Obama doesn’t have to go to Nancy Reagan’s funeral, but I wish he would

Vice Presidents are supposed to be U.S. Government’s designated funeral attendee. There’s no reason President Obama should feel obligated spend his time there. The demands that he drop everything to pay respects to Nancy Reagan, and before that Justice Antonin Scalia, are shrill and senseless. They delegitimize the numerous valid criticisms of the President.

With all that said, don’t you wish he had gone?

After winning the 2008 campaign with soaring rhetoric of ushering in a new era of cooperation in Washington, Obama promptly reminded Congressional Republicans, “I won” when they expressed concern over his policies. His reelection was far from a rousing national endorsement; his campaign’s groundbreaking GOTV efforts squeezed every ounce of support from an electorate with mixed feelings.

This is the current President, but it could just as easily have been our former President. The left despised George W. Bush just as the right despises Obama, and W similarly squeaked through a close reelection relying on base voters. The man who claimed he was “a uniter, not a divider” saw a more fractured Washington in his rear view mirror when he left office than the one he had found eight years prior.

It adds up to 16 years of acidic national politics, and the choices for 2016 don’t appear likely to end the cycle.

With his days in the White House slipping into history, a warm gesture by the President to the other side would offer some glimpse of the idealistic young Senator we got to know in 2008 – and, perhaps, bandage some of the wounds. Scalia was beloved by thinking conservatives; Reagan was the First Lady to the man who, as more time passes, may prove to be the last pinnacle of post-World War II Republican Party success. Showing up at these funerals would have symbolized more than condolences; it would clearly tell the other side, “Hey, nothing personal and no hard feelings.” President Obama probably didn’t understand the significance of these two figures to his opponents across the aisle; otherwise he might have rethought his schedule.

(From a calculating, partisan perspective, it would also give the digital cheerleaders and opinion leaders within his base some motivation. “Look how magnanimous our Dear Leader is,” they could crow on Twitter.)

With eight years of sins on his record and almost two decades of political acrimony as a backdrop, surely these overtures would be rejected by some and ignored by still more. That doesn’t make them any less right. Eight years later, it would be nice for the President to go the extra mile and stand up for real change – especially because he doesn’t have to.

Crummy Little Podcast Episode 7: Patricia Simpson

In college, I had a friend named Asif. Everyone knew him. So many people knew him that “Hey, do you know Asif?” became a conversation starter. In fact, five years after I got to D.C., playing softball with the local UMass Alumni group, I still ran into people who knew Asif.

Patti Simpson, this week’s guest on the Crummy Little Podcast, is the Asif of the conservative and Republican-leaning circles.

(Asif was and is a big Democrat, so if he sees this he’ll probably be upset. Whatever, he lives in Texas. If he comes after me… well, it will be good to see him, it’s been a while.)

Why Bankrupting America’s New Web Series Actually Works

This week, Bankrupting America launched “The Government,” a new web series this week parodying both government spending and The Office.  Unlike many attempts at politically themed humor, it actually works.

There are some over-the-top spots – the introduction of the (probably?) fictional Department of Every Bureaucratic Transaction comes to mind – but nothing that detracts from the main joke.  What makes the video click is its natural dialogue, solid acting, identifiable characters, and subtle jokes (such as the employees walking around in the background holding golden coffee mugs with oven mitts).

In other words, structurally, it entertains for the same reasons The Office did, which means it’s a great approach to this type of communication.  If future episodes hit these same beats (and patch up some of the rough spots), Bankrupting America will have a pretty powerful messaging device on its hands.

Gallup-ping away from the right?

Gallup charts a declining percentage of Americans self-identifying as conservative, which suggests bad things ahead for the GOP.  Just 41% of Americans consider themselves economic conservatives, and 33% identify as social conservatives.  Both of those figures are down from 2010 numbers, and the results seem to give weight to comments like those of Olympia Snowe about the Republican Party’s narrow appeal.

While this is a speed bump for the GOP, it really measures failure of the conservative movement.  The constellation of groups churning out candidates and activists has not done a good enough job preparing them to appeal to non-conservatives.  The most effective leaders are those who can talk to the middle from the edge – it’s what makes President Obama such a great politician.  Going a step further: There’s no such thing as “too conservative to win” (or “too liberal to win”) a general election.  There’s such a thing as “too crazy to win,” and there’s definitely such a thing as “too stupid to win.”

