Monday, July 31, 2017

Trump Fundraising: A close look at the daily email

Fundraising appeals are very useful documents.  Readers can learn what actually works and motivates because the campaigns get daily feedback on what words cause clicks onto the red "Contribute" button.

Political Metaphor
Implicit in the appeals is an understanding of the nature of the political battlefield.   It is in fact a battlefield.  

Trump understands that Americans voted for a warrior, not a diplomat.

What is important is not whether ones leader plays by the rules but rather whose side he or she is on.

Identify the enemy:   

Coastal Elites
Celebrity Donors
Liberals and their crony agenda
Fake News
Radical Islamic Terrorists
Corrupt globalist deals
Washington status quo that enriched itself
Obstructionist liberal senators
Hateful bullies

Identify the Trump team.  "We" are:

Trump voters and supporters
The American people
People who ignore "fake news"

The fundraising does not take place over issues.  Instead, they describe a war zone, us against them, with "us" representing advocates for a broad but undefined Trump movement, against rich, powerful, dishonest, obstructionists.  Politics is a tug of war between two giant groups and Trump is calling on people to join in on his side.

Notice what is not present: a sense of self awareness.  Trump's brand includes pride in a family business and his alpha male dominance, yet he condemns self-enriching cronyism and bullying.  How can he do that?   Has he no sense of irony? 

The answer is that he is proudly and un-selfconsciously a political warrior.  He isn't in a debate, with rules. He does not look inward.   He does not weigh the value of multiple points of view.  He is not an attorney evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of a case.  He is a warrior, so he happily accepts deception and hypocrisy as positive values, if he helps him win.

One way to win in this polarized and media environment: accuse the opposition of exactly what you proudly do.  Don't apologize or explain  Accuse.

Isn't it hypocritical?   It does not matter.   Don't acknowledge hypocrisy.  Don't blink. Don't hesitate.  Don't look down.  Don't give an inch.  

For example, Melania Trump chose a First Lady theme, and what was it?  Of all the possible themes she chose social media bullying.  She was against it.  It would be morally wrong to use social media to bully or intimidate or disparage others, she said earnestly.  

She admitted no hint of irony or hypocrisy, no hint that her husband was a prolific and very successful master of exactly what she condemned, and under heavy criticism for his doing it, which criticism he flagrantly ignored.   She handled this brilliantly.  She never blinked.

Trump's success comes in part by understanding that he is a warrior.  The Trump formula is to avoid a "fair fight" or to be self reflective or philosophical.   He does not acknowledge hypocrisy.  Trump was a reaction to Obama, the constitutional law professor, who acknowledged the interests of others.  He was a reasonable man--which made him vulnerable to the charge of weakness and "global thinking" as contrasted with thinking on behalf of our side, period.

AsTrump noted proudly, he represents Pittsburgh, not Paris.

Trump excites people and commands respect within his base of voters because he projects none of that Obama philosophical self reflection.  As a warrior he sees only his side, which he says is actually our side.  His supporters understand he says and does inexcusable things sometimes but they interpret his excesses and mistakes as those of a charged up and incautious warrior. He is a hepped-up athlete on the home team, sometimes trying too hard, but trying.  He is leading the gang in pulling the rope toward some vague direction, but unquestionably our direction.   What is important is not the exact direction of the pull nor whether Trump cheats, with Russia or with his taxes or with his businesses or with disloyalty to former allies like Jeff Sessions.  If he cheats, so what?  He is cheating for our side. 

Voters saw that Trump knew how to fight and win. We didn't elect a pious and cautious minister.  We elected a Commander in Chief.

Readers will get a sense of the tone of these fundraising appeals by looking at three examples of them below:

Daily Fundraising appeal: "coastal elites and celebrity donors."

Daily Fundraising appeal: Corrupt Globalists and Fake News

Daily fundraising appeal:  "obstructionist liberals"

Sunday, July 30, 2017

To win an election, turn out your base.

There is no "middle".   

A corollary of the premise of yesterday's post--that Trump successfully channelled the voters' mood of frustration with democracy--is that a great many people drop out of the electoral process.

They don't bother voting.

Mark Hatfield.  So last century.
This blog looked closely at the public presentation of State Senator Alan DeBoer in recent posts.  Some readers have contacted me and said it looked to them like DeBoer was "moving to the center" and that this was good.   He wasn't moving to the center.  He was staying where he was, advocating a political position in eclipse in the GOP, that legislators are elected to make government work better.

This blog described DeBoer as behaving like a "civic minded good government" Republican in an era when the Republican party generally had moved away from a party of governance toward the politically successful position as an anti-government party of protest.  Republicans win politically but do so at the price of having difficulty governing.   GOP marketing channels voter contempt and protest.  

