Category Archives: Democrats

Perspective vs. Experience: A Presidential Conversation


So I published a post titled A Lack of Perspective on Monday about why I believe that Mitt Romney shouldn’t be president because he can’t understand what it’s like to be poor. That’s dumbing it down a bit, but that’s the general premise.

In response, one of my favorite Facebook critics, Mark Ashley*, asked me whether I really believed that someone had to be poor to understand what poverty is and stated that a person’s actual policies show a lot more about a politician than their life experiences.

I’ll restate his argument here:

Had this been written in 2004, it would have been a great argument against John Kerry. Of course, the alternative was Bush, who also came from wealth, but you have effectively disqualified the likes of JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents.

The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me. How poor is poor? Does one’s family have to have begged at one time to qualify? Been on government assistance? Or is simply struggling to make ends meet enough? I’m not being facetious in asking these questions, and I am well acquainted with living below the poverty line. My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty–nobody is interested in electing a person who has never been successful in life–and many up-from-the-bootstrap people are not particularly sympathetic to the poor either.

Ultimately, there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same. Likewise, many who have been poor and who have never been poor have genuinely good perspectives on poverty and even sometimes good policy proposals. What matters more is how a person has processed those life experiences and what a person chooses to do with them.

I’m not about to offer any defense of Romney, and I do think that life experiences matter, but I am skeptical of the notion that someone has to be/have been [poor, rich, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, female, male, etc.] in order to empathize with, represent, and lead people who fall into those categories. Show me a person’s actual policies. That, to me, is much more revealing of how a politician thinks.

First, let me address the idea that this argument would have disqualified JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents. On its face, that’s a valid argument, but I believe that there is one important factor that makes this argument moot:

Thanks to Mother Jones for the graph

The income equality gap is higher now than it has been at any time since the Great Depression.

When FDR came to power, despite coming from old New York money, he set out New Deal Legislation, got us through World War II (I am not going to debate the wisdom of either New Deal legislation or his policy decisions in WWII right now) and worked with civil rights organizations like the NAACP. Point being: He wanted to help.

On to JFK. Was he wealthy? Yes. Was he from a wealthy family? Great. But he seemed to understand the problems and priorities of this country in a way that Romney does not. (Kennedy also wasn’t a draft dodger, but that’s another kettle of fish.) Kennedy genuinely wanted to better the lives of his countrymen. I can’t say I’ve seen any indication of that from Romney since his campaign began.

When Mark says “The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me,” I have to say that it’s not to me. He goes on to say that “My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty” and that “there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same.”

Does my argument come down to attitude and life experience as much as it does money? Absolutely. But there’s such a huge gap now between rich and poor that I really feel that Romney and other people in his income bracket just simply don’t get it. He has not ever had to worry about a single thing I do on a daily basis.  And his comments about the 47% being “dependent on government” and that a middle class income is “$200,000 to $250,000,” just for a few examples, show how out of touch he truly is.

This baffles me, considering healthcare and gay marriage in Massachusetts, but I don’t trust that he’ll revert back to being a ‘progressive moderate’ once he takes office.

Obama came up from relatively nothing. His mom, while educated, was not rich. He lived in parts of the world where not many people are rich by anyone’s standards. He went to prep school on scholarship and then to Columbia and Harvard the same way most people in my income bracket would, by shelling out for student loans. He worked as a community organizer in Chicago and organized African-American voter drives.

I could go on and on, but my point is that he gets it. He gets what my problems are. He’s worried about money. He’s had to pay off student loans. He’s worried about health care for his family. He’s experienced the problems of being a minority in this country. And the policies that he’s tried to implement (again, the merits of those are a different argument) reflect that.

So while, yes, a lot of it comes down to empathy and policy, I don’t believe Romney has enough of either to lead our country.

Maybe, until the income gap goes down to levels that make sense, we should only allow people who came up from nothing to run. It might help.

*Mark Ashley is a buddy of mine who is also working to be tenured at a university and so doesn’t want his name associated with silly political blogs at this time. Due to his needing to use a pseudonym and then coming up with one as silly as Mark Ashley, I am dubbing him Professor Who, Master of Mystery. (Feel free to insert a booming voice worthy of that title here.) Prof. Who for short. You’ll be seeing a lot more of him, as he’s been set into a contract to write me 8 blog posts by the end of the year.

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On Journalistic Self-Censorship and Transparency


Originally I named this post “Journalist Self-Censorship, or Could You Please Pretend You Don’t Have An Opinion?” But I figured that was both too inflammatory and too long to tweet.

