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 .

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.

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.

Our Violent National Anthem

No one who has spent much time reading about America’s college campuses (campi?) will be surprised to learn that an institution has banned the singing or playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting contests.

Who was behind it? The anti-American crowd?  The Marxists?   The hippies?  The greens?  Cornel West?

Try the Mennonites:  Goshen College in Indiana, the school which banned the tune, is a Mennonite school with the motto “Healing the World, Peace by Peace.”  The rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air are too violent.

The anthem is being replaced at Goshen sporting events by “America the Beautiful,” so we can assume this isn’t really a commentary on the nation we all call home being a haven for imperialist capitalist pigs.  Part of what makes America beautiful is that each person has the right to express their patriotism as they see fit.  If the students and administrators at Goshen don’t want to play the national anthem before their Division 8 field hockey games, that’s fine.  Those of us who have never donated to or attended Goshen have no right to tell them otherwise.

On the other hand, as an educational institution, so one would hope Goshen’s choice is educated.  And the idea that the anthem is a violent song is a bit misguided.

Of course, the “Star-Spangled Banner” does use military imagery, because it was famously written during the War of 1812 as a poem by Francis Scott Key – specifically, during the bombardment of Baltimore.  That was a fight that was brought to American shores by then-mortal foe England; we were on defense for that one.

Though set during a battle scene, the theme of the poem – especially the part used for the national anthem – is perseverance through difficulty.  Turbulence and war may come, Key writes (much more eloquently), but American ideals of freedom and peace endure.

Delve a little further into the story behind the poem, and it becomes even more apparent that it is hardly a call to arms.  Remember that Key saw the flag over Fort McHenry from a British ship; he was aboard on a peaceful mission to argue for the release of a popular Maryland doctor.  To make his case, Key presented letters from British soldiers lauding the care they received from American doctors (and this was before the current mess that passes for a British health care system).  The British acquiesced, but held Key and the doctor on the prison ship because the bombing of Baltimore was about to begin; they didn’t want to release a prisoner only to blow them up minutes later.  In the midst of war, both Key and the British officers demonstrated some level of civility and mutual respect.

The fact most worth noting is that the folks America was fighting in the background of Key’s poem, the British, are our closest allies today.  Despite fighting two wars within  30 years, Americans and Britons are fast friends.  (Heck, we can’t even launch a television show without swiping the concept from them, and they have, what, four channels?)

So in an educated historical context, the “Star Spangled Banner” is a song about perseverance through adversity and, after your business on the battlefield is over, making peace with your enemies.

Hey, that sounds like a pretty good song to play before an amateur sporting contest.

Cross-posted at PunditLeague.us.

Finally, Larry David can rest easy

Far be it from me to cast aspersions on a man in a cape, but I think Larry David’s New York Times column “supporting” the extension of the current tax rates might have been facetious.  (For David, of course, a higher tax rate would have minimal impact thanks to the residual checks that keep rolling in every time a rerun of Seinfeld is replayed.)

Well, now David and other folks who feel like they are earning too much can give back thanks to GiveItBackForJobs.org.  The site helps you calculate how much the government is allowing you to keep thanks to the extended tax rates, and lets you donate that money to a charity:

Americans who have the means should refuse to surrender to Senate Republicans. We should act, together, to give back our Bush tax cuts, by making donations to organizations that promote fairness, economic growth, and a vibrant middle class. GiveItBackforJobs enables joint action, by all visitors to this site, to redirect our Bush tax cuts to the wise and just programs that our government would promote if it had not been hijacked. As more and more Americans do so, GiveItBackforJobs will begin to replicate good government policy, outside the government and free from the grip of Senate Republicans.

You tell ’em!

Digging around the site, one thing stuck out to me (and also to the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto): the organizers are all Ivy Leaguers, either professors or graduate students.  Clearly, these are smart people who understand that the economy will only grow if the people who are getting these tax cuts do something with the money they receive.

As a humble, state-educated supporter of their efforts, I submit the following suggestions for how the super-rich fat cats can help give back their tax cuts to create jobs and/or advance the social good:

1.  If they own a business, hire more people for crying out loud!

2.  Spend money on goods and services.  This will create more jobs for the people who produce them.

3.  Whatever you do, don’t give your money to some willy-nilly, inefficient group with poor oversight and accountability that wastes billions upon billions of dollars each year.

