Thursday, May 12, 2016

Why Donald Trump Can Win

"What's the difference between a bulldog and a hockey mom?"  Those of you who, like me, watched the 2008 Republican Convention know that the answer to that question is "Lipstick."  After all, it was the first time any of us had heard, or even heard of, Sarah Palin.  But after she uttered that joke and addressed the convention as the vice presidential nominee, we liked her.

Come on, be honest; at the time you thought, "Well, that old John McCain may have ingested some life into his previously boring campaign."  If you are a Republican, you were thrilled, and if you are a Democrat, you were initially worried that Palin could help McCain's sagging campaign.  His polling numbers immediately spiked, and it wasn't until we started hearing more from Ms. Palin that we realized how vapid she is and what a mistake he had made.  But during those first few days and even weeks, people felt an emotional connection to the Republican ticket that they had not felt before, and many were ready to vote for McCain. 

However, Barack Obama had a much better strategy...he would hammer home one message...hope.  He used slogans like "We can do it" to convey a message that if we worked together, there would be hope for the country.

My point is that people don't vote with their intellect--they vote with their emotions.  They connected on an emotional level with Obama's message and rejected McCain's placid negativity.  Here are some other examples:
  • In 1948, Thomas Dewey was an astute statesman renowned for his grasp of the issues, yet he was beaten by Harry Truman (a surprising result) because Dewey sounded like a politician while Truman connected with voters on a personal level.
  • In 1952 and 1956, the Democratic nominee was Adlai Stevenson II, arguably the smartest and most informed nominee in our history.  But he was running against Dwight Eisenhower, the 5-star general who led the allies to victory in WWII.  The voters weren't about to forget that emotional connection, no matter how smart Stevenson was.  It would be like voting against George Washington.
  • Coming into the election of 1992, George H.W. Bush had what appeared to be an insurmountably high approval rating, yet he lost to Bill Clinton, who was viewed as a likable rogue and played saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show.  The truth is that people felt more of a connection to Barbara Bush than they did to George, while Bill (who was promoted as "the man from Hope" Arkansas) made them smile and campaigned with the song, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow."
In fact, you can look back at almost any modern presidential campaign and note that the winner was the nominee who made the strongest emotional connection with voters.  So, where does that leave us in 2016?

Even if you think Hillary Clinton is right on most issues, does anyone feel an emotional connection to her?  In the meantime, Donald generally ignores any substantive discussion of issues, while instead tapping into voter emotions related to their distrust of Washington and those who hold office.  In addition, he taps into our resentment of losing jobs to foreigners (even if he outsources jobs in his own businesses) and he plays to the distrust we feel for all things Muslim.  After all, what was the last action movie you watched in which the bad guys weren't Arabs or Muslim extremists?

If this trend persists...if Trump continues to build emotional connections with voters, even if many of those emotions are less than positive, he will be elected president in November.  The only way Hillary can overcome this emotional deficit is to get off her high horse, stop shouting at rallies, and start to talk about how, as a person, she wants to help right the world's wrongs.  She needs to reach out to all people to build the kind of world in which everyone has a chance to succeed.  That is, after all, the premise on which America was built, and it's what most Americans still feel about our country.

This election won't be decided on the issues...indeed few of them are.  Instead, the winner will be the person who can most effectively win the battle for the voters' emotions, and that's why Donald Trump can win.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Why Bernie is Bad for America

A lot of my friends are supporting Bernie Sanders, pointing to his important positions against income inequality, Wall Street, and the influence of big money in elections.  About these issues Bernie is right, and he has provided an important service by elevating them into the campaign discussion.

I hear those same friends tell me that Bernie is polling better against Trump, and they are currently most polls against Trump, Bernie gets about 53% of the vote, while Hillary gets about 50% (in both cases, Trump gets about 39%).  But here is the problem: nobody has attacked Bernie Sanders.  The Republicans are avoiding attacking Sanders because they'd rather face him in the election, and Hillary has tread softly so as not to alienate his supporters.

Whereas Clinton has faced a lifetime of criticism about everything from Whitewater to her hips, Bernie has not.  While Hillary has been repeatedly grilled about her roles in Benghazi and email messages, Bernie has gone unscathed.