But that is essentially the problem I want to address in this post.

What journalists are not

Before we get any further down the controversial road of objectivity vs. transparency in the media, let me explain something that I’ve always taken for granted. Journalists are critical thinkers. We are trained to evaluate information and fit it into the context of the world at large. And since journalists aren’t zombies, we are probably going to have an opinion. It’s inevitable.

However, the whole idea of objectivity now seems to be that journalists have to pretend to not have opinions. I’ve heard of some journalists who literally do not vote, EVER, because they don’t want to seem biased in any way. Opinions are only for the op-ed pages.

However, call me wrong, but that doesn’t seem possible. Journalists are not zombie robots. They are people trained to analyze information, make quick decisions, ask the tough questions and inform their public. OF COURSE they’re going to have opinions. How could they not? Not only that, but your opinions inform, even subconsciously, how you view a story, what angle you pursue, who you interview, how many column inches you beg your editor to let you use.

So wouldn’t it maybe be better to let people know what side of the spectrum you’re on and go from there?

This issue became closer to my heart and experience over the last two years when Walker took office and the protests began around the Capitol. Now that I am no longer a journalist, I can freely admit this: I participated in the UW walkouts, leaving my Media Ethics class to march for my professors, TAs and friends in the teaching profession with the full support of my professor. I took my poor little 5 megapixel camera all over State Street and the Square. I filmed rallies, I tweeted from inside the Capitol building, I took innumerable photos that ended up on Flickr. Needless to say, I did not support Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal.

Those photos, videos and opinions ended up on this blog. I didn’t write a lot about it, I was too upset and as I said in one post, “I can’t write about this with any objectivity, so I won’t.” Luckily, I got a journalism internship and a job working for a small print newspaper after graduation, even with those opinions out there for anyone to read.

I say luckily because others weren’t as the years wore on. One journalism student had their internship offer rescinded after admitting to signing the recall petition.

While I didn’t have my offers of employment rescinded, an intrepid reader who stumbled upon my blog after Googling the new reporter brought it to the attention of my editor about a month after I landed my first real journalism job . While my editor, in the spirit of fairness, told me he couldn’t require me to take down posts written before I reported in any official capacity, he did ask if I could delete them. The recall election was heating up and I’d inevitably be covering it in some way within a month or two.

After a night or two of soul-searching, I agreed. I didn’t want to compromise my integrity in a new town where no one trusted the reporter who was only 3 months out of school and I wanted people to think I could listen to them and report fairly on both sides of the aisle.

But I have to admit that I almost didn’t. This blog was inactive at that point. The way I saw it, I shouldn’t have to sacrifice having beliefs to be able to do my job. But worry about the appearance of integrity won out.

I also didn’t sign the petition to recall Walker. In this case the law came down from the main office in Madison. Signing a petition would be sacrificing integrity. We agree to keep our personal opinions to ourselves when we take on the role of being journalists.

It killed me to not be able to participate. It took all my strength to not pull over and sign when I saw someone standing at the corner with a drive by petition signing booth. I seriously considered saying screw journalistic principles and doing it anyway. But I didn’t. I’m thankful as well, considering the investigation that went down later on within Lee.

But that was a major factor when deciding whether or not to leave my journalism position two months ago. I couldn’t bear to spend my entire life pretending I didn’t have opinions.

In my media ethics classes, we spent a lot of time debating objectivity vs. transparency. Objectivity is the idea that journalists are neutral. As I’ve established, I believe that’s totally impossible. Here’s where transparency comes into play: Instead of pretending to be objective, let readers know where you’re coming from, especially on political issues.

My coverage of the recall election and petition signing was possibly some of the least “biased” coverage I gave to any story while I worked as a reporter. Why? Because I knew my own limitations and biases and did my best to keep them out of the story. I believe every journalist does the same.

As Reuters columnist Jack Shafer said after Gannett reprimanded employees for signing the petition:

“So the ethical crime in Wisconsin wasn’t having political views, which the Gannett code allows. It wasn’t expressing those views in secret. It was expressing a weakened form of them in a way that could go public. As long as you conceal your views from the ethics cops, you’re safe….At the core of the current journalistic codes is the notion that judging journalism requires us to judge the conduct of the journalists producing it. Instead of suppressing the political lives of journalists, why not allow that which is now covert to become overt and give readers more information to assess coverage?”

If the Republicans tried to pass a bill saying the Earth is flat…


So I promised there would be a post here about, uh, five days ago?

