it is about the Chinese (or East Asian) trade imbalance, it’s off target. We don’t have the trade imbalance because we spend too much on rice. Bluntly, had she been on an assembly line, or inside a factory it would have had more edge. (And there is the odd, Viet Nam vibe to the whole this something of a dog whistle to the old guard right.)

This all returns to the strategic judgement of the candidate himself. Sound advertising, particularly the high visibility, Super Bowl kind, needs to be on target all the way through. For a former vice president of marketing, this is embarrassing. Strategically one cannot say “I did this to raise visibility.” The racial question is not simply whether or not he dealt fairly with East Asians, but rather one of the future: will he deal fairly with other minorities. In today’s diverse  public, that is not something that should be risked.

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

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