If Bernie were to win the nomination, which is now highly unlikely, that would all change, and the Republicans would revel at the opportunity to expose Sanders's weaknesses, which include:

  • He is a socialist.  Does anyone really think that a majority of capitalist Americans will vote for a socialist?
  • He has been in Congress (House and Senate) since 1991 and has never introduced a major piece of legislation.
  • He has only been a Democrat since last year, after spending his entire professional career as an Independent.  The Republicans would have a field day pointing out that the Democratic nominee is not really a Democrat. 
  • His policies (free tuition, tuition reimbursements, free healthcare, raising the minimum wage, expanding Social Security and Medicare) would cost an estimated $18 trillion (according to liberal economists), while his plans to cut tax loopholes and increase taxes on the wealthy would earn only about $6.5 trillion...when there is already a $19 trillion deficit.  The Republicans would certainly do the math.
  • He would be completely unable to work with the legislature.  Forgetting about the Republican majority for a second, not one Democratic senator has supported his candidacy for president.
  • His plans to break up the Wall Street banks and restructure our capitalist underpinnings sound great, but has anyone considered what they would do to the stock market after a Sanders election?  You can bet the Republicans would trot out experts to predict another crash.
  • He wants to eliminate the Import/Export Bank, which is the only thing keeping afloat companies like Boeing which have to compete against foreign entities that are heavily subsidized by their governments.  This move alone could lead to a loss of hundred of thousands of jobs.
  • He voted against the Brady Bill and several other gun control measures.
  • He has been criticized by Democratic opponents (while he was an Independent) for nasty campaign tactics.  To this day, former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin bemoans the things that Bernie said about her, some of which could be viewed as anti-feminist.
  • Sanders has won a lot of Democratic contests in red states that are highly unlikely to vote blue in the general election.  With the exceptions of Michigan and Wisconsin, the states that matter to Democrats in the general election have been largely won by Clinton.
  • Bernie has won a lot of caucuses.  However, voting in a caucus is much different than voting in a primary.  Caucuses tend to be dominated by young people and zealots, whereas primaries are much more like the general election in terms of who votes and how they vote.  As has been demonstrated, Hillary has a better shot of winning that type of vote. 
  • He would be sworn in at the age of 75.  When 73-year-old John McCain ran for president, everyone said he was too old.  How is this any different?
So, why is Bernie bad for America?  
  1. His nomination would likely lead to a Trump presidency, for all the reasons I wrote above.
  2. By staying in the race and continuing to attack Hillary, he only increases the chances of a Trump presidency.
  3. A Trump presidency is bad for America.
If you're a Democrat or Independent in one of the states that has yet to vote, please vote for Hillary Clinton.  Like her or not, she is a solid candidate, with a proven, tested record, and the best chance at preventing Donald Trump from becoming president.

It's Time for Unity

Now that the New York primary has concluded, and Hillary Clinton won by 15%, it's time for the Sanders campaign to re-assess and for Democratic voters to unite.  Bernie did everyone a favor by forcing the discussion to be around  income inequality and the power of big money in our lives and our elections.  Those messages have been received loud and clear.

It has been obvious, to anyone who pays attention, that whoever is elected will not be able to pass and pay for all the ideas that Bernie supported--free tuition, free universal health care, raising the minimum wage to $15, expanding Social Security and Medicare, etc.  However, he did us a favor by raising them, and hopefully, those issues will remain in the forefront of our political discourse.

It is also now obvious that Hillary will be the Democratic nominee for president.  She's only about 300 delegates away from the nomination with a lot of big states still to vote, and she's ahead of where Obama was at this point in 2008.  She has faults, but not nearly so many as Donald Trump--her likely Republican opponent.

But what I'm most worried about is that Bernie will continue to pursue the nomination and attack Hillary, thereby lessening her chances in November.  Let's face it, it's hard to give up the adulation of large crowds and the belief that you're the best candidate.  It's also hard for a lifelong Independent, as Bernie has been before deciding to run for president as a Democrat, to fully endorse the nominee of the Democratic Party, after referring to both parties throughout his career as "Tweedledee and Tweedledum."

I fear that if he doesn't get behind Hillary soon, he will have the same alienating effect as did Ralph Nader in 2000, leading to the election of George W. Bush.  If Sanders causes damage resulting in President Trump, it will be disastrous.

My point is that it's now time for unity, at least among the Democrats, so that Bernie's supporters can start to (perhaps begrudgingly) coalesce around Hillary.  So, my message to Bernie is the title of a film by Spike Lee (a Sanders supporter)...Do the Right Thing.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election

As many of you know, I began my career working in electoral politics, but honestly, that was a long time ago, and aside from my avidly following US campaigns, I am no more qualified than you to comment on the 2016 election.  So, after reading this, I honestly welcome your feedback.

