Month: April 2015

Can Rubio Take the Heat?

After weeks of telling us outright that it was going to happen, Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio formally announced his intention to run for president yesterday. The event took place at Freedom Tower, playing a part in the  Cuban immigration narrative he presented, where he focused on his family’s own immigrant roots and strong work ethic.

“I live in an exceptional country where even the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and the same future as those who come from power and privilege,” he proudly proclaimed.

The speech was arguably good in terms of delivery, and with the similarities in play, it’s no real surprise that he’s come to be touted as the “Obama of the Right.” His announcement drew a lot from former Obama speeches, actually. But it’s a characterization he pushes back against… hard. As he told the Today Show:

Well, there’s a difference between Barack Obama and I, and I think our histories are much different. I’ve served in local government, [I] served in state government for nine years in the third-largest state in the country, I was the speaker of the Florida House — all that before I even got to Washington four and a half years ago.

He’s sort of right. Technically, he served in the Florida House for two years longer than Obama served in the Illinois Senate, and Obama did not have the same leadership role. He’s been in his current role as Senator for a couple years longer than Obama served before running, as well.

There are some other differences, too. Obama’s Columbia and Harvard degrees are a tad more impressive than Rubio’s University of Florida and University of Miami accolades. Obama worked as a community organizer and law professor over a span of nine years before being elected to the Illinois Senate in ’96, compared to Rubio’s… zero years of experience outside of politics.

I feel you, Rubio. The Obama comparisons aren’t exactly great.

That said, there are certainly similarities that could be a boost to GOP odds in the general election. Rubio, like Obama in 2008, has the benefit of being the youngest likely contender in the field, and he looks the part. He’s arguably one of the best public speakers among the GOP contenders, with a somewhat similar, measured delivery style. One could argue that, despite a couple years of difference as an elected official, both he and Obama were relatively inexperienced when they started their campaigns.

Of greatest benefit, though, is the lack of baggage. As Buzzfeed recently pointed out, Rubio’s past has been thoroughly scoured. Despite aggressive media coverage in Florida and nationally, and the vetting process when he was a potential running mate for Romney, no skeletons have surfaced. Just as was the case with Obama, no matter how much the opposition tries, they can’t seem to find a blow that lands.

But frankly, that’s where the comparisons (and benefits) run dry.

Rubio’s not a bad speaker, but as he demonstrated in his announcement yesterday, he’s not a great one, either. In fact, he sort of seemed like he was trying too hard to mimic Obama’s delivery. He hit the serious notes well, but unlike Obama, there wasn’t much variety in his cadence or volume — an element to Obama’s style that’s hard to beat. He seems aware that his youth could prove a double edged sword, but wound up swinging hard to the side of gravitas with a severity that seemed unnatural and uncomfortable. The man didn’t smile until the end of the speech. Not exactly the “youthful” image that could bolster him if harnessed properly.

And trying to be Obama — or at least, phoning in a performance that will gain him those comparisons — can really only hurt him with the base. Even if his policies are dramatically different from those supported by Obama, those insinuations from press and opponents can add up during the primaries if he doesn’t come up with a better rejoinder, if only due to the vitriol that’s been stirred up by the GOP against Obama over the the past 7 years. Even the less hyperbolic lines of criticism — age, experience, etc. — are likely to resonate with the base. Those Obama comparisons are frankly the last thing he wants.

All that said, the truth of the matter is that the primary (and potentially, the general election) debates will probably make or break Rubio. When he’s on script, he can at least give an Obama impression. When he’s off-script, he’s not quite as articulate. When he’s nervous, he’s got a habit of looking a little foolish (remember the water bottle?). And even when he’s not nervous, his ego can get in the way. In a recent Senate hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry, Rubio got taken to task on his understanding of Middle Eastern politics and its interaction with military policy in the U.S., demonstrating an incredibly shallow grasp of the dynamics in play while repeating the same point over and over again after it had already been answered. It was ugly.

