July, 2016

Convention Dispatch: More Than What You See on TV

Just for members: Leonard Steinhorn, Professor of Communication at American University and a CBS Radio News Political Analyst, offers this report from Philadelphia.

Leonard Steinhorn

Leonard Steinhorn

To me at least, one of the most memorable lines of conventions past is when the Reverend Jesse Jackson, speaking at the 1988 Democratic gathering in Atlanta, sought to explain that he is a far more complex person than his media caricature would suggest. “You see me on TV,” he said, “but you don’t know the me that makes me me.”

In many ways that can apply to all of us, but especially to politicians whose personae and character are mediated through the images we see and the news we consume. We like to think that these images say everything about the people we elect, that they give us real insight into what drives them and who they are. But maybe Jesse Jackson was right: what we imagine about politicians may say more about us than about them.

I thought of the Jackson quote because of the riddle inside the enigma that Hillary Clinton has been to so many of us over the years. And I began to wonder if the chattering class that gets paid princely sums to pontificate has gotten her all wrong. Perhaps we’ve misinterpreted those characteristics that pundits and critics alike have labeled as guarded, defensive, calculating, and secretive — a Machiavelli in heels, as so many have called her.

And here’s why. Hearing her biography over and over this week confirmed one undisputed fact about her: she’s not only “from the Sixties,” as she said at a Democratic debate last year, but she’s of the Sixties. And she’s of a very specific side of the Sixties, the earnest activists who wanted to transform the world by digging deep into policy and challenging outdated norms and practices.

For these activists, the popular phrase “question authority” had both a political and personal meaning — political because they were going up against an entrenched society built on values they wanted to change, and personal because they distrusted anyone whose ego seemed greater than the movement of which they claimed to be part. These were behind the scenes types, the activists who toiled away at the Legal Services Corporation or went South as Hillary Clinton did to challenge school segregation. Participatory democracy was their mantra, and they suspected anyone who tried too hard to lead. They looked askance at the class presidents as more image than substance, they believed virtue and not public relations would yield results, and when journalists wanted to write about them, they said no, write not about us but about what we do.

Ours is a culture in which celebrity is a career. Contestants on The Apprentice or Survivor hire agents, show up on game shows, and get paid on the speaking circuit. So we simply assume that people do things for the fame, not the substance, for the power, not the morality. Now Hillary Clinton is a public figure, and in an era of wall-to-wall PR it’s hard to argue that she’s not playing the game.

But perhaps she simply backed into it. Perhaps she’s that Sixties activist at heart who preferred behind-the-scenes advocacy and the humility of action — but got drawn into politics as a result of her husband’s career. Perhaps she is a reluctant politician, not a Machiavellian schemer. Perhaps she sees the presidency as a vehicle for change, not a driving ambition. And perhaps because we are so accustomed to politicians who thrive on attention, we are simply mistaking her discomfort with the process as arrogance. It may well be that the Hillary of 2016 remains the activist driven by her inner Sixties.

It’s been said that the close up photograph of a century-and-a-half ago changed the relationship we have with our presidents, turning it from a civic to an emotional connection — that we see their image and then project onto them our own hopes and desires, fears and uncertainties. So perhaps Jesse Jackson was right. We may have seen him on TV. But “you don’t know the me that makes me me.” Something to think about as we make our judgments about the woman who may become president of the United States.

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

Jonathan Chait: “Since the start of the Reagan era, American politics has revolved around a war over the role of government in the economy. The Republican Party is set apart from major conservative parties across the world in its intensely ideological rejection of the state. And, despite his past rhetorical inconsistency, Donald Trump has faithfully adopted those positions. Yet that war has been largely absent not only from the rhetoric in Cleveland, which revolved around nationalism and identity, but in Philadelphia, too. The Democratic speakers have almost entirely ignored Trump’s proposals to deregulate carbon pollution and the finance industry, lavish tax cuts on the very rich, and snatch health insurance from 20 million people.”

“This is not because Democrats lack the confidence in their ability to win an election centered on these issues. (They did it in 2012.) It is because they have chosen to reframe the election as a contest over the much larger question of the sanctity of American democracy.”

Trump Sinks to New Low In Restricting Press

Huffington Post: “Even as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has denied press credentials to news organizations throughout the 2016 election season, journalists generally have had another option: Get a ticket, like anyone else, and walk in.”

“But in a disturbing interaction Wednesday night, private security, in tandem with local Milwaukee law enforcement, detained and patted down Washington Post reporter Jose DelReal while searching for his cellphone at a public event featuring GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence. DelReal, who had already been denied entry with the press, was then also prohibited from attending as a member of the public.”

