Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ralph Nader’s Ghost: The Folly of the Protest Vote

Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. Progressives unnerved about the increasingly hysterical, overheated histrionics among supporters of Clinton and Sanders should take little solace. We’ve been here before.  In 2000, it was Ralph Nader vs. Al Gore. And it was ugly. By the eve of the 2000 election, if I had had a dollar every time I heard the Nader camp's refrain “Bush and Gore are the SAME. There is NO difference” I could have comfortably retired to a seaside villa in Sicily. The Nader/Gore split became a gargantuan s*** show.  Fully formed, highly educated adults became raving adolescents, happy hours were anything but, and online forums disintegrated into intelligence-free zones of name calling and sniping.

Ultimately, Nader’s Raiders did just well enough (2.75% nationally) to tip the election to George W. Bush. The Nader vote cost Gore two states: Florida and New Hampshire. With the inauguration of President Bush, the rift was “repaired”:  both Nader and Gore supporters together suffered policy loss after policy loss for eight long and damaging years. 

History’s lesson: Um, Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore weren’t ideological twins after all.

But did we learn or did we forget? If I had a dollar every time someone who once spouted the “Bush = Gore” meme later admitted they might have been a trifle mistaken, I’d be penniless. The ideological right and the ideological left have few things in common but they do share this: neither side ever admits a mistake.

As Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders head into the final stages of Campaign 2016, the parallels to Nader’s doomed Presidential run are becoming ever more apparent. Both Nader and Sanders started with very upbeat campaigns, addressing real issues, long on optimism but short on specifics. Team Clinton argues that Sanders’ plans are cartoonish, simplistic and would never pass in a divided Congress. Given my public policy bent, I favor the pragmatic and detailed over the optimistic but dangerously vague. I don’t doubt Sanders’ sincerity on the issues for a moment, however, and I will fight like a tiger to keep the White House in Democratic hands regardless of the eventual nominee. 

As the 2000 campaign progressed, and Nader faced abysmal polling numbers, his campaign’s optimism morphed into something uglier, solipsistic, and cynical. If you weren’t for Nader, you weren’t just against him, you were either stupid or an evil shill of the plutocrats.

Since last week’s New York Primary, in which Team Sanders was dealt a devastating defeat, we are seeing some alarming and familiar signs.  Sanders original pledge to work hard for the Democrats regardless of the outcome of the primaries has been cast to the wind by some of his most senior staff. Now, we hear that they’ll fight for the nomination even if they lose the delegate count and the popular vote. The Sanders team has, like Nader before them, become infected with conspiracy theories. Primaries and caucuses are not lost, they are stolen. Super delegates don’t make up their own minds, they are merely puppets of the DNC. And the DNC has the evil powers and ill intent of Voldemort.

Recently, we see more and more Sanders supporters proudly proclaiming they will sit out this election, or cast a “protest” vote for a minor third party candidate—many of the same people who just a few short months ago were vowing to wholeheartedly support the eventual Democratic nominee. One of the more vociferous folks on my Facebook feed, is now proudly proclaiming: “I can afford a protest vote, I live in New York”. The pledge to support the nominee, it seems, carried some fine print: we’ll support the nominee but only if the nominee’s name is Bernie Sanders. That’s a bit ironic for a campaign obsessed with “lies.”

In 2000, a vote for Ralph Nader didn’t turn out to be a vote for the progressive cause in any state. Nader’s core supporters erred in keeping a doomed campaign alive across the country, and they siphoned just enough votes to put Bush in the White House. So, could Sanders’ supporters cost the Democrats the White House if they choose to sit on their hands? It’s a good definite “maybe.” Progressives delight in proclaiming Donald Trump a joke, but six months ago we all scoffed that he had even a remote shot at the Republican nomination. It doesn’t take much of an attenuation in votes on the progressive side to send a couple of swing states to the other team in the Midwest battlegrounds, particularly if our team repeats the ridiculous internecine civil war we fought amongst ourselves in 2000. This year, the sniping doesn’t stop at the top of the ticket: Sander’s pledge to sue the Democratic Party for raising money for Democratic Congressional candidates is many things; a path to recapturing the House and the Senate isn’t one of them. It’s a tactic more indicative of a bitter curmudgeon than a principled progressive.