To be fair, very few of the current and would-be GOP contenders have a great amount of experience in foreign relations. Paul and Cruz are still relatively green and arguably naively isolationist. Graham and Santorum have more years under their belt, but their bluster (not to mention social rhetoric) are likely to get in the way. Bush, Walker, and Perry have little experience with it as governors. Carson’s an outsider without a lick of experience in governance… period. But, should Rubio get flustered or give a performance similar to the Kerry face off in the primary debates, he may give an impression of incompetence that cripples him with primary voters. He’s got to get better at projecting strength to capture the base.

Against the Democrats, Clinton and likely candidate Biden can give Rubio the greatest challenge on depth and breadth of experience. Both are strong enough debaters that Rubio’s ignorance could be exploited substantially. His lack of baggage — which both Clinton and Biden have in spades — will help, but can only take him so far, especially given his policy-centric campaign approach.

The bottom line? Rubio’s no Obama, but he’s still got a shot. I may have some significant qualms about his platform personally, but with a solid debate coach (and a helluva a lot of homework on the nuances of some important issues), he may just be able to cinch the nomination, at the very least.


Dissecting Clinton’s Flawless Candidacy Announcement

I wouldn’t say I’m firmly in Camp Hillary. It’s not for the reasons touted by the irrational right. No, her gender is not a barrier. Yes, she has ample experience. No, Benghazi was not a grand conspiracy.

Speaking for myself, I have some issues with her on matters of policy and qualms with some of the decisions she’s made both politically and financially. And while I won’t go so far as to say her server wipe was a colossal betrayal of the American people, deleting those emails was one of the stupidest things she’s done in a long time, particularly for a seasoned political operative and pending candidate. I like her, but I’m not in the mood for a coronation. I, like many other Democrats, want to see a healthy debate in the primaries between progressive candidates.

All that said, there’s no arguing that Clinton’s candidacy announcement this weekend was pitch perfect.

I’ll admit I was skeptical when it was revealed that she would be declaring her candidacy via social media without a corresponding event. Social media is undeniably an incredible force when it comes to the court of public opinion, but politicians rarely get it right. The White House has (generally) done a decent job of harnessing its power, but even there, it’s been a fairly bland and mediocre channel of communication punctuated by a few solid moments. The inherently quippy nature of the beast has made social media a place for talking point regurgitation primarily, while the few figures who’ve dared to be bold have stumbled pretty significantly. It’s an obligatory platform at best, and dangerous at worst.

But the Clinton camp nailed it on this one. If you haven’t seen the video yet, it’s worth a watch:

Let’s break this all down. The first thing you should notice is who the video emphasizes. The beginning focuses on the lives of average Americans and the different challenges they face on a regular basis. You don’t even see Clinton until the 1:32 mark, leaving a grand total of 46 seconds of promo time in the video.  There was no platform presentation or “vote for me because” line. The construction here was deliberate, and very, very careful.

While she might not have articulated a nuanced platform, she did imply which issues she would be focusing on with the story selections at the beginning of the video. Career changes and starts pointed to jobs. Launching a new venture spoke to small business. Retirement carries connotations with social security and Medicaid concerns. The family moving to a new home in order to be in a stronger school district may have been the start of education reform conversations. Same-sex marriage was deliberately featured and affirmed. Even the sillier stories alluded to bigger issues. From gardening to playing a fish in a school play, there were subtle undertones on the environment. The joked about folks who just wanted their dog to stop eating trash started with comments about major home renovations in a nod to housing and construction.

But even when nervous about the challenges they faced, each story featured hopeful, smiling faces. It wasn’t fear laden or negative; these folks were ready to tackle the future head on. In many ways, the video was a love letter to the tenacity of the American people. With already declared candidates Cruz and Paul spouting fire and brimstone, the RNC fundraising over stopping her outright, and even potential Democratic candidates like O’Malley and Sanders preaching doom and gloom, it was like a breath of fresh air, and far more in line with the lived daily experiences of the public.

Even though reminiscent of Obama’s “hope and change” message, Clinton didn’t try to replicate his preacher-style message. She can’t, and she knows it. Instead of relying on lofty rhetoric and dramatic cadence, she went for an almost folksy delivery. There was definite potential for that to backfire, given that her wealth and career give her a life light years beyond what the bulk of the public can fathom, but she walked that tightrope well.