I’m not even going to apologize this time. Y’all know it’s par for the course with this blog.

So I mentioned I would be going a little more in-depth about the idea of objectivity in journalism, or the idea that the media has to report ‘both’ sides of a story.

This idea has always bothered me. First off, there are almost never just two sides to any story. Sometimes there are 7 sides or 10 sides or maybe even just one. (Though if there’s just one, maybe you need a different angle. I’ve never had just one side to a story.)

In Episode Two of The Newsroom, they talk about making News 2.0. News that relies on facts, doesn’t try to sway you with an emotional plea and most importantly, presents the best form of every argument. All the sides of the story so to speak.

Will McAvoy uses the following example: “If the Republicans tried to pass a bill tomorrow saying the Earth is flat, the headline from the Times would be, ‘Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the whether the Earth is flat.”

That’s completely true, but not the best form of the argument. In that context, the best form of the argument might be “Republicans reject current scientific knowledge” or “Bogus bill put forward to delay passage of the ACA.”

But let me give you my favorite real life example.

So there’s this thing called global warming. We’ve all heard of it by now. We jokingly blamed the weather on it until it became pretty clear it actually was messing with our rainfall. Then we shook our fists at it. But most scientists, including some who were disbelievers before, are now certain that it exists and that humans are impacting the Earth at an alarming rate. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, part of the National Science and Technology Council, has stated that “The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific agreement across nations, said in it’s 2007 report that humans are most likely to have caused the global warming that has occurred over the last 50 years. In science speak, “most likely” means an over 90 percent chance. It’s the closest you’re going to get to a definite yes from almost any scientist worth his salt, let alone an entire panel.

And yet, because some people don’t want to believe that we could possibly be having this impact on our planet – and that our industry might have to change – they try to debunk climate science in any way possible. And because the journalistic norm is for everyone to have a voice, these people get so much attention from the media that the general public thinks the debunkers are a credible source. Even back in 2004 researchers recognized media bias as a serious problem in the fight against global warming.

In the conclusion of a report from the University of California – Santa Cruz’s Environmental Studies Department, two researchers named Boykoff and Boykoff stated the following:

“In the end, adherence to the norm of balanced reporting leads to informationally biased coverage of global warming. This bias, hidden behind the veil of journalistic balance, creates both discursive and real political space for the US government to shirk responsibility and delay action regarding global warming.”

It also found that major news outlets, such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, the L.A. Times and others, have contributed to a lack of knowledge by the general public of what scientists think about global warming and what should be done about it by “adherence to journalistic norms, and more specifically to the journalistic norm of balance.”

Basically, there aren’t two sides to this story. There is global warming and there are people who want to pretend it doesn’t exist because global warming might mess with their profits.

Now, thankfully, I went to a college that factored ethics very highly into my education and we were taught that giving balance to a story shouldn’t be as important as telling the truth. But the truth doesn’t sell papers and the truth doesn’t get funding. “Balance” does.

So, in the case of global warming, the correct headline might be “Companies create propaganda campaign to cast doubt on global warming.”

But no one is reporting that.

And that is reason #1 why I had a problem with working as a journalist.

Next time, I’ll discuss another aspect to the bias-balance debate, one that also became very close to my heart over the last year: personal politics and objectivity.

I’ll leave you with this wonderful clip of Will McAvoy discussing what is best and worst about America to warm your heart. I know it had me cheering by the end.

Fixin What Ain’t Broke – Voter ID Bill


So yeah, its been a month or so since I’ve posted. Oops.

I don’t really have much of an excuse, except that working full time over break and then starting school has taken a lot out of me. Also, normally I take my politics break over winter break, (there’s only so much I can take before I need some time off and this election cycle was rather insane), and didn’t do so this time. So I’ve been a bit out of the loop. Confession: Still have not watched/listened to/read the State of the Union address. That’s how bad it is. At least I’m still Tweeting.

I’d like to focus on something a little closer to home than national politics today. Shocking, I know! Instead, I want to focus on Wisconsin Attorney General Van Hollen’s proposed Voter ID bill.

To give you some background: This bill is intended to cut down on Wisconsin voter fraud. An admirable goal, for sure. For example, in the 2008 election, there was a huge stink over ACORN in the US and other smaller pieces of fraud in Wisconsin. But in reality, according to a study from Van Hollen’s office, there were only 18 fraudulent votes out of all 3 million votes cast in the state. Big deal? Maybe, but not huge.