The Republicans

Let me start that as a lifelong Democrat, I am continually baffled by which candidates wind up as the Republican nominees for President and Vice President.  After all, how was John McCain, a decent man and long-term public servant, duped into selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate?  And does anyone think that if the Romney/Ryan ticket were running now, they wouldn't have a better shot at winning than they did running against an incumbent Democrat in 2012--certainly a better shot than any of the current candidates?

But instead, we have the field now narrowed to five candidates, about whom I will write in inverse order of their current standing:
  • Ben Carson: Really?  The guy must be smart, because he's an accomplished brain surgeon.  So why has he seemed so stupid on the campaign trail?  Fortunately, he's gone from being a front-runner to an afterthought.
  • John Kasich: He's the greatest living symbol of the fact that the Republican Party has been hijacked by the Koch bothers and the Tea Party.  If there's anyone in the race who truly represents traditional Republican values, it's Kasich, but nobody is voting for him.
  • Ted Cruz: Whoever thought before now that amongst a field of candidates, he'd be considered reasonable?  The man built his reputation being an ultra-right-wing firebrand.  Yet, people are describing him as a "mainstream" alternative to Trump.
  • Marco Rubio: Am I the only one who thinks he looks, and acts, like a guy running for president of his high school student government?  He's arguably the most extreme right-wing candidate on the ballot, and his experience level is very low.  Does anyone remember how vehemently the Republicans berated Obama as being a "first-term senator?"  Yet, Rubio is in the same boat, except that he's missed a higher percentage of Senate votes than anyone else currently holding that job.
  • Donald Trump: I don't think I've ever before agreed with Lindsey Graham, but how did this media clown become the presumptive nominee?  And how must lifelong Republicans feel about the demise of their party in favor of hateful zealots?
A lot of my liberal friends are hoping that Trump wins the nomination, because they feel he will definitely lose in November.  I disagree.  Let's face it, you never know what will happen in a general election.  Clinton and Sanders may take off the gloves to the point where the winner is bloodied and must regroup.  I will address the Democrats shortly, but the thought of President Trump makes my skin crawl.

After all, this is the "Grand Old Party" (GOP)...the party of Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Nelson Rockefeller, who would be considered a leftist by today's Republican standards.  You'll notice I didn't mention Reagan, because I believe he started this movement toward the right that is leading to the party's demise.  The candidates each claim to be the most "conservative," but that very word indicates being in favor or preserving the status quo, not turning back the clock.  Historically, conservatives favor a reduction of excessive spending, including military spending, but that's not the case with any current Republicans.

I believe we need two parties--it makes us stronger--and it shouldn't be the Democrats vs. the Crazies or the Democrats vs. the Obstructionists.  A strong Republican party is good for America, but the current version appears to have lost its bearings.

The Democrats

As an idealist, I appreciate what Bernie Sanders is saying, and as someone who struggles to pay his monthly bills, I agree that the system is rigged.  In 1976, I was on the national staff of the Fred Harris for President campaign, and Fred's platform then ("a fundamental redistribution of wealth, income, and power") was similar to Sanders's today.  However, that was a long time ago--before two or three corporations controlled every industry and the word "regulation" was seen as taboo.

What Bernie is advocating can't happen in four years or eight years, and if he tries to make it happen during that timespan, he could trigger a worldwide depression.  In addition, his advocacy of free universal health care, free public college tuition, forgiving college debt, and enlarging Social Security, as great as they might sound, are hollow promises that cannot be adequately funded by increasing the income tax on the top one or two percent, especially when our budget deficit is already greater than $16 trillion.

On top of that, Sanders is clearly out of his league when it comes to discussing foreign policy, and I'd worry about his temperament when facing down Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un.  Of course, I'd enjoy seeing a Jewish president, but in Sanders, there are just too many question marks.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton, for whatever reason, rubs many people the wrong way.  Maybe, like Adlai Stevenson in the 50s, she's just too smart for most people, or maybe they just don't like it that a woman is that smart.  I find it humorous that someone with Clinton's progressive credentials and general success as Secretary of State could be seen by so many as too much of an "establishment" candidate.

I want to return to the "smart woman" issue.  Just as there is an underlying current of racism in the opposition to Obama, there is a similar anti-woman current running beneath the anti-Clinton rhetoric.  I can only wonder why major democracies and US allies like the UK, India, Germany, and Israel have all had female leaders while the US has never even had a woman as the presidential nominee of one of its major parties.

Joni (my wife) has told the story of speaking with her grandmother many years ago and asking about politics.  Her grandmother responded that she couldn't always vote and Joni asked her why, surprised to learn that when her grandmother turned 21, women didn't have the right to vote.

