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One Final Attempt at Quality Information before Voting

Dear blog follower:

During this election, more than any other,  trying to get some facts right is difficult. The below is from ProCon.org a nonpartisan educational organization, that helps everyone to make informed decisions regardless of how or for whom you vote. The degradation of the political process, the volume of ignorance floating around, polarization, and the incivility and impertinence of the candidates is of historic proportions. Most of us never imagined Trump as a Republican candidate and we certainly didn’t imagine the debates – which were supposed to be an informed and intelligent portrayal of the candidates – as a showcase for marital and sexual indiscretions paraded in front of the opponent and the world.

So, I offer the below as the clearest and most objective side-by-side comparison of the candidates and their stance on issues. You may have made up your mind already but at least check your thinking against the information presented.

Presidential Election

1. Compare 2016 Presidential Candidate Positions: A Side-by-Side Comparison Between Candidates on Key Issues

2. 2016 Presidential Election Candidate Quiz – Find Your Match!

Abortion

3. Should Abortion Be Legal?

4. Top Pro & Con Quotes on Abortion

Felon Voting
5. Should Felons Who Have Completed Their Sentence (Incarceration, Probation, and Parole) Be Allowed to Vote?

6. State Felon Voting Laws
7. Number of People by State Who Cannot Vote Due to a Felony Conviction

Gun Control
8. Should More Gun Control Laws Be Enacted?

9. Top Pro & Con Quotes on Gun Control

10. US Gun Deaths, 1999-2014

Immigration
11. Should the Government Allow Immigrants Who Are Here Illegally to Become US Citizens?

12. Illegal Immigration, Population Estimates in the United States, 1969-2014

13. Demographics of Immigrants in the United States Illegally
Marijuana
14. Should Marijuana Be a Medical Option?

15. 25 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC

16. Ranking 20 Drugs and Alcohol by Overall Harm
Minimum Wage
17. Should the Federal Minimum Wage Be Increased?

18. Top Pro & Con Quotes on the Federal Minimum Wage

19. State-by-State Minimum Wage Levels

20. And, just for fun, Top 10 Most Surprising Things in the 2016 Presidential Candidates’ Online Stores

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The Problem of False Equivalencies

