Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The tragic irony of turning Michael Brown and Eric Garner into martyrs

It seems like it’s almost impossible to get through a day without reading or hearing something having to do with the killing of black men by cops. Whether it’s endless Facebook posts or NFL players running out on the field with their “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gestures or protests blocking rush hour traffic, it seems to be everywhere. From what you see one would think that black men in America are being killed like dogs in the street across the country. While they might be, it’s not by racist white cops, but rather, by other black men.

One example was a video a friend posted on Facebook of a man named McKenzie Cochran, a black man who died at the hands of three white mall security personnel in Detroit last January. Like the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, a grand jury decided not to indict the security officers.

According to the Huffington Post, Cochran had returned to the mall after being requested to leave, threatened to kill someone, refused when asked by security to leave once again and then continued to struggle with officers after being pepper sprayed.

Brown, Garner and Cochran were indeed black, and all three ended up dead at the hands of white police officers or security personnel. But this is far from a war on black men that Al Sharpton, Mayor De Blasio and Eric Holder seem to suggest exists.

The reality is, there were numerous opportunities for Brown, Garner and Cochran to change the outcomes of their interactions with police. Does anyone imagine that had Brown simply moved out of the street when told that he would have been shot? Does anyone imagine that had Garner simply allowed the police to arrest him that he would have suffocated? Does anyone who reads the story about Cochran imagine that he would have ended up dead at the hands of security officers had he simply left the mall when asked?

As painful as these situations are for the families, one wonders what might have happened had the police been more differential? Might Michael Brown have robbed another store – and maybe this time pushed someone so that they fell and struck their head on the floor – or might McKenzie Cochran have actually carried out his threat to kill innocents? Eric Garner is slightly different in that his crime was selling untaxed “loosies” or loose cigarettes, a viable pursuit because of New York’s $6.00 a pack taxes. Doing so is illegal. You can complain about the law being stupid, but it was the law and Garner was breaking it. The cops could have let him go, but just days before Garner died the city’s highest-ranking uniformed cop, Philip Banks, issued an order to crack down on loosie sales.

The point is, none of these cases, nor most of the cases the left throws up to demonstrate the institutional racism rampant in America, hold up to scrutiny. They simply demonstrate a confluence of events where people who chose to act badly had outcomes that resulted in their deaths. But such are the odds when someone chooses to act badly, regardless of the activity. Most drunk drivers don’t die behind the wheel, but some do. Most recreational drug use doesn’t result in an overdose, but some does. And the truth is, while police encounters sometimes turn out bad for black men – just as they sometimes do for whites, Hispanics, Jews, etc. – they also sometimes turn out badly for cops. This can be seen by the fact that fifty officers were shot and killed in the line of duty in 2014, a jump of 56% from 2013. The difference is, unlike Brown or Garner or Cochran, these officers were killed while seeking to serve and protect their communities rather than resisting arrest or threatening innocent civilians.

The tragic irony about the rioting and demonstrations and accusations seeking to turn Michael Brown et. al into martyrs for a false cause is the fact that it diverts attention from where it should be. There are no doubt bad cops out there. In any group numbering in the hundreds of thousands you will find some number who have betrayed their oaths. But when the left characterizes all cops as racist killers it makes it impossible to find and focus on the real bad actors. That’s the irony of the whole thing… by wrongly accusing the entire police establishment of being bad, protesters actually empower the cops who are to continue doing business as usual because their actions are lost in a sea of fictional claims of racism and oppression. It’s called hiding in plain sight… by ignoring the difference between bad actors and bad outcomes – admittedly, sometimes tragic outcomes – activists make it that much more difficult to truly weed out the bad cops that really exist. By making everyone a racist, then no one is a racist and real racism has no fear of detection. The result is that activists actually increase the odds of the exact outcomes they are seeking to eliminate by giving them camouflage with a sea of false accusations. But then this is liberalism… where rhetoric is more important than results.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Schoolhouse Rock, Ronald Reagan and messaging to save the country

I was in elementary school during the country’s Bicentennial celebration. From Bicentennial quarters and the new $2 bills to plays about our founding fathers to the most spectacular fireworks I’d ever seen, 1976 was a yearlong celebration of American history, and living in the DC area I felt like I had a front row seat to the entire experience. Coming of age at that time and at that place probably explains why I’ve always been a huge fan of ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock.