And let’s have a moment to appreciate the curation of demographic representation here. Talk about of mosaic of different races, genders, sexual orientations, family compositions. A different language was spoken among English speaking Americans — not just in a Spanish campaign ad. Try to imagine that happening during the ’04 election. I dare you.

(Personally, I’d have liked to see some transgender representation, but I know I’m likely in a statistically insignificant minority there, and this is still political maneuvering, after all.)

In her spoken section, Clinton hit the perception of her being an out of touch elitist hard with talk of income inequality. This was a nuance that matters. The GOP has, to date, repeatedly beat the drums over the economy falling apart, but they tout numbers like unemployment without consideration for the fact that unemployment has improved dramatically under Obama’s reign. Democrats have, by and large, similarly missed the boat here, focusing on statistics that support the argument for a growing economy without regard for the disparity in how the recovery has benefited different segments of the population. Clinton struck the right balance, acknowledging the economic comeback while recognizing it as incomplete. Wage stagnation and underemployment are the right message for her here, and, more to the point, an accurate assessment of the bigger economic concerns in play.

It was also partially an overture to those eager to see progressive populist Elizabeth Warren run. Warren has repeatedly insisted that she’s not running, but appealing to her supporters could be key to winning the nomination. Clinton’s Wall Street alignments — most notably with Goldman Sachs — are a weak spot for her. Her rhetoric here, though, smacked of Warren’s trademark persona. While it’s still going to be an uphill battle for her, and she’ll need to put forth some policy proposals to back up the posturing, it’s a good start, and positions her well against Sanders, who has a similar message with a far more dire flavor.

But it goes beyond the issue focus. Clinton made it about the people when she talked about her candidacy. She drew a parallel between herself and the average people highlighted throughout the bulk of the video by saying she was “getting ready to do something, too.” She focused on the needs of the population over her own credentials and goals. She framed herself as the “people’s champion” without calling herself that, emphasizing the need to earn such a title. She asked people to join her on a journey, appealing to the grassroots organization inclinations of her party. With so many wondering if she’s too out of touch to really represent the people, this collaborative message was exactly what it needed to be. Even with her presentation a little stale (a complaint I’ve had of her whenever delivering a scripted message), she managed to come off as somewhat earnest. For Clinton, that’s an accomplishment.

While the content was on point, the move was also deft from a tactical perspective. Everyone knew she was going to run, which meant the roll-out needed to be distinct to make waves. The content helped, but so did the execution. Unlike Rubio, whose social presence has been arguably solid, she only teased the announcement by a few days; he’s been pumping his for weeks now. It was just the right amount of time to drum up excitement without belaboring a foregone conclusion.

The use of video was a fantastic choice. Yes, she avoided the gimmicks, but she also amped up her visibility on the announcement far beyond what candidates opting for a traditional rally proclamation could hope for. No grandiose spectacles or long-winded speeches; just a short, easily shared, two-minute video. It was the perfect way to maximize visibility. She was always going to make a splash on Twitter, but the video’s traction on Facebook is key. Not only is video the most shared type of content on the platform, but Facebook posts also have greater durability than Twitter offers. The feed refreshes at a slower rate, people are generally following fewer people (increasing the likelihood that they see a share), and the connections tend to be more relational, fostering a greater trust and engagement with content shared. Paired with a pretty gorgeous Facebook page construction, this video was designed to be social media gold.

Before that video ever hit the web, the Clinton camp set it up to take off by emailing donors with a confirmation of her intent to run and a heads up on the announcement. It wasn’t long before the video got out, but it was the shot of adrenaline they needed to make sure the pick up was as high as possible. It got her supporters excited and ready to pounce, and caught the attention of those already perusing social media when the headline about the email hit. Really a genius move.

The role of optics here is also significant. People are already lamenting the likely price tag the election will come with when dollars spent are tabulated. Instead of staging some big event, Clinton used the web to make her announcement. She did the same in the ’08 cycle (though the content was much more candidate-centric), but campaign dollars and political disillusionment were at different levels at the time. Right now, the contrast she’s established is notable. Cruz and Paul (and likely Rubio) did their own video announcements… but paired them with big events. Next to Hillary’s roll-out (executed without stuff like, ya know, compulsory attendance at a campaign event to inflate the audience size or a copyright dispute that took the video down), they look more like traditional politicians than they’d probably like, and certainly less digitally savvy. Though I’ve no doubt the high quality video production was costly, it just doesn’t look as pretentious or expensive by comparison.