One of the most egregious reasoning fallacies is false equivalencies; that is, the claim the two things are equal when they are not. All those who claim there’s nobody to vote for or these are two pathetic candidates for the presidency have fallen into the trap of false equivalencies. By any sensible measure Hillary Clinton is far superior to Donald Trump. That does not mean she’s a perfect candidate but clearly the better of the two choices. In fact, one may disagree with Hillary on political grounds but Trump is just plain dangerous. The below is reprinted from the Forward-Progressive website.
There’s this notion concerning the 2016 presidential election that both choices are terrible and that we’re all simply trying to choose “between the lesser of two evils.” While I know that’s a popular belief among many, the reality of that couldn’t be further from the truth. Look, I’m not here to claim that Hillary Clinton is a flawless candidate. Just because I proudly support her campaign doesn’t mean that I’m not realistic about the fact that she has flaws like any other human being — especially politicians.
That being said, to claim her flaws are on the same level of Trump’s is not only completely inaccurate, but it’s absolutely ridiculous. To prove my point, I thought I’d compare some of the top “controversial scandals” surrounding the two candidates. Let’s start with Hillary Clinton:
Her emails: While her use of a private server was definitely a bad idea, she’s admitted to that fact and has apologized for it, repeatedly. Furthermore, the FBI carried out an extensive investigation that ultimately concluded that she did nothing illegal. The only reason this became a “story” again is because while looking into the Anthony Wiener sexting allegations, the FBI found emails that may (keyword: may) need to be reviewed to determine whether or not they contain classified material. Though at the end of the day, not only was Clinton not charged with a crime, but there’s been absolutely no evidence where her use of this private server led to any sort of national security issues.
The Clinton Foundation: While many have tried to make the foundation seem like some international crime syndicate linked to a pay-for-play criminal empire, ultimately, the foundation has an A-rating from a respected charity watchdog group and spends 88 percent of all the money it raises on charitable causes. Oh, and the Clintons don’t actually make any money from the foundation — as they don’t receive a salary.
Paid speeches: Considering it’s not remotely uncommon for former presidents or politicians to give paid speeches, I’m not sure why this is a big deal. Again, there’s been absolutely no credible evidence that any paid speech her husband gave was linked to any sort of “pay-for-play” scheme while she was Secretary of State.
“She gleefully helped a child rapist go free”: Nope, she sure didn’t. Not only was she ordered by a judge to defend him (she tried getting out of it), but the guy actually went to prison on a plea deal the victim’s mother pushed prosecutors to offer of 5 years — only to have the judge reduce it to one. The audio of Clinton laughing about the case actually came years later when she was discussing how, even though the guy was guilty, he passed a polygraph — and that forever ruined her faith in the test. She was not mocking or laughing at the victim.
Benghazi: Here’s another “scandal” that numerous investigations have ultimately concluded wasn’t her fault. Though if you don’t believe me (or the investigations), then ask the family of the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, who’ve publicly said that it’s unfair to blame her for the attack.
She called “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorable”: Not only did she immediately apologize for saying this, but she wasn’t really wrong. In fact, “half” is probably underselling how many of his supporters fit into the “basket of deplorables” she mentioned (racists, bigots, sexists, Islamophobic, homophobic, xenophobic). Now if you think I’m going to entertain the absurd conspiracies about her having multiple people killed, or that I’m going to hold her husband’s issues against her, you’re sadly mistaken. If you’re someone who actually believes that insanity, then you’re clearly someone who can’t be reasoned with. But those are the main attacks I’ve seen Republicans and the media obsess about throughout her campaign.
Now let’s move on to Donald Trump: Mocked a man with disabilities. Attacked the parents of a fallen American hero. Belittled POWs and the war record of Sen. John McCain. Lied about how much money he raised for veterans. Called a former Miss Universe “disgusting” and fat, telling his Twitter followers to find her non-existent sex tape. Accused an American-born federal judge of being unfit to do his job because of his Mexican heritage. Likely avoided paying taxes for nearly two decades. Called most Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, even though that’s not remotely factual. Lied about seeing “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11. Lied about getting a letter from the NFL complaining about the debate schedule. Tried to exploit the death of an African American woman in Chicago to say that’s why black voters will support him. Found the “bright side” to tragedies because his poll numbers tend to go up. Settled with the Department of Justice after his company was found guilty of racially discriminating against minorities. Has cheated on at least one wife. Was discovered on video admitting that he not only tried to cheat on his current wife, but he attempted to do so with another married woman. Had his first wife publicly say that he did nothing when it came to raising their children until they were old enough to talk business. Tweeted that women should have expected to be sexually assaulted when they mixed males and females together in the military. Said he wants to target the families of terrorists. Stated that he wants to ban an entire religion. Praised a Russian president who obviously hates the U.S. and Americans. Encouraged the Russian government to commit espionage against Americans. Insinuated that another Republican’s wife was ugly. Tried to implicate another Republican’s father in JFK’s assassination. Sought out the help of former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes after he was fired following multiple allegations that he had sexually harassed women for years. Made Breitbart’s Steve Bannon one of his top campaign people. Had a former campaign manager abruptly resign after a report came out linking him to pro-Russian groups that were directly trying to undermine U.S. policy in eastern Europe. Called Carly Fiorina ugly. Has said climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese — then denied saying it. Was a leading conspiracy theorist when it came to the racist-driven birther conspiracies against President Obama. Dismissed nearly eight years of accusing the president of not being an American with a less than 30-second statement where he didn’t apologize for any of it. Re-tweeted anti-African American propaganda created by a white supremacy group. Played dumb about knowing who former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke was. Skipped a presidential debate because he was scared of a moderator. Called a husband doing things like changing diapers and helping with the children, a man “trying to be the wife.” Has said he wants more countries to have nuclear weapons. Said he can’t release his tax returns because they’re currently being audited — even though the IRS said that’s a lie. Feels he has the right to sexually assault women. Is currently battling a fraud lawsuit where victims allege he created Trump University to scam them out of tens of thousands of dollars. Used funds raised by his charity foundation to pay his personal legal fees. Said that one of the women accusing him of sexual harassment wasn’t attractive enough for him to have assaulted. Has a long history of not paying contractors for doing work they had already completed. His bankruptcies benefited him, while ultimately leaving many people to which he owed money out to dry. Outsources most of his company’s manufacturing jobs to other countries. Has said that all the women accusing him of sexual assault are liars. Refused to say if he would concede the election if he loses on November 8th. Allegedly asked military advisers why we can’t use nukes since we have them. After being told that our security experts know that Russia is behind the hack of the DNC and American citizens, continued to deny that they knew anything, effectively defending and taking the word of Russia over believing and trusting our own intelligence agencies. Once said that women who have abortions should be “punished.” Alluded to the size of his penis during a presidential debate. Mocked the looks of Ted Cruz’s wife. Was accused of planting a fake story in the National Enquirer concerning Ted Cruz having multiple affairs. Currently has a court date set for allegations he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old. Claims he’s donated millions to charity but refuses to prove it. Called Hillary Clinton a “nasty women” when she factually called him out for tax evasion. Evidence seems to indicate that he bribed the Florida attorney general to avoid the state joining the fraud lawsuit against Trump University. Has admitted to trying to buy off politicians. Following his meeting with the Mexican president, he lied about being told that there was no way Mexico would pay for his wall. Has repeatedly advocated for committing war crimes. Said he knows more about terrorism and the Middle East than our generals. Has repeatedly said that our NATO allies are going to have to “pay up” for our protection. Said more countries should have nuclear weapons — then denied saying it. Has, on several occasions, suggested he finds his daughter attractive. Tried to blame Hillary Clinton for his racist birther propaganda. Said, with a straight face, that nobody has more respect for women than he does. During an interview said that “a flat-chested woman can never be a 10.” Asked how stupid the people of Iowa could be for supporting Ted Cruz.

