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FL-Sen: Steele Queues Race Card for RNC Re-Elect Bid November 3, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Election, Politics.
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On today’s menu for political scandal du jour is a report that Bill Clinton tried to encourage Kendrick Meek, the Democratic senate candidate in Florida, to drop out of the race in favor of independent candidate Charlie Crist.  At the moment, Kendrick is trailing in very distant 3rd place, splitting the Democratic-leaning vote with Crist and ensuring a Republican victory next week.

As often happens when such situations arise, a trusted party figure tried to get the trailing candidate to step down for the good of the party.  It’s pretty simple.  However, Kendrick Meek is an African American.

Predictably, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele had this to say:

“One can only imagine the response if Republican leadership tried to force out of the race…a qualified black candidate”.

As luck would have it, this probably won’t be a hypothetical for long.  It does not stretch the imagination to predict that the GOP will soon attempt to ouster its own prominent black politician: RNC Chairman Michael Steele (admittedly, this is not a perfect fulfillment of Steele’s scenario – I said it 19 months ago and I maintain today that Steele has proven himself far from qualified).

This month, when one would expect the RNC Chairman to be focused on the upcoming midterm elections, Steele has instead visited and donated money to Republican leaders in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Obviously, there are not any important Congressional races in these territories.  However, party members from these islands do vote to select the committee chairman.  Steele is clearly planning a reelection bid for RNC Chairman; there is no other explanation for his selfish beach getaways at the height of election season.

I’m just going to come out and say it: Steele has done an atrocious job as RNC Chairman.  I would happily work for his reelect campaign after I’m done helping out at Organizing For America for the midterms.  I’d cite links about his poor performance, but it’s everywhere: very public gaffes, terrible fundraising, party infighting…Steele’s mismanagement is one of the few things breaking for Democrats in this election cycle.

Many GOP leaders are rightly fed up with Steele.  Suffice it to say they would not be enthusiastic about continuing his control of the RNC.  So when Steele injects race into this textbook political situation in Florida, it reads like more than just a leader of the party of angry white men jumping at the opportunity to call Democrats racist.

Michael Steele is queuing up the Race Card to play when his RNC reelection bid encounters its inevitable resistance.  Instead of seeing calls for his replacement as what they are – an attempt to remove a horrendous politician from power – Steele will undoubtedly accuse his detractors of racism.  Republicans don’t get to do that a lot, so Steele is apparently warming up so that he doesn’t hurt himself when he plays the Card.

Tangentially related: Democrats/anyone who cares at all about the environment – if you haven’t already, go vote early! Volunteer if you can.  If you’re in the DC area, get on a free bus with us to a nearby battleground state to help Get Out The Vote!

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Power Vacuum March 17, 2009

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Media, Politics.
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Chris Rock can predict the future.  During Spring Break, I listened to a recording of his stand-up in which he identified the need for a charismatic black leader who could make people believe in themselves.  That 1999 routine was just meant to generate laughs, but a decade later it is eerily prophetic.

After years of mismanagement, the Democratic Party finally has a capable, charismatic leader.  The Republican Party does not.

With the political tides so thoroughly turned, parallels can be drawn between early Bush II Democrats (especially in 2003-2004) and the current Republicans in how they’ve handled their full minority status.  It is early to judge the Republican response, but recent events and polling statistics can still offer insight.

During the last administration, Democrats faced an America that had [at least once] elected a “man of the people;” no Bush-bashing is necessary to establish that Republicans were benefiting from a simple, straightforward message and a president capable of little more.  Oops.

Throughout that ordeal, though, the Democratic Party stuck to its goals instead of hopelessly recreating the contemporary success of their opponents.  People liked Bush because it seemed like you could have a beer with him.  Anybody could envision that a similar experience with John Kerry would be tedious, but Democrats rallied behind him to champion their message anyways.

Today, in a roughly comparable position, Republicans have adopted a different strategy.  Ignoring the possibility that voters support President Obama’s policies and not merely his physical qualities, the Republican Party has been trying to emulate just the facade of the recent Democratic success.

During the campaign, the media and public were enthralled by Obama’s youthful vigor and followed each of his daily visits to the gym.  The Republican response?  Elevate young conservative rising star, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.  Only they appear to have picked this fruit a little early.

Despite Jindal’s relative youth, the unpolished, childish simplicity with which he talked down to the nation in his rebuttal to Obama’s speech to Congress was unfortunately familiar.  That speech showed that Jindal’s age will have little impact on his party’s preference for the failed policies we voted against in November.  And he clearly wasn’t ready for the national stage.

Sidenote: Jindal was so…underwhelming that immediately after his speech people around the country decided that he sounded exactly like Kenneth the Page, the dim country boy character from NBC’s 30Rock.  Apparently he thought so too, and actor Jack McBrayer recorded a response to Jindal in character (video).

Similarly, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s performance to date casts doubt on the argument that he was selected simply because he was the most qualified candidate.  It is perhaps fortunate, then, that neither of these men are really viewed as the party’s current leader.

According to many pundits, Rush Limbaugh is the de facto leader of the Republican Party.  And while Limbaugh does have influence, he also has a penchant for saying things respectable people don’t.  Steele briefly condemned his remarks as “incendiary” and “ugly,” only to grovel a day later when King Limbaugh got mad.  That hierarchy seems clear, but the country is remarkably divided about Limbaugh.

A Rasmussen poll recently found that 44 percent of Democrats but just 11 percent of Republicans view Limbaugh as the leader of the Republican Party.  How did that happen?  Well, we appear to be witnessing the return an ancient phenomenon: Democrats controlling a media narrative.

