What does burying Richard III mean?

Late last week, England laid to rest King Richard III, whose legacy was, shall we say, mixed.

The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee was intensely displeased (with typical British understatement, she called him a “child-killing, wife-slaughtering tyrant who would be on trial if he weren’t 500 years dead”). Most of the current monarchy stayed away, since they officially call him a fraud. It seems Shakespeare did enough bad PR for the guy to keep him controversial. Having an average of one rebellion against your rule per year, even in a small sample size, doesn’t help with the sabermetricians, either.

Why did England turned out to watch? Are they that consumed by their monarchy? Maybe that’s not the whole story.

The bones exhumed from a parking lot belonged to a historically relevant human whom most of England had at least heard of. We also know that he was struck down in battle, so his last moments were probably fraught with anguish – and maybe the burden of regret, if half the stories about him are true.

There’s certainly a fascination with history, and burying Richard allows modern England to reach back and touch a part of their distant past. Of course there is a human element too: Richard was known, which forges a connection that isn’t there for the discovery of most other remains.

Regardless of what one thinks of Richard himself, no one wants the weight of their sins pulling them down across centuries. And certainly no one wants to be buried under a parking lot and forgotten. 

Burying Richard is a show of respect for the dead and for history, but really it’s for the English people; funerals are always for the comfort of living.

Critical Conversation: Mandatory voting wouldn’t do diddly

Last night, the good folks on Critical Conversations had me back to join in their discussion about all things voting.

One of the topics we got to was mandatory voting, which I said was a bad idea in my column this week ar Communities Digital News. It might drive up turnout numbers, but it won’t address the reasons why so many people don’t bother to show up on Election Day. The discussion actually reminded me of student government elections back at UMass, where people frequently won seats with a single write-in vote. Contested races where people cared enough to advertise and ask for votes had better turnout.

The same principles apply to down-ballot races for municipal and state offices. People don’t vote if they don’t care, and it’s the job of candidates and parties to convince them to care.

If you want higher turnout, we need better campaigns.

#RaceTogether RIP

One week after uniting America in laughter, Starbucks shut down its #RaceTogether effort.

The coffee giant’s white CEO thought it would be a good idea for its busy baristas to slow up the lines to “start a conversation” about race relations in America.

“Start a conversation”?

How tone deaf can you be? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead, protesters were sprayed with fire hoses, and churches were firebombed – but thank goodness Starbucks is here to finally “start the conversation,” right? As silly as the concept is, it’s also amazingly arrogant.

And the poor Starbucks employees were right in the crosshairs on this. Imagine being a 17-year-old, suburban, white barista trying to “start a conversation” with a 60-year-old black man, who might have had to deal with segregation, busing, intolerance, and prejudice. The normally inane Gawker had a pretty accurate postmortem upon finding the internal memo preparing Starbucks staff for the campaign:

Not only, if you are a Starbucks employee, must you make coffee all day with the efficiency of a machine while dealing with entitled dickhead customers. You must also—at least this week—watch a video of your CEO talking about race, print out a USA Today ad, hand out stickers, then remove the original ad and replace it with a special insert. All so that you can “help foster empathy and common understanding in the country” as “the country faces ongoing racial tension.”

If you’re lucky, you make $9 an hour. Sounds great.

The worst part about Starbucks’s campaign was the complete ignorance of what the customer wanted. As JC Penney has found, trying to change your customers’ preferences is usually a bad idea. No one like getting told what to thing – especially by someone you’re paying to feed you caffeine.

Starbucks may have had their heart in the right place, but someone really should have stood up to CEO Howard Schultz and told him this was ticketed for disaster.

Critical Conversations about Possible Democratic Nominees

Last night Lisa Ruth and I talked about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 chances on Communities Digital News’s Critical Conversations podcast – if you missed it live, you can check it out here.

One thing that doesn’t bode well for Clinton is the fresh Reuters poll that shows a 15-point decline for her among Democrats. If Clinton is challenged, she’s awfully vulnerable; the question is whether there are Democrats who are in a position and have a desire to take advantage.

