Monday, January 18, 2021
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Must Business Execs Make Better Leaders?

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

Republicans are betting heavily this election year on candidates from the business world - e.g., for Senate, Carly Fiorina in CA, Linda McMahon in CT, and Bill Binnie in NH; for governor, Meg Whitman in CA, Rick Snyder in MI, and Charlie Baker in MA; and this Tuesday, Tim Burns for John Murtha's House seat in PA.

Putting aside whether the recent shenanigans of corporations from Goldman Sachs to BP may tarnish this strategy, I'd like to ask an even more important question: what is the track record of businessmen who become political leaders?  Certainly there are businessmen who make admirable contributions to government, like Virginia's own Mark Warner.

But there's a very important lesson of history that most people don't know - namely, that SOME OF THE MOST DISASTROUS LEADERS OF THIS CENTURY HAVE BEEN FORMER BUSINESSMEN.  I'm not even going to get into our first MBA president, George W. Bush, both because his Reign of Error is so fresh in our minds and because, frankly, he was a lousy businessman too.  No, in this diary I'm going to focus on three successful businessmen-turned-leaders who left incredible trails of destruction behind them - Herbert Hoover, Neville Chamberlain and Robert McNamara.  And there is critical evidence that their business experience was a major contributing factor in their spectacular failures.

Polls Looking Up For the Democrats

I'm taking this cautiously and skeptically; still, I like the looks of these polls!

1. According to Political Wire, "A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows Democrats now leading the generic congressional ballot, 45% to 40%, a reversal from last month when Republicans led by three points."

2. Gallup now has President Obama's approval rating at the highest in three months, at 52%-41% (+11 points). We'll see if it can hold at that level of increase further in coming weeks and months. I'm hoping Obama can reach 60% or so by the fall. If he does, Democrats will be in much better shape come November than they appear to be now.

3. Research 2000 now has President Obama's favorable/unfavorable rating at 55%-40% (+15 points), with the "right track/wrong track" reading now at the highest level since July 9, 2009. Also, the voter intensity gap between Republicans and Democrats "narrowed noticeably this week," to just 7 points (71%-64%). Finally, 52% of Americans now say they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate "who supports and will work to improve the new health care reform law", while just 41% say they prefer "a candidate who will work to repeal it completely."

The bottom line is this: if the economy keeps improving, and specifically if it keeps adding jobs at the rate we saw last month, then people will feel better about the country's direction and more likely to keep incumbents in office. On the other hand, if the economy heads in the wrong direction between now and this fall, then I'd say we're looking at a bad November for Democrats.  Other than that, Democrats need to be out there telling voters what historians already know: "President Obama's legislative record during a crisis-ridden presidency already puts him in a league with such consequential presidents as Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt." That seems like the type of news you'd want to share with everybody! :)

Obama: GOP “drove the car into the ditch…now they want the...


Nailed it.
After they drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back. No! You can't drive! We don't want to have to go back into the ditch. We just got the car out.

UPDATE: National Journal reports that the economy under Barack Obama and the Democrats is on track to create "more jobs in 2010 alone than it did over the entire eight years of George W. Bush's presidency." And that's in spite of relentless Republican opposition to everything ("the party of no") and talking down of the U.S. economy.  G'Obama!

UPDATE #2: According to Gallup's latest, Barack Obama is now at +11 approval (52%-41%), his highest net approval in 3 months, according to Gallup. Combined with today's RK2000 poll (55%-41% approval), could things finally be starting to turn around for Dem's?

Jealous of the United Kingdom

I confess I am a bit jealous that the United Kingdom enjoys a Conservative Party that is willing to accept modern realities and even compromise with moderates on important national issues. I am not a huge fan of the Tories, but they can at least be reasonable and be reasoned with.

What went wrong in the United States that our conservative party became such uncompromising extremists? Can the Libertarians take the mainstream conservative party status away from the Republicans, please? Pretty please?

UPDATE by Lowell: See here for a less positive view of the Tories.  For instance:

Not that the Lib Dems managed to exploit the inherent weakness in Cameron's situation. When the agreement brokered between the two parties is analysed in detail, it becomes clear that Nick Clegg's supposedly canny negotiators got a lousy deal. The worst elements of Tory policy - immediate spending cuts, an ill-defined and undeliverable cap on immigration, a reduction in the number of MPs and those deeply unpleasant married couples tax allowances all survive the axe. Some commentators think Clegg's team did manage to win a few worthy concessions, but in practice the policies they did help secure greater consensus on are unworkable. A unilateral tax on bonuses will simply result in risk migrating across the pond and infecting the global system from a new starting point, while a tax on planes does not directly force consumers to curb emissions in any meaningful way. Those on the left who are now happily defending the Liberal Democrats' role in government are asking to be disappointed.
Still, I agree with snolan about being jealous of the United Kingdom.  Here in the United States, the British "Conservatives" would be moderate Democrats like Mark Warner, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats would be liberal Democrats or Bernie Sanders-style "socialists."  Note that all of the major British parties would fall significantly to the left of the Republican Party. In fact, it's hard to think of the current GOP - global warming denying freaks, opposed to national health care, rabidly anti-government, anti-choice, etc. - as constituting a serious, mainstream, national party in almost any (other) advanced, industrialized country in the world.  In the the U.S., however, the political spectrum is sharply shifted to the right compared to the UK's and every other industrialized nation's.  The question is, how did it get that way exactly, and will it ever change for the better?