And let’s be real. This video was the perfect way to control the message presentation. Everything was scripted, edited, and polished to be on point. That’s harder to do with a live announcement. This is particularly true for Clinton, who, while good in small settings, doesn’t have the same crowd appeal as Obama or even Bill. That’s something she’ll need to work on as the election cycle progresses, but it was shrewd to dodge that weakness out of the gates. With a history of campaigns that stumbled because of infighting and fractured messaging, this was important for Clinton.

And holy hell did that video stand out next to the responses. Jeb Bush, who has yet to declare, sent out a nasty email about stopping her to solicit donations. Ted Cruz issued a comparatively amateur video with crap audio, terrible staging, and awful lighting that left him with sickly looking yellow circles around his eyes (to say nothing of the sort of creepy vibe). Santorum promoted an even more intense Clinton attack video (note the John Carpenter-like music in the background) in his PR response. Rand Paul has launched an ad blitz against her already. In the hours before the announcement, the GOP ramped up its “Stop Hillary” efforts in a move that echoes its persistent efforts to stop Obama.

To be fair, the roll out wasn’t entirely perfect; she did have a rather unfortunate typo in her press release. But by and large, Clinton came out of this looking like a winner. The right content, tone, and execution against a backdrop of lunacy from the right made this announcement as good as it could have possibly been. She’s certainly got a battle ahead if she wants to win people over (including me), but if she keeps up the momentum, quality, and precision, she’s certainly in good shape.

Peak Privilege: No, I am the REAL Victim Here

Watching the news cycle has me feeling perpetually ill. It’s not just the headlines, though those are unbearably nauseating on their own. And it’s not the spate of typical reactions – overtly racist and sexist and classist drivel that’s easy to point to as being the bile of bigots. That I’ve come to expect. No, the worst part of it all has been the victimization of the tragically privileged.

Case in point? Mary Ann Twitty, the now disgraced former clerk from Ferguson.

In case you missed it, Twitty is the woman who was fired after the DOJ report revealed she had sent some incredibly racist emails. Make no mistake – these emails were patently offensive. There was a picture of Reagan feeding a chimp a bottle that was described as a rare photo of the former president babysitting Obama. There was one that framed the abortion of a black woman’s child as a boon to Crimestoppers. There were more uncovered by the DOJ, but they only published a handful. There was no doubt that this woman should lose her job.

I’m not going to say that losing your job of nearly 20 years isn’t a terrible experience. It must be even worse knowing you deserved it. But what came out of Twitty’s mouth next… I just… ugh.

Twitty sat down with KMOV in St. Louis to discuss the scandal. When asked if she thought the jokes were funny, she replied:

Funny as in humor wise? Yes. Not because it was racist or biased, just funny because it was just funny jokewise. I feel bad because that’s not, I don’t want people to look at me and say ‘she sent those racist jokes out because she’s racist or biased.’ I am not.

That comment might be funny if not for context. See, the thing is, if you think that the content forwarded was funny, you clearly don’t see the people you were discussing as people worthy of the same respect and dignity you demand for yourself. You see them as less based on characteristics that have nothing to do with worth. That’s racism. You’re a racist. There’s no getting around that. Hiding behind the facade of comedy is the modern Emperor’s New Clothes. You think you’re hilarious; the rest of us think you’re an asshole.

But Twitty didn’t stop there. See, not only is she clearly not a racist, she’s adamant that she is also the real victim here. She was just doing what everyone else was doing. My six year old daughter knows better than to do that. If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you? Didn’t your mother ever throw that one at you as a kid? How old is this woman? Has she not yet learned to take responsibility for her actions?

Apparently not. In fact, Twitty is so invested in her status as a victim that she went on to say:

It took me a while to get over the feeling of being raped and being thrown under the bus. I’m human, I meant nothing bad by it.

Human. Right. Let’s talk about how inhumane that comment was.