So before we beg  the question of whether this bill is necessary at all, here’s how he wants to do it: by requiring all users to show a photo ID before being allowed to vote. And not just any photo ID, but only drivers licenses, state IDs and military IDs.  For example, UW students could no longer use their UW identification cards along with proof of a current address to vote.

Now, we all already know that getting voters to the polls is a problem. If you’re poor, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re a minority, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re young, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re too old, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re disabled, you’re less likely to vote. Less than half of the people in Wisconsin voted in the 2008 election, and even less in the 2010 midterms. So now, all of a sudden, if you decide, “Hey, I might go vote today!” but you’ve been too poor to get a state ID, you can’t.  If you’re a student from out of state and your license hasn’t been switched over, you can’t vote. If you’re elderly and don’t have a license anymore because you don’t drive, you can’t vote. And if you don’t live close to a DMV or work during business hours? You’re SOL.

One Wisconsin Now keeps pointing out the problem, as does the Government Accountability Board.

See the problem?

But it gets even more confusing. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, to make sure this doesn’t amount to a poll tax, state IDs will no longer cost money. But wait, you say, isn’t there a budget deficit? Doesn’t even that small amount of money help the state? Well, yes, yes it does. Thanks for noting that. You forgot to mention cost of training for state employees to learn the new rules, training for everyone else to make sure it’s enforced, and special exceptions for students, elderly, etc.

In fact, according to the Sentinel, in 2009 this was estimated to have an annual 2.9 million dollar price tag. That’s not counting the training costs (estimated at 2 million by the Government Accountability Board), the loss of DMV revenue, or anything else. That’s just the cost of the program itself.

So while I know the Republicans are trying to put some trust back into the political system, I don’t see how this is going to help. You know that saying, if it’s broke, don’t fix it? Here’s another, if it’s broken, don’t spend money to make it worse.

Lessons in losing


Today is another break from Teh Commerz Clawz day. (Though according to my ever-growing page hits, I’m pretty popular when you search for anything regarding Gibbons v. Ogden or FDR’s court packing plan. LOLZ.)

This post has been floating around in my head since before the brutal attempt on Congresswoman Giffords’ life and the resulting discussion surrounding the dangers of overblown political vitriol. So let me preface this by stating that I don’t believe someone as out of touch with reality as Laughner really paid that much attention to politics. Selectively maybe, but the immediate conclusion that political name-calling led to her death is ridiculous. Thankfully some columnists kept their heads while the rest of the media was losing theirs, and it seems discussions about gun control and mental illness are finally springing forward. Ugh.

But back to my point. I’ve been thinking about this idea of bitter, mean-spirited politics since January 1st, actually. Several of my more liberal minded friends started ranting about how life was going to be over in Wisconsin as soon as Scott Walker took office, and were instrumental in calling for his repeal.

First, there’s the bit where Walker can’t just be repealed like he’s an offensive bill, since he’s an actual elected official that won fair and square. Obviously. But that’s not the issue. The issue is the current insistence on combativeness in the political process. (If you need another example, the Republican insistence on a symbolic health care vote should be enough.)

Now I understand that politics create controversy. My opinion is not going to be the opinion of someone on the far right. Or the far left either. And I don’t expect those two people to agree either with me or with each other. That’s what makes democracy work, and theoretically with debate and compromise all those different ideas lead to the best deal for everyone in America. But that’s not what happens anymore.

Instead we end up with the ridiculous amount of name-calling familiar to anyone who even vaguely follows politics. This person is the incarnation of the devil! This person’s policies will make your crops wither and die! That person is a witch! This liberal wants to send all our old people to death camps! That conservative is a Nazi and wants you to march in lock-step for the rest of your life as punishment for having brown hair!

I only made up the second and part of the fifth one.

As soon as the opposing party takes power, suddenly the world is going to end. “Life will never be the same!” the losing party exclaims. “This is the worst thing to happen to our (city, district, state, country) since (last terrible buzz-person) ran everything into the ground! Run for the hills!” They inflame their staunchest members with floods of fund-raising emails. They tell half-truths when they can. They get everyone they can all riled up. And suddenly people actually believe that the President wants death panels. They believe that this person is the incarnation of the Devil or is a witch or a Nazi or a terrorist or whatever the buzz-word of the day is. Not everyone pays enough attention to know better.

This just isn’t on the left or on the right. This isn’t just from the Republicans or Fox News. This comes from Democrats and MSNBC commentators as well.

