Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Blast from the Past, A Dust-Up in the Future?

In a name that hasn't been uttered much in politics since 2004, Carol Moseley Braun announced recently she is running for Mayor of Chicago. And given that city's history of electing crooks and dishonest folks, she might stand a chance of winning.

However, this sets up an interesting dilemma for the Left, as former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has also decided to run for Mayor. On the one hand, you have a proud Leftist who is to the left of Barack Obama. On the other, you have a Leftist who has been walking the halls of power with President Obama, so he is seen has having some major political stroke which could be useful in the waning days of Obama's first term as President.

The enigma in all of this is whether the Left still hold Obama in high enough regard to sway voters. As we've seen in recent months, Leftists are ideologically strident, as strident as the Religious Right. Contrary to what you might think, the Left really isn't happy with Obama, namely because they don't feel he's Leftist enough. (Note to the President: Ask Joe Lieberman how that feels.) If Braun stays in the race long enough, eventually the Left will have to decide whether they're going to stick with the "President's man" or if they'll reject Emanuel as Obama-By-Proxy.

This speaks to the larger conversation going on with the Left these days, that being ideological purity. For as much as the Left love to say the Right has litmus tests for candidates, they're not much better. And it's this quest for pure Leftists that will drive the Democrats further out of the mainstream. That cost them in the midterm elections, and it may cost them here. I say "may" because, regardless of how far Left Braun and Emanuel are, it's unlikely a Republican to the right of Al Gore will take the Mayoral election.

Even so, the Left's loose coalition of special interest groups will be tested even more by having to make this choice. The Left is already seeing splintering within its ranks (such as with the budding feud between Keith Olbermann and Ted Koppel), and situations like this will drive further wedges in the Left because it will force them to either compromise or lose. And if the midterms are any indication, they may be doubling down on losing for a while to come.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Angle of the Rangel

Today's House Ethics Committee hearing about the alleged crimes of Rep. Charles Rangel took an interesting turn as Rangel walked out of the hearing, citing a desire for legal representation and objecting to the Committee denying it to him. At first, I had the reaction a lot of people did: shock and amusement.

Yet, if you really think about it, Rangel's actions today were part of a brilliant political move designed to minimize the damage to himself and the Democratic Party. At this point, I honestly do not believe Rangel ever intended to testify before the House Ethics Committee because to do so would have meant he would be under oath. Lying to Congress could be grounds for a contempt of Congress charge, which would have made things a lot tougher on Rangel. What he needed was a way for his side of the story to get an airing, but not subject himself to the possibility of lying under oath to Congress.

That's where Rangel had an ace up his sleeve, or to be more precise, two. The chair of the House Ethics Committee is Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). Until Republicans fill that position in January, Lofgren is still the Chair, which means she controls how things will go. That gives Rangel at least one sympathetic ear. The other ace is Blake Chisam, the staff director and chief counsel of the House Ethics Committee. He has direct ties guessed it, Zoe Lofgren. And as Rangel's primary defender before the Committee, he was the voice Rangel needed. That made Rangel bulletproof, politically speaking. He had nobody at home who would take him to task (he won reelection handily in his home District), and the likelihood of the House Ethics Committee punishing him beyond a slap on the wrist during a lame duck session of Congress was high. He really didn't need to be there, so he made a scene and walked out.

This was the best defense he could have concocted, and he played it brilliantly. It also takes a lot of heat off the Democrats because it would have been harder and harder for them to defend him if the hearing went on beyond a day or two. As it stands, the Ethics Committee should be ruling on the matter by the end of the week, thus putting the issue behind the Democrats once and for all.

He may be a dishonest scumbag, but I have to give Charles Rangel credit for such a brilliant political move.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Failure to Communicate?

In the aftermath of last Tuesday's midterm elections, a new narrative has come from the Obama camp: the election results were due to bad communication from the White House to the American people. The idea is if they had communicated their successes more effectively, voters wouldn't have voted for Republicans overwhelmingly.

On the one hand, they have a point. The Obama Administration has a communication problem, one they have suffered with since Obama took the Oath of Office. On the campaign trail, the Obama team was effective in packaging a message and getting it out to the people. We may not have agreed with the message, but it cannot be denied that Obama's campaign communication team was a well-oiled machine.

Once in office, however, Obama has suffered with communication missteps, many of which can be left at the feet of former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. While the communication during the campaign was accessible to everyone, the post-campaign communication has become smug, snarky, and condescending towards anyone who holds a contrary view. Look at the Obama Administration's treatment of Fox News, for example. Whether it was the occasional off-handed remark about whether Fox News is a legitimate news network or the more ham-fisted attempts to treat Fox News as illegitimate, the Obama Administration spent a lot more time attacking a cable news network than they did in articulating a message related to their efforts. That shows a poor communication strategy designed not to trumpet their successes, but bleat out a poor tuba solo and blame it on others.

While I admit the Obama Administration's communication hasn't been as effective as it should have been, I can't completely chalk up the midterm election results to it. A huge part of any communication strategy is determining the message to send to the intended audience, while containing as well as possible any unintended messages. In the absence of the former, the latter becomes the message by default. We can argue about what the Obama Administration has done, but it means little if the source of those accomplishments isn't talking. That cedes the ground to third parties on both sides of the aisle, which can lead to a distortion of the intended message.

In this case, the message that was conveyed to the public was a disjointed mess of Leftist arrogance, partisan fear-mongering, and rampant hypocrisy. Combined with the TEA Party's rhetoric energizing people to get involved and the way the political winds tend to shift in midterm elections, it was assumed the Democrats would suffer losses. The question was how many.

Chalking up the political drubbing Obama's party received last Tuesday on a failure to communicate is appropriate, but only to an extent. If Obama wants to avoid another setback for his party (and possibly himself) in 2012, he'll need to address the communication issues within his own circle of power soon.