Strategic Negativity (or, Why the “Latte Salute” Fizzled)

Moral outrage is the greatest motivating force in politics, according to my former boss Morton Blackwell. When you can stoke passionate disapproval over something your opponent does, you’re on your way to winning an issue.

The problem is that people don’t get mad as hell over everything, so shooting for moral outrage can make you look silly. Last week served up an excellent example of just that when the White House thought it was a good idea to drop a video of President Barack Obama absent-mindedly saluting Marines without putting his coffee cup down.

Military supporters were understandably upset, and conservative commentators decried the President’s seeming indifference to the troops. Their shrill and immediate protests backfired; Jon Stewart and MSNBC mocked the response to such a trivial matter. The story went away within two days. And if you are part of the majority of America that is not steeped in the tradition and customs of the military, you might also wonder why conservatives’ panties were bunched so.

In this case, moral outrage didn’t catch on with the general public.  But outrage isn’t the only way to score points against an opponent. Ridicule works, too.

Jokes about President Obama having mentally checked out from his second term a couple years early are becoming a staple of late night monologues. Left alone, the Latte Salute would have given them another punchline to the same joke. Instead of wringing hands over the President’s salute being disrespectful, why not make fun of him for looking like a guy whose weekend starts at 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon?

The foundation for the current disapproval of the President stems from issues which do deserve outrage. For starters, people are losing their health insurance or being forced to pay more for less; policies meant to elevate the poor are perpetuating poverty; and our foreign policy is indecisive and poorly informed. It would be easier to mobilize voter unrest on those issues if people have an image of a detached President. Smart jokes about Obama’s careless, tone-deaf salute could have helped paint that picture.

Buck Showalter ended Derek Jeter’s career

Derek Jeter plays his last home game Thursday night, with his first major league manager, Buck Showalter, in the opposing dugout. Plenty of people will point out that Showalter was Jeter’s first big league manager back in 1995, but few appreciate how Showalter has helped run Jeter out of The Show.

Showalter took over the Orioles in 2010. After a down year in 2011, the 2012 Orioles gave the Yankees a run for their money in the final month of 2012. It took New York until the final game of the season to clinch the division. Joe Girardi had to pencil Jeter into the lineup every day, despite the fact that he was dealing with a bone bruise in his ankle. The Orioles pushed the Yankees for 162 games, then pushed them again in a thrilling, five-game ALDS.

It took New York167 games to finally get past Baltimore. In Game 168, Jeter’s ankle famously gave out:

[Yankees GM Brian] Cashman said that himself, Girardi, [trainer Steve] Donahue and Jeter’s former manager, Joe Torre, as well as Reggie Jackson and Tino Martinez were all in the room when Jeter heard he was done for the playoffs.

” ‘It’s something you can’t play through.’ That’s something Doc had to emphasize, because Derek is as tough as they come,” Cashman said.

(Sidebar: It took six people – including two Hall of Famers – plus a doctor, to tell Derek Jeter: “No, sorry, Derek, after getting dragged off the field in Game 1 because your leg snapped, you will not play in Game 2.”)

After a season of rehab and re-injuries, Jeter announced his retirement after one more season. It was bound to happen eventually, but the lengthy effort to get back on the field let him know it was time to go.

This year Orioles are going to have no worse than the second-best record in the American League, and can boast three straight winning seasons.

Those are the Orioles, by the way. That may not seem so odd now, but the team hadn’t posted a winning record since the days of Cal Ripken and Armando Benitez. Their last postseason team had a rotation fronted by Mike Mussina and Jimmy Key (before and after the Yankees had them, respectively) and also had Scott Kamieniecki as another starter. Don’t remember Scott Kamieniecki? Neither does anyone else. Camden Yards was perennially a second home field for Red Sox and Yankees fans, and the Orioles were usually kind enough hosts not to put up too much of a fight. They were a lost franchise stuck in a loop of mediocrity like Sidney Ponson at a buffet an hour after the lunch rush.

Then came Buck Showalter, who scuffled with Tony LaRussa in his first year as Yankee Manager and hasn’t lost his fighting spirit yet.  In inspiring that in his new team, he pushed his old team (and his old player) more than they had been pushed in some time.

In 1995, Showalter wrote out the first major league lineup card that included Derek Jeter’s name (a year earlier than the Yankees expected thanks to a rash of middle infield injuries). Twenty seasons later, Showalter had a big hand in hastening Jeter’s retirement.

[Washington's NFL team]‘s name will definitely change

This promo for South Park’s 18th season – really? 18? – debuted yesterday during the Eagles/Redskins game:

Twenty years ago, calls for the Redskins to change their name could have been dismissed as a fringe cause for politically correctness. Slowly, those calls have echoed by more mainstream liberals who previously might have cared as much or who might dismissed questions about a sports team as unimportant.

But losing South Park? That’s a good sign that the momentum for a name change has spilled over from a left-wing niche issue and into the mainstream. Dan Snyder may not like it (or may intend to use it as a bargaining chip in negotiations for a newer new stadium), but the Redskins team name probably has less than a decade left.

The coming Republican bloodbath?

