A reason to believe—and why this is important to the Democratic Party

July 12, 2017 at 9:13 pm

I get that we can’t run Bernie Sanders in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. I get that you have to start where people are rather than where you want them to be. I get that people don’t vote based on policy; instead, they tend to vote for who they like. I get that corporate special interests dominate our media.

I can explain much of this to people who I talk to about the Democratic Party. I can explain how they are better than Republicans.

Nevertheless, I’m struggling—especially when I talk to my friends on the left, the people who are fighting the grassroots fight. Especially because the right is speaking to the left. The right is telling them that the reason the Democratic Party is losing is because it’s not “left” enough.

I don’t think this is true (and will explain why below), but it doesn’t matter. If enough people believe it and drop out because of it, it’s going to hurt Democrats. In the past election, one of the reasons Trump won was because of the attacks from both the right and the left. The right gave people a reason to believe. The attacks from the left gave people a reason to disbelieve.

Ralph Nader wrote an article recently in The Intercept arguing that Democrats need to get rid of the crusty old people in the party with bad ideas. Setting the irony aside, things do need to change. But getting rid of people like Nancy Pelosi (arguably the most powerful Democrat in Congress right now) seems right up there with some of Nader’s other brilliant ideas—like how the left should work with libertarians. (Have you ever tried to work with someone who is so paranoid that they don’t trust any attempts at working together, Ralph?)

Nader’s idea that “policy precedes message” is wrong, and this leads him to a lot of not-so-great ideas. But he makes a valid point that things need to change. Here are a few thoughts on how.

The division line exercise and the 99 percent

March 21, 2017 at 11:51 am

This is an exercise I picked up from Srdja Popovic, one of the leaders of the Otpor! movement that toppled Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

The exercise is simple: You are a leader in a movement to overthrow Milosevic and bring back democracy. You need to unite people.

Draw a line on a sheet of paper. You’re on one side and everyone else is on the other. What will win the most people over to your side?

Let’s take a look at a few examples to see how this plays out.

We’ll consider Gorsuch after you consider Merrick Garland

February 6, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. (Whitehouse.gov)

Neal Katyal makes an eloquent case for Neil Gorsuch in the New York Times this week as a highly qualified candidate.

I believe he has strong experience.

Democrats shouldn’t vote for him though. Not yet. Instead, they should demand a vote on Merrick Garland first, because of his similar qualifications.

Why?

Because this fight is bigger than Gorsuch. This fight is about democracy and our Constitution. It’s about fairness under the law, and Garland deserves a Senate hearing and a vote.

Democratic capitalism: Freeing people from the corporate special interest definition of ‘corruption’

January 18, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Monument to the victims of capitalism in Montreal. (photographymontreal/Flickr)

This week someone asked me if I’d heard any questions about IDEA, the federal law protecting students with disabilities (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearings.

I get these types of questions a lot because I write about politics. It’s kind of funny because I don’t think I know much about politics—at least not when it comes to policy details. I’ve had people tell me in response, “But I love listening to you talk. You know so much.”

Here’s a secret: It’s more important to know what you believe in—and how to talk about what you believe in.

The problem is that corporate special interests “get” this, and all too often we don’t—especially many of us who come from academic backgrounds, where arguing is the accepted way to flesh out ideas and learn.

Let me demonstrate by showing you how corporate special interests redefined “corruption,” why this is so important, and how you can help break people out of this trap.

Using populist Trump against GOP Trump

January 10, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

On Tuesday, Jan. 3,  Americans woke up to news that Republicans were going to gut the House Ethics Committee. The first thing I did was post the news to several groups, with a short ask for people to call their member of Congress.

I called Republican Steve Chabot’s office here in Cincinnati and actually reached someone. I told Steve’s aide I was calling to urge him to vote against gutting the Ethics Committee and commented that it seemed like a funny way to #draintheswamp. She was quick to tell me that Steve had opposed the committee vote and would vote against it.

The attempt at gutting the committee ended up going down like the Hindenburg.

More importantly though, it made something clear: The people who voted for Trump believed him when he said he was gonna fight for the little guy.

Here’s why this matters—and how to use Trump against Trump and the GOP Congress.

If you want to build a big movement, pick a big fight

November 21, 2016 at 1:29 pm
[caption id="attachment_2153" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Democracy Spring protesters at the United States Capitol building, April 2016. (Michele Egan/Wikimedia) Democracy Spring protesters at the United States Capitol building, April 2016. (Michele Egan/Wikimedia)[/caption]

A week before the election, I went to a Hillary Clinton rally in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was a well-attended and polite affair on the riverfront in Smale Park. That night increased my worry about her chances to win.

Clinton seemed to be playing what I’ll call “small ball.” She spoke of policy issues, like which gun control measures she wanted to enact. She spoke about the threat Donald Trump posed to national security. And she spoke about how many people he had insulted.

What worried me was the mild interest. By comparison, Donald Trump filled U.S. Bank arena in Cincinnati in October.

