Michelle Obama’s Breakthrough Speech

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Tom Williams) First Lady Michelle Obama gave a breakthrough speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention that was beautifully crafted, delivered with polish and resonated far beyond the political battlefield for the presidency.

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Tom Williams) First Lady Michelle Obama gave a breakthrough speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention that was beautifully crafted, delivered with polish and resonated far beyond the political battlefield for the presidency.

Presidential nominating conventions are runways for politicos to show off their stories and styles. Occasionally, there are breakthrough speeches that launch political careers or send them to new heights.

Ronald Reagan went from revered actor to governor of California and serious presidential timber with his speech to the GOP National Convention in 1964. Barack Obama emerged from the relative obscurity of an Illinois state senator in 2004 to become a U.S. senator and a serious presidential contender in 2008.

Michelle Obama may have scored a breakthrough moment Monday at this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Some commentators rank her remarks as among the best convention speeches in decades. While Hillary Clinton’s nomination broke through the penultimate glass ceiling in America, Michelle Obama’s speech broke through to reach the hearts of millions of Americans.

Poynter broke down the First Lady’s speech and credited its strong appeal to Obama’s use of the first person, touching anecdotes and a narrative built around “kids.” These qualities gave her speech universality and made it much more than a stump speech in support of Hillary Clinton.

“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said. “And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

Obama set the tone in her first paragraph: "You know, it's hard to believe that it has been eight years since I first came to this convention to talk with you about why I thought my husband should be President. Remember how I told you about his character and conviction, his decency and his grace — the traits that we've seen every day that he's served our country in the White House."

She kept her central narrative personal. "I also told you about our daughters — how they are the heart of our hearts, the center of our world. And during our time in the White House, we've had the joy of watching them grow from bubbly little girls into poised young women — a journey that started soon after we arrived in Washington, when they set off for their first day at their new school."

And about the first morning the Obamas were in the White House, she recalled, “I will never forget that winter morning as I watch our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns."

"I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns."

Perhaps her most memorable line was, “Our motto is, when they go low, we go high” and the most touching anecdote was about the young black boy who wondered whether President Obama’s hair felt like his, prompting the President to bend over and let him find out for himself.

Apart from the technical skill, beautiful writing and polished delivery, Michelle Obama’s speech transported listeners far beyond the current political battlefield into what it means to lead a nation and the stakes of presidential decision-making.

"What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life. And when I think about the kind of President that I want for my girls and all our children, that's what I want. I want someone with the proven strength to persevere." 

Whether Michelle Obama elects to pursue a political career of her own after the Obamas leave the White House, her speech turned fertile groundwork. She will be known for planting a vegetable garden, pushing for school lunch nutrition and supporting the families of military veterans, but perhaps she will be best known for the speech she gave on a platform in Philadelphia in 2016 that wrapped up to its conclusion with:

"So don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth."

'Obamacare’s Kindest Critic'

Obamacare has been assailed from the political right and left, but its namesake took an unusual step in publishing a critique that suggested ways his legacy achievement could be perfected and expanded.

Obamacare has been assailed from the political right and left, but its namesake took an unusual step in publishing a critique that suggested ways his legacy achievement could be perfected and expanded.

Republicans are convening in Cleveland this week and can be expected to bash Obamacare nonstop, but constructive criticism of the Affordable Care Act came last week from an unanticipated quarter – Barack Obama.

Signing his critique as Barack Obama, J.D., the President described how his legacy achievement could be perfected by adding a public health insurance option and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug rates, which is currently prohibited.

The New York Times called Obama “Obamacare’s kindest critic” and said his suggestions have the appearance of a memo to his hoped-for Democratic presidential successor, Hillary Clinton.

“Presidents usually wait until their memoirs to review their work,” the Times editorialized, but in this case Obama used the sixth anniversary of the act to make observations about his handiwork in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Health care costs are still too high, he wrote, and 29 million people still lack coverage.”

One of Obamacare’s “failings” is an incomplete expansion of Medicaid in 19 states that chose not to accept federal financial assistance to pay for expanded coverage.

But Obama points to the actual failure of providing coverage for 9.1 percent of the U.S. population. Obamacare reduced that total from 16 percent, but there are still people who can’t afford health care, often because they lack the money for co-pays and deductibles in addition to health insurance premiums.

Unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders campaigned hard on a Medicare-for-all health insurance plan that captured a lot of attention and rekindled interest in a single-payer system. Obama’s recommendation to add a public option to the health insurance exchange is a more targeted version of the idea, which possibly could win bipartisan support if aimed at rural areas with few private-sector health insurance choices, the Times said.

Clinton has expressed support for a public option. The Times notes Clinton has also voiced interest in allowing Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 to enroll in Medicare.

The Obama view on Obamacare is that it isn’t going away any time soon, but it should be improved and perfected as part of a continuing drive to put a blanket of health insurance coverage over all Americans.

Not everyone agrees. Leading Republicans continue to call for repeal of Obamacare and replacing it with something else, which has largely been ill-defined. The Obamacare health care exchanges are under pressure as costs continue to rise and some insurers lose money. Efforts in Oregon and elsewhere to promote coordinated care and integration of physical and mental health care have registered some positive results, but are still in an extended trial stage. Employers have largely retained private health insurance coverage for employees, but have blunted cost increases by opting for plans with higher deductibles and co-pays and trimmer provider networks.

“What Mr. Obama has done is unusual – asking someone else to burnish a legacy of which he is personally proud,” the Times said. “If the candidates (and Congress) pay attention, his request may also do a world of good for millions of Americans for whom decent health care remains out of reach."

Hoyer Lays Out Congressional Reform Agenda

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer says reforms are needed to restore voter confidence in Congress, which many believe is dysfunctional and corrupt.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer says reforms are needed to restore voter confidence in Congress, which many believe is dysfunctional and corrupt.

Lack of confidence in Congress is one of the biggest problems in the country that gets little attention on how to fix. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has offered up an agenda to address the perception that Congress is dysfunctional.

“It’s not an ideological agenda,” Hoyer says. “It’s a pragmatic agenda.”

In a speech to the Georgetown University Law Center, the Maryland Democrat called for an overhaul of the campaign finance system, enhanced voting rights, changes in the redistricting process and improvements in government technology.

“We can’t fully tap into our economic opportunities,” Hoyer said, “if we don’t make sure government works, too.”

A recent Rasmussen Report on national telephone and online poll revealed only 11 percent of respondents think Congress is doing a “good or decent job,” while 57 percent believe it is a doing a poor job. One reason for the lack of confidence is a prevalent view that most congressional representatives “sell their votes."

Hoyer pointed to the success in attracting large numbers of small donors by the Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders campaigns as a model for campaign finance reform that places limits on how individuals can contribute and includes a discussion of public financing of campaigns. In addition to restoring voter trust in elected officials, Hoyer said campaign finance reform will result in a wider diversity of candidates.

Enhanced voting rights should include automatic voter registration, expanded early voting, vote-by-mail options and tools to combat voter suppression. “Every American who is eligible to vote should be able to vote. Period,” Hoyer said.

He said too much political influence in the redistricting process has led to a majority of safe Democratic and Republican House seats, which in turn has fueled increased polarization. Hoyer recommended “national redistricting standards” that reduce partisanship in drawing the lines of congressional districts.

Joining the 21st century in terms of technology would help federal agencies be as “connected and adaptive as possible,” Hoyer said, to create an “inclusive system of civic engagement.” Hoyer touted his bipartisan Information Technology Modernization Act, which would receive a one-time $3 billion investment to stimulate a wide range of technology improvement projects based on best practices in the private sector.