At the national level the GOP is stuck unable to decide whether their majorities should be proud of reducing healthcare access or embarrassed over it, so Obamacare repeal-and-replace has stalled.  Republican energy in Oregon is going toward repealing the 1.5% healthcare provider tax which actually brings outside money into the people actually paying the tax, which is why the hospitals and other providers favor the tax. It makes them money.  It expands healthcare to the working poor and it keeps hospitals from falling back into a bankruptcy spiral. Republicans are trying to repeal it, in a protest vote.  
 57% turnout.  The swing in those who don't bother.

Democrats have learned a lesson from the GOP success.   Tea Party populism, language, and tactics work.  Shortly after Obama's election Tea Party populist conservatives showed up at Town Halls and began doing something simple but effective:  they shouted.  They were not "concerned"; they were angry.  The photogenic rant became part of political theater.  It was a perfect media environment for the ascendence of the Trump-talk radio-Fox News.  Anger is more interesting than concern.  Politics is salesmanship and drama pulls in a crowd.

DeBoer was rejecting high-drama anti-government protest speech and he was sticking to old-school civic minded good government Republicanism.

The DeBoer problem.  It could be that good government Republicanism is a losing game.   Political consultants who have looked closely at voting behaviors in swing districts observe that there is precious little convincing of voters.  People don't much change their minds on "the person, not the party." The notion that one "moves to the middle" to pick up the reasonable non-partisan voter in the middle of some left-right political continuum is simply incorrect.

Voters are polarized by party.  The convincing consists of getting people who would vote for you actually to bother doing it.   The eloquent and angry comment this blog reported at length two days ago by a Republican supporter of DeBoer, a supporter who represented the exact opposite of DeBoer and whose behavior undermines what DeBoer attempts to do, concluded by attesting that she and other Republicans had "not abandoned DeBoer.  They will be there when it counts--at the ballot box."  

I think she is exactly right.  Partisan brand is more important than policy or process.  

An astute political advisor tells me that a Democrat can defeat DeBoer in this somewhat Democratic leaning district, but only by energizing Democrats.  The swing voters are not in the middle.  The swing voters are in the turnout.   A Democrat who attempts to pick up votes by expressing some sort of moderation--e.g. mild criticism of public employee union behavior or some kind of middle ground on an environmental issue--will gain no votes in the middle, but would depress Democratic turnout--a losing strategy.

The evidence for this is that commenter's devoted praise for DeBoer, not apparently realizing that her policies and tone are directly confounding what DeBoer is trying to do.   Anti-government protest warriors polarize.  But they are linked by party, so as the warrior commenter assures my readers, they will be there for DeBoer at the ballot box.   

His policy goal opponents are his political base.  Yes, this is weird, and also politically fragile for him.

The route for a Democrat to replace DeBoer is most likely to push left, not right.  Energize Democrats.  Cause them to see the difference between a "pretty good Democrat at heart", i.e. Alan DeBoer, who identifies as a Republican and therefore is forced to make nice with people who confound his own politics, versus the Democratic opponent who is a real Democrat, someone with much the same compassionate civic minded good government  orientation as DeBoer, but a Democrat, who therefore can act without apology.

Readers who wish that politicians would find "common ground" with votes "in the middle" misunderstand where the middle is.   On election day the middle is that ground between apathy and engagement.  

Protecting his heart
If DeBoer loses it will not be because he failed to capture Democratic votes because he will in fact get very few of them (just as the Democratic candidate will have a very difficult time getting Republican votes, even if he or she adopts "conservative" positions.)  DeBoer's political vulnerability would come because Republican voters think him not fully on board with the GOP as a party of protest and anger, a RINO.

This puts DeBoer in an interesting decision point about who he is and what he wants.  If he cares about re-election he would do best to quietly back away from his good government bridge building consensus building policy and tone.  He will shore up his base by criticizing the "eco-terrorists", the Democratic "bullies".  His base will get the message he is one of them, for real.  The result, though, is that he loses his position as that potential  bridge builder who creates a governing supermajority, if in fact he takes up that challenge and opportunity.  (He would be best to leave it to people like the commenter to use language like  "the hard-leftist filth of Ashland."  He lives in Ashland and has friends there.)

The DeBoer situation is a microcosm of the national GOP dilemma: the marketing message that brought them to power--an anti-government protest--is the thing that keeps them from exercising it effectively.  

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fully 20% of Americans approve of Congress

It seems like a high number to me, but polls show that 20% of Americans approve of Congress and only 70% disapprove.

The public has lost some of its commitment to democratic process.  After all, it doesn't seem to work.