P.S. We can run through the same exercise using historic Republican presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Richard Nixon. Today, all of them almost certainly would be Democrats, possibly even LIBERAL Democrats.  Which means that the U.S. political spectrum today isn't just out of step with the rest of the western world, it's also out of step with our own history.  Ugh.

“Astro-turfers” on the Move

Now that there is no limit to how much money corporations can pour into political campaigns, we have our first astro-turfer-for-governor campaign.  If he succeeds, watch for more of this.  

Remember astro-turfer Rick Scott? Fronting for corporations, Rick Scott brought disinformation about health care reform and helped stir up the ill-informed tea party crowd.  His group, "Conservatives for Patient Rights," an oxymoron if ever there were one, actually worked against real patient rights, and for the interests astro-turfer Scott fronts for.

During the health care non-debate, or rather one-sided shout-out by Tea Partiers, Scott paid to bus tea-bag-heads to rallies.  He also spent $5 million on an ad campaign designed to defeat the public option and health care reform in general.

Now he wants to gain political office.  He's running as a so-called "outsider" against Republican AG Bill McCollum for Florida's governor (no real choice there on the GOP side). Some outsider!  

Tim Kaine on Bob Bennett Defeat, Tea Party, and the “Republican...

DNC Chair (and former Virginia governor) Tim Kaine issued the following statement following the defeat of Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) this weekend by Tea Party activists and others from the hard right who thought Bennett was not conservative enough.
Today the Tea Party strengthened its hold on the Republican Party by ousting Utah's Senator Bob Bennett from the primary. That the Tea Party would consider Bob Bennett - one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate - too liberal, just goes to show how extreme the Tea Party is. This is just the latest battle in the corrosive Republican intra-party civil war that has resulted in the Tea Party devouring two Republicans in just as many weeks. If there was any question before, there should now be no doubt that the Republican leadership has handed the reigns to the Tea Party.
By the way, Progressive Punch rates Bennett as the 81st most progressive U.S. Senator, not much different than Jon Kyl (#78), Orrin Hatch (#79), Sam Brownback (#82), Michael Enzi (#84), Jim Inhofe (#86) and Jim DeMint (#87). The point is, if Bob Bennett isn't conservative enough for the Tea Party, then basically noone in the GOP is.  In short, the Tea Party appears to be the monster that could cause the GOP to self destruct. As the saying goes, if you play with matches, you're likely to get burned...

P.S. Spelling note to Tim Kaine; it should be "reins" not "reigns."

UPDATE: See Chris Cillizza's article on the "Bob Bennett fallout."  According to Cillizza, Bennett's loss "sets off alarm bells across the chamber as Members contemplate their own fates." Cillizza adds that this is "especially true on the Republican side where the rise of the Tea Party movement has put establishment politicians on notice." Cillizza quotes Republican strategist Ed Rogers pointing to Bennett's loss as "proof that the tea party movement is huge presence in the GOP organization." I agree with Cillizza and Rogers on all these points.

NewsHour: Are Republicans Winning in Social Media?


I found this story to be interesting, but also frustrating.  Why would 60% of Capitol Hill's "twitterverse" be composed of Republican members?  Why would House Republicans send 5 times as many Tweets as their Democratic counterparts, and 35% more in the Senate?  Why would 89% of of Congressional Republicans have their own YouTube channels, compared to just 74% for Democrats? Also, 8 of the top 10 most viewed and most subscribed channels are from the Republicans?

Part of this GOP dominance is that, as Dave Weigel says, the party out of power has more to protest.  Thus, when George W. Bush was in office, the Democratic netroots grew by leaps and bounds. Today, with Republicans out of power, the "rightosphere" also appears to be growing fast, while the "leftosphere" appears to be falling behind. Part of it is also money: Newt Gingrich says that campaigns should spend as much money on new media as for radio and television.  Instead, what we saw in 2009 was striking; according to techPresident:

...Deeds was simply outmatched online by McDonnell and the web of consultants he reached out to -- and funded -- throughout the course of the campaign. It's a disparity that grew worse as the Deeds campaign struggled to the finish line, and advisors with the Democratic campaign poured more money into the more traditional mediums of television and radio. In the first three weeks of October, for example, Deeds poured more than $3 million into television and radio ads. According to Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) filings, Deeds dedicated just over $117,000 or so to online politicking through late October.

In other words, Deeds spent on TV in the campaign's closing weeks alone more than twenty five times what he dropped on the Internet and other digital efforts over the course of his entire bid for the governor's mansion.

