Politics and Grassroots

What if Obamacare HAD been repealed?

Even with Russian investigation news sucking up oxygen during the last half of the week, Republicans have egg on their faces after swinging and missing on so-called “Obamacare repeal.” After seven years of campaigning on health care, the GOP had nothing to offer on health care.

But can you imagine if they had passed a plan? Over at Medium I point out that the now-endless campaign cycle means the histrionics would have started before President Trump had finished signing the new bill. It would have meant an ugly few years of Democrats essentially accusing Republicans of murder. I bet the GOP wasn’t ready for it. They’re probably lucky the bill failed.

Culture, media, Politics and Grassroots

The benefit of fanboys and fangirls

Last week I posted something on Medium about how Walt Disney World blows other theme parks away – not by being the best theme park, but by telling the best stories. Toward the end, I made a passing reference to Disney re-invigorating the Star Wars franchise.

Maybe that comes off like a dig at George Lucas (not like he would care). It’s actually pretty common for a good media franchise or a political movement to enjoy success beyond its originator.

This year marks the Star Wars franchise’s 40th anniversary. It’s easy to pretend like that has been four decades of uninterrupted cultural significance. That isn’t the case. Sure, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Star Wars built an empire (ironic) of movies and merchandise. By the late 1980’s, though, the franchise flagged; Star Wars looked to have run its course. Something else would surely dominate the 1990s, the 2000s, the 2010s.

Then came Timothy Zahn’s book, Heir to the Empire – the first of three books which would form the closest thing to a sequel trilogy until, well,  2015 kicked off a sequel trilogy. Zahn invented characters, planets, and concepts that felt at once new and wholly consistent with the original movies.

People forget just how fringe Star Wars was circa 1990. Zahn’s novels set the foundation for a library of books, comics, video games, and other media that made Star Wars a marketable commodity again.

All of this was done with the guidance of creator George Lucas – but, notably, without his direct control. That was before the dark times. Before the prequels.

Years after that unsatisfying, CGI-heavy 1999-2005 prequel trilogy, Lucas again turned over the keys – this time to Disney. And it all happened again. The Force Awakens and Rogue One were box office hits. The Last Jedi will be released this coming December, but not before fans examine each trailer release the way Moon landing conspiracy theorists watch video of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bouncing around in that southern California sound stage.

The Star Wars franchise is invigorated again and, just as in the 1990s, someone else is leading the charge.

It isn’t surprising that Star Wars fans connect better with the works of fellow fans.  Translating this to another industry: What images spring to mind when you think of Barack Obama’s historic 2008 campaign? Maybe Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” graphic or the “Yes We Can” video. Neither was produced by the campaign itself, though the campaign was happy (and smart) to reap the benefits of their influence.

Why does this happen?  Here’s a theory: Fans have enough detachment to see what makes their obsession interesting. George Lucas might have built an excellent story explaining Darth Vader’s motivations for his descent into evil; he forgot how much the likable characters, practical special effects, and witty dialogue had to do with drawing viewers in. Obama’s 2008 campaign was known for it’s “hope and change” rhetoric. The campaign spoke about “change,” but it was the supporters who started talking about “hope.”

 

 

media, Politics and Grassroots, Sports

Hawk Harrelson: The Donald Trump of Sportscasting (in a good way)

On LinkedIn, I just put up a post about retiring White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson, and what those in political communications can learn from him.

When I was 17, my birthday gift was the Major League Baseball package on Extra Innings. This was before the late-1990s Yankees dynasty and the run of World Series contenders that stretched into the early 2010s. It was also before YouTube, and I had never lived in an area where the local cable company carried WGN out of Chicago.

So when the Yankees played the White Sox that year and I first heard Harrelson calling a game, I wanted to throw things at the TV.

He was unprofessional. He openly rooted for the White Sox. He pathetically used terms like “us” and “we” as if he were part of the team and not just their announcer. It was like they let a fan into the booth.

More than two decades later, I appreciate Harrelson a little more. He’s part of a generation of sportscasters who got into the game exactly as the fans do. After all, it’s only a game; maybe a fan in the booth isn’t such a bad thing. (And yes, maybe it helped that shortly after my introduction to Harrelson, the powerhouse White Sox of the early 1990s became less dangerous while the Yankees’ run of excellence started.)

He wasn’t that much different than the likes of Phil Rizzuto, Harry Caray, and the Seattle Mariners’ Dave Niehaus, all of whom managed to echo the passion of the fans without taking the game (or themselves) too seriously.

Today, the sports media industry seems to reward bland, interchangeable announcers, When he hangs it up after 2018, Hawk Harrelson will be missed.

Politics and Grassroots

Shattered-freude

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign has become predictably popular inside the Beltway. But in a piece over at Medium, I argue that it isn’t for the right reasons.