This Is Change

Charles Pierce: “On stage a young black man, the president of the United States, warmly embraced an older white woman in front of god and all the world. It is now an iconic photograph. If it had occurred on a weed-choked street in Mississippi within the lifetime of many of the people who were cheering the moment, the young man might have been beaten, burned, hung, thrown into a river with a cotton fan tied to his neck. A song began to rise through the history of the moment:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze/Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees…

“But it was not those days any longer. The young man was the President of the United States and he has rung his changes on that song, and on an occasionally baffled democracy. Surely, he has done that.”

Trump Says Following Law Proves He Likes Disabled

Think Progress: “This isn’t the first time Trump’s talked about his compliance with a federal law like it’s an act of charity.”

Reality Can Be a Powerful Message

Joe Klein: “And so the crucial question for the Democrats in Philadelphia was the one posed, implicitly, by Sanders: accept reality or retreat into utopian fantasies. This is a particular problem for liberals, who dream of a better world, chockablock with better people; they tend, therefore, to be unduly optimistic about government’s potential to get things done. At its worst, this belief expresses itself in free-range griping. There are always grievances, and too often, the grievance-mongers take center stage; there is always racism and sexism and homophobia and economic inequality to rail against, and there always will be. One reason why Republicans took to wearing American flag lapel pins in the 1970s was to counter, and mock, the Democrats’ sense that the country was going to hell in a limo.”

“Now we have Trump trafficking in gloom, and the Democrats have an opportunity. The real story of the controversial opening day of their convention was not the resentment of the Sanders voters; it was that–for once–the party celebrated the progress that’s been made over the past 50 years. Before prime time, a parade of ‘other’ Americans–blacks, Latinos, gays and the disabled–took the stage and, rather than laying out micromanaged agendas (the Democratic platform did that), told stories of uplift and inclusion.”

Clinton Way Up In Pennsylvania

A new Suffolk University poll in Pennsylvania shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by nine points, 50% to 41%.

Said pollster David Paleologos: “Hillary Clinton is flirting with fifty thanks to Philly. At this point Clinton’s large lead in the Philadelphia area is offsetting losses to Trump in other parts of the state. She also is amassing the support of women and thus drowning out Trump’s marginal lead among men.”

In the U.S. Senate race, Katie McGinty (D) leads Sen. Pat Toomey (R), 43% to 36%, with a considerably high 20% still undecided.

Democrats Again Get Higher Ratings

“President Obama’s prime time speech lifted the Democratic convention to its third straight night of ratings wins over the Republican convention last week — and now the Trump campaign is exhorting supporters not to watch the Democrats’ final night,” CNN reports.

“Overnight Nielsen ratings indicate that Wednesday night’s DNC viewership was about 15% higher than last Wednesday night’s coverage of the RNC… The Democratic ratings advantage has come as something of a surprise, given Donald Trump’s reputation as a ratings magnet.”

Melania Trump’s Website Disappears

“The professional website of Melania Trump, wife of the Republican presidential nominee, has apparently been deleted from the internet as of Wednesday afternoon,” the Huffington Post reports.

“The disappearance of Trump’s elaborate website comes just days after news outlets raised serious questions about whether she actually earned an undergraduate degree in architecture from the University of Ljubljana, which is in Trump’s native Slovenia. Her online biography claimed she had, but a book about her life published earlier this year says she left the university after one year so she could pursue a modeling career.”

DNC Still Assessing Hack Damage

“The Democratic party has yet to notify thousands of wealthy donors whose email addresses and other personal information have been exposed by a pernicious cyber-intrusion, including Hollywood stars, CEOs and some of America’s super rich,” ABC News reports.

Many of them are “listed on a massive spreadsheet the party called the ‘Big Spreadsheet of All Things,’ which appears to list data about every check written to the party, Hillary Clinton and President Obama going back to 2013. The file includes email addresses, phone numbers, and in some cases additional personal information not publicly available on FEC reports. Under FEC rules, contributors are required to reveal the amounts of their gifts and provide a mailing address, but not email or phone contact information.”

Democrats Seize the Optimism Trump Surrendered

First Read: “As soon as President Obama finished his speech here Wednesday night, it was immediately clear that Donald Trump and Republicans made a fundamental mistake by abandoning a hopeful, optimistic message in Cleveland. And Obama and the Democrats seized that message.”

Noted former George W. Bush spokesman Tony Fratto: “Watching Democrats talk about America the way Republican candidates used to talk about America.”

“Oof. Over the last seven and a half years, Republicans have criticized Obama for not believing in American exceptionalism. But last night, Obama and the Democrats owned the optimistic message about the country.”

Clinton Campaign Warns Trump May Leak to Russians

“The chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign urged U.S. intelligence agencies on Wednesday to get an ironclad agreement from Donald Trump that he would not leak information to the Russians before providing him with presidential candidate briefings,” the Huffington Post reports.

Said John Podesta: “I think it’s an issue that… Jim Clapper’s going to have to come to grips with. And I think they’ll have to find a way to negotiate with him and with his campaign to get … more than assurances ― sort of some proof that they can be able to hold on to that information.”