Hoyer added that more advanced digital systems must be “protected against cyber threats” so Americans have confidence government is “protecting their private data.” And he said a robust online presence by the federal government could allow for direct taxpayer rankings, like a “Yelp for government."

Hoyer lobbed in a couple of additional suggestions that include restoring congressional funding earmarks and removing the ability of a senator to put a hold on an executive branch nomination.

He admitted bringing back earmarks isn’t popular, but he said resumption of the practice would restore congressional decision-making over spending decisions that affect local communities. Hoyer cited an editorial by the Houston Chronicle that said, “A Congress without earmarks doesn’t spend less money. It just means that the executive branch has more control over taxpayer dollars."

Donald Trump and Political Realignment

The prosperity of Pittsburgh contrasts sharply with the poverty in Western Pennsylvania towns such as Hazleton, creating an economic schism that is driving a a right-left populist movement and political realignment throughout America. (Photo credit: Steve Klaver/AP)

The prosperity of Pittsburgh contrasts sharply with the poverty in Western Pennsylvania towns such as Hazleton, creating an economic schism that is driving a a right-left populist movement and political realignment throughout America. (Photo credit: Steve Klaver/AP)

The 2016 presidential election will set records for outrageous remarks and insulting tweets. It also may realign the American political structure.

New York Times columnist David Brooks credits the campaign of Donald Trump with teeing up political realignment, less to satisfy ideologues and more as a desperate attempt to win the White House.

In a traditional right versus left alignment, Brooks says odds are against Trump winning over Democrat Hillary Clinton. But in a realigned political landscape, where Trump embraces a mish-mash of right wing and populist causes, Brooks speculates the New York billionaire may have a narrow path to victory.

“His only hope,” Brooks writes, “is to cast his opponents as right-left establishment that supports open borders, free trade, cosmopolitan culture and global intervention” while “standing as a right-left populist who supports closed borders, trade barriers, local and nationalistic culture and an America-first foreign policy.”

The notion that this is fantasy was shattered when Britons voted to exit the European Union based on arguments not that different than the ones Trump intones at his American political rallies.

The chaos and economic certainty resulting from the prospective pullout from the EU may give people pause, but chances are that views have already hardened among those who feel left behind or betrayed by 21st Century America.

Brooks openly wonders whether Trump is the leader with the capability and discipline to achieve the political alignment his presidential campaign has lurched toward. “I personally doubt that Trump will be able to pull off a right-left populist coalition,” he says. “His views on women and minorities are unacceptable to nearly everybody on the left. There’s no evidence that he’s winning over many Sanders voters or down-scale progressives.”

“But where Trump fails, somebody else will succeed. And that’s where he is substantively revolutionary,” Brooks concludes. Trump has liberated Republicans from an obsequious reverence to smaller government and put them on a track to support a different kind of government that is more inward-looking. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” could be translated as “Put America First.”

It is hard to know whether Trump is a political savant who conjured this political line on his own or borrowed it from Europe’s cast of right-wing nationalist parties. Maybe it just came to him as the equivalent of a business opportunity to be exploited.

Whatever the source, Trump’s emergence has confused political pundits and confounded political elites because it doesn’t color within the lines; it creates new lines with bolder, shocking colors.

Brooks predicts the rubber will hit the road on the issue of trade. People in the upper layers of the U.S. economy see trade as good, creating consumer benefits, market efficiencies and new-age jobs in fields such as logistics. People in lower layers of the economy blame trade and immigrants for job displacement, loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs and regional dislocation.

Brooks said this isn’t an abstract difference, but a tangible one, which can be seen by traveling from Pittsburgh, which is flourishing in the new economy, to Western Pennsylvania where small town storefronts are boarded up. This world reality isn’t newly exploded, but it now has been irrevocably stamped onto the political culture of America.

Clinton may win this fall because of her wider appeal and voter disgust over some of Trump’s egregious views and comments. But she and the Congress, whether still in control of Republicans or not, will face the challenge of governing outside the old political lines and within a realigned political structure.

The Brexit Message for America

Britain’s vote to exit the European Union generated a huge drop in the British pound and shock waves for global stock markets. It should jolt American policymakers to discuss how to cope with the side effects of globalization, not flee from them.

Britain’s vote to exit the European Union generated a huge drop in the British pound and shock waves for global stock markets. It should jolt American policymakers to discuss how to cope with the side effects of globalization, not flee from them.

The Brexit vote sent shock waves throughout the world and raised questions about whether simmering anger over the effects of globalization could lead to Donald Trump winning the White House this fall.

The plummeting British pound and sagging worldwide stock markets provided an immediate warning sign of the portentous moment caused by the vote to leave the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to step down and allow someone else from his Conservative Party to navigate the departure confirmed the vote has clear political consequences.

But the anxieties reflected in Britain don’t exactly equate to those in the United States. While older, white Britons voted to leave, younger Brits voted to remain in the EU. Trump has won the hearts of older, white Americans, younger voters gravitated to Democrat Bernie Sanders.

A weekend editorial in the New York Times offered an explanation. Economically stressed working class voters blame their plight on trade deals that have profited corporations and banks, but cost them good-paying jobs and economic security. Younger voters feel the same stress and anger over income inequality resulting from a global capitalism, but see value in “economic integration, mobility and diversity.” They favor political action to fix, not flee from, economic dislocation.

There are material differences in the makeup and diversity of British and American voters that make analogies to the Brexit vote and the 2016 presidential election tricky at best. But the real lesson from Brexit may be the sharp distinction between how older alienated voters and younger anxious voters want to face the future. “Leave” voters in Briton yearned to a return when they fared better. “Remain” voters acknowledged problems, but seek forward-looking solutions.

Trump, who praised the Brexit victory while in Scotland to promote his golf course, is clearly pointing back in time to when “America was great.” The question is how Hillary Clinton can carve her message to resonate with those who want change, but not reversion to the past. The litmus test of her success will be how well she wins over the young voters who flocked to Sanders’ candidacy.

“The lesson for American voters,” the New York Times editorialized, “is to see their economic problems clearly, lest they be manipulated into voting against their own and their nation’s interests.”

Who wins the presidential race in November could come down to, as it has so often, a handful of swing states, several of which are in the Rust Belt, which have borne the brunt of the effects of globalization combined with technological changes and moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Trump and Sanders have blasted previous trade agreements and strongly opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Obama administration. Clinton, whose presidential husband steered through NAFTA, initially favored the TPP, but during the campaign dropped her support.

Opposing trade deals may appease older, alienated voters, but it may not be enough for younger, anxious voters. Opposing the TPP won’t stop trade, any more than Britain departing the EU will halt trade, even if new tariff barriers are erected. So the forward-looking question may be how to take into account and address the inevitable dislocations from globalization.

This question will be of consuming interest to voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but it should be a top priority for the entire country because economic dislocation knows no boundary. In Oregon, many rural communities remain in economic distress because of changing policies on timberland management.

The nation would benefit from a robust, candid conversation about how to cope with the side effects of globalization, not hide from them.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

The 2016 Political Season Just Gets Whackier

A Virginia man who supports Donald Trump for president swears he saw his candidate’s face on a bathroom floor while sitting on his toilet. It wasn’t the weirdest thing in the whacky world of politics.

A Virginia man who supports Donald Trump for president swears he saw his candidate’s face on a bathroom floor while sitting on his toilet. It wasn’t the weirdest thing in the whacky world of politics.

Just when you thought the political season couldn’t get weirder, it did. House Democrats staged a sit-in over gun legislation, an Iowa congressman implied replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill was racist and a Donald Trump supporter said he saw his candidate’s face on his bathroom floor tile.