March Madness, April sanity, and managing expectations

The NCAA college basketball tournament is the biggest sporting event of the year, so no one can blame the NCAA for wanting to cram more teams into their biggest cash cow.  Still, analysts seemed to worry that the 96-team tournament idea that had been floating around for the last month was overkill – even if the decision seemed imminent.

Whether intentional or not, the 96-team idea made yesterday’s announcement that the tournament would add three extra teams much more palatable.

It’s a good lesson in managing expectations; without that original 96-team plan, the move to 68 might have been perceived as the first step toward an ever-expanding format and draw a healthy round of criticism itself.  The alternative to the 68-team tournament that will probably be in effect next year is now the theoretical 96-team format, rather than the 65-team format we’ve enjoyed since 2001.

(None of this, of course, is going to help me pick a bracket that stays in contention in any office pool past the second round.)

Crowdsourcing commencement

My former employer, the Leadership Institute, is collecting information on college commencement speakers through its Campus Reform blog.  And, instead of emailing their contacts and scanning the internet looking for that information (as we used to do back in my day) they’re relying on the wisdom of crowds to help them fill in information.  Users who don’t see their school or alma mater on the list can email the information, presumably to LI Worldwide Headquarters in Arlington, Va.

The list, predictably, shows a leftward bias, so LI further helps out by sharing tips on how to take action and provide a counter to the speakers.

Hopefully LI’s call to action will result in student-filmed user videos of the commencement speeches themselves.  Most of the big speakers – such as President Obama and other national politicians – will have their comments on C-SPAN, of course, but that won’t be the case for everyone.  Wouldn’t you be interested to see the things discussed during commencement season?

I thought the people against health care overhauls were the aggressive ones

Earlier this week, the Leadership Institute’s Campus Reform blog told the tale of a conservative student group at Slippery Rock University running afoul of the campus librarian.  (Seriously.)

Apparently, the story got even jucier after the cops were called:

Mr. Tramdack claimed, to wit: “I have a copyright on everything I say and do. If you are willing to sell me the copyright, if you are willing to endorse that I own the copyright to this video, I will license it to you for $50,000. If I write a shopping list that says toilet paper to go to the supermarket tonight, that’s copyrighted. You need to learn about copyright laws…You have a potential libel suit coming down on you.”

Mr. Tramdack’s outburst demonstrates not only a stunning lack of professionalism but a disturbingly inaccurate understanding of copyright for a campus library director.

One more reason it’s always good to have a video camera nearby.

(This would have been discussed earlier, but it’s been a busy week…)

Texans can be so creative

The Texas A&M chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas found a new way to illustrate what mandated health insurance.  According to CampusReform, they have launched an online petition to oppose the “Health Care Draft.”

Their basic message is good because it makes the health care debate more personal for each individual.  The health care debate takes on a different meaning when the discussion isn’t about insuring everybody but about the fines and jail time you could serve for not having health insurance.

My work alma mater and school alma mater collide

campusreformThe Leadership Institute (my former employer) will launch a new website, CampusReform.org, officially next week – but it’s live now if you want to take a look.

One of the challenges LI – or any similar organization – has always faced in campus outreach is connecting with interested students; though interested students are always out there, colleges represent fairly cloistered environments.  Previously, finding students to get involved in the conservative movement often meant physically going to campuses, setting up membership tables, and recruiting people face to face.  Considering that America has well over 2,000 four-year colleges, that method becomes a tedious (and expensive) fishing expedition.

Whether your business is starting conservative groups or selling dictionaries door-to-door, the best prospects are usually referrals or the potential customers who seek you out.  By establishing a broad web presence, LI is embracing that model of expansion.  CampusReform mobilizes student activists – rather than Washington, D.C.-based representatives – to strengthen the conservative movement in higher education.  It’s strategically smart and just good business.

There’s another benefit that CampusReform offers down the road, after it establishes an audience among college students: alumni relations.  With CampusReform, if I want to see what’s going on with the University of Massachusetts, I am just a click away.  If LI wanted to, they could create a fundraising option that would allow their donors to give directly to campuses and groups they care about.  (And if they wanted to get really advanced, LI could empower individual donors to create campaigns and recruit others to give money, as well.)

As a campus outreach effort, Campus Reform is a more effective conduit between interested students and the people trying to recruit them.  Its potential is greater: to function as a network connecting people trying to break into conservative politics with those in a position to help.