Twitty was not raped. Rape is the violation of your body by another human being. There is no consent involved. It’s not a result of something you did; it stems from another’s desire for power and disregard for your agency.

The offense here is high enough that I feel the need to address the offender directly.

Your body was not violated, Ms. Twitty. The pain you’ve endured was entirely of your own creation. You behaved in a manner that showed absolutely no respect for the agency of those who look and live differently from you. You were cruel as a means of building yourself up. The reward for your cruelty? A momentary grin. The consequence was losing your job. Your inability to engage in critical thinking or perform impact calculus (or, ya know, exhibit some basic humanity) brought this on, and is no one’s problem but your own. You consented to the potential consequences when you made your choices. This was nothing like being raped, ma’am. If anything, when extending the metaphor – and rape metaphors suck, so I don’t encourage you to do so – you’re on the opposite side of the coin, claiming to be a victim after committing a crime.

How dare you compare facing the music after proudly broadcasting your racist, classist, bigoted sense of humor to the utter trauma endured by survivors of sexual violence? How can you possibly follow up such a black-hearted comment with a claim of being “human”? Nothing you just said was humane.

I know there are those of you who might feel sympathy in regards to Twitty’s comments about intent. That doesn’t matter. Let me repeat that: intent is irrelevant here. Just because one doesn’t intend to hurt someone doesn’t excuse their behavior. A drunk may not intend to kill someone while driving under the influence. A person throwing a punch in a rage may not intend for their target to sustain significant injuries. Hell, a rapist may not intend to cause their victim PTSD. None of these arguments are foreign to me. None of them are valid excuses. Not under the law, and not as human beings.

Those are extreme examples, but the point remains the same. Even if we take the rhetoric down a million notches, it doesn’t change. Consider it on an interpersonal level. If you say or do something that causes a close friend pain, and they tell you as much, would you ever respond by saying they’re raping you because you didn’t intend to hurt them? Of course not.  Intent. Does. Not. Matter. It doesn’t matter in the extreme, and it doesn’t matter among close friends, and it certainly doesn’t matter when you think you’re not hurting anyone but you are.

You know what does matter? Owning up to your mistakes and facing the consequences.

Twitty did no such thing. After showing a total lack of compassion for those different than her, she didn’t take responsibility for her behavior. After being called out for her total lack of compassion for those different than her, she claimed she was a victim. Worse still, she did so through further callous commentary.

Sympathy is the least appropriate emotion here. Her behavior and reaction to being punished are more akin to a toddler throwing a fit after being put in time out than an adult taking criticism and adjusting her behavior accordingly. In fairness, she’s far from alone. The company ain’t great though: Gamergate folks claiming their hobbies are being ruined by women calling for an end to sexist behavior, White folks claiming reverse racism in the context of privilege conversations, men who think misandry is a real and widespread problem, “Christians” who feel they’re being persecuted because two people of the same sex who are not them are able to get married and see each other in the hospital, judges who think little girls are responsible when raped by their teachers, those organizing defense crowdfunding for the officer who killed Walter Scott in cold blood. I could go on.

Twitty is part of a larger trend among those in a position of privilege who whine when they’re called out for their poor behavior, claiming they are the true victims. They don’t care about history or context. They’re more worried about their own hurt feelings than their role in a problem that’s way bigger than their joke. They don’t understand that their comment contributes to a tidal wave of pain hitting others on a daily basis. They don’t see making people feel uncomfortable or unsafe as a big deal, and certainly not worthy of consequence… probably because they’ve never been made to feel that way.

And for as much agony as Twitty is experiencing in the short-term (while remembering that she brought it on herself), it will pass. Unlike Twitty, the people of color she jokes about face stigma, discrimination, outright hatred, and lethal threats on a daily basis – and not because of something they did, but because of who they are. Unlike Twitty, that’s not something that will go away or fade from public memory.

There is no comparison here. You are not persecuted because someone calls you out. You are being presented with an opportunity for growth, and squandering that by drawing completely inappropriate parallels with people who experience actual discrimination is beyond the pale. And more and more, it’s becoming acceptable to do exactly that.

No headline is more nauseating than this reality.