But, please, tell me again how “both candidates are the same” and they’re “equally as flawed.” Because if that’s what you really believe, then you’re choosing to ignore reality and believing whatever the hell you want to believe.

Read more here

What You Saw in the Debate

clinton-trump-debate

Most pundits figured if Trump could tie his shoes then he would have the most to gain from the debate. He really did have a lot to gain by appearing presidential and in control but the issue is of course whether or not he actually maintained any sense of presidential decorum. He didn’t.

Presidential debates are mostly spectacle and this one was no different. Sure, Hillary won especially if you keep score according to a debate coach’s tally sheet of arguments and counter arguments. Presidential debates such as these are not interested in who comes up with a better argument but rather who can make the other look bad.

But the public anticipates debates with a certain amount of enthusiasm. It’s a contest between democracy’s formidable gladiators; there is an underdog challenger doing battle with a superior opponent and we talk about debates with all the war metaphors we can muster. There are “attacks,” and “aggression,” along with “victors and the vanquished.” We would be better off viewing the debates as platforms to make judgments about individuals leading to a decision about which candidate is best. The “winner-loser” frame extends the war metaphor but also causes us to watch it like a horse race constantly attending to who is ahead and who is behind rather than learning something about the issues.

But still, debates contribute to voter knowledge and the acquisition of information. It is true enough that journalism rarely these days considers itself to be a platform for issues and deliberative consideration. So debates have slightly appropriated this role. The debates give us an opportunity for a raw look at the candidates including how they appear on TV, how they handle themselves spontaneously, and general issues of charisma and attraction. This is an important and satisfying counterpoint to political ads which are strategically constructed and designed to be manipulative and the voters know it. It is quite easy to dismiss candidate commercials but less so for debates because of their increased perception of authenticity.

So what did we see the other night and how does it fit in with some of the research on debates?

Even though debates are known to reinforce partisan preferences, the first Clinton-Trump debate transcended that conclusion because Hillary sliced and diced Trump. She set traps (the coming Miss Universe interview), behaved more politely, had very few fact checking problems, appeared composed and in control, unhinged him a few times as was the debate plan, and spent more time on policy.

Dorothy Rabinowitz – of the conservative Wall Street Journal of all places – wrote that Hillary is the only thing that stands between the United States and the “reign of the most unstable, proudly uninformed, psychologically unfit president ever to enter the White House.” Since in one study almost 30% of the viewing audience considers the presidential debates more helpful than talk shows or advertising spots, this means that a lot of people witnessed the Hillary performance in the debate. And given that the viewership was the biggest in history (over 80 million viewers) she was in a position to reintroduce herself to many people.

Presidential debates also produce multiplier effects. This means that post debate citizen communication about political issues is stimulated. The debate induces communication. And this post debate communication is one way that partisan preferences are mediated. In other words, debates because of information processing and selection biases are strongly implicated in reinforcing existing partisan biases. But these effects are mediated by post debate conversation. As citizens engage others, especially if this engagement represents some sense of substantive exchange, then partisan positions are challenged. From my own experience anyway, the Clinton-Trump post debate interactions were robust. This of course has something to do with Trump’s media presence and inimitable personality along with the uniquely personal and conflict oriented nature of the campaign. Nevertheless, it prompted post debate conversation relative to the issues people are thinking about.

One might continue to think, in naïve rationality, that Trump will make the necessary adjustments but it’s getting late and first debates are the most watched as the audience trails off for the next two. But we will tune in waiting for some sort of catastrophe that we can talk about after the debate.

What To Watch for Monday Night in the Clinton – Trump Debate

hillary-trump

Word around the campfire is that the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump this Monday night the 26th might be the most watched television program in history. Both candidates have an appeal to the various audiences that make up the United States (not to mention the world) beginning with Trump’s narcissistic populism and rank self-aggrandizement, and including Hillary’s “bitch persona” as Andi Zeisler explains in the New York Times.

The debate will devolve into two general strategic thrusts. One, we will at least fantasize about meeting our expectations on policy and issue stances. There will be some attempts to win debate points by a rather straightforward exchange of a few facts and arguments. But don’t expect this to last long and while this clearly favors Hillary it could work against her. Hillary Clinton is soaked in policy issues and Donald Trump doesn’t stand a chance. She is the grown up version of the high school debater carrying around a large suitcase of information and just waiting to pull out a little 3 x 5 fact card. I’m sure, bless her heart, she still thinks this form of discourse matters much. Somewhere in her soul she still believes that if she has one better fact than Trump, or makes the slightly better argument then she will “win.”