Here is a chart showing Gallup's numbers, taken monthly:
Job Approval by Gallup polling

Our core democratic institution, the legislative branch laid out in Article One section of the Constitution, is failing conspicuously.   Voters are sick of it.  

What Americans just witnessed was the US Senate trying to pass something, anything, that would save face for Trump and the GOP generally.  They were not trying to make good laws, to make a more perfect union or provide for the general welfare.  They were trying to deal with a political problem: they had succeeded by attacking the ACA--Obamacare--because everything that exists in the real world has compromises and problems and they had pointed out those problems and promised to fix them and replace the ACA with something better.

They cannot.  Every change actually makes something worse.

The Senate finally tried to pass "the skinny bill", which left the Medicaid expansion in place but allowed states flexibility to authorize high deductible policies that didn't include maternity or prevention and public health issues.  It also ended the individual mandate, which would mean that insurance markets would collapse.  The CBO said premiums would go up, insurance companies would drop out, and 16 million people would become uninsured.

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Ron Johnson, and John McCain were being induced to vote for the bill by being promised that--don't worry--the bill will positively not become law.   Senator Lindsey Graham called the bill "a fraud" and a "disaster".  He said, “I’m not going to vote for a bill that is terrible policy and horrible politics just because we have to get something done."  He eventually did vote for it, along with multiple others who were assured that the bill they were passing would fail to get through the House. 

Voters are ready for authoritarian government. Click Here.
Return to the status quo prior to the ACA was a political impossibility.  Hospitals said they would go bankrupt; health care providers of all kinds said it would be a disaster; the white blue collar voters who are thought to be the swing voters in the 2016 who elected a Republican president would be shoved off Medicaid.  Obamacare existed because it solved big problems, even though in the compromises and readjustments of the real world it implementation caused new ones, but smaller ones.

The public sees disfunction.   Their legislators promised them a solution.  They would fix the problems of Obamacare and replace it with "something terrific", something more comprehensive, less expensive, simpler, and better.  They were promised something impossible and the legislators knew it.  Now the public is understanding it.

Politicians are not stupid.  They are passing the blame:  The House can blame the Senate.  The Senate can blame the Freedom Caucus.  Everyone can express disappointment with McConnell and Trump.   Trump knows to blame Obamacare and hopes that he can sabotage it without "the fake news" noticing it.

Congressional disfunction and public disapproval helps explain Trump's appeal.  Back on December 11, 2015--before he had won a single election and back when he was considered a joke and not a long shot--this blog reported that Donald Trump was the person who had connected with the American mindset.    

Click Here. I saw it coming.
This blog said:   "Trump is on to it and expresses it most clearly: contempt.   Contempt for the current president, contempt for government leadership of both parties, contempt for weakness in every institution that has let American get taken advantage of."

Contempt.  Americans had lost faith in American democratic institutions.  They welcomed someone who channeled their own impatience and contempt and projected that he would do something about it.  

There is appeal to the rule-breaker who thinks outside the box. Alexander the Great proverbially was shown a rope tied into a large and complicated rope.  His challenge was to untie it.  He pulled out a sword and cut through it in a single deep slash.  He broke the rules but solved the problem.   Like Alexander, Trump presented himself as a strong, decisive rule breaker and problem solver, someone who didn't worry about the old fashioned system in place.

Republican candidates gushed over Putin
It is deeply un-democratic, but old rules and norms lost their credibility and appeal.   The solution with appeal was not more constitutionalism, it was more authoritarianism.  Putin became a Republican hero and candidates were open about it.

This blog noted back in the spring of 2016, when multiple Republican candidates were in the primary race, that we were watching "the Putin primary."  Candidates commended his strength and can-do attitude.  He handled his opposition, clearly and decisively.  He got things done.  

Republican crowds responded to candidate speeches.  Putin was a hero, Obama was weak and "feckless" 

Meanwhile, Democrats.  The public may not be ready for Medicare-for-all, but they are certainly ready for simplicity and action.  Democrats may put that idea out there as the simple, clear, fair fix.  It will infuriate the health insurance industry.  

There may be opportunity to do an Obamacare fix.  If an Obamacare fix using Democratic and moderate Republican votes comes to pass, it will be a mixed bag politically for Democrats.    Trump would claim victory as a bi-partisan leader and Trump would be shown to have been a legislative leader, even if it takes place after he had urged Obamacare's elimination, not its improvement.  Democrats may be dealt the hand where they have no choice but to defend democratic principles.   Democrats could win the policy war and lose the political one.