My favorite segment was always I’m just a Bill, a story where the lovable little Bill explains how he becomes a law. As much as I love I’m just a Bill, the reality is that that’s not how things actually get done in Washington. While things weren’t really that simple even back in 1976, today reality bears almost no resemblance to that story at all. A far more accurate characterization of the today’s process can be found in Saturday Night Live’s recent spoof.

Something else memorable happened in 1976. Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination. He lost, but in doing so he set the stage for his eventual triumph four years later.

What do Schoolhouse Rock and Ronald Reagan have to do with one another? Both were the gold standard of communication. And they were effective. Schoolhouse Rock was so engaging that today, some forty years later if I see I’m just a Bill I find myself singing along with it:“I know I’ll be a law someday, or at least I hope and pray that I will, but today I’m still just a bill.” And I’ve talked to lots of people who tell me the same thing. Schoolhouse Rock talked to us in a framework we enjoyed and took difficult subjects and made them tangible. And we ate it up.

Ronald Reagan spent his life doing the exact same exact thing. From General Electric Theater to campaign debates to countless speeches given as a private citizen and as president, Ronald Reagan had a way of connecting with an audience and make them feel like he was talking to them across the back yard fence.

And why does any of that matter? Because there is a lesson to be had, particularly for Ted Cruz. If you communicate with people in a framework they enjoy and do so in a way that connects with them, they’ll listen, and if they like you, you just might be able to change the world.

Today Ted Cruz finds himself defined by everyone around him. He’s been called an obstructionist, a fraud, a wacko bird, and a bully… and those are all from Republicans! The media and the Democrats don’t exactly like him either.

The point is… if Ted Cruz wants to help the United States return to its rightful place as the economic engine of the world, if Ted Cruz wants to help the country cut through the regulatory morass that suffocates prosperity, if Ted Cruz wants to basically change the way Washington works, whether from the Capital or the White House… he has to take control of his message.

In a world where YouTube stars have more followers than hit primetime TV shows have viewers, where companies from HBO to Netflix to Yahoo are producing their own original content, where someone can turn six seconds of campy video into gold, and where mainstream media are losing readers and viewers by the day, Senator Cruz should take a page from Schoolhouse Rock and Ronald Reagan: He should create a user friendly platform where he can share his ideas and define himself rather than letting the media do it for him. Just as Schoolhouse Rock created compelling vignettes about everything from multiplication to verbs to the American Revolution, he should create vignettes that talk about issues and how they actually affect citizens, and what he wants to do about them. Saying you’re against overregulation is one thing, but demonstrating the how EPA lunacy drives up corn prices or harms engines is something else. Obamacare’s restaurant menu labeling regulations sound reasonable until diners discover that it will drive up prices and will make menus as confusing as the information booklets that seem to be included with every prescription you ever get. Saying the tax code is a dysfunctional is one thing, but showing voters how much companies and individuals waste each year trying to comply is something else. Connecting ideas and issues to people make them real. A great example to follow might be Bill Whittle’s Afterburner, where he treats viewers to weekly pieces (usually sub 10 minutes) looking issues big and small, and usually explaining why they’re important.

The first of the GOP primaries is about a year away and Ted Cruz finds himself in a situation very similar to Reagan’s back in 1976, with a media that mocked him, with Democrats who loathed him and a GOP establishment that feared him… except, unlike Reagan, Cruz doesn’t have decades of goodwill to build on. Given that, Cruz has two options. Continue to allow his enemies to paint the picture of him for the American people, or do the job himself and tell them who Ted Cruz is, what he stands for and why it’s important… to them, the average citizens. Whether it’s a weekly 10 minute Afterburner type piece or a monthly reality show style segment connecting with everyday people the way Bob Graham did with his “Workdays”, Senator Cruz has to take control of his story and make it worth watching. If he does that, not only might he become president, he might just help save the country in the process.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Surrender: Why does anyone ever vote for the Republican Party... at least one run by Boehner & McConnell?