Somehow, that last story may be the least bizarre of these three.

Sit-ins were ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970s as a preferred form of non-violent protest. In an ironic revival, House Democrats, led by Congressman John Lewis -- a veteran of sit-ins of yore -- employed the technique to protest congressional inaction in the face of continuing gun violence. Some 40 participating congressional protesters chanted, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

The sit-in followed late-night votes in the Senate on four separate gun bills, all of which failed to get enough votes, even though two of them involved denying access to guns for people on terrorist watch lists.

Congressman Steve King blamed President Obama for a “divisive” proposal to place a black woman, who is one of America’s most famous abolitionists, on U.S. Currency. He said it would be “unifying” to leave the $20 bill alone. The House GOP leadership dismissed King’s idea.

A Virginia man sitting on his toilet swears he saw his man Trump’s face on his bathroom floor. Trump images apparently are everywhere. According to The Huffington Post, a Google engineer vacationing in California saw Trump in the image of a deep-fried churro with yellow frosting. And a series of pictures of droop-mouthed pooches sporting Trump gear are circulating on social media. They're called "Dogald Trumps." 

Ultimately, the sit-in, King’s proposal to scratch Harriet Tubman and The Donald floor tile are mostly sideshows to even weirder stuff. Such as the paltry $1.3 million the Trump presidential campaign has in the bank after a full month as the presumptive GOP nominee. Or spending records that show Trump has paid 10 percent or more of his campaign cash to his own companies. The records also reveal Trump’s campaign bought up $208,000 worth of hats in May, while spending just $48,000 on data management and $115,000 on online advertising.

Weirder still, after withering media coverage that Trump’s businesses have stiffed contractors, sent manufacturing jobs overseas, used bankruptcies to turn losses into gains and profited from huge debt, more Americans trust Trump to run the U.S. economy than Hillary Clinton.

An online group polled 1,000 adult Americans and discovered a majority of men and women wouldn’t sleep with Trump for $1 million. In Trump’s case, the average it would take to convince a woman to have sex with him was $1.35 million. Men only wanted close to $1.1 million. The numbers were a little better for Clinton but not much. Her average price for sex with women was $1.26 million and $1.16 million with men. Bernie Sanders didn’t have a lot of takers either for a mere $1 million.

The weirdest thing of all is that this all occurred outside of a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch. SNL definitely will have to up its game.

Street Brawl Heads for Even Darker Alley

The mass shooting in Orlando at a gay night club may have re-ignited a culture war that will turn an election already resembling a street brawl into an even darker alley.

The mass shooting in Orlando at a gay night club may have re-ignited a culture war that will turn an election already resembling a street brawl into an even darker alley.

A hail of gunfire in Orlando may have transformed the 2016 presidential campaign into a full-fledged culture war.

What some see as a hate crime or an act of terrorism, others see as retribution for sin. However you look at it, what unfolded in Orlando turned out to be the deadliest mass shooting in American history. While some are renewing calls for sensible gun control and bans on assault rifles, others are calling for more vigilance against "radical Islamic terrorism."

Presumptive presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton displayed markedly different reactions to Sunday's mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando.

Presumptive presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton displayed markedly different reactions to Sunday's mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando.

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump took credit for predicting more violence and said President Obama should step down for refusing to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton deplored more gun violence and told the LBGT community she stood with them.

Before the gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others in a well known gay bar in Orlando early Sunday morning, The Wall Street Journal published a piece about what led so many people to support Trump. The bottom line: “people want their country back.”

It was hard to miss the irony that the Orlando shooter, according to his father, was galvanized to buy weapons and undertake his serial killing after watching in apparent disgust two men kiss in public.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick tweeted after the shooting that “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Florida Governor Rick Scott had trouble acknowledging the victims were homosexuals. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to regain momentum after a rough patch in his campaign, Trump scheduled a major speech Monday devoted to terrorism.

The culture war seething through this year’s election runs deeper than disagreements over gay rights. The WSJ piece about “Trumpkins” suggested the election may turn on entrepreneurship versus entitlement, a not-so-coy allusion to “workers” and “slackers.”

Trump has appealed to displaced and often alienated white workers who lost jobs in traditional industries. Trump gets nods at his political rallies when he blames bad international trade deals, government red tape and ill-conceived efforts to combat climate change. He wraps up his platform in the phrase, “Make American Great Again.”

Meanwhile, major news outlets from USA Today to The New York Times have lacerated Trump’s business reputation, claiming he stiffs contractors, workers and even his own lawyers, and profits in his own failures.

Clinton is airing an attack ad calling Trump University a massive fraud. Senator Elizabeth Warren has delivered scathing criticism of Trump, calling him a greedy money-grubber and race-baiter. Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has raised questions about Trump’s moral character. House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump’s rant against the judge hearing his Trump University case a “textbook case of racism.”

What already was a street brawl election campaign may have turned yet another corner into an even darker alley.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

A Proposal for Managed Change in Coal Sector

Instead of waging a battle in Congress or courts over the future of the U.S. coal industry, one man suggests a federal buyout that could provide a well-financed 10-year transition to new businesses and new jobs in coal country.

Instead of waging a battle in Congress or courts over the future of the U.S. coal industry, one man suggests a federal buyout that could provide a well-financed 10-year transition to new businesses and new jobs in coal country.

The politics of climate change and the market forces turning away from coal-fired electricity will play an outsized role in the 2016 presidential election. But one man says there is a smart compromise that could put everybody on the same side.

In an op-ed published by The Washington Post, Stephen Kass says the issue of what to do about coal could lose its grimy political messiness if the federal government stepped in to buy out the industry and retrain workers for new jobs.

Stephen Kass, a New York lawyer and professor, says the federal government should buy out the coal industry and retrain coal workers for other jobs. 

Stephen Kass, a New York lawyer and professor, says the federal government should buy out the coal industry and retrain coal workers for other jobs. 

Sound far-fetched or socialistic? Kass, who heads a New York Bar Association task force on climate adaptation, says it is neither. Coal companies, he says, are barely hanging because of competition from lower-priced natural gas and the growing viability of wind and solar power. Coal industry workers may find themselves out of work and willing to accept help finding new skills and new job opportunities.

This strategy, Kass argues, offers more upside than a prolonged battle to sidetrack President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is now stymied in court, but even if implemented would fall short of meeting climate goals agreed to by 195 nations, including the United States, in Paris.

The Kass plan would close down the coal industry over a 10-year period, providing a gentler glide path than sudden plant closures, and giving workers and communities a fixed date for pursuing a new path.

In his op-ed. Kass didn’t explicitly make the point, but could have that a 10-year transition could be a perfect pivot for manufacturers to swoop in to take advantage of a skilled, but soon-to-be unemployed work force with federal money to give them the training for new jobs.

Kass says his plan eclipses liberal and conservative ideology. “Coal plant operators and institutional investors, as well as their lenders, are locked into deteriorating (and most fully depreciated) assets that are losing the competition against natural gas and renewable energy – and facing increased regulation of pollutants independent of climate change initiatives,” he wrote. “These parties might welcome a graceful exit.”

“Even unions, faced with declining jobs and wages in the coal sector, might support a well-financed and carefully designed program to enable workers to pay off mortgages, car loans and medical or college bills and prepare for a more productive future in other energy-sector jobs." 