The point of this isn't to pick on the Deeds campaign, per se.  Instead, this seems to be a major, and common, failing among Democratic candidates, state party organizations, and many others. The Republicans simply appear to "get it" online far better than Democrats, and also to be willing to put their money where their mouths are.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that new media - blogs, social networking, YouTube, etc. - provides tremendous "bang for the buck," many Democratic political consultants appear to remain mired in old ways of thinking, where raising money to spend much of it on broadcast TV and radio in the last couple weeks was the way to go. With advances in technology of all kinds, it's not the way to go anymore, yet the model remains strikingly stagnant on the Democratic side.  That needs to change, or no matter how much stronger Democrats' message is, they're not going to be able to translate that into victories at the polls.

P.S. As I wrote last November, a reasonable share for a campaign's new media budget is around 10% of the campaign's overall ad budget.  The Deeds campaign spent about 1/10th or 1/20th of that (0.5%-1.0%). Part of this disparity results from political campaigns being run by the same people who've been running them for years, and these people tend do what they've always done - TV, direct mail, and not much else. In fact, from what I hear, these people don't even understand cable TV, let alone "new media."  But hey, as long as those consultants are fat and happy, who cares if we actually win elections, right?

Right Wingnuts: Bob McDonnell Not Right Wingnutty Enough

From the "there's no pleasing some people" category (or is it the "live by the sword, die by the sword" category?), we now have this.
After eight years of Democratic rule, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was seen by conservatives as a political savior, someone who would restore the state's right-leaning policies and traditions. But less than four months into his term, many conservatives have grown disenchanted, even as he has made direct appeals to causes they care about.

Two recent high-profile efforts to cater to parts of the conservative coalition -- declaring April as Confederate History Month and slashing funding for Planned Parenthood -- only further agitated many.

McDonnell's failure to mention slavery in the Confederate proclamation led to a cycle of national ridicule followed by an apology from the governor, dampening whatever boost he might have gotten. And although McDonnell removed most state funding from Planned Parenthood, he stopped short of his campaign promise to cut all funds from the nation's largest abortion provider, leaving many social conservatives feeling let down.

As if all that isn't bad enough, McDonnell also endorsed that known liberal/radical/commie John McCain. Even worse, McDonnell "angered conservatives by issuing a directive outlawing discrimination in the state workforce, including on the basis of sexual orientation."  Apparently, certain "conservatives" saw McDonnell's toothless, anti-discrimination "directive" as - get this - "legitimizing homosexuality."  Gasp.

In short, as much of a right wingnut as "Pat Robertson's Manchurian Candidate" has been as governor, it's apparently never enough for the far-right-wing "base" of the Republican Party here in Virginia. Apparently, these people won't be happy until Virginia secedes from the Union; is turned into a Pat Robertson-ruled religious theocracy, with enforcement by Grand Inquisitor Ken Cuccinelli; is armed by the NRA (or is the NRA too squishy for these people?); is taxed by...well, noone, since there won't be any taxes, except maybe on poor people; has its environment protected by BP, Exxon Mobil and Dominion Power; has its workers' safety ensured by Don Blankenship; has its education provided by charter schools and home schools, the godless public schools abolished; provides health care, if you can get it at all, in exchange for some chickens; changes its state flag either to "Don't Tread on Me" or to the Confederate battle flag; outlaws "sodomy" and makes "sodomites" subject to caning (or worse); jails abortion providers and women receiving abortion services; etc., etc.  And even then, it probably won't be enough for the Pat Robertson and Grover Norquist crowds.  But until that glorious day comes, it looks like they'll have to put up with the "gutless" Bob McDonnell and his "bad cop" sidekick, Grand Inquisitor Kookinelli.  

As for the rest of us?  We can just scratch our heads and wonder, how did Virginia go so far off the deep end after becoming a moderate, "purple" state during the 2000s?  Were Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Jim Webb, and Barack Obama some sort of strange aberrations in Virginia's political history?  Or, was 2009 more the result of a nasty recession causing a toxic political climate; a fundamentally dishonest-but-slick Republican gubernatorial candidate; and a disastrous Democratic gubernatorial nominee who, I'd remind everyone, also lost statewide in 2005, when Democrats were becoming ascendant. My guess is that 2009 was the latter case, that the inexorable demographic changes we've seen for years in Virginia are continuing, and that eventually - November 2010 would be nice! - there will be a strong backlash to the backlash. In the meantime, witness what "conservative" ascendancy means, never forget it, and never EVER let anyone tell you again that elections don't have consequences or that your vote doesn't matter!

The Caps and the Repubs

I am not a stellar sports fan, but even I knew that Washington, D.C.'s hockey team, the Capitals, were something to marvel at.  I can even spell Alex Ovechkin. That's why even I thought game 7 was a major downer, not to mention a nasty surprise. Hey, given the limp performance of our other sports teams, the Caps were such a relief after the 'skins went downhill, depriving this partisan town of one thing we could all agree on. Then came the Caps and Ovechkin, and this was to be the year the Big Red Caps went all the way, but a funny thing happened on the way to the Stanley Cup.