Do you ever wonder sometimes why Americans vote? How many times have you heard people say “I don’t vote because my vote doesn’t really matter, those politicians are going to do what they want regardless of how I vote.” In some cases that’s true. Obamacare was a perfect example. In January 2010 Scott Brown won his campaign for the Senate in deep blue Massachusetts by promising to be the 41st vote against Obamacare. The Democrats didn’t care, and despite the fact that 60% of the American people were opposed to Obamacare, they sidestepped Brown and used “reconciliation” to shove the law down the throats of the American people. As a result, that November the GOP retook the House in a landslide election, but by that point the damage had ever been done. If there was ever an example of politicians doing exactly what they wanted in the face of constituent opposition, Obamacare was it.

So why did citizens reward Democrats in 2012 and send Barack Obama back to work? Because presidential elections are personality driven contests (as opposed to issue driven contests) far more than are midterms, with the presidential candidates generating an unparalleled level of attention. Voters in midterm elections are generally more engaged and more aware of the issues than many who vote in presidential elections. Not sure? How many videos did you see in 2008 where voters could barely name the vice presidential candidates, nevermind the issues or candidates lower down the ticket. That reality repeated itself in 2012 with the cult of Barack Obama. Add to that the fact that Mittens Romney ran a campaign so uninspiring that millions of conservatives didn’t even bother to show up and it’s easy to understand how the country got another 4 years of The One.

Just two years later however, 2014 proved to be 2010 on steroids as the GOP picked up 9 seats in the Senate. Why? Not only had Obamacare proven to be exactly the disaster Republicans had predicted, but more timely was the fact that Barack Obama was basically promising amnesty to 4 million illegal immigrants. For the GOP, the numbers were clear: fully 70% of GOP voters were against Obama’s amnesty and at the end of the day those voters delivered a victory.

But alas, that doesn’t seem to matter. Like the Democrats in 2010 voting for something 60% of the Americans didn’t want, in 2014 the Republican leadership plans to ignore the wishes of 70% of their constituents by surrendering on immigration.

Surrender? That is essentially what the leadership has done as it promises there will be no government shutdown. The purse strings are one of the few checks the legislative branch has on the executive. As such, the primary way Congress can impact what the administration does is by deciding what to fund and what not to fund. In this context, a shutdown would occur when Congress passes a bill to fund the entire government except for those DHS functions involved in the president’s amnesty and then the president vetoes it. No dice say Boehner and McConnell. They are scared that the GOP would be blamed for any shutdown and get hammered in 2016. That’s an illusion, as most of the government would still function, and, frankly, most Americans wouldn’t even notice a shutdown were it not for the bleating of the administration’s media minions. In last year’s shutdown, once it was over a full 78% of Americans reported that they weren’t inconvenienced by the shutdown at all and another 11% felt only minor inconveniences. And a year later the GOP went on to flatten the Democrats in the midterms!

So the question is, why would anyone bother to vote for the GOP in the first place? What’s the point? If they are going to rail against the president acting unconstitutionally but take the single most powerful weapon for stopping him off the table, what’s the difference between the parties besides rhetoric? The truth is, now that they are firmly back in power, Boehner and McConnell feel like they have no obligation to respect their voter’s wishes. Apparently the desire of the Chamber of Commerce’s members for cheap labor trumps Republican voter’s opposition to amnesty.

Such has become life in America in the 21st Century. Half of the voters don’t bother to vote because they feel like their votes don’t count and the other half go to the polls to prove them right. Barack Obama has demonstrated that government can basically do what it wants, regardless of what the law says. The GOP has ostensibly stood against that principal as it claimed to be a bulwark built on the voices of the people. But in reality it is anything but. If the GOP is unwilling to go to the mattresses for amnesty, one of the most visceral issues of the day, what are they willing to do for more pedestrian things like reining in the bureaucracy or the welfare state?

If Boehner, McConnell and the GOP establishment continue to act as paper tigers in the fight against government overreach because they fear a 2016 backlash, they should be prepared to for that backlash to become a self fulfilling prophecy as conservatives abandon them in droves. Some will go Libertarian, some will stay home and some will simply jump ship to the Democrats. At the end of the day at least with Democrats voters understand that the law is no roadblock to getting what you want. Why bother voting for the Republican illusion of restraint when they can simply throw their weight behind Democrats and at least sit at the table when the spoils are dispensed?