What I find ethically troubling, from the mouthier folks on the Team Sanders campaign, is the notion that yes, the White House is better off in the hands of any Democrat, but they, personally, can afford a protest vote. So, the rest of us, who are either stupid or shills of the plutocrats are forced to do their dirty work by supporting the Democratic ticket while they occupy the supposed moral high ground. This crass nonsense cost us the White House in 2000, and I’m having a difficult time imagining a scenario where it is helpful in 2016. 

Secretary Clinton currently leads Senator Sanders by nearly three million popular votes. Perhaps, before Team Sanders urges their supporters to steam off in a huff of protest votes they might consider WHY so many folks didn’t see the Sanders’ message as the start of a revolution. The 70% to 80% of minority voters casting ballots for Clinton aren’t all stupid stooges of the plutocrats. Maybe they just see the world a little differently. Maybe more voters really do favor the pragmatic approach. Neither Clinton nor Sanders is the perfect candidate, but neither are evil, either, and a vote for either of them is far better than a vote for no one. 

Elections have consequences. Ironically, Team Nader recognized that in the final months of the 2000 campaign. By late September, groups of Nader supporters were flocking online peddling “vote swap” schemes. I live in Michigan, it’s a swing state, but you live in New York, a blue state, so you vote for Nader and I’ll vote for Gore. But vote swaps were ultimately insincere; Nader supporters voted for Nader in all states.  And we all know how that turned out.

Let’s all take a long breath and consider the specter of President Donald Trump, as the Wraith of Ralph, the Ghost of Nader, hovers overhead.

Elections do have consequences. Putting Trump in the White House doesn’t capture the moral high ground, it’s playing the fool. We played that asinine card in 2000. Do we really want to play it again?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The NRA: The Myth of the Money Monster

Ever try to persuade a friend to take action on gun control? Far too often, you'll  hear that all is lost, and that our Voldemort, doing business as the National Rifle Association, rules the world with insurmountable mountains of cash and power. Folks offer the usual litany of excuses for their apathy:

Letters < Money (Sadly)

If there is no check they will ignore you 

If we didn't get action after Newtown we never will

These quotes are real, from my online hustings, and one of them comes from a leader in the progressive online community.

The NRA is indeed a wealthy and established lobby nationally, but before our grassroots unilaterally disarm we might want to take a hard, iconoclastic look at the facts.

Consider Barney Frank. Representative Frank’s District encompassed a great deal of white, working class turf. For much of his career, over 50% of his constituents supported gun rights. Frank supported gun control, and he nevertheless managed to stay in office for over 30 years.

In his biography, Frank, he writes: I have never seen an NRA public demonstration. They do not have marches…liberals who try to comfort themselves with the notion that NRA wins legislative battles because of their vast campaign contributions are engaged in self-deception and self-justification. The NRA wins at the ballot box, not in the streets and not by the checkbook…They urge all of their adherents to get on the voting rolls. They are diligent to the point of obsession in making sure that elected officials hear from everyone in their constituencies who oppose any limits on guns, especially when a relevant measure is being considered, and they then do an extraordinary job of informing their supporters of how those officials cast their votes.

Let’s now look at the NRA’s money. Tracking political money is always a bit of a headache, but data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics helps untangle the thicket of campaign finance reports. The NRA is a hydra-headed beast, and it is not the only group spending money to keep us awash in firearms. The major players are as follows:

       * The NRA (C4): This is the group that takes individual donations and issues the membership cards. Ask your evil uncle what’s in his wallet and he’ll show one to you. The NRA runs a Political Action Committee (PAC), the NRA Political Victory Fund, which pours money into federal Congressional races.

        *The NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund (C3): The lawyers. These folks provide pro bono work on litigation that might, eventually, shape the federal courts' interpretation of gun laws and gun regulation. At any given time, these folks are assisting in legal cases in upwards of 30 states.