Democrats have a consolation.  Trump is decisive but careless.  He is politically safe politically when he attacks Hillary, but he has taken on Jeff Sessions and the GOP legislators generally.  The very bull in a china shop behavior that his base thinks it wants creates lots of collateral damage among Republican allies. Trump doesn't think he needs the credibility and support of GOP officeholders, but he does.  Without their support Trump's behavior gets re-defined in the public eye.  He is no longer a hero for America and his actions are no longer patriotic.  They become redefined as matters of political survival and self aggrandizement.  

Friday, July 28, 2017

DeBoer Wrap-up: The Manner is the Policy

DeBoer was gracious, patient, open and respectful as he heard from constituents at the Town Hall.  

His manner is more than simply surface courtesy.   It represents one side of an underlying policy split within the Republican party.   

Posture giveaway:  defensive
State Senator Alan DeBoer represents the  civic minded good government tradition.  It is not at war with government   It want to use government. That "civic" orientation leads toward building and nurturing robust institutions, which require consensus, or at least supermajorities.  It starts with a premise that there are multiple interests and concerns and that all of them have a right to having influence. The notion incorporates values of inclusion and diversity because it imagines a variety of interests and people inside the polity tent.

There is deep policy embedded in that notion: government is good and needs to work well.  That policy requires a tone: graciousness, patience, respect.

That notion of good government is not simply controversial; it is in low esteem. Within the Democratic coalition the Sanders-oriented voter think the government has been corrupted by the special interests, but generally they have a pro-good-government solution.  Fix the corrupting power of wealth first and then have good government do a good job, i.e. with tuition free college and Medicare for all.   

Another night:  defensive posture
Republicans have succeeded electorally because the ascendent wing of the party has channeled an anti-government message. 

Donald Trump described "this American carnage."  America is a disaster: we are exploited by foreigners, invaded by illegal immigrants, crime ridden, bereft of jobs, endangered by terrible nuclear deals, impoverished by terrible trade deals, led by fools and traitors described as a swamp, and more recently as a sewer.  Policy solutions involve dismantling institutions:  reduce the EPA, cut regulations generally, cut the State Department, defund Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting, privatize the public schools, privatize Social Security, privatize Medicare, reduce Medicaid eligibility.   The problems Trump identified were problems of bad governance and he came from business not government.  He knows how to do deals, to build ice rinks, to build a wall.  It struck a powerful chord among Republican voters:  We need less government because government is the problem, not a solution.

That politically ascendent theme in the Republican party also pushed back against diversity and inclusion of minorities.  It reaffirmed the power and dignity of white, Christian, native born, heterosexual, nuclear families--i.e. "regular" people, not interlopers.  Politically, it created wedge issues: fear of Muslims, dislike for immigrants, disgust or confusion over LGBTQ populations.  

Taking hits
This suite of policies has triumphed.  Trump won the electoral vote.  The Trump-Gingrich-FoxNews-TalkRadio policies found a huge audience and they are the dominant voice in the GOP.  The anti-government message thrives on a tone of anger, of sharpening conflict, on de-legitimizing the opposition players and assuming their bad motives.  It protects the "we" by defining the "they" as enemies.   

This blog received an extraordinary gift in the form of comment to yesterday's post, an example of the two modes of communication, which represent the two primary wings of the Republican party.  The tone of the comment is in sharp contrast to DeBoer's manner and policies.    It has many of the elements of the successful Trump angry in-your-face style, including a Hitler reference.   It is splendid in its use of words and themes as it describes Town Hall attendees:  "rude, boorish, aggressive and hateful", "Brown Shirts", "eco-terrorist", "hard-leftist filth", "tantrums", "paid activists",  "mob mentality", "swamp", "empowered bullies."

Read it yourself.  I consider it a valuable primary source document:

"For the last two nights I've watched a pillar of our community, philanthropist, employer of 200 Southern Oregonians, tireless public servant, life-long Oregonian, etc., Senator Alan DeBoer, be berated by a rude, boorish, aggressive, and hateful crowd at his two town halls, because he isn't the eco-terrorist, social justice warrior the hard-leftist filth in Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix want. He was shouted down, booed and heckled despite giving honest answers to questions that had no easy "yes" or "no" answer. This is the face of Progressivism - the "Indivisible", "Resist," “SOCAN” and "Unite Oregon" groups. The Brown Shirts of today.

The left likes to yell. Since November’s crushing defeat, they’ve perfected and focused their tantrums. Members of these hate groups live for this and get paid for this; employed by agenda-driven non-profits. These paid activists feed off the mob mentality. Republicans traditionally don’t turn out for these things – especially on work nights. They need to start.
Senator DeBoer embraces courtesy, grace and decorum. He doesn’t yell back, he listens. His only problem is that he attempts to teach and educate people on how things work in the Democrat-controlled swamp that is Salem. The left doesn’t want to hear that. They want sound bites for opposition research. They want yes or no answers to issues that aren’t black and white. They’re already producing their negative ads for November 2018.