Michael Moore wrote:

And therein lies the problem for November – who is going to have the most motivated, most inspired voters show up to vote? You know the answer to this question. Who’s the candidate with the most rabid supporters? Whose crazed fans are going to be up at 5 AM on Election Day, kicking ass all day long, all the way until the last polling place has closed, making sure every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Bob and Joe and Billy Bob and Billy Joe and Billy Bob Joe) has cast his ballot?

Sadly, he was right. Trump even did better with minorities than Romney did in 2012.

In part, it was because he picked a big fight.

How to get to Planet X, the change we desire

July 5, 2016 at 8:29 am

planet_x650Planet X is that place liberals want to be. The planet people like Bernie Sanders talk about. Where we believe Elizabeth Warren lives. It’s where people understand climate change and don’t think it’s the government testing secret weather machine weapons. It’s where racism is understood as a problem, as well as a key driving factor in economic inequality. It’s where reason and fairness and mutual responsibility live and where democracy once grew.

Here’s the rub. You can’t teleport to Planet X.

So how do you get there?

The cultural revolution you’ve probably never heard of

May 6, 2016 at 10:03 pm
[caption id="attachment_2070" align="aligncenter" width="650"]Pair programming, an agile development technique used by XP (Extreme programming). Pair programming, an agile development technique used by XP (Lisamarie Babik/Wikimedia).[/caption]

In the 1990s and early 2000s something happened in the software development world, something that wasn’t good. Software development fell victim to the bean counters and micromanagers of the world and followed a project management script known as the “waterfall method.” The waterfall method was fine for projects that were simple and well-defined, but many many software projects fell out of this realm with either changing requirements, or trying to understand new technology—or sometimes both at the same time.

As a result, many software development projects in the ‘90s were organizational nightmares. Much of the purpose of developing software to begin with (i.e., why are we building this?) was lost as organizations devolved into procedural nightmares and territory fights.

This is the short story of the agile revolution—a term you may have heard of. But you probably didn’t realize was a cultural revolution.

How to win against ‘political correctness’

May 1, 2016 at 10:16 pm

Those of you who know me know that I like to hang out in conservative forums. I do this for a couple of reasons. One, because I’m generally interested in talking with people of different backgrounds. And two, because it’s a fascinating anthropological experiment to explore the depths of corporate special interest group marketing. This post is more about the latter than the former.

I know I’m not going to convince the most extreme. So I just try to understand and expose them to an actual liberal—unlike the people they’re told are “liberals.” One of the things that comes up a lot is “political correctness.” They are really angry about political correctness. So I wanted to hear what they had to say about PC. Instead of arguing, I asked, “What is it that you want to say but don’t feel you can?”

[caption id="attachment_2044" align="aligncenter" width="550"]No PC (DeeMusil/Wikimedia). No PC (DeeMusil/Wikimedia).[/caption]

One million leaders

March 15, 2016 at 10:16 am

Tuesday was not my best day. I fumbled through a job interview in the afternoon, and my 14-year-old car’s transmission died.

One bright spot was seeing the following post online from Daily Kos’ own Paul Hogarth (with his permission):

I am not the same person I was 20 years ago—and after years of working on campaigns and building for progressive change have learned that politics is much, much harder than what the thrill of tonight’s victory may seem. I also have my doubts about a campaign like Bernie Sanders really making change in this country.

But tonight is a cautionary tale for people like me to not let your “wise skepticism” give way to cynical despair. Always keep the fire burning for young, idealistic causes—because progressive change requires people who demand the unreasonable.

We just need to remember that the impossible may take a while, and that—win or lose—a positive, idealistic campaign that brings new people into politics must figure out how to outlast an election.

Here’s a reality-check for Bernie supporters: Yes, he beat the odds tonight with Michigan. But Hillary’s landslide victory in Mississippi means that, on balance, the gap in delegates has likely widened.

So be happy tonight, celebrate. You deserve it. But figure out a way to make sure this victory lasts beyond the Michigan primary, and that even if Bernie fails to win the nomination you can channel that movement into a political infrastructure that will improve America.

Paul’s post is brilliant.

It bridges the gap between a couple of groups who may be currently aligned against each other. It doesn’t pit idealism vs. pragmatism. Instead, it says, “We need both.”

It brings people together rather than dividing them, and it immediately picked me up. I shared it with my small group of Bernie supporters to say, “Congratulations!” after the Michigan win—and also to remind us that even Bernie is saying this is bigger than him.

I think real change is going to take one million leaders. One million people like Paul who understand the game being played against us, and know how to bring people together from many tribes.

Here are a few thoughts on why this is so crucial, and what this might look like.

[caption id="attachment_2010" align="aligncenter" width="550"]A hose-team leader instructs the team to relieve the nozzleman during a general quarters (GQ) drill aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (U.S. Navy/Wikimedia). A hose-team leader instructs the team to relieve the nozzleman during a general quarters (GQ) drill aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (U.S. Navy/Wikimedia).[/caption]