           *The NRA Institute for Legislative Action:  Rather like the conservative ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), this group keeps an eye on state laws. This is where the lobbyists live.

*The NRA Foundation: This is a non profit 501(C)(3) that gives money to a host of sportsmen organizations, and groups as diverse as the 4H and the Boy Scouts. They encourage the recreational use of firearms.

*Other pro-gun groups not affiliated with the NRA: The National Association for Gun Rights, Safari Club International, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Gun Owners of America, Dallas Safari Club, the Boone and Crockett Club, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Now, let’s look at the NRA’s opponents:

        *Americans for Responsible Solutions: ARS is a Political Action Committee (PAC) founded by former Representative Gabby Giffords after she survived an assassination attempt in a Tucson parking lot.

      * Independence, USA: A PAC founded by former New York City Mayor, Michel Bloomberg.

      * Everytown for Gun Safety: Another Bloomberg group that focuses on legislation, often at the city or state level.

      * Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: A group founded after the assassination attempt on President Reagan.

*Other gun control groups: These include Sandy Hook Promise, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Americans for the Protection of Children.


Political money comes in three flavors.

         Independent Expenditure Campaigns:  This is money spent for or against a candidate by an outside organization. The organization can knock on doors, make phone calls, send mail and run television or other media ads for or against a candidate. The outside group may not, however, coordinate directly with the actual  campaign. If you see an ad on television that ends with “sponsored by the NRA” or “paid for by the Brady Campaign”, it’s part of an Independent Expenditure.

       Direct Contribution: These funds are in the form of direct contributions to candidate’s campaign war chests—the NRA writing a check to Mitch McConnell’s campaign, for example.

       Legislative Lobbying: Money spent in lobbying Congress or Federal agencies.

2014 Spending: Gun Advocates and Gun Control Groups:
Group Type
Spending Type
2014 Total
Pro-Gun Rights
Independent Campaign
$28.6 million
Gun Control
Independent Campaign
$13.6 million
Pro-Gun Rights
Direct  Conbribution
$2.1 million
Gun Control
Direct Contribution
Pro-Gun Rights
$9.2 million
Gun Control
$1.3 million

So, in 2014, pro gun groups spent $39.9 million in campaigns and lobbying while gun control groups spent $15.3 million. The gun control groups, while outspent well over two to one, are gradually closing the spending gap over time.

For comparison, let us now look at spending by top environmental organizations. Next Gen Climate Change is a San Francisco based group founded by liberal billionaire Tom Steyer. The League of Conservation Voters is best known for its scorecard, which grades members of Congress on their environmental voting records. The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s oldest environmental advocates. These groups aren’t the only outside organizations spending on federal elections for environmental advocacy, but they are three of the largest.

2014 Spending: Leading Environmental Groups
Group Type
Spending Type
2014 Total
Next Gen Climate Change
Independent Campaign
$19.5 million
League of Conservation Voters
Independent Campaign
$19.1 million
Sierra Club
Independent Campaign
$1.6 million
Next Gen Climate Change
Direct Contribution
League of Conservation Voters
Direct Contribution
$4.9 million
Sierra Club
Direct Contribution
$4.3 million

Compare the spending to just a few leading environmental groups to that of all the pro-gun groups:

2014 Spending: Guns Versus Greens
Group Type
Spending Type
2014 Total
Pro Gun
Independent Campaign
$28.6 million
Pro Environment
Independent Campaign
$40.2 million
Pro Gun
Direct Contribution
$2.1 million
Pro Environment
Direct Contribution
$9.2 million

So, while gun groups threw $30.7 million at Congressional candidates, the top few environmental groups spent $50.1 million. So, if money is all that matters, why isn’t Congress teeming with environmentalists eager to pass tough climate change legislation?

Answer: Money doesn’t matter as much in the real world as it does in the popular imagination. Barney Frank is right.