As an angry mob they are empowered bullies. As individuals they are wilting lilies. I approached several of these na├»ve youth last night following the meeting and asked direct questions. Do you live in the district? Where do you get your funding? Are you paid activists? You’re against fossil fuels but where are your bikes? They couldn’t look me in the eye or give straight answers. Classic bully behavior when someone finally stands up.
Republicans haven’t abandoned DeBoer. They will be there when it counts – at the ballot box."

Tough job.  Tough night.
Alan DeBoer is taking the difficult, virtuous path, one fraught with danger for him.   Supporters like the commenter above must be a siren call to him, providing safety and fraternity in the company of fellow Republicans angrily defending their position against illegitimate outsiders and wrong-headed thugs.  How nice to be defended by a warrior.  And, after all, the warrior mindset is the dominant theme of current politics.   

DeBoer's path requires that he ignore that temptation because the angry Trump-style dividers are not his allies.  They are the complication. They perpetuate disfunction.  They confound consensus politics.  They make civic minded good government impossible because they make super majorities and grand bargains impossible.   And DeBoer isn't just a Republican.  He is a civic minded good government Republican.   By age 67 he has settled into who is is.

Every pressure and temptation from the state and national party, plus a healthy instinct for self-preservation, would pull him into the ascendent Trump suite of policies and style.  Slash, burn, survive.   This week DeBoer showed he could resist it.  There is no tying oneself to a mast.  He is free to go-angry, go-Trump and join the mainstream GOP and its loyal voters and blog-commenters.   But he didn't.

The strongest message he could send his party is to stay true, to try to reform it from within, and then actively be the crucial 18th vote that creates grand tax and PERS solutions.  He would demonstrate that the civic wing is alive and well and eager to make government be a positive force for good.   

If he cannot do that without breaking with the mainstream angry anti government wing of the party then the second strongest message would be, as I suggested yesterday, to admit the simple truth that good-government civic-minded people actually have a political home, and that is in a Democratic party, a party he can help by helping give it the perspective of a successful business career.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Alan DeBoer Town Hall: Bad to Worse

Everything that went wrong for Alan DeBoer at the Tuesday Town Hall got worse.

Alan DeBoer walked into an inferno.  He set the fire himself the night before.  But the real cause of the fire is that the Republican Party abandoned him.

He has been dumped, but doesn't want to admit it.  So he clings and holds on and it is starting to look weird.

Arms across his chest.  Defensive posture.  Tough night.
Alan DeBoer is an Oregon state senator recently elected in a Democratic-leaning senate district to replace a senator who died in office.  Alan DeBoer is a Republican, of the increasingly rare variety: a civic minded good-government Republican.  This contrasts with the talk radio Fox News populist Republicans who now dominate the party led by Trump.  

Alan DeBoer is a Republican out of inertia.  He is a dinosaur.  Some would call him a RINO, Republican In Name Only.

Republicans had traditionally been the party of small town business people and there has been a long tradition in Oregon of good-government Republicans, and DeBoer fits that tradition.  He is a prominent car dealer   DeBoer has also been a city mayor, on the school board, on hospital boards, a supporter of historical districts and a variety of other civic bodies, both public and nonprofit.  Civic minded Republicans want government to work.  Politically they lean against Democrats who would increase business regulations, increase taxes, and represent public employee unions, but they are not angry in tone nor do they want to dismantle the safety net, nor privatize education, nor want to shrink and then strangle government. 

In Oregon it is dangerous to be an old school civic minded Republican.  The Republican Party's energy has moved away from DeBoer-style Republicanism.  John Kasich is a proxy for that civic-minded good government Republican tone and policy and he lost to Trump by 4 to 1 statewide and he lost to Trump 6 to 1 in Jackson County, 75% to 13%.  

In yesterday's post (which I recommend you read to help make sense of this one) I described the DeBoer Town Meeting Tuesday as a disappointing performance by DeBoer.  He came across as oddly weak and detached.  He seemed inconsistent and flip-floppy.  He frustrated then irritated his audience by long meandering answers that seemed simultaneously earnest but evasive.  He consistently presented moderate, indeed progressive and inclusive values, of the kind very comfortable for progressives to hear, but then he appeared to walk away from his own values, appearing listless and unmotivated.

His positions and sentiments sound like Democratic US Senator Ron Wyden's--but DeBoer goes into hiding lest Republicans figure it out.