The problem is people don’t pay much attention to this form of communication any longer. Most of the population is incapable of taking part in such argument and, more to the point, don’t want to. Paradoxically, Hillary’s superior control of the substantive issues will do little more than classify her as “boring” or a “Washington policy wonk” who doesn’t understand the needs of real people. Moreover, Trump can escape this aspect of the debates unscathed because the expectations for him on these matters are so low. Even when it turns out he doesn’t know the difference between Turkey and his Thanksgiving meal he will emerge undamaged.

I suppose it is possible that Trump will pull an all-nighter and study for his big exams but I doubt it. This would be too against character. In fact, it might not serve him well because it would be contrary to his authenticity image which is based on a lack of fancy knowledge. Trump will do well if he just maintains some sense of equanimity. Then again, this too is against character.

But the name calling, personal attacks, and bullying will be the real fun. Both candidates have been wounded often enough that they take the shots pretty well. Trump will clearly try to bully Hillary but she’s also capable of being tough. This worked for Trump in the primaries and I’m sure he will continue to do “what got him here.” Trump will be at some disadvantage because of the moderator system rather me rabble rousing crowds. This is likely to subdue him which does not work to his advantage.

Hillary has to continue to drive home the theme that Trump lacks the manners and temperament to be president. Following the convention when she unleashed an aggressive series of ads around this theme was the time in which she had 10 point leads in the polls. These leads began to dissipate as soon as she scaled back that message. If Trump is calm on Monday night and even slightly appears presidential then that will be the best argument against Hillary’s claim that he is unfit for the job.

Unfortunately, the only way for Hillary Clinton to gain ground during the debate is to cause Trump to lose his temper or say something so outrageous that it reinforces Hillary’s claim that he is unfit for the job. Considered policy analysis and reasonable arguments that take place in the shiny and clean debating halls of justice are Hillary’s strength, but she’ll have to play outside in the dirt to beat Trump.

 

Change Hillary’s Campaign Slogan from “I’m with Her” to “She’s with Me.”

poll Clinton Trump

The results of the most recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll are in and the news is certainly good for Hillary. She leads Trump by double digits and he seems to be declining precipitously. In a head-to-head matchup Clinton leads Trump 51% to 39% among registered voters.The results are informative and the poll also shows some interesting data that should be useful for Hillary.

If you are a Republican hoping to defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall you must be pretty dispirited. I mean Hillary is beatable – or at least it appears she was beatable. Her high negatives coupled with all the people who dislike her for reasons justified or not seemed at one point insurmountable. But then along comes the Republican Party and they behave the way the Democrats usually do. That is, when they want to form a firing squad they get into a circle. No political party choice has been so tin-eared about the temperament and qualifications of a candidate since McCain chose Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and what they probably or potentially mean.

The most troubling data in the survey for Hillary is the net “new direction” data which indicate that 56% of those polled would like to set the nation on a new direction. This makes it difficult for Hillary to identify herself with the President and as a candidate that will continue Obama’s policies. But on the other hand, President Obama’s approval ratings at 56% are higher than since the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Obama is more popular than Bush was during the last days of his presidency. So using the President during the campaign – dependent of course on audiences and context – will generally be a safe bet for Hillary.

Just about two thirds of Americans think Trump is unqualified to be President. They believe his temperament is insufficiently stable and his comments about ethnic groups and women are unacceptable. It doesn’t matter if such comments are defined as racist or “politically incorrect” because his comments are considered inappropriate. The intensity of criticism for an opponent does not have to rise to racism; inappropriate is good enough. It marks the user as insensitive at best and incompetent at worst with no facility for basic civility or contextual awareness.

The majority of the populace considers Trump unqualified and astounding 64% do not believe he has the credentials to be President. Still, there’s a group of people who consider Trump unqualified for the job and disapprove of his comments about women, minorities, and Muslims but they plan to vote for him anyway. These are the people composed of two characteristics: extreme Obama hate which means they’ll vote for anybody who isn’t Obama or is associated politically with Obama, and those who want the country to move in a new direction. Hillary can probably safely pay little mind to one of these groups. The Obama haters are probably tinged with a little racism (at best) and it would be difficult to make progress with them.