Agreeing to such an approach would require a level of bipartisanship in Washington that seems unattainable at the moment. But Kass implies a proactive government stance on inevitable change – which can have devastating effects on a significant swath of America – is a worthy ambition that can satisfy liberal and conservative policy appetites. Liberals would see the coal industry shut down without dumping coal workers in the slag heap. Conservatives would respect that business owners received fair compensation for their assets and red-leaning states wouldn’t be left high and dry.

The federal government would score a win by keeping its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a replicable example of how a government can manage a market to achieve an environmental objective without imperiling corporate, regional of personal economies.

This is an idea unlikely to pop up on the campaign stump this summer and fall, but it could be a policy option dropped on the table for a new President and the next Congress.

Electorate Sour on Candidates, Primary Process

American voters are definitely interested in the 2016 presidential election, but many feel disaffected with the front-running candidates, the primary process and the electorate’s own “political wisdom.” 

American voters are definitely interested in the 2016 presidential election, but many feel disaffected with the front-running candidates, the primary process and the electorate’s own “political wisdom.” 

Voter turnout this year rivals the record-setting 2008 presidential election, but it has produced two candidates with historically high negative ratings and a sour taste about the primary process.

When Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders complain that the primary process is rigged, a majority of voters apparently agree with them. According to the Pew Research Center, only 35 percent of registered voters think the primary process produces the best qualified nominees. For Democrats, it’s a meager 30 percent.

Trump supporters are the most glowing in appreciation of the nominating process at 60 percent. Clinton’s backers have more positive views than Sanders’ supporters by a 37 percent to 25 percent margin.

But discontentment with the process and the front-running candidates hasn’t doused interest. Pew says 89 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats have given the 2016 election a “great deal of thought.” Those percentages exceed voter interest in the 2008 open presidential race.

Another interesting finding is that a majority of voters are frustrated, not angry, about government. Pew found 59 percent of voters express frustration, while only 22 percent admit to being angry. Seventeen percent claim to be basically content. 

Of those who are angry, 25 percent are fed up with politicians for failing to keep their promises or acting in a self-serving way, 18 percent are disgusted with political gridlock and 15 percent think politicians are out of touch and not working on their behalf. Four percent are angry because of President Obama, 3 percent because of Wall Street and big business influence and 3 percent because of taxes.

As might be expected, Republicans are more likely to be angry with a Democrat in the White House. Democrats were angrier during the George W. Bush White House years.

A discouraging perspective that emerges from the research is a pervasive view that life in America today is worse than it was 50 years ago and that it will be even worse for the net generation of Americans. Research indicates 46 percent of all voters – and 54 percent of white voters – think things in America are worse for “people like them.” That contrasts with only 17 percent of African-American and 37 percent of Hispanic voters who share the same view. There is more agreement across racial lines that things will be worse for the next generation.

It is reassuring that 68 percent of registered voters believe personal insults are “never fair game” in politics. Democrats hold that view more strongly than Republicans, but even Trump supporters agree by a 51 percent to 47 percent margin. Clinton and Sanders supporters are equal in their distaste for personal insults.

Voters by a 75 percent majority believe news outlets have given Trump too much coverage. That is less true, as you might imagine, with Trump supporters, who by a 55 percent majority think his coverage is “about right.” Supporters of Trump’s GOP rivals felt their candidates drew too little earned media coverage. Ohio Governor John Kasich’s backers were the most displeased, with 82 percent saying their candidate got less coverage than he deserved. Overall, 53 percent of GOP voters agreed. Even 42 percent of Trump supporters thought Kasich was shorted.

The study also shows Americans’ confidence in the “political wisdom” of the electorate sharply eroding through the 21st century. As recently as 1997, 69 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans expressed confidence in the political wisdom of the American public. Now only 35 percent of Republicans and 32 percent of Democrats have a great deal or good deal of confidence in the public’s political wisdom.

Political Independents Likely to Elect Next President

The surge in 2016 presidential primary voting can be attributed to campaigning that has activated political independent voters. It is very likely the next president will be elected because he or she wins the most independent votes.

The surge in 2016 presidential primary voting can be attributed to campaigning that has activated political independent voters. It is very likely the next president will be elected because he or she wins the most independent votes.

Independent voters may replace battleground states as the key indicator to watch in this year’s presidential election.

Voters who weren't registered as either Republicans or Democrats have contributed to the surge in presidential primary voting. In closed primary states, such as Oregon, they have switched registration so they could vote for a presidential candidate.

Non-establishment candidates, such as Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders, have benefited most from this tide of independent voters, which is the largest voting bloc in the U.S. electorate. According to the Pew Research Center, independents make up 39 percent of total voter registration, compared to 32 percent as Democrats and 23 percent as Republicans.

Gallup has conducted extensive research on who makes up this group of non-affiliated voters and found that a common strain is disaffection with both major political parties in America. Within the independent bloc are voters who lean Democratic or Republican. The rest are true swing voters.

As Trump has shown after he became the presumptive GOP presidential nominee following the Indiana primary, a political party’s base tends to unify. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton – who appears mathematically certain to win her party’s nomination – is still competing in primaries with Sanders, with the next big test coming June 7 in California. Chances are good that Democrats who support Sanders will swivel to support Clinton in the general election when she is the nominee. 

That leaves open the question of who will appeal the most to independents. Trump has demonstrated his appeal to independents, especially white working class males. Sanders’ surprising political viability is the result of melding votes from the Democratic Party’s progressive left wing with strong support from independents, especially young people.

Pew Research shows nearly half of 18 to 33-year-olds are registered as independents. Sanders has ushered a lot of Millennials into Democratic voter registration this year and it will be Clinton’s political task to keep them there and win over their support by November.

NPR reported earlier this year that independents are among the most upset voters in America. They recoil from what they see as political dysfunction in Washington and want to see fundamental change. Older independents are upset at international trade deals, which they believe cost them their good-paying jobs. Younger independents are frustrated by the high cost of college and rising student debt.

When activated, independent voters make a difference. NPR points to the 2012 presidential election in Colorado in which GOP nominee Mitt Romney received more Republican votes than Barack Obama received Democratic votes. Obama carried the state because of heavy voting by independents, especially Millennials.

National polls indicate Trump and Clinton are in a virtual dead heat. Electoral wizards can illustrate how the 2016 presidential election will boil down to a few battleground states, such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia. However, the impact of independents on the race is likely to expand the battleground to more states, including some improbable ones. 

Republican strategists believe usual Democratic stalwarts in presidential elections – such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota – could be in play. Democrats think there is a chance for their candidate in unlikely places like Georgia and Arizona. Independent voters already have shown they can tilt an election outcome in states like Colorado, North Carolina, New Mexico and Iowa. In the end, even more states could be up for grabs, depending on who can nail down the votes of political independents.

The 2016 election cycle – which has already ground on for a long time and still has almost six months to go – has been anything but typical. Trump vanquished 16 political rivals and buffaloed the GOP establishment by running an earned media campaign. He said outlandish things and tweeted insults that, in the words for a Ted Cruz campaign aide, “won the day.” Sanders has adopted the role as pied piper of a political revolution, drawing huge crowds to hear him rail against a rigged economy and political system.

The Trump and Sanders campaign styles, combined with some common policy positions on trade and foreign involvement, have aroused political independents. That’s why some Sanders supporters claim he is better positioned to battle Trump than Clinton, who emphasizes her experience and detailed policy positions.

Confusing things even more, Trump and Clinton have historically high negative ratings. They are even likely to go down as Trump and Clinton have already begun trading blows and posting attack ads. Clinton points out Trump’s business failures and brands him a bully. Trump dredges up past sexual scandals involving Bill Clinton and accuses Hillary of being an “enabler.”