We’ve forgotten, as a country, how to lose gracefully. We’ve lost our sportsmanship. We’ve lost our ability to shake hands with someone that ran a better campaign than we did and tell them “Good game. There’s always next time.” We’ve somehow misplaced the lessons taught to us when we were young, lessons about not throwing down our ball and stomping away to pout when the game doesn’t go our way.

And we, as people involved and commenting on the political process of the United States of America need to relearn that skill. Maybe, if there’s anything to learn from this truly pointless murder spree, it’s how to lose gracefully again.

Instead of continuing to rant myself (I have to admit this was far less intimidating to talk about before a prominent Congresswoman almost died) I’m going to let one of the only people I still fully trust in politics finish off with a talk of his own.

I give you: Jon Stewart. He says it better than I do anyway.

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Imagine this


Imagine this:

Obama at this afternoons press conference Thanks to the New York Times for the image

You’re stuck in a marriage with a person who seemed alright when you married them. Not great, but they said they cared about you and that things would be alright. You would both learn to compromise, since you both brought children to the marriage and, hey, kids need a stable home and family life and your respective exes ruined your lives. You buy a house together. You have a job to do raising your children, taking care of a house, making sure everyone has clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet and food to eat  and can afford to go to college.

And then you find that your partner doesn’t care about you at all. They undermine you at every turn. They want to take your children away from you, and take all your money. They want the big screen TV, the Ferrari, and the vacation house on the beach, and when you explain that to keep a balanced budget, your family can’t afford all that and to take care of the kids, they stop contributing to the marriage at all. They stonewall you. They lie to the kids about all these bad things you’ve done. They let you take all the flack. They want a divorce, but only after they’ve taken you and the kids for everything you have. (You forgot a pre-nup.)

And this whole time you’re doing your best to keep the children fed and clothed, because you promised them, shortsightedly, that everything would be alright. But Johnny and Sue don’t believe you anymore. Even your best friends are tired of you trying to compromise with someone that’s turned out to be the most royal  *blank* on the planet, and are ready to quit talking to you.  But you giving your partner permission to lease the Ferrari allows your children to have food, clothing and shelter, even if it’s against what you believe.

So, what do you do?

If you’re Obama, you let the Bush tax cuts go through for 2 more years in exchange for 13 more months of unemployment benefits. You take the flack from your friends the Democrats. You let the country talk about how you don’t know how to run the household. You explain again that you know this whole situation sucks, but your child can’t find a job and you need to help him eat till he can. (You also mention again that your child can’t find a job because your partner helped close half the businesses in town, but no one is listening anymore.)

And no one, especially you, is happy.

This may be a bad example, and certainly isn’t a thorough one. But I am so ridiculously tired of everyone attacking Obama. “He’s capitulating!” “The Republicans are winning!” “Things aren’t happening fast enough.” “You hurt my principles.” Excuse me, but would you PLEASE STFU???

Am I happy with this situation? Absolutely not. Has the man delivered everything he said he would? No. Is he one human being up against a party that thinks they have a mandate to be jerks for the next two years? Absolutely yes.

The time to stand up and tell the Republicans to sit down and deal with it was 2 years ago. Not now. Now is the time to make sure that everyone that hasn’t been able to find a job in the last two years (and believe it or not, for most people it’s not for lack of trying) still has money for the basic necessities.

Is this radical? No.  Is it going to make Democrats happy? No. Is it going to make the Republicans happier? Unfortunately, yes. Is it going to add to the deficit? Yes. Are some people going to be able to eat that wouldn’t be able to if the unemployment benefits expired? Yes.

And maybe it’s because I’m 22 and I don’t understand the economy well yet. Maybe it’s because I’ve paid my own way through college and know firsthand how tough it is to find a job, unlike all these opinion editors and senior officials. Hell, I’d stay in school longer if I could just to avoid trying. It’s that scary. Maybe it’s because I make less than $10,000 a year, loans and 3 jobs included, and I feel unemployment benefits and tax cuts for the little guy are important. Maybe it’s because I’ve already learned that being an idealist in politics isn’t going to help anyone. Maybe it’s because I honestly feel sorry for Obama.

I want to throw the question out there, with our current situation, would you let people run out of unemployment benefits and raise taxes, just to prove a point?

Bye bye, Birth Control


So, right now, as it stands, everyone from the New York Times to FOX projects Ron Johnson and Scott Walker to win (30% of districts reporting). Democrats stand to lose the House and the Senate, though the Senate is a little less likely. Thankfully, it seems like we can keep Tammy.

Dear Wisconsin, are you really that stupid? Also, how the HELL are all these Tea Party candidates winning?