If fewer people self-identify as “conservative,” then Republican politicians will have to stop using it as a buzzword.  That’s a smart thing to do, anyway.  Then it’s up to the conservative movement to articulate policy positions in a way that sounds reasonable to non-conservatives.

It would be more illuminating to see the specifics.  For instance, Gallup says that Americans remain suspect of government; the IRS suffering a predictable and precipitous dip.  Those are both “economic conservative” positions, but that doesn’t mean the respondents would self-identify as such.  And that could fuel exactly the type of issue-specific messaging that conservatives and Republicans can use to expand their influence – even if they don’t expand their brand.


CPAC is bigger than ever – and largely irrelevant

Picture it: Arlington, Va., 2002.   It’s my first CPAC, and it’s pretty much the same as most of the CPAC’s before it, based on what I could gather.  There’s a slate of speakers and panel discussions, but I spend most of my time in exhibit hall, working the table for my then-employer, the Leadership Institute.  Most of the attendees are college students, and a fair amount from my territory in the Northeast, so I see plenty of people I know and do business with.  My colleagues at LI, who generally work with non-college students, grouse that CPAC is a waste of their time.

On Friday, I crashed CPAC.  There were slates of speakers and panels, but also breakout sessions, receptions in hotel suites for people pushing products, and a lot more adults in massive conference center which housed the conference.  (I know college students are technically adults, but you know what I mean.)  The speeches, once the fodder for CSPAN’s early morning programming, are now covered live and the political press has been paying astute attention.

The conference which was once a trade association for the conservative movement has grown into… well, pretty much the same thing with more people and more media coverage.

It’s become more notorious in recent years for who isn’t there than for who is, and liberal blogger-activists show up with their pocket cameras trying to be the next Twitter star.  Republican consultants – including both establishment Republican consultants and the Republican consultants who bash establishment Republican consultants – lurk in the wings trying to drum up business.  (That was my role on Friday.)  Rarely is anything of substance said.

This may sound like a criticism of CPAC, but it sure isn’t.  Political activists of any stripe care about something that very few other people really care about.  That’s why online communities like Facebook and Twitter were so readily adopted by politicos.  There’s a real value in seeing and meeting people face-to-face who are mostly like minded and exchanging ideas.  There’s a value in hearing rah-rah speeches about your cause that reaffirm your commitment, especially since most not-political folks will probably think you ought to be committed.

There weren’t major policy discussions.  There was a fair amount of introspection on campaign tactics, but nothing groundbreaking that hasn’t been said before.  Some people in the audiences or walking around exhibit hall probably said stupid or silly things, but the people up on stage kept it pretty vanilla.  It’s a great and fun networking opportunity if you are in center-right politics, but precious little more than that.

Let’s not bill CPAC as a ComiCon for the conservative movement, which is what most media outlets seem to want.  The attention paid to the event doesn’t merit its importance.  Those who make their food money covering politics ought to know that.

Not just what it says, but where

Michael Turk had a great post on the center-right’s tech/data gap yesterday – but the best part was where he wrote it, in the American Spectator.

Spoiler alert: Turk warned that investing in new technology is not enough, that Republicans need smart people thinking about human behavior and voting patterns as well.  Good call: It’s not enough to figure out how people are interacting with a campaign, since most people in their right mind run away from political communication.  There’s an academic component in figuring out how to reach these people and keep them from running.  (Unless you use glue traps, of course, but there’s some questionable legality there.)

Ok, the right needs thinkers.  Where do they come from?  Political parties are good for resources, but not always innovation.  Remember that while much of the Obama infrastructure has been bequeathed unto the Democrat National Committee, it was the Obama campaign that built all the new toys.  Plus, if the eggheads don’t show immediate dividends, Republican candidates will wonder why the national party money that could be helping them win air wars is being spent to pay Lewis Skolnick.

The best spot for a bunch of data nerds is somewhere in the non-profit universe – whether it’s with an educational foundation like Heritage, an activist group like Americans for Prosperity or FreedomWorks, or a super PAC like American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS/Conservative Victory/Crossroads: The Next Generation.  With no donation limits, these groups can make a much better case to the big-ticket donors they’ll need to get the ball rolling.  Since the checks can be bigger, it’ll take fewer of them.

Conservative movement non-profits could be better positioned to start the process.  That makes The American Spectator a pretty good place to raise the issue.