This becomes clearer when looking at this money in a larger perspective. Americans spent more money in the 2014 midterm election than the total spent in the 2004 Presidential Election, a whopping $3.7 billion (that’s just on campaigns, not on lobbying). So, while gun money seems huge as an isolated figure, the total pro gun expenditures on Independent Campaigns and Direct Contributions comprised roughly 8 tenths of 1 percent of total campaign spending in 2014!

The NRA wins and we lose because they know how to lobby. The NRA wins and we lose because they know how to engage their members. The NRA wins and we lose because NRA members never say things like:

Letters < Money (Sadly)

If there is no check they will ignore you 

If we didn't get action after Newtown we never will

So, what can YOU do?

       Set up a VISIT with your Senators and Representatives if they oppose reasonable gun control legislation. They see NRA members regularly, but they seldom see us. Round up your friends and go as a group.

        Help close the spending gap between the NRA and the gun control groups. Make a donation. Everytown for Gun Safety is doing excellent work, passing local gun control legislation that has legs. Americans For Responsible Solutions is a savvy PAC, that helps ameliorate NRA money in individual races.NRA fills its coffers with contributions from working and middle class Americans. We could out-fundraise them easily, if we would only bother to try.

       Share this blog link with your naysayer friends. The NRA wins with grassroots support. We lose without it.

       Quit whimpering and gear up for a long term fight. Nearly nine years passed between the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. 

       Call your county and state Republican Party offices. Tell them you are an independent thinker and you focus on candidate qualifications when casting your vote, but you will not vote for candidates who are in bed with the NRA.

       Every time you see a post on Facebook supporting gun control, tell them to take REAL action. Venting steam on Facebook is slactivism. Its sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

       Deal with online trolls effectively. Don’t argue with them,  just say, “Wow, you are so insane I’ve decided to give a check to a gun control group in the amount of $25 dedicated to you.”
       Round up a dozen friends and attend the Town Meetings hosted by your Congressman. Get the name of the staff member assigned to the gun issue. After EVERY mass shooting, call that staffer.

By doing nothing, you meet the Monster every day when you gaze into your bathroom mirror.  In the time it takes to post a couple of angry messages on Facebook, you could donate $25 bucks to Everytown, or pick up a phone and leave a message for a staffer. Don’t get mad, get busy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Warmonger and the Smug Shrug

Domestic reaction to the tragic events in Paris this week leaves little doubt about the decrepit state of American politics. While liberals and conservatives do not shoot one another, their conflicts are no less anti-intellectual and insane than the ancient rivalries that are roiling today’s Middle East. The right decries President Obama’s “pacifism”.  The Ann Coulter/Rush Limbaugh/NRA crowd posit that to end terrorism what the world needs now are guns, more guns while bigoted Republican Governors in Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan and Texas assert they’ll close their borders to all Syrian refugees. On the left, the Internet is full of memes bashing former President Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, endlessly re-litigating Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and blaming all present and historical ills in the Middle East on the actions of an early 21st Century American President.

Sadly, neither left nor the right have any solutions to the dual foreign policy conundrums of terrorism and the Middle East’s descent into anarchy.  Heroes on both sides have made mistakes. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq blew the lid off the always simmering Sunni/Shia conflict and provided a breeding ground for fanatic extremists. President Obama’s unsure, tenuous policies in Syria and Libya further destabilized the region and his diplomatic agenda has been lackluster and at times contradictory. Both left and right were foolhardy in placing too much faith in the Arab Spring, in which fragile democratic flowers were crushed under the boots of age-old tribal factions and religious sects. 

Both sides have done some things right, too. The senior President Bush defanged the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by deftly building a gigantic multi-national coalition, and President Obama helped to reduce the threat of a nuclear Iran with diplomatic aplomb. Yet partisans insist upon a binary world: their team must always be on the side of the angels, while their opponents must be all evil. In the convoluted, gray-scale world of foreign policy, that’s a stupid world view. On this, both the left and right are a Confederacy of Dunces, in which Rush Limbaugh is no less misguided than a liberal political science professor at an Ivy League University.