Ranking the Democrats who would be President

My post this week at Communities Digital News talks about the top five contenders for the 2016 Democratic nomination in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s State Department email issues. Here’s how I would rank them in order of their chances of winning the nomination:

  1. Clinton
  2. Vice President Joe Biden
  3. Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  4. Martin O’Malley
  5. Al Gore

O’Malley has been polling behind Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders, but I think he is still more likely to win the nomination. O’Malley has a very narrow path to the nomination, but as a two-term governor he has shown that he can win elections and run a government. Webb is a one-term Senator who wouldn’t have even been that if not for YouTube; Sanders is a socialist who is clearly running to push ideas. If the top five are struck by lightning, the Democratic National Committee would be more likely to draft John Kerry than let either Webb or Sanders carry the banner for a cycle.

Al Gore is dead last because he probably won’t run, though he might dance with the notion of jumping in. If he did, his age and years of media experience would probably lead him to focus on an advertising-heavy campaign, like the one Rudy Giuliani tried to run in 2008. (Fun note: If it did shake out like that, his chances could rest with Florida… again.)

One factor that clouds the potential field is that Democrats might have a tough time in 2016 no matter who the nominee is. Biden, who will be 74 on Inauguration Day 2017, probably can’t wait until 2020 – Warren, who will be 67, might be able to. Her calculated risk may be that Clinton is the inevitable nominee but a probable loser in the general election. Acting like a good soldier now may win her Clinton’s favor and help for a 2020 challenge against an incumbent Republican President.

Kids doing stupid things

A University of California Irvine student committee continues to draw outrage – OUTRAGE! – for banning display of the American flag in a student government office.

The ban is silly, and the outrage is sillier still. Twitter users have posted names and pictures of the members of the committee. It’s overkill that only serves to endanger these students and does nothing to help them understand what’s wrong with what they did, or why people were offended. Isn’t college supposed to be about discussing and understanding other people’s views?

There are reasons these students voted the way they did. If you like the flag and think it should be displayed, wouldn’t it be worth a discussion? These students in particular may not be convinced, but understanding their thought process would help the next time you ran across someone with similar views. (Conversely, shouting them down probably doesn’t teach them that America is a welcoming mixing bowl of ideas. Rather, it enforces whatever notions they had of America being a country of ignorant patriotism on steroids.)

Either way, they aren’t doing this in a real-world environment. It’s college. It’s where you are supposed to do stupid things so you can figure out they’re stupid.

One has to wonder the same thing about the University of Oklahoma’s expelled the Sigma Alpha Epsilon cheerleaders. What have these kids learned about race relations? What have others learned about the motivations of a dozen or so men who would chant the n-word on a bus? Expulsion seems lazy, just like forcing the UC Irvine student government to re-hang their lobby flag.

In both cases, you’d like to give the people the benefit of the doubt and assume they just didn’t understand their actions. You might have a conversation with them and realize they meant everything they did; but you might learn they are legitimately contrite and eager to make amends.

After all, it’s college. Everybody’s supposed to learn something.

Leon Wolf is right: Benghazi has been over for months.

This week, RedState’s Leon Wolf opined that Benghazi investigations had run their course. He’s right – regardless of how important the scandal is or isn’t, it simply hasn’t stuck to Hillary Clinton.

What’s more, this should have been obvious a month and a half ago, when we were all getting ready for the Super Bowl. Remember the dust-up over whether the Patriots improperly deflated footballs?

All scandals need a name, and most called this one “Deflategate.” But some called it “Ballghazi.” Anecdotally, I heard that version most from New Englanders, who complained that the whole thing was a non-story.  The Washington Post noticed:

This could, of course, be a semantic weakness of “-ghazi” as an scandal label — it suggests a would-be scandal, not an actual one… In that sense, said [Dartmouth Professor Brendan] Nyhan, “-ghazi” functions in the same way as “-gate” — ironically, as a way to mock high-profile controversies as manufactured pseudo-scandals.

It was obvious early on that the -ghazi suffix had the same potential as the -gate suffix, but it hasn’t come to pass. Patriots’ likely cheating exposed that there isn’t a consensus that Benghazi is a legitimate scandal – or at least, what exactly the scandal is. There are apparently other albatrosses to hang around Hillary Clinton’s neck (or so I read), but this isn’t one of them.