The First Black President

Here’s a real “check your privilege” moment. Did you know that, in 1971, Bill White became the first black play-by-play announcer in sports when he took to the mic for the New York Yankees? It took until 1971 for that to happen.

It makes sense when you think about it: Teams tend to hire former athletes as their sportscasters, and until 1947 there weren’t any black baseball players. So seeing a black sportscaster 24 years later seems right – except, of course, that neither of those lines should never have existed in the first place.

Still, I had no idea that White was so significant until I read this post on The Undefeated. (I just knew him as Phil Rizzuto’s former broadcast partner.) The piece uses White’s legacy to point out how the Barack Obama Presidency has changed the perception about further color barriers: Obama has made those barriers temporary. If a black person can be President, we assume will will be the “first black [INSERT ANYTHING HERE]” at some point. Time, more than prejudice, is the enemy now.

For whatever you think about now-ex-President Barack Obama (I have some opinions), that legacy alone means something. As a white guy, I can’t even fully appreciate it myself; just as I took for granted growing up hearing Joe Morgan and Ken Singleton call baseball games. When I was young, my parents told me that if I tried hard enough, I could do or be whatever I wanted. It’s hard to imagine a parent having to tell their child the opposite – that no matter how good you are, some doors will be closed. Whether it was always true or not, that was a legitimate feeling in communities of color.

Among the debates surrounding the legacy of our 44th President, this accomplishment is worth celebrating. It’s sad that there was once a color barrier on the baseball field, or in the broadcast booth, or any number of other places. Now, hopefully, we can know there will never be a time like that again.


Why Obama’s “On the Ballot” remark was secretly genius.

About ten days ago, President Barack Obama seemed like he had decided to write political ads for Republicans by declaring that his “policies are on the ballot.” Republicans crowed and Democrats moaned that it was a mistake destined to hurt Democratic candidates, who are running away from the president with cartoonish urgency.

The last few days have indeed been poor for Democrats, but that’s largely the doing of a set of candidates who either forgot how to talk or who looked at their wheelchair-bound opponent with the suspicious disdain of Walter Sobchak. That all this followed the President’s comments is largely coincidence. Their undisciplined candidates have proven as adept at self-destruction as Republican candidates have been in the previous three election cycles.

Throw in an unfavorable issue environment, and 2012 is an election that could get away from Democrats. But as a recent Gallup poll shows, Republican voters aren’t geeked for November 4 like they were in 2010:


In other words, Republican gains in 2014 will be as much or more the result of disillusionment and lethargy on the left as it is about excitement on the right. Two years ago, these voters were excited and motivated – which is why Romney winning the supposedly vital “independent vote” didn’t help him at all.

Will independent voters be turned off by Obama’s policies being on the ballot? Maybe, but if you’re the Democrats, who cares? You won without them in 2012, and the only way to win in 2014 is to drag out the people who thought it was so important to elect and reelect the President.

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.

Obama blames GOP extremism for not appreciating how brilliant he is

Our American President mused in a New York Times interview that the series of speedbumps that have knocked him off course for the past five to six years has a lot to do with the extremists he faces in the other party: 

“Our politics are dysfunctional,” said the [P]resident… “Increasingly politicians are rewarded for taking the most extreme maximalist positions,” he said, “and sooner or later, that catches up with you.”

Extreme and divisive politics sure does catch up to you. For example, you reaching across the aisle when you finish a bitter election season and your best negotiating point with your opponents is, “I won.”  (This is especially true if it comes right after spending a year promising “a new kind of politics.”)  And once is bad enough, but then if you do it again, you’re really going to have problems. 

Hopefully the Obama Adminstration can overcome such a toxic political enviroment.

Lack of enthusiasm? No problem.

Resurgent Republic posted this infographic last week (which I swiped from an email from Pennsylvania political consultancy ColdSpark Media):


The full-size picture does it more justice.  It charts various groups, how strong their turnout was in 2012 versus 2008, and how excited the said they were to vote.

In the last month and a week, it seems like no two Republicans can talk to each other without a discussion of What Went Wrong.  It’s a great conversation because there’s no wrong answer.  Every person who says, “I’ll tell you what Romney missed out on…” and then fills in a reason is usually right.  So the tactical deficiency in that picture is a puzzle piece, but it isn’t the whole problem.

All that said, check out the bluest of the blue groups, staunch Obama demographics like single women, 18-29 year olds, and Hispanic voters.  Isn’t it funny that the blue groups that were least excited about voting but voted more than the red groups that were more excited?  Part of the vaunted Obama turnout operation was figuring out who needed to vote and doing what it took to drag them to the polls; this sure makes it look like the credit was well-deserved.

Googlizing Campaigns

If you caught the tail end of the Roger Hedgecock show on Friday night, you may have heard me chatting with guest host Matt Lewis about the use of data in campaigns.

Much has been written in the past few weeks about the amazing things the Obama 2012 campaign did in identifying and turning out voters.  Just as much has been written about the Romney campaign’s failure to do the same thing, but it isn’t quite as fair.  There were many reasons Obama won, but the ability to take advantage of more channels of information to identify voters was a big part of it.

The private sector has been doing this for years.  For advertisers like Google and Yahoo! and e-commerce sites like Amazon, knowing what you do and  where you click online is their bread and butter.  It helps them put products in front of you that you’re more likely to buy, because they don’t make money if you don’t click.  Obama’s team was better at adapting those techniques to the campaign world.