The right are WARMONGERS:  bomb, baby bomb is the only solution proffered.  The irony here is obvious. Bomb baby bomb doesn’t change hearts and minds, regardless of whether the target is Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq or Syria.

The left offer little more than a SMUG SHRUG: the solution, we are told, is old fashioned isolationism, ignoring ISIL and withdrawing within our borders whilst leaving the European Union to sort it all out, and oh well, terrorism isn’t that big a threat, anyway. The irony here is that just HOURS before the Paris bombing a Politico investigative story outlining how Bush and Cheney allegedly ignored intelligence warnings of the impending 9/11 attack was pounced on by liberal Facebook and blog posts and by left-leaning cable talking heads. Bush and Cheney failed, it seems, because they were…um…too isolationist in their dealings with the Middle East.

Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake but we must not forget that Arab factionalism, religious extremism and fanaticism are not an invention of the United States. The intense hatred amongst the Sunni and Shia Muslim sects dates from the Battle of Siffin in the year 657, not from the months leading up to September 11, 2001. 

Even before the US invasion of Iraq, the Shia, a minority Muslim sect, was already seething at the hands of Sunni totalitarianism. Much like Europe in the years before the First World War, conflict was coming. Whether the match that ignited this mess was ultimately struck by Bush’s missteps in Iraq, the spread of the Taliban from Afghanistan to neighboring states, the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, or the rapid souring of the Arab Spring (weakening Sunni Egypt vis a vis a resurgent Shia Iraq) is largely a moot point. The Arab world is on fire. What we need is a policy to deal with it.

Since the Paris bombing, the left has erupted in a Civil War of Words to determine who among them are the most politically correct. Those who changed their Facebook profile backgrounds to mirror the French flag are told they are racist, ignoring the pain and suffering of the victims of terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the days before the Paris violence. Those flying the French flag on Facebook offer the counter-accusation of “Grief Shaming."  The only common ground here appears to be racial insensitivity toward the Russian victims aboard the downed jetliner, who garner zero sympathy from either camp. Newsflash. None of this online nonsense is any solace to any victim of terrorist violence, and none of it will do a damn thing to promote adult discussions to give us real policy solutions in the real world.  

Roughly a week before the Paris bombing, President Carter published an op-ed in the New York Times on possible diplomatic solutions in the Middle East. Before the Paris attack interrupted the methodology, I was running an online test. I posted links to Carter’s article on 25 randomly selected public liberal forums. On the same day, on the same forums, I also posted a meme showing Bush and Cheney swinging from a tree. The Carter link drew a few snide comments, of the smug shrug none-of-this-will-work variety, while the baboon meme garnered hundreds of gleeful comments (and a small but lively coterie of right wing trolls). The descent into the anti-intellectual abyss is pretty much complete on this issue. Not only do progressives not care to have adult policy discussions, they get snippy if you suggest maybe they should.

You may say the Internet isn’t the place to make such judgments, that one’s snappy comment in an online forum or on Facebook or Twitter proves nothing. Then why not search for commentary from those on the left in reputable newspapers and journals for proposed solutions? Alas, you see more diatribes and left versus right sniping. Discussion on Presidential campaign sites, where we should be discussing issues, are the deepest, vilest cesspools of all. No matter where one searches, President Carter ends up looking lonely, indeed.

The right, meanwhile, is issuing racist bellicose diatribes, as a dozen candidates, half of whom likely don’t know the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam, seek to solidify their poll numbers in Iowa.

And so it goes. Just one of the hundreds of memes, posts and vitriolic diatribes on my Facebook feed rang true this week: “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” It’s attributed to H. L. Mencken, but it was on the Internet, so who knows who said it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Oy, Canada!