Other people noticed the problem I identified yesterday, and their judgement was much more harsh.  Local liberal activists handed attendees sheets of paper as they entered the Wednesday venue.  One was a coaching sheet for the audience, written around their impressions of the previous meeting, complaining that he "did not clearly answer many questions."  They listed some suggestions for "keeping him on track, among them:

  "If he refuses to answer a question directly or tries to pivot to a talking point interrupt him."

  "Ask him direct questions about policy and legislation.  We need commitments from him about what he will and will not support or sponsor."

  "Use his voting record and quotes.  He cannot continue to flip flop."

Lined up to chew on him
Another sheet mocked DeBoer's presumed evasions with a BINGO game for attendees to play as they might check off comments they predicted DeBoer would repeat:  

"I don't have any power."  
"I voted 'no' and the next time I voted 'yes'".  
"I wanted to vote 'yes' but I voted 'no.'"
"I supported it, but not the way it was written."  
"They told me to vote 'no' so I voted 'no.'"  
"I won't promise how I'll vote".  

The Wednesday Town Hall meeting was raucous. Constituents were ready for him. People lined up on two sides to ask questions.   DeBoer was gracious, earnest, compassionate, empathetic, modest, and dedicated, and very progressive and inclusive.  He wants Medicare for all.  He wants programs to deal with crowded schools and access to mental health and affordable rent.  The audience in Talent generally agreed with those sentiments.

That was the problem.  They agreed, and then were frustrated that their State Senator seems to want to hide his feelings.  They were in his face, telling him to stand up and fight, not be a passive excuse-giver.

DeBoer was a very, very good sport about what must have been an uncomfortable two-plus hours.  He did not appear to resent or be irritated by long winded questions, and indeed the crowd tired of time-hogging questioners and began shouting them down while DeBoer himself appeared patient and delighted to accept any abuse.

He noted that he gives out his personal cell phone number, and that he gets lots of calls from mental health patients.  There was a rumble of chuckles from the crowd.  DeBoer, with a straight face and with apparent complete earnestness said, that he actually welcomed those calls, that he learned a lot from them, and got valuable information and stories he could pass along to the department.

It was an extraordinary display of compassion and political humility, but one which created more problems than it solved.   No one can accuse him of impatience or arrogance, and no Democrat can get very far to the left of him on compassion for the disadvantaged.  He said that we must provide services to the undocumented.  We are all people, he said.  People here illegally deserve help, too.  He supports Medicare-for-all.  He proposed a bill to raise taxes to support education.  

DeBoer is a very credible Democrat.
Republican legislators work to stop expanded Medicaid coverage

Therefore,  he frustrates the Democrats at the Town Hall because he evidently has a long-game strategy of remaining inoffensive to Republicans.  It means he keeps his head down.  It means he makes token votes and protest votes to try to maintain credibility with fellow Republican legislators and the Trump-style Republican voters.  It means that when he considers something a fiscal and moral disaster for Oregon--the decision by his fellow Republican to reverse the 1.5% tax on health providers, a tax which allows federal matching money to pour into the state and therefore is a tax which actually pays the people paying it--DeBoer doesn't name names.  He doesn't sell his point of view.  There is no intensity in his support for the "tax" that brings in the federal dollars to fund the Medicaid expansion.  

 He doesn't want to make waves with Republicans.

He even ducks and evades visibility on the "easy" ones, including writing a letter to FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) asking that they hold a hearing in Jackson County on a pipeline project--a letter also signed by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners which consists of 3 Republicans.  He said he has opposed the pipeline from day one, so a questioner asked why, in that case, he didn't write such a letter.  It was a good question.   In politics the easiest and least dangerous thing to do is to write a letter asking that constituents be allowed to voice their opinion, and yet DeBoer did not do it.   

Worse for him, he has not apparently come up with a plausible excuse for not dashing one off.  He endured 3 or 4 minutes of intense and skeptical questioning over why he had sat on his hands. He looked weak and silly and evasive. "I don't know," he said.  "I just haven't done it," he said. 

Of course, there is a real answer, one he does not want to admit aloud.  He doesn't want to get crossways with Republicans, including Republicans who disagree with him.   The pipeline crossing Jackson County has become a partisan issue and most Democrats are opposed to it and many Republicans favor it.  It is a symbol.  Are you in favor of fossil fuel exploitation or not?  Republicans say drill, baby, drill, and global warming is a liberal hoax.   DeBoer disagrees with that, but he doesn't want to say it aloud and estrange fellow Republicans.  So he hides, ducks, and avoids--and people notice it.

It appears to me DeBoer is playing the long game, and a night of getting scolded for being a detached coward may simply be the price he thinks he needs to pay to keep his conscience and remain a Republican, but it has opened a line of criticism from the left, saying DeBoer is weak and his heart isn't in it.
Empathy and compassion.  