Stu Rothenberg has joined the chorus of prognosticators predicting Republicans will win the Senate majority in November. In many ways, that’s irrelevant because of three incumbent governors.  Polls show tight races for Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, and Rick Snyder in Michigan; Sam Brownback in Kansas isn’t blowing the doors off his challenger, either.

The importance of these seats goes beyond the fact that the states tend to be close in Presidential years; in his own way, each of the four governors has enacted reforms that make a real-world case for conservative policies. The mantra that “Republicans have to be FOR something!” is as tired as it is true. Each of these incumbents has enacted policies that have improved their respective states. Losses in any one state could wash away years of real progress, and it might make Republicans in other states suddenly reticent to push a reform agenda.

There are other conservative reformers out there who either aren’t up for reelection this year or who don’t have a serious opponent. These tight races will be a good electoral test for policies which have, so far, been effective. That means even more to the Republican Party than who runs the Senate in 2015.

(In the interest of disclosure, the firm I work for has done work for Walker, Scott, and Snyder and for party committees in the respective states – but as should be patently obvious, no inside information was used in linking to thsoe publicly available polls.)

Scott Brown should double down on his “gaffe”

Look and what that crazy Scott Brown said last week: 

Here’s the thing, folks say, what are you going to do to create jobs? I am not going to create one job, it is not my job to create jobs. It’s yours. My job is to make sure that government stays out of your way so that you can actually grow and expand.

The American Prospect called it a “horrible gaffe and a few left-wing outlets are trying to make some hay out of it. They may want to think twice about giving Brown’s comments more oxygen. Polls from the past few months show that the American public is gaining confidence in the business world and losing confidence in the institutions of government

Ethereal opinions are one thing, the campaign trail is another. This campaign trail cuts through New Hampshire – a state whose license plates read “Live Free or Die.” Something tells me those voters might respond well to a candidate who can articulately state that yes, government’s power has limitations.

There is not one phrase of Brown’s quote that is damning. In fact, it may be helpful in wooing independents and Republicans disillusioned with the recent four-way primary.

“No doubt someone’s preparing an ad right now based on the quote,” opines the American Prospect. That’s for sure – and it should be someone working for Scott Brown.


IT’S A TRAP: Obama delays executive action on immigration

There won’t be any executive action on immigration policy before the November elections, according to President Barack Obama. Nationally, the issue has looked like a loser for Democrats, so it seems like a pretty obvious move.  Delaying action protects Democrats from being saddled with yet another unpopular Obama policy.  But as one of the great military leaders of our time said, “It’s a trap!”

For Democrats running in tough states where independents can be persuaded (and weak Republicans can be persuaded to stay home) based on immigration issues, this move is exactly what it looks like. But it also gives GOP candidates a false gift: the ability to claim that the looming threat of mass amnesty of illegal immigrants looms over the nation. That’s not a bad issue – for now. But remember that in 2002 and 2004, protecting state-sponsored traditional marriage was a good issue for Republicans; by 2012 the issue had reversed. In addition to the light cover offered to 2014 Democrats, Obama’s immigration delay paves the way for future Democrats to point to 2014 GOP rhetoric as evidence of racism. All it would take is for one candidate to Mourdock up a debate by talking about “the Mexican menace at our border” or some such crap.  It could also work as a shorter-term micro-issue: Democrats could identify pro-immigration pockets of both parties and drum up the issue as an example of Congressional intransigence. It wouldn’t be a stretch with the data infrastructure that’s already in place.

The messaging on this issue, as with all issues, has to be nuanced; the do-nothing message cuts both ways. Immigration could be one more issue on which the President has chosen not to lead. And that opens the door for campaign-trail discussions about new solutions that use the best of Republican and Democrat ideas – and casts aside the worst ideas, like wholesale amnesty or the President’s refusal to compromise on anything. The real opportunity for Republicans on immigration is to re-orient public positioning on the issue for 2014 and beyond.



The NRSC’s Horrible, Horrible Video Game

The NRSC released Mission Majority this week, a simple online game with an 8-bit look that is just absolutely awful.

The game follows the adventures of an elephant named Giopi – like GOP, get it? – who is collecting keys and flipping switches to help the Republican party take back the Senate.  It’s obviously pure click bait, intended to draw in people and maybe squeeze out a donation.  It is kind of fun to play if you’re looking to waste some time at work.

The real problem is that the NRSC is not a video game company, so making a fun little time-waster isn’t enough. With 64 days to go until Election Day, everything released by a party committee has to have a message. Giopi’s mission is, as the game suggests, winning back the majority of the US Senate.  If you beat the game, you get a congratulatory note about how taking back the Senate will mean the end of the “red tape” and “regulations” holding America back.

“Red tape?” “Regulations?” Is that the compelling case the GOP is making to American voters this year?

People have lost their health coverage or been forced to pay more. Hourly workers are seeing their shifts cut short because the money isn’t there to pay them. Middle East terrorists are operating with no fear of retribution.

Maybe it’s just a game, but the NRSC’s tone deafnesses and inability to verbalize what they can offer the electorate in such an easy setting should be unsettling to anyone thinking about cracking their wallet open.