If you have ever uttered the words “If [Candidate X] is elected, I’m moving to Canada,” you might want to review recent Canadian history before you toss your bong and your Birkenstocks into the backpack:

*Canada has been run by the Conservative Party since 2006.
*Canada backed out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in 2011.
*Canada scrapped their national long-form census because the Prime Minister felt it too personally intrusive.
*Canada wiped out years of CO2 emission reductions by mining tar sands for oil, with national CO2 pollution levels now set to rise for many years to come.
*Canada slashed taxes, creating soaring deficits; Conservatives use the “deficit problem” as an excuse to skimp on social services and infrastructure.
*Canada embarked on a prison building binge while increasing mandatory sentences for a host of criminal offenses.
*Canada scuttled their national gun registry.
*Canada banned government scientists from discussing climate change research with the media.

But at least they have a fair voting and political system….or…er:

* Canada is the proud home of Conservative operative  Michael Sona,  convicted in 2011 for placing robocalls directing liberal voters to the wrong polling places in Ontario.
*Canada’s Conservative party carefully pre-screens reporters to cover rallies and restricts them to five questions.

Canada took a hard right turn in 2006, when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives took the helm, riding the population boom in Alberta, the Texas of the North, where oil and cattle go hand in hand with wild west libertarianism. Harper's rise was the culmination of years of western resentment to Canada's liberal east coast establishment.

While the Canadian right may not rival the level of lunacy we see in our own Tea Party, they have had memorable moments. The Canadian Alliance, formed in 2000, emerged as a western alternative to the more staid, buttoned-down east coast Conservative Party. Alliance leader Stockwell Day,  a flamboyant preacher turned politico, refused to campaign on Sundays, believed the world was 6,000 years old, and that man co-existed with dinosaurs. Liberal reporters delighted in mockingly humming the theme to the "Flintstones" as his campaign bus, "Prayer Force One," lumbered across the heartland.

The Alliance Party platform contained a number of nods to direct democracy. The party advocated national referendums on any issue receiving petition signatures from 3% of the Canadian electorate. Liberals accused the Alliance of using this scheme as a means for pushing unpopular measures onto the national ballot. Comedian Rick Mercer lampooned the effort on the television show "This Hour Has 22 Minutes." He organized his viewers, gathering the requisite number of signatures for an initiative to change Stockwell Day's first name to "Doris."

Failing to achieve electoral success outside the west, the Alliance, in December, 2003, merged with the mainline Canadian Conservative Party.

While the US left pines for a multi-party system, Canada proves it’s no guarantee of a liberal nirvana. Some Parliamentary systems apportion seats based upon the party's overall national polling percentage, so 50% of the vote guarantees 50% of the seats, etc.  Canada’s system is first-past-the-post, so the party with the most votes in an individual Parliamentary district (called  a “riding”) wins the seat. Trouble is, Canada now has just one main Conservative Party,  while liberals can pick between the Liberal Party, the (ironically more liberal) New Democratic Party (NDP), or, for those with a Francophile separatist bent, the Bloc Quebecois.

With one party on the right and three on the left, the liberal vote splinters and the Conservatives prevail. If you think Bush v. Gore was exquisitely undemocratic, consider this: Canadian Conservatives captured a majority of seats in Parliament with just 36.3% of the popular vote in 2006, 37.7% in 2008, and 39.6% in 2011.

On October 19, Canada has its next national parliamentary election. Stephen Harper is opposed by Liberal Party head Justin Trudeau (eldest son of former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), and NDP leader Tom Mulcair , a dual French-Canadian citizen. Heading into election day, the polls are showing a three way tie. So, will Canada veer left again, by putting the NDP or the Liberals in power? Or, will Harper win with yet another liberal split?

A great deal is at stake.

Seriously, if Harper and the Conservatives carry the day, where will we run to escape President Trump?


You can receive notices about new posts on the Data Driven Beltway on Twitter @MichaelAgosta1 and, I’ll be live Tweeting the October GOP debate.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Is the Dawn of The Donald the Death of Democracy?

I normally dislike political blogs that merely comment on existing media pieces, but I’m making an exception.  This piece by Ezra Klein has been re-posted oodles of times on the Internet:

Klein asserts that we are entering a Brave New Political World in which outsiders will dominate our political landscape, because the parties have lost control of the message.  Outsiders will spread their own messages from a plethora of media outlets and the Internet, and Super PACs  will reduce the role of the party as a financial crutch. So, does this environment favor the loon over the more moderate professional lawmaker?  Are we really facing a world in which guys with monikers like “The Donald” are serious contenders? Are parties dead? Or, is Klein failing to look at past elections when he draws conclusions about today?