But she has to convince the electorate that things are going to change for the better and new directions are in the offing. Hillary is the establishment candidate and easily defined as just “more of the same.” She shares an elite form of discourse with Obama and those of her politically competent generation which stands in contrast to Trump’s populism. Then again, she has Trump’s bumbling verbosity working to her advantage; that is, Trump could capitalize on the populist message if he knew how to communicate it. But my guess is Trump will continue to fail his party and his supporters by refusing to understand the difference between himself and his message. He will substitute authenticity for communicative effectiveness. And for Hillary to move toward stronger identification with supporters she should convince them that “she is with them” rather than “they are with her.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Group Membership Distorts Political Thinking and the Impossibility of Quality Political Communication

intergroup biasWatching citizens yell at one another during debates and political discussion has reminded me of something more than the loss of civility. It prompts me to recall the distorted communication that occurs so often during political conversation. These distortions in meaning and argument result from the ingroup mentality of belonging to a particular political party. People cling to their own beliefs as driven by reasoned analysis of the real world while the beliefs of others are the result of ideology, emotions, and biases. We easily divide political rivals into simplistic binary categories: red states or blue states, Democrats vs. Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Add to this the combustible mix of bloggers, talk radio hosts, and TV pundits and political discourse becomes hot and hostile rather than deliberative and respectful. Actually, labeling oneself as a member of a preferred group (e.g. “I am a conservative” or “I am a Democrat”) is dangerous and results in information distortions.

Party identifications are the result of people categorizing themselves as a member of an ingroup defined by certain characteristics. By categorizing myself as say “a Republican” I adopt characteristics of similar others, and embrace a list of appropriate beliefs and behaviors. I start to speak and behave in ways that I believe are consistent with my membership in this group called “Republicans.” When my group membership is coupled with motivations to enhance my own group’s self esteem, then I will produce favorable judgments and evaluations about my own ingroup, and unfavorable evaluations about outgroups. Thus, as a Republican I would consider myself a patriot and Democrats as socialists. This is a dangerous situation that produces serious errors and failings in political discourse. Let’s examine a few.

One thing that happens with strong group identification is that the social norms of that group become overly influential. If I identify as a “Democrat” then I will be more than usually influenced by how I imagine Democrats think and behave despite the merits of an issue. I will be more influenced by party membership than policy. In one research study Democrats and Republicans were given a policy statement and told that the policy was supported by either a majority of Democrats or Republicans. Subjects in the study disproportionately favored a policy when it was identified with their own political party. This means that political judgment is too influenced by group identification and not sufficiently the result of objective consideration and analysis.

Secondly, being a member of a political party causes partisans to make biased conclusions. People explain and judge political behavior on the basis of their own political worldviews. Hence, a conservative when confronted with someone from poor economic circumstances will easily attribute this to laziness or lack of ability where a liberal will cite unfavorable social circumstances. Again, the explanations for political events should be based on deep consideration of issues and more complexity (many things explain poor economic circumstances), not simply on consistency with my own group’s ideology.

Excessive suspicion and negativity toward politicians is a third bias of political party membership. During the healthcare debate Obama was called a socialist and even likened to Hitler (a strange confluence of political ideologies!). These extreme negative judgments about a politician’s character result when a politician from the other party (the outgroup) presents a position inconsistent with your own group’s position. Under these circumstances there is a tendency to exaggerate differences and attribute personal blame to the other.

Finally, political party favoritism has a strong emotional reaction because partisans are so motivated to favor their own group. For Democrats, their strong negative emotional reaction to George W. Bush diminished their ability to arrive at logical conclusions. If Bush was for something, Democrats were against it.

The healthcare debate, for example, has to be won on its merits. The above problems can be overcome by increased communicative contact with members of the other party and a widening of goals such that people see themselves more interdependently. Proper political communication is difficult and challenging but given the alternative it is a challenge we must meet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Pay Attention to the Data: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally Honest and Trustworthy

Hillary

I hear plenty of people blurt out that Hillary Clinton is “untrustworthy” or “they don’t like her” or even that she is a “liar.” But when I press them on this, when I say give me examples and ask them to explain why in any detail they usually can’t tell you. The least prepared will say something like, “I don’t know, I just don’t like her.” (That’s a compelling analysis!) Others will rush to the examples of her email or Benghazi, or if they’re old enough they will mention Whitewater and Vince Foster. These are all attacks on Hillary Clinton designed to damage her even though they have no basis in truth or blaming her is unjustified. It is about time she combats this image with more enthusiasm. The below is as good start and is re-posted from The Guardian

It’s impossible to miss the “Hillary for Prison” signs at Trump rallies. At one of the Democratic debates, the moderator asked Hillary Clinton whether she would drop out of the race if she were indicted over her private email server. “Oh for goodness – that is not going to happen,” she said. “I’m not even going to answer that question.”

Based on what I know about the emails, the idea of her being indicted or going to prison is nonsensical. Nonetheless, the belief that Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy is pervasive. A recent New York Times-CBS poll found that 40% of Democrats say she cannot be trusted.