For some independent voters, Trump’s brash braggadocio is his brand, and he’s the kind of disruptive force who could make real change. For others, his race baiting and loose talk about nuclear weapons are too alarming to allow his finger anywhere near the red button.

Many independents agree with Republicans that Hillary Clinton is untrustworthy. But others may be repelled by Trump’s controversial references to women and attracted to Clinton’s potential to crack the highest glass ceiling in the world.

Establishment and moderate Republicans will press Trump to tone down his rhetoric on tearing up trade deals and banning Muslims. Sanders and Democratic progressives will push Clinton to be more vocal about confronting Wall Street and embracing ways to make college more affordable.

The red and blue political bases will get behind their respective party standard-bearers. How independents split their votes will determine who becomes the next president.

Toasting the Men from the North

President Obama hosted the heads of government from the five Nordic nations, which are valued American allies and where citizens by and large trust their governments.

President Obama hosted the heads of government from the five Nordic nations, which are valued American allies and where citizens by and large trust their governments.

When you mention Scandinavia, you think of saunas, Volvos and Scarlett Johansson. You don’t picture some of the most steadfast U.S. Allies on the planet.

For geographically-challenged Americans, the Nordic nations include Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland.

Contemporary Viking ancestors are less inclined to conquest as they enjoy a lifestyle, public services and political stability that are the envy of most of the world’s people. One of the most desired destinations for refugees from the war-torn Middle East is Sweden. Bernie Sanders has lionized Nordic universal health coverage. Surveys show Scandinavians are some of the happiest people outside of Bhutan.

All of which contributed to the unusual sight last week of a White House state dinner for five national leaders. In a welcoming ceremony earlier in the day, President Obama praised the five Nordic nations for “punching above their weight.”

“I really do believe the world would be more secure and more prosperous if we just had more partners like our Nordic countries,” Obama said. "There have been times where I’ve said, ‘Why don’t we just put all these small countries in charge for a while, and they could clean things up.’”

The President added on a more serious note, "Sometimes we have a tendency to take our best friends for granted, and it’s important that we not do so."

There is a striking amount of common cause between the Nordic nations and the United States. We share a suspicion of Russian intentions, especially in Ukraine, and concern over climate change and its effects on the Arctic. We agree on the need to combat terrorism and sustainably manage fisheries.

Given diplomatic hierarchy, it is unlikely the prime minister from any single Nordic nation would be feted with a state dinner. However, Obama keenly saw an opportunity to recognize reliable partners as a group. The only thing awkward about the situation was the quick-stepping of the color guard to change flags when each country’s prime minister rolled into the White House portico. 

Not surprisingly, there is disagreement over why the Nordic nations enjoy the prosperity they do. Some say it is because they loosen the reins of government on the free market; others claim it is because government controls the eccentricities and abuses of the free market. It could be both.

But one startling fact is the relatively high level of trust Scandinavians have in their government. The trust isn’t blind. Scandinavians demand transparency. Official records are viewed as public records that anyone can review. Politicians must meet public expectations in the way they behave. They can’t slip off their bikes into official limos.

One analyst said Scandinavians have figured out how to combine right-wing pragmatism and left-wing idealism into a tough-minded, constantly evolving government model. They don’t view government as an obstacle, but as an instrument. Modesty is considered a virtue, but it is born out of necessity. The population of Nordic nations is small, which amplifies citizen engagement.

A former Swedish prime minister compared Nordic economies to honey-laden bumblebees. They have heavy bodies, tiny wings and yet still manage to pollinate plants and produce honey.

Naturally at the state dinner for Nordic officials, the White House was decked out with wooden farm tables and ice sculptures. The men from the north were served braised beef short ribs from Nebraska.

The Unsettled Presidential Election

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their respective party presidential nominations sewn up, but their general election campaigns face a lot of uncertainty and unfamiliar political terrain.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their respective party presidential nominations sewn up, but their general election campaigns face a lot of uncertainty and unfamiliar political terrain.

By default or delegate count, the 2016 Republican and Democratic presidential nominations appear set. However, the campaigns and party unification processes are anything but settled.

Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump faces high-profile defections from prominent Republican leaders and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton keeps losing primary elections to Bernie Sanders.

Trump meets this week with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has withheld his support from Trump. For Trump’s part, he claims he is ushering in a new-look Republican Party that may make party unity efforts a nice, but not necessary sidelight. That new look also may not include conservatives who say they won’t vote for Trump or Clinton.

Clinton has turned her political guns on a general election showdown with Trump, despite a still vigorous challenge by Sanders. However, just when it appeared Clinton would trounce Trump in a landslide, a poll by highly regarded Quinnipiac shows Clinton is in a dead heat or losing to Trump in the key swing states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Sanders’ double-digit win in West Virginia this week added further doubt to whether Clinton can attract votes from disaffected white voters and political independents.

Trump and Clinton have the shared distinction of being the two most disliked presidential candidates in recent history. As such, both are having trouble appealing to their respective party bases.  Trump has shaky support on the conservative right and Clinton on the progressive left.

The Trump-Clinton race may come to a battle of identity politics. Trump scores with male voters, while Clinton does well with women and minority voters. Trump does poorly with establishment Republicans. Clinton flunks with younger Democratic voters.

In previous presidential elections, the candidates' experience and what they stood for counted most. In 2016, not so much. Trump touts his lack of political experience and has lurched around on issues like a bumper car driver. Clinton has been criticized for her experience and her wonkish policy views.

After Ted Cruz and John Kasich bowed out following Trump’s decisive primary win in Indiana, Trump told NBC News he looked forward to a principled general election campaign centered on policy. The next day, Trump returned to form and resumed his “Crooked Hillary” refrain. He hasn’t let up since.

Clinton immediately put up attack ads pointing out Trump’s outlandish statements and dubious policies, only to be warned by supportive political observers that getting into a gutter fight with Trump was a losing strategy. Strategists said Trump methodically disposed of GOP opponents who attacked him,  who famously noted that he could shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t cost him a vote.

Perhaps a more troubling concern in the Clinton camp is the political viability of “outsider” messaging, especially when it comes to international trade and “rigged” systems. A West Virginia voter told a reporter after he voted in his state’s primary that he cast his ballot for Sanders because he “spoke the people.” The only other person running for president he would vote for is Trump.

One Democratic pollster said the problem boils down to a good “origin story.” Trump and Sanders pinpoint what and who is to blame. Clinton tells a more complex and conflicted story. Trump has mastered sloganeering. Sanders has powerful sound bites. Clinton has nuanced, detailed policy papers.

Presidential nominating conventions are more than a month away and there are still a few primaries left, including contests in Oregon and Washington. The eventual nominees are clear. How their campaigns will unfold and the odds on either’s ultimate success remain as unsettled as ever.

Taking the Political Bite Out of Trade

Opposition to international trade deals has welled up in both presidential primaries, but few realistic proposals have surfaced to address worker security in the face of unstoppable globalization and technological change.

Opposition to international trade deals has welled up in both presidential primaries, but few realistic proposals have surfaced to address worker security in the face of unstoppable globalization and technological change.

International trade deals have been trashed by presidential candidates in both parties, but realistic alternatives that would do more good than harm have been scarce.

Economists admit globalization of manufacturing and distribution, huge cross-border capital flows and accelerating technology changes have taken their toll on jobs and job security. However, they warn scrapping trade deals and trying to erect trade barriers will create worse economic problems without protecting workers they seek to shield.

A better approach, according to economists, is to increase support, especially in terms of job training for workers who lose their jobs because of globalization or trade deals that favor some sectors at the expense of others.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance program exists to provide that support, but is woefully funded compared to dislocated worker programs in other industrialized nations. It also isn’t very practical. The program pays for job training, but unemployed workers still need to earn money to pay a mortgage and put food on their family table.