As I get older, and remember campaigning alongside Gloria Steinem, Sissy Farenthold, LaDonna Harris, and Shirley Maclaine, it distresses me that many young women don't appreciate how hard it has been to get to this point, when a woman could be considered a front-runner in a US presidential contest.  Of course those women should vote for the candidate who best represents their interests (as some say Sanders does), but who better than a qualified, experienced, progressive woman to represent positions including equal pay, gun control, and abortion rights, which are being restricted in state after state (if you don't believe that, watch the recent John Oliver show)?

In Conclusion

So, as you've probably guessed by now, my ideal contest would be Kasich (admittedly a longshot) vs. Clinton.  I believe that would give us the best shot at an honest, issues-oriented debate between experienced candidates, and isn't that what we really deserve?  In addition, whichever of those candidates were to win, it would not encourage me to move to Sweden, as a Trump presidency might.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Behind the Trump Numbers

If you listen to CNN and other news outlets covering the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses, you could easily have the perception that there is a groundswell of support across the country for Donald Trump.  So, let's take a minute to look behind those numbers:
  • Of the registered voters in the United States, approximately 25% are Republican, and another 40% are Independent.  If we assume that half of the Independents are voting as Republicans, which is a stretch given Bernie Sanders's candidacy, then we will say that 45% of voters are picking up a Republican ballot.
  • The news outlets have talked about "record turnouts," but those are records for primaries, and the highest of them has been around 40%.
  • In the states where Trump has "won big," he's received about one third (33%) of the Republican votes.
So, if my math serves me correctly, we're looking at 45% of 40% of 33%, which turns out to be less than 6%.  In other words, in the states that have voted so far, less than 6% of all registered voters are picking Donald Trump for president.

Now, let's take it one step further and look at the specific states:
  1. Iowa, where nothing ever happens of any real interest to the rest of us.
  2. New Hampshire, which, for political purposes, is the Arkansas of New England.
  3. South Carolina, where they only recently removed the Confederate flag from the state capital.
  4. Nevada, (where Trump is expected to win big), where most of the state revenue comes from gambling.
It would be hard for anyone to claim that these four states represent the country.  Let's face it, there isn't even a major professional sports franchise in any of them, and together, they account for about 4% of the national vote.

Even if Trump's momentum continues as it has into Super Tuesday next week, we're still talking about less than 6% of the registered voters in the United States.  But the news outlets continue to report it like he's won the Super Bowl.

So, as you go about voting and watching the primaries, please rest assured that no one has ever won the presidency by winning 6% of the registered voters.  Even if you assume that only half of them will actually vote in the general election, then Trump is looking at 12% of the votes.  Unless he can seriously build on that base (at least quadrupling it), which is unlikely given the vehement anti-Trump sentiment, we can look forward to another Democratic victory in November.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Reid's 2016 Oscar Preview (2015 Movies)

As many of you know, each year, I write an Oscar Preview using a format from the Boston Globe in which critics preview the Academy Awards, using 4 categories:  “Will Win,” “Should Win,” “Shouldn’t Be Here,” and “Was Robbed,” following each with a paragraph about the races.  So, here is the preview for this year's contests:

Best Picture

The Nominees: "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," "The Revenant," "Room," "Spotlight"
Will Win: “Spotlight”
Should Win: “Spotlight”
Shouldn’t Be Here: “Brooklyn”
Was Robbed:  “Creed” 

"Creed" was the movie most hurt by this year's slight of African American artists by the Academy.  It's the year's best movie, and it wasn't even nominated.  My second favorite movie of 2015 was "Bridge of Spies," but I'm saying that "Spotlight," although slightly flawed, will win and should win because of the importance of its subject matter.  People should see this movie, and an Oscar win would help that.  "Brooklyn" was a good, little movie, but it's not Oscar-caliber.

Best Actor

The Nominees:
  • Bryan Cranston in "Trumbo"
  • Matt Damon in "The Martian"
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant"
  • Michael Fassbender in "Steve Jobs"
  • Eddie Redmayne in "The Danish Girl"
Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant"
Should Win: Bryan Cranston in "Trumbo"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Michael Fassbender in "Steve Jobs"
Was Robbed:  Michael B. Jordan in "Creed"

DiCaprio did a great job in a physically difficult role, but he never really made me care about him as a person, while Cranston's portrayal of Dalton Trumbo was incredibly nuanced.  Michael B. Jordan showed again that he's a star on the rise in his non-nominated role as the son of Apollo Creed from the "Rocky" movies, while Michael Fassbender's reading of Aaron Sorkin's overly wordy script seemed more like an acting workshop than an actual movie.