I have an odd recommendation for Democrats:  put him on the ballot as a Democrat and support him in the primary election.   It is entirely likely that that will make clear he is a Republican RINO, i.e. a Democrat.  Some Trump-style Republican might run against him and win the Republican primary--as he or she should, since DeBoer is now way outside the Republican mainstream of Trump-style anti-government populism.   DeBoer can barely contain his disapproval for Trump's vulgarity and divisiveness.

In the hardball of politics Democrats have one other course of action, one intended to make DeBoer un-electable in either party, although the better course is to elect him as a Wyden-style Democrat.  They could praise him to high heaven by describing him accurately.  Tell the public he is "one of ours", a real Democrat at heart, but weak, alas.  Describe him as a RINO even as he insists on running as a Republican.  Meanwhile run a candidate with policies rather like DeBoer's, but someone willing to speak out more clearly.   The possible result is that the Republican vote will be suppressed and Democrats will be motivated to vote for one of their own, a moderate Democrat who fits the district, but who, unlike DeBoer, is comfortable actually selling it.

My recommendation for DeBoer.  Run as a Republican if you absolutely must, but also do an aggressive write in campaign as a Democrat.  Then govern as what you are: a business oriented Democrat.  There is no shame in being a Democrat.  Come out into the daylight.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Close Look: Town Hall meeting of State Senator Alan DeBoer

Senator Alan DeBoer seemed nice.  He was reasonable and moderate and empathetic.

There is a cost to that.  Some people will think him wishy-washy and two-faced.

Alan DeBoer
Senator Alan DeBoer had a Town Meeting in downtown Medford.  About 100 people showed up to participate.  Alan DeBoer is an elected State Senator representing a district consisting generally of Ashland, Phoenix, Talent, and Medford, Oregon.   He was elected to finish the term of Senator Alan Bates, who died unexpectedly and suddenly.  DeBoer had positioned himself in the special election last November as a bi-partisan, reasonable "good citizen" Republican.

Let me explain:  there are two major Republican paths. There is a great body of Tea Party type Republicans, and they are currently in ascendancy.  Their tone is anger and resentment and indignation.  They speak harshly of "bureaucrats", i.e. government employees.  They are against things:  abortion, transgender rights, taxes, talk of climate change, bike lanes, government waste, gun control, zoning, Democrats, and government anything.  

Then there is another kind of Republican, one that used to be quite prominent and which frequently won local and statewide office.  They are becoming rarer.   This is a civic-minded good government Republican, with Mark Hatfield, Tom McCall, and Bob Backwood being prominent former members.  They do not speak against government because they were part of it.  Their public presentations are about how to make government work, not how to block its malevolence.  Alan DeBoer had been Ashland Mayor and on the School Board. He was known as a civic benefactor, made possible by his success as owner of car dealerships locally.  He speaks mildly and earnestly.  He wants government to work well and efficiently.

He is--and wants to appear--open and reasonable, someone who sees the complexity of issues and what is possible.  That is his strength, and the source of his weakness.

The audience was mixed in ages.  There were a lot of seniors, plus a contingent of young people motivated by climate issues (stop global warming) and reproductive rights (protect Planned Parenthood.)   From applause generated by different questions and comments from the floor it was evident that 60-65% of the audience was Democratic or progressive or environmentalist.  About 35-40% represented Tea Party Republicanism, with questions that were angry in tone, spoke of "bureaucrats" with a sneer, and government as incompetent.  

DeBoer not affirm those Tea Party Republican questions, nor confront them.  He was polite to them but is clearly not one of them.  He did not mirror their language.   For a civic-minded Republican, government is not the enemy; it is a tool to do good, when done well.   

   ---He said climate change is a real threat and that we need to address it by reducing our use of fossil fuels.

   --He said multiple times we need single payer health care, Medicare for all.  Health insurers, he said, take 30% of the health care dollar, a waste.  He said linking health care to employment is bad for business and bad for the employee.

  --He said we needed a substantial rise in the gasoline tax and would have welcomed a 14 cent increase immediately, not the phased-in plan that was approved.

  --He said we need more and better mental health services, more pediatric psychiatric programs, more programs to help with the affordability of rent, smaller classroom sizes, fulfillment of our contractual obligations to teachers and other government employees in PERS, higher graduation rates from schools.   He agreed with and affirmed every question and comment that said there was a problem and a potential government solution.

Alan DeBoer might appear to have successfully inoculated himself from a challenge from a Democrat in a general election.  He is a "soft target", but not in the sense he is vulnerable.  He is soft in the sense that he accepts all question and comment as reasonable and well intended and a good idea and he would do whatever he could to make it happen.  The only people he clearly disagreed with would be Tea Party Republicans.  