Last October, Democratic strategists discovered that only one in ten voters under age 40 views the talk show host favorably.  Since then, many Democrats and now even White House officials have engaged Limbaugh directly, propagating this unflattering caricature of conservative America.  But while happy to bask in the spotlight, Limbaugh rejects any leadership responsibility.

This guy's been divorced three times and addicted to pain killers, but what the hell.  Why shouldn't he be a figurehead for the party of "values"?

This guy's been divorced three times and addicted to pain killers, but what the hell. Why shouldn't he be a figurehead for the party of "values"?

So while there is confusion about exactly who is leading the party, a January Rasmussen poll shed some light on the type of leader Republicans want; 43 percent of respondents thought that their party had become too moderate, and 55 percent said that Sarah Palin should be the model for the future.  A scant 24 percent thought Sen. John McCain was the correct model.

And that’s fine with me.  Not because I could tolerate a President Palin (that hurts just to type), but because the harder she pushes, the harder we push back.  As David Plouffe explained, “[Palin] was our best fundraiser and organizer in the fall.”   Extreme conservatives certainly mobilize their base, but it is clear that when these figures act on the national stage, they galvanize Democrats by alienating moderate, young, and minority voters.   And this could explain why the Republicans have responded so differently.

The current Republican retreat to the right could yield wonderful results (for me).  With many minorities and especially young voters heavily favoring Democrats, the Republican future is grim.  At this rate, the current Republican recession will long outlast the financial one they bequeathed to us.

Recent Republican bumbling reveals an admission that something must change if the party is to have a future.  But it must go more than skin deep.  If conservatives aren’t prepared for this makeover, they will remain powerless.  At least until a Democratic president trashes the country.

A version of the post ran in The Chronicle at Duke University.

Amurica’s Nucular Situation October 20, 2008

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Election.
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‘Nuclear’ is a three-syllable, essentially phonetic word.  The listed dictionary pronunciation is n(y)oo-klee-er.  But you have undoubtedly come across people who think it is pronounced noo-kyuh-ler.  One arrives at this pronunciation through a process called metathesis, in which a speaker switches the order of sounds in a word.  Like saying pasghetti instead of spaghetti.  Metathesis is defined as a speech error, not a pronunciation choice.

Because there are plenty of people running around saying “nucular,” some argue that it is a valid alternative.  So what do the dictionaries say?  Merriam-Webster’s added the second pronunciation in 1961.  Yet the editors received so many indignant letters that since 1981 they have included a note defending its inclusion, citing “widespread usage among educated speakers.”  Today, every letter about “nucular” receives a defensive, 400-word reply explaining that they include it merely as an alternative, not as an “acceptable” alternative.  (Although I wouldn’t put it past myself, I didn’t write them a letter – I found their response online.)

Now, you may be wondering why, at the end of Bush presidency, I would decide to write about this.  My friends, we are on the verge of electing another “alternative pronouncer” into office, and that is unacceptable.

Needless to say, neither “pasghetti” nor “nucular” reflect kindly upon a speaker.  When accomplished scientists use the latter, it makes me wonder why they don’t make the effort to correct what is probably just an old habit.  But when younger people (and politicians) use it, particularly the kind of people you know haven’t been tossing the word around in casual conversation, I think less of them.  Call me judgmental, but “nucular” is not the mark of a good education.  I’m not saying that everyone should ostracize people who habitually mispronounce words, but it is cause for valid outrage when that characteristic makes a candidate more popular.

Gov. Sarah Palin is not a gifted speaker.  She frequently repeats words in the same sentence repeatedly.  She also yet but so strings together conjunctions in the middle of a thought, and appears to think that “job creation” goes at the end of every sentence right before the period.  Yet even she correctly pronounced “nuclear” during her breakout speech at the Republican National Convention.  Why?  Because it appeared on her teleprompter as “new-clear.”  I’m serious.  It was visible from some camera angles and was even in the text-version of the speech distributed to the liberal elite press.  Whether they wanted to avoid the Bush connotation or they agreed with me about the educational connotations of metathesis, somebody at the McCain Campaign wanted to make sure Palin did not say “nucular” during her national debut.   First impressions are important.  Without that extreme measure, though, she has since reverted to her normal “nucular” pronunciation.

CNN covers the RNC “new-clear” story:

“Bushisms” and simple sentence structures made George W. Bush seem more like an average Joe, and a lot of voters connected with that.  Palin strives for the same appeal (and some other appeals Bush could never hope to achieve).  As you have surely noticed, she drops the final ‘g’ off every -ing suffix when she speaks.  Does that really appeal to the American public?  As humorist Scott Blakeman wrote after the Vice Presidential debate, “That’s not endearin’, that’s insultin’.  It assumes that if you’re really a hardworking middle class American, you’re too busy to finish pronouncing your words.”

I know that speech patterns are largely a product of one’s upbringing, and that what I’m saying could be considered discriminatory if taken out of context.  But we are talking about electing the president and vice president of the United States of America.  These people are supposed to be the best we have to offer.

As I discussed in Defending Presidential Elitism, the average American is not qualified to lead the country.  Education should not be a liability on the campaign trail, it should be a prerequisite.  Our country has suffered from mismanagement for the better part of a decade, and it’s time to put our best foot forward.  Is it too much to ask that our president and vice president be able to speak properly?

A version of this post ran in The Chronicle at Duke University.