Best Actress

The Nominees:
  • Cate Blanchett in "Carol"
  • Brie Larson in "Room"
  • Jennifer Lawrence in "Joy"
  • Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years"
  • Saoirse Ronan in "Brooklyn"
Will Win: Brie Larson in "Room"
Should Win: Brie Larson in "Room"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Jennifer Lawrence in "Joy"
Was Robbed:  Charlize Theron in "Mad Max: Fury Road"

The race for this award should be between Brie Larson and Charlize Theron, but absurdly, Theron was not nominated.  Fortunately, Larson was, and she will deservedly win her first Oscar (I'm predicting more in her future).

Best Director

The Nominees:
  • Lenny Abramson for "Room"
  • Alejandro Iñárritu for "The Revenant"
  • Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"
  • Adam McKay for "The Big Short"
  • George Miller for "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Will Win: Alejandro Iñárritu for "The Revenant"
Should Win: George Miller for "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Adam McKay for "The Big Short"
Was Robbed:  Ryan Coogler for "Creed" and Steven Spielberg for "Bridge of Spies"

Iñárritu will win for the difficult task it took to make "The Revenant," but George Miller's reimagining of the Mad Max franchise was visually breathtaking.  Coogler suffered from the lack of nominations for African Americans, but after making "Fruitvale Station" and "Creed," I have a feeling he'll have more Oscar opportunities.  And it's easy to overlook Spielberg, as the Academy often does, but this was one of his best movies.

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees:
  • Christian Bale in "The Big Short"
  • Tom Hardy in "The Revenant"
  • Mark Ruffalo in "Spotlight"
  • Mark Rylance in "Bridge of Spies"
  • Sylvester Stallone in "Creed"
Will Win: Sylvester Stallone in "Creed"
Should Win: Sylvester Stallone in "Creed"
Shouldn’t Be Here: none
Was Robbed: Idris Elba in "Beasts of No Nation" and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. in "Straight Outta Compton"

It's a shame that the only person nominated for an award in "Creed" was the only white person with a major role, but that's not to take away from Stallone's performance, which reminded us that despite all the action-film bluster, the guy can act.  Aside from that, it's a good group of actors that could have benefitted from the addition of Idris Elba and/or O'Shea Jackson, Jr., who did an outstanding job playing his father (Ice Cube) in "Straight Outta Compton."

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:
  • Jennifer Jason Lee in "The Hateful Eight"
  • Rooney Mara in "Carol"
  • Rachel McAdams in "Spotlight"
  • Alicia Vikander in "The Danish Girl"
  • Kate Winslet in "Steve Jobs"
Will Win: Alicia Vikander in "The Danish Girl"
Should Win: Alicia Vikander in "The Danish Girl"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Rachel McAdams in "Spotlight"
Was Robbed:  Tessa Thompson in "Creed"

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander was in four good movies this year, but this was her best role, and it was arguably better suited for the "Best Actress" category.  Nevertheless, she nailed it, making the most of a difficult part.  And while Rachel McAdams did a decent job, the role was somewhat inconsequential, especially compared to that of Tessa Thompson in "Creed."

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees:
  • Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for "The Big Short"
  • Nick Hornby for "Brooklyn"
  • Phyllis Nagy for "Carol"
  • Drew Goddard for "The Martian"
  • Emma Donaghue for "Room"
Will Win: Emma Donaghue for "Room"
Should Win: Emma Donaghue for "Room"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Phyllis Nagy for "Carol"
Was Robbed:  Donald Margulies for "The End of the Tour"

Any time you watch all of the actors do a great job, you have to give some of the credit to their lines, and that's the case with "Room."  And while I barely remember the actors saying anything in "Carol," I loved the writing in "The End of the Tour."

Best Original Screenplay

The Nominees:
  • Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen for "Bridge of Spies"
  • Alex Garland for "Ex Machina"
  • Peter Docter, Meg LeFauvre, and Josh Cooley for "Inside Out"
  • Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"
  • Jonathan Herman for "Straight Outta Compton"
Will Win: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"
Should Win: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Peter Docter, Meg LeFauvre, and Josh Cooley for "Inside Out"
Was Robbed: Amy Schumer for "Trainwreck"

This one should be close between "Spotlight" and "Bridge of Spies," but "Spotlight" has the momentum, so it will win.  I thought the premise of "Inside Out" was intriguing, but the script itself was not so interesting.  In the meantime, Amy Schumer redefined what you can and should say in a romantic comedy.