Campaign 2016 taught plenty of lessons to those who were willing to listen. The major news media could have learned that their reporting was rightfully distrusted. Democrats could have learned that talking about opponents in caustic, derogatory terms assigned more passion to politics than most people feel. Republicans could have learned that playing to the base means more than simply checking ideological boxes.

The Medium piece picks on Republicans with a shallow treatment of Shattered – at least, those reading it to relive the upset of election night, watching Hillary Clinton play Charlie Brown as America yanks the football away. They aren’t the only ones who watched a historic upset but failed to learn anything.

Politics and Grassroots

The most convince-able President in recent memory

Earlier this week, I posted a piece on LinkedIn discussing how the failed Republican health care push showed how much President Donald Trump is willing to let others handle the details for even his biggest policy goals.

This business in Syria makes that even more obvious.

President Trump’s shift on Syria – from isolationist to hawk – isn’t something typically seen of politicians. But it tracks pretty closely with the way plenty of Americans view the situation. It also fits with his over-arching message of renewing the perception of America’s strength on the international stage, even if the specific policy (military involvement in Syria) runs against what he has previously advocated.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing. Cynics will note – correctly – that such willingness to change course suggests a President who lacks grounding in a set of deeply held core beliefs. We typically long for elected leaders who take bold stands and stick to their guns.

Look at the Senate this past week to see how those qualities don’t always work out as planned.

But there is a positive side to having an opportunistic deal maker in the big chair. It means that if you can make your case for your cause – regardless of party or philosophical lines – you might just win an ally.

First with healthcare, and now with Syria, President Trump is showing he’s more pragmatist than ideologue. Will anyone take advantage?

 

 

 

 

media, Politics and Grassroots

Dumb politics

Last week the Boston Globe quoted me in their story about young conservative activists (despite the fact that it has been more than a decade since I organized campuses for the Leadership Institute). Reporter Dugan Arnett picked just about the perfect quote to sum up our discussion:

“There are always people who are going to say, ‘This is my ticket; I’m going to make sure my campus burns down, I’m going to be on Fox News a bunch, and that’s going to be my path to the spotlight,’ ” says Jim Eltringham, formerly of the Leadership Institute and currently a Republican campaign consultant. “The problem is: That’s a spotlight that burns out quick.”

Our discussion centered on how some campus activists welcomed controversy for controversy’s sake, provoking outrage on purpose to gain attention with little substance behind the actions. It seems like a lesson some in Washington need to learn, too: In a piece on Medium, I argue that there’s a direct link between this type of superficiality and last week’s Republican failure on health care .

Politics and Grassroots, Sports

Spike Lee is wrong about Colin Kaepernick… for now

Over the weekend, Capital One spokesman, Reggie Miller antagonist, and filmmaker Spike Lee mused publicly about quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains unsigned in a busy NFL free agency period. “How Is It That There Are 32 NFL Teams And Kap Is Still A Free Agent?” Lee wrote in a creatively capitalized post-brunch Instagram post, poetically implying that Kaepernick is considered radioactive for his race and outspoken politics.

He might be right, but it’s too early to say. Right now, NFL teams fall into four broad tiers in terms of quarterbacks:

  1. Teams who have their quarterback for next year, and are content with that person.
  2. Teams that are pretty sure they have a quarterback for next year but have some doubts about injury or effectiveness. An example here might be the Bills, who are still feeling out what they have in Tyrod Taylor, or the Steelers, who are rightly concerned about the getting-up-there Ben Roethlisberger missing a few games.
  3. Teams with a nominal starter who would probably upgrade if they could.
  4. Teams with no clear plan at quarterback. There are really only two teams here, and ironically they are the two who made the biggest offseason trade of a quarterback so far: the Browns and the Texans.

Looking at these groupings, the market gets tough for Kaepernick. He’s only 29 and has a Super Bowl run under his belt; his struggles in the years since that run mean he isn’t a clear upgrade over most established or nominal starters. If you are an NFL general manager, looking for an extra arm to throw in camp or a capable backup, there will be plenty of options as training camp approaches. There’s no need to sign a guy like Kaepernick yet.

The only market for him now are teams looking for a high-upside fallback option who would definitely start the season on the bench. For that reason, it might be in Kaepernick’s better interests to wait. If the Houston Texans can’t get Tony Romo, or the Raiders find Derek Carr isn’t all the way back from injury, or the Vikings’ Sam Bradford gets hurt in minicamp, Kaepernick might find himself in a better situation than becoming the next Browns quarterback whose career gets sacked into oblivion.

On the other hand, as training camps get closer and rosters take shape, someone really ought to sign Kaepernick, baggage and all. If the season kicks off and finds Kaepernick in a Tim Tebow-esque purgatory, we might find that Lee was right all along.

This assumes, of course, that Kaepernick wants to sign. He might find it more amenable to his long term health to use his experience as a social commenter and provocateur to craft a career more in the mold of his pal Spike Lee.