Increasing funding for Trade Adjustment Assistance hasn’t been a political priority, but the deep discontent that has welled up by working class families all across the nation, as reflected by their votes for “outsider” presidential candidates strongly opposing trade deals, may change that.

Another idea kicking around in economist circles is called wage insurance. This involves wage subsidies to workers who lose their jobs so they can afford to take lower-paying jobs while obtaining job training. President Obama mentioned wage insurance in his final State of the Union address earlier this year.

Bolstering the Trade Adjustment Assistance program or enacting some type of wage subsidy doesn’t have the same raw appeal on the political stump as GOP frontrunner Donald Trump saying he will cut better trade deals with China, Japan and others. But his promise, based largely on his negotiating skill as a hotel developer, may not be worth the risk of a costly trade war that triggers a global recession.

Democratic contender Bernie Sanders has criticized former President Bill Clinton for pushing through the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has resulted in the transfer of U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Both he and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton have expressed opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a key Obama priority. But neither Sanders nor Clinton have articulated a clear alternative to the TPP, which Obama defends as a roadmap for economic development in the Pacific Rim written by the United States, not China.

Free trade policies have been problematic for labor-backed Democrats and now appear to be a challenge for big business friendly Republicans, too. Protectionism also faces headwinds because American consumers are savvy enough to know that would mean higher prices for goods. Businesses, farmers and workers in states like Oregon and Washington that have export-dependent economies realize protectionism would hurt them.

As a result politicians on both sides of the aisle may be forced to pursue policies that produce tangible improvements for middle-class workers who have been and likely will remain vulnerable to new economic realities.

It is one thing to rail about trade policy on the campaign stump (Obama certainly did in his 2008 campaign), but it is another to stare at the hard realities. The United States remains the dominant world economy, but it no longer commands a position where it can call all the shots. The global economy is more intertwined so a hiccup on the Chinese stock market or refugee flows into Europe can impact the U.S. economy.

Just about everyone has a stake in figuring out trade policy. It may be the most fundamental middle-class American issue. It matters to young people who must navigate careers that don’t have life-time job guarantees. Those at the top of the economic heap may face growing unrest and a sharper shift to the political left if more isn’t done to provide greater job security to a growing group of Americans.

Activist labor programs could be the best defense against worker frustration, the least statist policy and the most popular political talking point. There is a general election coming up this fall to try out this approach.

The Renewed Nuclear Arms Race We Aren’t Discussing

The threat of terrorist attacks is more top-of-mind for Americans than an accelerating nuclear arms race by Russia, China and the United States involving smaller, more precise nuclear weapons that could put the entire world on higher alert.

The threat of terrorist attacks is more top-of-mind for Americans than an accelerating nuclear arms race by Russia, China and the United States involving smaller, more precise nuclear weapons that could put the entire world on higher alert.

Americans worry about the threat of terrorism while being largely unaware of an accelerating nuclear arms race involving Russia, China and the United States.

To the extent nuclear weapons are discussed, it is in the context of the Iranian nuclear deal, North Korea’s relentless efforts to join the nuclear club and a fear that ISIS will grab nuclear material for a so-called dirty bomb. A reignited nuclear arms race between world powers, including the United States, remains in the shadows of a presidential election and public debate.

The topic was brought into the daylight by a recent New York Times article that reported, “The United States, Russia and China are now aggressively pursuing a new generation of smaller, less destructive nuclear weapons.” 

The report added ominously, “The buildups threaten to revive a Cold War-era arms race and unsettle the balance of destructive force among nations that has kept the nuclear peace for more than a half century.”

Sobering stuff. It underlines the need for a calm hand, not a twitchy finger in the White House. It also may be why GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump hasn’t repeated his seemingly off-the-cuff comments about helping Japan and South Korea secure nuclear weapons.

The new nuclear race has less to do with building larger bombs than the stealth of surgically delivering smaller ones. The Russians have topped big missiles with miniaturized warheads and are developing an undersea drone that can loft a city-smothering radioactive cloud. China is reportedly flight-testing a nuclear warhead that can be mounted on a hypersonic glide vehicle, which would maneuver in space, then twist and careen toward its intended target on Earth. 

The Times report says the United States is also testing a hypersonic weapon and modernizing its nuclear arsenal with "small, stealthy and precise” weaponry that can evade nuclear missile defense systems and pinpoint targets. U.S. officials aren’t denying what’s going on, but they also aren’t playing it up.

After World War II, the Cold War race to stockpile ever-larger bombs on longer-distance missiles was based on the “grim logic” of mutual assured destruction, which meant if someone launched an attack, there would be a massive counterattack that would destroy great swaths of the planet. The outcome was so horrifying, it became its own effective deterrent.

Now, the prospect of less destructive and more precise nuclear weapons could tempt somebody to try them out. Some military experts say miniaturized nuclear weapons could deter terrorist groups, though nuclear arms critics would contend their use could feed the radical vision of ISIS for some kind of apocalyptic battle. 

Development of a new generation of nukes at the moment has more to do with geopolitical anxieties, such as Russia’s flirtation with Soviet-style aggression and China’s ambition to solidify its place as a world power. Russia’s expansion into Crimea and China’s land claims in the China Sea serve as present-day reminders of the tensions that underlie nuclear expansion and modernization and cause all three countries to point fingers as to who’s is responsible for a new nuclear arms race.

The Times report notes that Washington and Moscow have kept their respective nuclear forces on high alert to allow a rapid response if an incoming strike is detected. China is apparently on a path to upgrade its early warning system, raising the overall stakes of a “launch on warning” mistake that triggers a nuclear free-for-all.

Arms control advocates feel like middle managers in a modern, fast economy with little effective role in addressing a rekindled Cold War escalation. The Times quotes Mark Gubrud, a nuclear weapons expert, as saying, “The world has failed to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle and new genies are now getting loose."

The Paradoxical Presidential Power Shift

The Republican strategy of stonewalling President Obama has had the unintended effect of expanding power in the executive branch. As the Republican Congress has said no to his proposals at nearly every turn, Obama has instead turned to executive orders to see his plans through.

The Republican strategy of stonewalling President Obama has had the unintended effect of expanding power in the executive branch. As the Republican Congress has said no to his proposals at nearly every turn, Obama has instead turned to executive orders to see his plans through.

President Obama’s “creative use of executive authority” is a paradoxical power shift caused by a GOP-controlled Congress intent on blocking an “ideological enemy” at every turn, according to Zachary Karabell writing for Politico.

“The long-run effect of Obama enmity,” Karabell says, “has been to enable this president to expand the power of the executive branch, perhaps permanently.” The author of “The Leading Indicators, A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World,” says expanded presidential power has raised the stakes on who Americans elect to the position.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today on the latest challenge to Obama’s authority, which involves his decision to grant temporary work permit status to some four million undocumented parents of U.S.-born children. Obama’s executive orders also have dealt with student loans, workplace leave, minimum wage, deportations, gun violence and environmental regulation.

Republican critics have accused Obama of abusing and overstepping his constitutional powers as President, but Karabell says Obama has filled the vacuum left by GOP inaction. “Republicans are hardly passive victims of an overweening executive,” he writes. “They are, in fact, paying for their own unilateral surrender.”

Unable to repeal or pass an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, congressional Republicans have settled for obstructing Obama-backed legislation. However, Karabell says Republicans “also relinquished much of its primary tool, the power of the purse.” “Congress and the White House have not agreed on a budget since 2009 and only at the end of 2015 was an actual budget passed by the House,” he notes.