For decades she’s been portrayed as a Lady Macbeth involved in nefarious plots, branded as “a congenital liar” and accused of covering up her husband’s misconduct, from Arkansas to Monica Lewinsky. Some of this is sexist caricature. Some is stoked by the “Hillary is a liar” videos that flood Facebook feeds. Some of it she brings on herself by insisting on a perimeter or “zone of privacy” that she protects too fiercely. It’s a natural impulse, given the level of scrutiny she’s attracted, more than any male politician I can think of.

I would be “dead rich”, to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I’ve spent covering just about every “scandal” that has enveloped the Clintons. As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising.

Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.

The yardsticks I use for measuring a politician’s honesty are pretty simple. Ever since I was an investigative reporter covering the nexus of money and politics, I’ve looked for connections between money (including campaign donations, loans, Super Pac funds, speaking fees, foundation ties) and official actions. I’m on the lookout for lies, scrutinizing statements candidates make in the heat of an election.

The connection between money and action is often fuzzy. Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.

As for her statements on issues, Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates. She beats Sanders and Kasich and crushes Cruz and Trump, who has the biggest “pants on fire” rating and has told whoppers about basic economics that are embarrassing for anyone aiming to be president. (He falsely claimed GDP has dropped the last two quarters and claimed the national unemployment rate was as high as 35%).

I can see why so many voters believe Clinton is hiding something because her instinct is to withhold. As first lady, she refused to turn over Whitewater documents that might have tamped down the controversy. Instead, by not disclosing information, she fueled speculation that she was hiding grave wrongdoing. In his book about his time working in the Clinton White House, All Too Human, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos wrote that failing to convince the first lady to turn over the records of the Arkansas land deal to the Washington Post was his biggest regret.

The same pattern of concealment repeats itself through the current campaign in her refusal to release the transcripts of her highly paid speeches. So the public is left wondering if she made secret promises to Wall Street or is hiding something else. The speeches are probably anodyne (politicians always praise their hosts), so why not release them?

Colin Diersing, a former student of mine who is a leader of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, thinks a gender-related double standard gets applied to Clinton. “We expect purity from women candidates,” he said. When she behaves like other politicians or changes positions, “it’s seen as dishonest”, he adds. CBS anchor Scott Pelley seemed to prove Diersing’s point when he asked Clinton: “Have you always told the truth?” She gave an honest response, “I’ve always tried to, always. Always.” Pelley said she was leaving “wiggle room”. What politician wouldn’t?

Clinton distrusts the press more than any politician I have covered. In her view, journalists breach the perimeter and echo scurrilous claims about her circulated by unreliable rightwing foes. I attended a private gathering in South Carolina a month after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. Only a few reporters were invited and we sat together at a luncheon where Hillary Clinton spoke. She glared down at us, launching into a diatribe about how the press had invaded the Clintons’ private life. The distrust continues.

These are not new thoughts, but they are fundamental to understanding her. Tough as she can seem, she doesn’t have rhino hide, and during her husband’s first term in the White House, according to Her Way, a critical (and excellent) investigative biography of Clinton by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, she became very depressed during the Whitewater imbroglio. A few friends and aides have told me that the email controversy has upset her as badly.

Like most politicians, she’s switched some of her positions and sometimes shades the truth. In debates with Sanders, she cites her tough record on Wall Street, but her Senate bills, like one curbing executive pay, went nowhere. She favors ending the carried interest loophole cherished by hedge funds and private equity executives because it taxes their incomes at a lower rate than ordinary income. But, according to an article by Gerth, she did not sign on to bipartisan legislation in 2007 that would have closed it. She voted for a bankruptcy bill favored by big banks that she initially opposed, drawing criticism from Elizabeth Warren. Clinton says she improved the bill before voting for passage. Her earlier opposition to gay marriage, which she later endorsed, has hurt her with young people. Labor worries about her different statements on trade deals.

Still, Clinton has mainly been constant on issues and changing positions over time is not dishonest.

It’s fair to expect more transparency. But it’s a double standard to insist on her purity.

Trump’s Racism: How He Morally Excludes Mexicans

Trump

Trump is not a smart politician who knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t craft his populist message and ill manners into some clever verbal strategy that is designed to have a particular effect. No, he’s authentic. When you hear him fumble over ideas, encourage violence, display a lack of knowledge, make fun of others, lie, and express his racist and sexist ways he is acting genuinely and organically. This is who he is, someone without the manners or temperament to be the Commander-in-Chief. When he states that a Mexican judge cannot be fair he is expressing an idea clearly representative of his thinking and natural consciousness. When Trump suggests punching a protester in the face, or tries to erase Obama by denying his birth certificate, or expresses disgust toward women and those with handicaps he is offering us the best and most reliable look into his thinking and thought processes.