But he created a vulnerability for himself.

DeBoer did not answer concisely.  His response to something about health care would drift into talk about  PERS, about local health care organizations, about taxes, about the construction of a legislative committee.  Answers were endless.   People became impatient and began interrupting with hostile outbursts.    "Aren't you going to answer her question?"   "You're avoiding the question!"  "He asked a yes or no question and you aren't telling us!"

The impatient interruptions reduced the overall impression of openness and accessibility.

Worse for him, the meandering opened up a line of vulnerability for DeBoer.  He demonstrates a kind of political incapacity that comes from seeing nuance, from attempting to be in the good graces of everyone, including his Republican colleagues.

He stressed how important it was that Oregon retain the 1.5% tax on health providers since this funded the Oregon match for a much bigger infusion of federal money to fund the Oregon Health Plan medicaid expansion.  Hospitals and other providers wanted the tax because it brought in more net money.  He said he voted against it, as one of the 10 Republicans who opposed it, but would have voted for it had his vote been necessary.  The tax is very important for Oregon, he said.  

Questions began arising from the floor asking why he voted against something he thought was essential.  He said he was hoping to gain long term credibility with other opponents, and besides, they didn't need my vote.

Democracy on a hot summer day
This clearly stuck in the minds of the audience as duplicitous or suspicious or hypocritical.  It positioned DeBoer as a game-player, not the earnest, sensible, balanced, bi-partisan person he intended.  

There were other instances.   He said he supported the gas tax increase of 14 cents because our roads and other infrastructure need it and because it would be good for the climate.  That is a perfectly reasonable position, one that can be justified by people of various political orientations.  We need roads.   But DeBoer went on to say casually that he now sort of opposes it and wishes he had not voted for any gas tax increase.  

There is more.  He spoke strongly about the need to address climate change but then admitted that he opposed all the various bills in the legislature to create a carbon tax or exchange.   He said we absolutely needed to do something about fixing PERS but said that the legislature didn't get around to it.  He said we needed an overhaul of our tax system, but nothing much was possible.  He said we needed to address the state's corporate tax policy but he thought a gross receipt tax idea was flawed.  He said we absolutely needed a single payer health system, but that he opposed it because it would "break the state."

There were always little things--or not so little--but they created a disconnect between what he said his goals were and what he actually supported or voted for.   He voted against stuff he liked, he didn't sell the things he supported, and he did nothing when he said doing something was essential.   Fortunately for him, only one TV station covered the event.
One TV station covered the event

He has excellent reason to be a disappointment to Tea Party Republicans.  His goals and attitudes are very different from theirs.   But he also presented himself in a way certain to be a disappointment to whatever body of civic-minded citizens exist who generally share his goals and attitudes.  He didn't sell what was possible; he described what did not happen but should have. He was not an advocate; he presented himself as a bystander. 

I do not expect a primary challenge to DeBoer.  Republicans locally are too disciplined and orderly for that, although in fact there could be sharp lines of distinction to be drawn by a Trump-supporting Republican candidate.   DeBoer is no fan of Trump, yet Republicans locally overwhelming supported Trump over Kaisich, a representative of that civic-minded Republican that DeBoer represent.

The Democratic opposition, if one emerges, could argue that DeBoer is a hypocrite and game player, voting against things he admits are important and failing to live up to his responsibility as that bi-partisan bridge to Republicans.   There is a strong Democratic registration edge in the senate district.  As a swing vote--a critical 18th vote in the state senate that would create the necessary super-majority needed to pass tax legislation--DeBoer is uniquely positioned to be an active bi-partisan consensus builder to make the very progress DeBoer says he supports.   But he presented himself as an inconsistent finagler, not a leader.

Possibly this is a one-off mistake, a bit of mistaken presentation at the end of a long, hot day  by a tired man with a demanding day job, and the presentation is reparable because it in fact does not represent reality.   But on the evening of July 25, DeBoer presented himself in a way I am confident he did not intend, as a weak, inconsistent, mushy, flip flopper, an idealist perfectionist unwilling to commit to any actionable idea.  This creates major damage to his brand as a can-do, practical bridge-building businessman.

People had found that brand appealing and a Democratic senate district elected him.  If he does not fill that brand then he leaves a big election opportunity for someone.  

But it may not matter.  Alan DeBoer is an unusually attractive candidate and perhaps he can make errors and get away with it, especially since his errors are those of seeming inoffensive rather than seeming hostile.   Democrats have a turnout problem.  DeBoer does not make people angry.  He may not stimulate turnout  I can easily imagine Democratic and Non-Affiliated voters simply thinking "Alan's OK, nothing to get riled up about."