Karabell speculates Obama may become even more daring as the clock ticks down in his final term in office. Senate GOP leadership’s decision not to hold hearings on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland could lead to appointment without the advice and consent of Congress. Some constitutional scholars believe the power to appoint a Supreme Court justice resides with the President, not the Senate. Such an appointment, if made, would be a political explosion in an already incendiary election year. 

While GOP presidential contenders have wailed about Obama’s executive orders in domestic policy, the real expansion of power, Karabell suggests, has been in national security and foreign military engagement. “The broad implementation of drone warfare (hundreds of strikes over the past five years) would have been stymied were it not for judges and tribunals that have given the executive, CIA and military wide latitude.”

Fear of executive power is hardly new in America. Founding Fathers fretted about it, which led to the creation of checks and balances aimed at preventing it. Of course, those checks and balances only work if they are used. 

Republican presidential candidates haven’t exactly shied away from the notion of unilateral action. Ted Cruz has described a first day in the Oval Office as tearing up Obama’s executive orders, the Iran nuclear deal and Obamacare. Donald Trump has suggested pulling out of major international trade deals and forcing the CIA to carry out waterboarding and even more extreme interrogation tactics on terrorists.

“Obama bears his share of responsibility for taking power where he could,” Karabell concludes, “but had the Republican Congress attempted to do more than thwart him, he would not have been able to.”

The upshot of Obama’s two terms in office is to make “who we elect now more important than ever,” Karabell says. “And perhaps Congress will think twice in the future about surrendering more power to the president."

A Day for Frontrunners to Forget (Except UConn)

Except for the UConn women’s basketball team, it was a bad day for frontrunners as Donald Trump’s march to the GOP nomination got trickier and the cloud grew grimmer over Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as the Democratic nominee.

Except for the UConn women’s basketball team, it was a bad day for frontrunners as Donald Trump’s march to the GOP nomination got trickier and the cloud grew grimmer over Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as the Democratic nominee.

The only frontrunner to win Tuesday was the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, which captured its historic fourth straight national championship. Meanwhile, the Republican and Democratic presidential frontrunners lost in Wisconsin, and not by buzzer beaters.

Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders each racked up more than 50 percent of the vote in the Wisconsin Republican and Democratic primaries, respectively. Their wins on Tuesday mean more intrigue in the nominating process, which already has had more twists and turns than whodunits.

The Cruz victory could be the turning point for the “stop Trump” movement. The delegates Cruz won in Wisconsin make it that much harder for Donald Trump to accumulate the required delegates to capture the GOP nomination before the national convention in Cleveland this summer.

The Sanders victory – his sixth straight triumph over frontrunner Hillary Clinton – may not derail the Clinton locomotive to the nomination, but it raises questions about how high her campaign can fly in the fall general election, especially if the young voters activated by Sanders skip voting.

The storylines in the two parties are comically different. The GOP presidential primary has careened from reality show to peep show. The Democratic primary has resembled a coronation disrupted by a grumpy janitor with an agenda.

However, in many ways the nomination process in both parties is eerily similar. “Outsiders” such as Trump, Cruz and Sanders have drawn more votes than anyone would have predicted before the Iowa caucuses in January. Yet, the unpredictability of the outsiders has added an element of suspense that has largely been absent in recent presidential primaries. 

Cruz may block Trump’s march to the nomination, but he may not be the beneficiary of his success. There is rampant talk of a white knight – AKA Speaker Paul Ryan – riding into a contested convention and leaving with the prize in his saddlebag. Even the conservatives who are bent on denying Trump the nomination don’t have much faith in Cruz as a viable national candidate. Lindsey Graham endorsed Cruz, after saying "if you killed Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

Sanders’ insurgency has a different effect on Clinton. His outsider campaign emphasizes her insider connections. His plainspoken criticisms of Wall Street, big business and drug companies has underlined her cozy relationships. His bluntness contrasts sharply with her finesse.

Sanders' at times wobbly command of details, as reflected in his interview with the New York Daily News, gives some of his supporters pause. Even though the policies Sanders advocates seem unachievable to most observers, he still comes across as more honest than Clinton. In fact, exit polling shows Clinton failing the honesty test for a hefty chunk of Democratic voters.

Despite the mathematical improbability of Sanders winning enough delegates to elbow aside Clinton at the convention, his string of victories poses more than an inconvenience for the Clinton camp. Sanders only netted a 10-delegate gain from his win in Wisconsin, but that isn’t the real significance of his victory – or victories to come in other states. Democrats have to wonder whether Clinton is too bruised to win in November.

The way the races are shaping up in both parties, Oregonians may be treated to an actual primary contest in May. Sanders has set up a campaign office in Portland and others are likely to follow. We may actually see the candidates and shake their hand while eating an ice cream cone instead of catching a glimpse as they limo in from the airport to a closed-door fundraiser.  

All this means the craziness of the 2016 campaign season will continue into the foreseeable future. There will be more Trump tweets and perhaps even more positions he adopts on the abortion issue. Cruz will step up his crusade against Trump, even as his pessimistic supporters push a “Lose with Cruz” meme. Clinton will have to keep answering questions about a slow-motion FBI investigation into her private email server while secretary of state. Sanders will have to keep explaining how he will turn America into Norway with Medicare and free college tuition for all.

It is a rollercoaster ride that just won’t stop.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Revolution at the Capitol

Congress was in recess and a shooter was in the Capitol when the revolution occurred. A potentially serious crisis was reported in real time by ordinary people wielding smartphones.

A lockdown prevented news crews from wheeling in cameras to the Capitol Monday afternoon as a lone gunman began firing shots in the Capitol Visitor Center. News organizations improvised by relying on video shot with smartphones by tourists and Capitol staffers who were “sheltered in place” as police closed in and arrested the man. Despite the lack of media access, the result was robust, timely reporting with footage directly from the scene. D.C. Police even joined the revolution by posting their own real-time updates on Twitter.

OK, we know what you’re thinking: The use of smartphones for real-time newsgathering had already become common over the past several years. But believe it or not, the situation highlights many continuing shifts in how we gather, report and consume the news today.

•  Not that long ago, video equipment was large, obtrusive and less conducive to real-time reporting. Lugging around bulky cameras, tripods and mics made it especially difficult for news crews to rush in to the scene of a crisis as police closed off access. Today, all of that equipment is often replaced by a single pocket-sized device that nearly two-thirds of Americans own and carry at just about all times of the day.  

•  Video cameras record images, but they aren’t organically connected to a news delivery channel. That’s never been a problem for smartphones.

•  Smartphones can capture video, transmit the footage quickly and provide access to social networks, blog sites and numerous other online platforms to report the news and add commentary. 

NBC correspondent Luke Russert tweeted about the Capitol lockdown and posted a picture of Capitol employees evacuating the building 30 minutes before the D.C. Police alerted the public to the incident. Meanwhile, MSNBC gave viewers a live-stream glimpse of the unfolding scene based on video shot by smartphones inside the Capitol. 

In essence, smartphones have turned average people into reporters. They can capture breaking news at any time and share it from anywhere with a signal.  

Instead of resenting the rise of citizen journalism, news organizations are embracing the growing trend as frontline reporting assistance because it can give them a scoop or at least a head start on covering a major story. After all, video shot on smartphones often has legitimacy that some news reporting lacks. 

Seeing smartphones in action at the Capitol, where most news is staged, underscores that the revolution of news coverage is in full swing. As news crews and citizen journalists alike embrace the omnipresence of smartphones, viewers will increasingly get more than press conferences and orchestrated events. They will get on-the-spot video and firsthand accounts of actual events that are shared widely across the Internet moments after they occur. This is nothing short of revolutionary.