The clearest and most direct path way into Trump’s consciousness is through his use of language and discourse. By discourse I mean how language is used as a tool for social life and how language carries meaning because it is the most direct link to reality.

For example, the well-known quip that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is a good example of the relationship between language and consciousness or the performative expression (the language) of cognitive, sociological, psychological, and political content. An individual act of violence can be framed with all of the assumptions and implications of the term “terrorist” or it can be a noble activity of a group struggling for freedom and human rights – the “freedom fighter.” The language used in particular situations is what evokes the semantic network of meanings, and assumptions, and interpretations that accompany the terminology.

Racists betray themselves through language. They will use a derogatory term to refer to a group (all groups have them, “the N word,” “spic”), associate a particular substandard behavior with a group (“Mexicans are lazy,” “Jews are cheap”) assume commonalities among group members that don’t exist (“all Muslims are violent” “those coming across the border are drug dealers and rapists”), expect bias and distorted interpretations because of group membership (“Israelis and Palestinians perceive things only in accordance with their own interests”), rely on historical stereotypes, and assume that the discriminated against group is less deserving of moral treatment.

There are, of course, volumes written about bias, discrimination, and old-fashioned racism. But one of the more interesting strands in this literature is the practice of morally excluding members of minority groups. In cases of extreme threat and violence (e.g. jihadists) the group is considered unworthy of moral treatment (see Opotow’s research).

Trump’s comment about Mexicans (not to mention women) betrays his attitudes about the moral standing of these groups and the extent to which they can be denied considerations of justice and fairness. Trump has essentially delegitimized Mexicans and by his statement that he could not get fair treatment from a Mexican judge, assumes them to be less developed and worthy. In cases of dangerous violence moral exclusion can justify genocide and extremes. But even if we give Trump more credit than that, he is still expressing an ideology of exclusion which justifies attributions of prejudice and discrimination to the “other” group.

Trumps racism is in line with the tendencies to treat an outgroup (Mexicans) as worthy of special consideration; that is, this group violates some standards assumed to be characteristic of his own ingroup and they are therefore problematic and outside the boundaries of democratic processes. Of course, his reference to the judge as “Mexican” rather than an “American” betrays Trump’s inclination to consider ethnicity as generative and a more explanatory category then being “an American.” That’s rank racism.

 

Conservative Liars Have Created Frankentrump

donald-trump-5.0

The Republicans have lied so systematically and pervasively that they now have created a new lying monster and it is loose in the streets and no one seems to be able to capture him. It’s Frankentrump. The fact checking websites are ablaze with Trump’s lies. Of course, no one expected Frankentrump to last this long, no one thought the little monster was anything other than annoying and while he might terrorize the streets for a few days he was mostly entertainment value.

But it turns out that the monster Frankentrump has escaped from the laboratory and is staying alive by continuing to terrorize the streets with even more lies and unsubstantiated statements. In fact, Frankentrump is moving into the mainstream population. The village elders in the GOP are worried because they are losing control of him. And, he is upsetting the GOP establishment because his lies and misinformation are not being corrected properly which means this monstrosity continues to feed, grow, and is difficult to contain. How was Frankentrump created?

Frankentrump is the monster that was born of three maniacal mothers all related to the GOP. It’s common enough and facile to say that all politicians lie or that both Democrats and Republicans manipulate information but it does not mean that the two parties do it the same way or have equal skill. The Republicans are far more skilled at lying than the Democrats and they have now created this beast slouching toward the presidency.

Frankentrump’s three mothers are (a) the Republican reality bubble created by their own system of media ownership and think tanks, (b) the era of “post-truth politics,” and (c) new media. You can read more about Trump and the media here.

(a). It’s fairly common knowledge that in the last decades the GOP has successfully created think tanks, media outlets (Fox News), cable programs, talk shows, and publication opportunities all designed to perpetuate a conservative agenda. There is nothing inherently wrong with this except in the case of the GOP it has produced a toxic side effect which is that so many GOP candidates live in a bubble that is disconnected from reality. They have distorted the truth so frequently and so aggressively (e.g., Obama is a Muslim, Obama is not a citizen, veterans Swift-Boating Kerry, weapons of mass destruction, the Clintons killed Vince Foster) that they live in an increasingly insular world. Just look at this list of GOP presidential candidates – listen to how people talk about them as crazy, or scary, or embarrassing – and tell me they are not little monsters challenging conventions of evidence and reasoning.

(b). Post-truth politics is the fact that voters use crude heuristics to assess legislative proposals. This runs somewhat counter to the idealized Enlightenment view which to gather facts, draw conclusions, create policy on the basis of those conclusions, and implement. Post-truth thinkers identify with a group, adopt the position of that group, and then do nothing but seek confirmatory information. The Republicans have been particularly effective at finding heuristics. Every Democratic proposal is met with an unpleasant group identification. The proposal is socialism, or weak liberalism, or class warfare, etc. You can read more about post-truth thinking here.