What I didn’t get to talk about with Matt do to time constraints was the fact that Republicans can take a great deal of solace in the fact that these aren’t new magical spells being cast by technological wizards.  These are old hat tactics that can (and probably will) help Republicans with in the next campaign cycle.  For years, the advertising dollars have been moving toward personal advertising (like online ads) which can present content to an audience with much greater precision than mass advertising.

Romney adviser Stuart Stevens was ridiculed for saying that Mitt Romney ran less of a national campaign than Barack Obama, but he’s right, and Obama was right to do it.

Now’s a good time for minority outreach

President Obama is winning the majority of the American people with his rhetoric on the debt ceiling crisis.  But polls also show that he’s losing some support among key demographics – namely liberal and black voters, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll reported by Politico.

If you’re looking for clues, stop right here Sherlock: the unemployment rate for black men is twice that of white men.  Economic policies intended to elevate the less fortunate are failing, leaving certain demographics behind more than others.

The case for smaller government and personal empowerment has never been more clear.  And the polls that show minority voters increasingly distrustful of the President demonstrate that, at least on some level, voters are also in a position to reject the big-government promises they have been sold for generations.

But only if the case is made to those voters, directly and on a person-to-person basis.

With the 2012 elections over a year away, it’s a good time for campaign organizations, party committees, and non-profits on the right to begin trying to make inroads into communities where they haven’t had much success.  It may take the form of voter registration or straight party recruitment efforts.

Imagine if a candidate like Michelle Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, or Mitt Romney took the initiative to sat down with community leaders of black and/or Hispanic groups the way Herman Cain is doing with Muslim groups. It would likely be even more productive, since Cain is reaching out only after he seriously frayed his relations with that community.   The same outreach by key leaders of the conservative movement would be equally valuable.

It will still be low-yield; the cost per registrant will be high in the early going.  That’s the price of ignoring those communities for so long.  This wouldn’t be about volumes of new party voters, though.  Unlike many of the failing government programs that have been used to buy these communities’ votes in the past decades, this would be a legitimate investment in the future.

Cross-posted at PunditLeague.


This week, Tammy Bruce riffed on a line that President Obama has been using to characterize Congressional Republicans as sitting back, “sipping a Slurpee,” while Democrats did the hard work to advance the change we could believe in.

CBS News’s Mark Knoller reported on the recurring imagery earlier this month:

Though he doesn’t mention any Slurpee-sipping Republicans by name, his rhetoric suggests an image of Senate and House Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, dressed casually (perhaps in shorts and sneakers) with a couple of Big Gulp cups in their hands, sipping on 7-Eleven’s sweet and glacial libation… Mr. Obama clearly thinks Republicans are elitist, but the line wouldn’t be as funny if he said they were sipping Chardonnay or a Mint Julep.

For all his faults as a politician, Obama and his team are no slouches when crafting imagery.  So as dead-on as Knoller is about the evolution of the talking point, that explanation of it as an accusation of elitism is a little too simplistic.  The line wouldn’t just be less funny if Obama subbed in Chardonnay, it would be less effective at delivering the message he wants to get across.  There’s actually a much more impressive slur at work here.

Think about 7-Eleven, and think beyond the racial stereotypes that a certain Vice President may harbor.  Besides the Slurpees in question, 7-Eleven delicacies include assorted snacks of dubious nutritional value, week-old taquitos, and something that looks like the result of a drunken one-night-stand between a hot dog and a hamburger.  (“Hot dog?  Yeah, it’s Hamburger.  We need to talk…)  It isn’t exactly a bastion of elitism.

And the driving-the-car-into-the-ditch metaphor so often used to illustrate the Republican stewardship of the economy doesn’t paint the Republicans as elitist.  In fact, it paints them as incompetent – a much better message for President so easily painted as aloof who is talking to a base who gave him their votes in part as a protest of the perceived simplicity of his predecessor.

That insult layered into the President’s pop culture reference like so much cheese on a plastic tray full of stale nachos?  He isn’t calling Republicans elitist.

He’s calling them white trash.


The I’s have it

The Democrats may be knocking Republicans for being a party without new ideas, but the DNC’s strategy for exciting its base seems to be about a cult of personality.  A message to activists over President Obama’s signature makes that very clear:

I come into this election with clear eyes.

I am proud of all we have achieved together, but I am mindful of all that remains to be done.

I know some out there are frustrated by the pace of our progress. I want you to know I’m frustrated, too.

But with so much riding on the outcome of this election, I need everyone to get in this game.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s six I’s in the first five sentences.  And for a base that, much like George W. Bush’s in 2004, might be frustrated by the administration’s inability to deliver the ideologically pure achievements many had envisioned in the days after the 2008 election.

There’s no public option.  Democrats themselves are divided on the Bush tax cuts, so a tax hike on the wealthy job creators is unlikely.  There is no card check procedure to make it easier to organize unions.  The financial reform bill lost a lot of teeth from where it started, and massive sums of money have been spent on corporate welfare.  So what’s left to excite a liberal base that has to be excited if the Democrats are to maintain full control of Congress?

The answer is apparently a couple of pages from W’s playbook:  1) Make the election about resolve rather than results (recall Bush’s 2004 message, “You may not always agree with me, but you know where I stand”?) and 2) Remind your ardent supporters that the other side is much, much worse.  In 2004 it inspired enough activists to pull a vulnerable incumbent President over the finish line against a poor opposition candidate, so it will likely resonate in some places.  Since the hardcore activist in California is different from the hardcore activist in North Carolina or Virginia, it may not help universally, but at this point Democratic strategy is more about stopping losses than making gains.

The real question, though, is whether the 13 million activists on the Organizing for America list that received this email are still excited enough to volunteer their time for Barack Obama again.