While this revolution may not have changed attitudes toward the news media, it has changed the public’s perspective on newsgathering and the spread of information. Today, the news is less the detached reality it traditionally became over decades of nightly network broadcasts modeled on the style of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. Instead, it’s more like something you can view – or capture and share with the world – through the lens of your own smartphone. 

 

Curbing Monopolies Could Boost Economy

Teddy Roosevelt earned a reputation more than a century ago as a trust-buster and now there are stirrings in Congress for more aggressive antitrust enforcement to give the economy an injection of competition.

Teddy Roosevelt earned a reputation more than a century ago as a trust-buster and now there are stirrings in Congress for more aggressive antitrust enforcement to give the economy an injection of competition.

President Teddy Roosevelt broke up 44 monopolistic trusts in the early 1900s and now congressional leaders think it may be time again to address “creeping monopolization” at its impact on consumer prices and income inequality.

Roosevelt’s trust-busting occurred in a time similar to today when distrust of institutions was high and a few men accumulated enormous wealth. In his Square Deal, Roosevelt imposed regulations to tamp down free market excesses, such as railroad rate-setting and safety requirements for foods and drugs.

Last week, A Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on antitrust oversight, which revealed a bipartisan interest in doing more to block “cartel behavior and pricing abuse,” according to David Drayden, writing for New Republic.

Drayden calls antitrust regulation the “most important 2016 issue you don’t know about."

“The merger policy of our nation simply has failed,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said at the hearing. “As a national initiative we need to rethink the approach we have taken.” Blumenthal pointed to the airline industry, which has four carriers serving 80 percent of the U.S. Market, but also because some shareholders hold significant interests in more than one carrier.

Senators Orrin Hatch and Al Franken questioned Internet platform monopolies that “stifle competition and inhibit the free flow of ideas." Senator Charles Grassley discussed consolidation in the market for seed that has implications for the food-supply chain and food safety. The Albertsons-Safeway merger was singled out as a regulation failure after Haggen Food and Pharmacy bought 168 stores that the chain was soon required to sell, only to go bankrupt and sell back some of the stores to the merged company.

"We’ve seen plenty of economic issues discussed in this presidential election: the proper level of financial regulation, the high cost of prescription drugs, the clustering of wealth at the very top,” Drayden writes "But all of these things, and many more, boil down to one problem: Practically every major American industry has become extremely concentrated, and this creeping monopolization has increased inequality, created economic hazards where they previously didn’t exist, and heightened public anxiety." 

"We need competition because it benefits consumers on price and quality – there’s no incentive for a monopoly to deliver good service if consumers have no options,” he explains. "We need it because consolidation creates a few winners economically amid many losers, and they use that power to influence politics and take even more gains. We need it because any problem with one big bank or one big food distributor magnifies when the company is one of a precious few.”

Drayden says there appears to a political consensus to become more aggressive in blocking and breaking up monopolies, which could be the single biggest action government could take to address rising prices, boost consumer choice and begin to level the income playing field. “Aggressively enforcing antitrust laws,” Drayden says, “would be one of the best ways to reinvigorate our economy.”

Paul Ryan: Designated Relief Pitcher

A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A desperate GOP establishment has tried pinch hitters and pinch runners to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination and now may turn to its successful designated relief pitcher, Paul Ryan.

A move is afoot to draft Paul Ryan as a GOP presidential candidate, which would confirm the Wisconsin Republican’s role as his party's designated relief pitcher.

Ryan, with seeming reluctance, saved the day by agreeing to serve as House Speaker after conservatives drove John Boehner out of the game and objected to other candidates. Ryan was cast as the only Republican that all factions could support.

That’s the thinking behind the Draft Speaker Ryan movement. The Republican Party is in disarray. Donald Trump is leading the presidential pack, but a faceless GOP establishment cabal is desperately trying to block him from winning the nomination. The party’s 2012 standard bearer has called out Trump as a con man and a phony. Marco Rubio has said Trump wet his pants and has tiny hands.

Beyond a distrust and dislike for Trump, Republican establishment figures worry that another Democrat will succeed President Obama. Some have concluded the only viable alternative to defeat this fall is Ryan.

Ted Cruz has made inroads on Trump’s march to the nomination, winning in Kansas and Maine over the weekend and inching closer to Trump’s delegate total. But Cruz could be the only GOP figure detested more than Trump.

Earle Mack, a former ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush, spearheaded a $1 million Super PAC to draft Ryan. As he did to importuning to become House Speaker, Ryan has dismissed the draft movement and disavowed the SuperPac in a letter to the Federal Election Commission.

It is hard for Ryan to deny an interest in the nation’s top job. He was Romney’s running mate in 2012 and in the eyes of many political observers outshone the top guy on the ballot. Ryan has injected himself into the presidential primary by deploring Trump's racially charged statements.

As Speaker, Ryan has quieted the conservative rebellion, even as he pushed through controversial budget bills. Conservative members said they still disagree with compromising and relying on Democratic votes, but they support Ryan because he has reached out to them and listened.

Ryan has pushed the conservative agenda, but also promised more than just red meat, including a comprehensive health care plan to replace Obamacare.

The 2016 presidential election has been anything but normal, with insults dominating policy discussions, a billionaire activating citizens who feel economically disenfranchised and a socialist seriously challenging the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination.

A brokered GOP presidential convention could be the perfect setting for a relief pitcher to trot in from the bullpen. Nobody has stronger credentials to become the party’s closer than Paul Ryan.

The Unraveling of Politics

Belligerence and brute force are supplanting politics as the way America addresses issues and Americans address each other.

Belligerence and brute force are supplanting politics as the way America addresses issues and Americans address each other.

The “cancer of our time” is the unraveling of politics and the emergence of belligerence and brute force as political principles, says New York Times columnist David Brooks.

"We live in a big, diverse society,” Brooks writes. " There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society – politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.”

Brooks cited Bernard Crick’s line from his book In Defence of Politics, "Politics is a way of ruling divided societies without undue violence.”

Politics has become increasingly unpopular. Voters disdain “politics as usual.” “Establishment politicians” are derided. Anger has become a campaign rallying cry.

Those who preach anti-politics, Brooks says, have turned to political outsiders, delegitimized compromise and trampled customs. “They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine,” he says. 

Politics at its best is messy, Brooks explains. "Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.”

What anti-politicians serve up are "soaring promises" that "raise ridiculous expectations.” Inexperienced anti-politicians thwart the political process, making government appear even more dysfunctional and generating ever-deepening voter cynicism. That disgust, in turn, leads to stronger demands for outsiders who are even more unbendable and politically reckless.

That downward spiral of politics breeds a pandemic that infects officeholders open to deal-making and compromise. They fear looking open to a deal will be a sign they have become part of the political establishment.

"We’re now at a point where the Senate says it won’t even hold hearings on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, in clear defiance of custom and the Constitution,” Brooks observes. "We’re now at a point in which politicians live in fear if they try to compromise and legislate. We’re now at a point in which normal political conversation has broken down. People feel unheard, which makes them shout even louder, which further destroys conversation.”

"And in walks Donald Trump. People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means."

Brooks says, "Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of 'I’d like to punch him in the face.’”

Politics is in retreat around the world and authoritarianism is on the rise, Brooks contends. For America, "The answer to Trump is politics. It’s acknowledging other people exist. It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements.”

Politics works, he says, when people "recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.”

That’s the beauty of politics, Brooks argues. "It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way.”