(c). There is a loss of credibility and traditional media. The era when journalists were informed and asked tough questions and pointed questions designed to inform the public is slipping away. There is so much new media and user generated content that the power of the media has been drained in this sense. There are so many opportunities for expression that no one credible and respectable source can dominate the narrative. And most importantly perhaps is the strategy of simply accusing the other side of something outrageous, knowing it is false, but walking away from the accusation over time because the damage is done even though the accusation is false or constructed. Hence, Hillary Clinton is accused of negligence in Benghazi or inappropriately using a server in the State Department. These are non-issues that are blown way out of proportion and the goal is simply to make the accusation and damage the other person casting care about facts or truth to the wind.

And so the newest incarnation of this entire poison cocktail is the monster known as Frankentrump. The party elders have lit their torches and are trying to chase the monster from the village, but as of now they can’t catch him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Republicans Are Wimps: How to Have a Deliberative Presidential Candidate Debate

 

10-commandments-of-LogicRemember, quality adversarial debate does not arise spontaneously. It is a public good that must be nurtured.

Is it really too much to ask that the political parties (but essentially the Republicans this year) work harder to turn even the primary debates into something a little more deliberative? These debates are structurally flawed and result in confusion and a cacophony of voices that are incoherent and fail to provide a line of reasoning for citizens to observe and learn from. Any debate structure put in place will have its strengths and weaknesses, but any structure will also be better than what we’ve been witnessing.

Running for president is not for sissies. You have to be able to stand up and respond to criticism and make your case to the public. And when attacked the candidate should, ideally anyway, respond with argumentative detail that demonstrates a full command of the issues. The Republican candidates who complained about “gotcha” questions and thought questions about one’s personal behavior and finances were out of line were more interested in manipulating the debate format into kid-glove treatment rather than vigorous engagement. If it seems like a candidate is going to bend under the pressure of a journalist asking him or her a “mean” question, then the candidate might have problems shouldering the burdens of the world.

The structure of the debates is consistent with the structure of the television medium. These 30 second time limits and response times are responsive to the commercial nature of television and the belief in the audience member’s limited processing capabilities. The debate format is not conducive to the engagement of complex issues such as Iraq, healthcare, gun control, race relations, and the like. Consequently, we get sound bite debates with simplistic images of “good guys” and “bad guys” who stand on the stage waiting for the right moment to insert a pre-prepared statement that is semi-related to the issue at hand and typically doesn’t advance an issue.

The 14 Republican candidates have the nerve to pose problematic and sometimes wild ideas such as deporting 10 million people, building walls to seal off immigrants, cutting a 70,000 page tax code to three pages, and then whimpering when they were challenged on these ideas. If these fringe Republican candidates get their way it will only be Fox News who gets to ask them softball questions.

Outline of a Deliberative Format

The following issues must be addressed in order to increase the communicative value of these debates and come closer to the commission’s goals for informing the public and fostering a truly deliberative environment. Read more about related issues in an article by Collier.

  1. The model of dialogue and reasoned deliberation has always expected the participants to be mutually joined and engaged in the same issue. In other words, they need to be talking about the same thing at the same time. Inserting canned and pre-prepared comments that are designed for nothing but manipulation and desperate attempts to make mini campaign speeches are an anathema to the dialogic and deliberative process.
  2. The Commission on Presidential Debates should first direct its attention away from what it believes to be its role in structuring debate formats and concentrate more on the constitutional right to receive information. This means structure the questions and the format of the debate so that specific controversial issues (gun-control, healthcare, the war in Iraq, fighting ISIS, taxes) receive required attention and time. The current debate structure deprives listeners of this information.
  3. There must be meaningful opportunities for response. As of now, no bad argument goes unpunished. There should be fact checkers working during the actual debate and candidates would be required to respond to discrepancies at a selected period of time at the end of the debate. These fact checkers could also provide additional context for misleading and manipulative quotes taken out of context.
  4. The opportunity to correct mistakes and challenge misleading comments is not trivial because unchallenged and uncorrected comments find a life of their own circulating in media discussion and among citizens. Lies, exaggerations, and out of context information becomes reified and assumes a truth value.
  5. A common strategy for aggressive campaign operatives is to make a false statement or accusation, uphold it for a couple of new cycles, and then disappear. Even if the statement is later shown to be a complete falsehood the damage has already been done to the opposing candidate. This “name-calling” tactic degrades the process and increases the magnitude of falsehoods circulating in the discourse.

I will have more to say on debates and their deliberative structure in future posts. But it would behoove us to keep in mind that citizens prefer to receive information from like-minded others. This causes distorted processing and polarization of the type we see today. It’s imperative that political candidates be exposed to a diversity of opinions in order to improve their own.

 

 

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