To give Klein his due, outsiders are playing a dominant role this year.  Consider this quote: “A lot of the people on the net have given up on traditional politics precisely because it was about television and the ballot box, and they had no way to shout back. What we’ve given people is a way to shout back, and we listen — they don’t even have to shout anymore.”

Said by…you guessed it! Senator Bernie Sanders!

Actually, no.  This is from Governor Howard Dean from January, 2004, back in the halcyon days when Meet Up gave Dean millions of low dollar donors and he soared in early polls. Pundits declared a new era of Internet-driven campaigns, crowning Dean’s consultant Joe Trippi a king…until the dream crashed and burned in the Iowa caucuses.

How about this quote:

"So long as they continue to reward the very power brokers whose avarice contributed to the destitution and perpetuated social injustice, the Democrats might as well be Republicans."

When did Senator Sanders say this? He didn’t.  The speaker here is Ralph Nader, from his post-2000 election book, Crashing the Party. Nader was the classic outsider from the left, calling Al Gore and George Bush “Tweedledee and Tweedledum, they look and act the same, so it doesn’t matter which you get.”  

So, insurgent outsiders on the left are nothing new, especially in the era of open primaries.

But what about the trio of new insurgents on the right, (The) Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, and Ms. Carly Fiorina?  Sure, Trump is leading most polls, but support is hovering at 20% down from a peak of 30%.  So, is this radically new?

Consider this quote:

“What I can't stand are the back-room deals. They're all in on it, the insider game, the establishment game—this is what we're running against.”

Trump? Fiorina? Carson? No, this is Patrick Buchanan, who won the Republican New Hampshire primary over George Bush in 1992 with 38% of the vote.

And finally, we have Ross Perot, in his 1992 third party bid. The feisty, give-em-hell Texan claimed he could “balance the deficit without breaking a sweat” and thumped both the Democrats and the Republicans for ratifying the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) calling job losses to Mexico “a giant sucking sound.” Like the other insurgents, Perot received outsized media attention and softball press coverage for months. Early poll leader? How about a late poll leader! In June, 1992, after Bill Clinton had secured the Democratic nomination, an NBC News poll of 1,500 likely voters had Perot at 38% to Bush’s 30% to Clinton’s 26%. Ultimately, Perot garnered 19% in the November, 1992 general election.

Klein’s argument that 2015 represents a new media landscape is absurd.  The Internet is not new, nor is cable. Nader ran most of his Presidential bid in 2000 online as did Dean in 2004. GOP outsiders prefer to go where their base is listening: talk radio. Talk radio has been the choice of the conservative working and middle class for decades. Ross Perot self-funded and bought his own 30 minute network prime time infomercials. None of these outsiders needed the party in any conventional sense, either for financial backing or messaging support.

Finally, the outsider argument really only applies to the GOP this cycle. There are no outsiders on the Democratic side. Both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders are political old hands; Sanders has been in Congress since 1991. Neither campaign is lacking skilled staff, although Clinton maintains a healthy financial advantage. Sure, Sanders is running to the left but a quarter century career in Congress hardly qualifies him as an outsider.

Insurgents and outsiders are not new and they are not just a phenomenon of recent history.  Bull Moose, anyone? But what is different today?

Congressional gridlock is driving the outsiders this year.  Congressional approval ratings are at 10%, an absurdly low number, and one bound to have political consequences. If a candidate can tap that anger, he or she will see a bump in polling numbers. Substance matters far less than tone.  It’s not what Trump says, it’s how he says it.  The GOP  has been out of power for 8 long years and their base hates President Obama with the heat of the surface of the Sun. Where the GOP failed was in its internal messaging. Party leaders kept the base inflamed, but by promising action of on a host of items they could never deliver on: we will repeal Obamacare, we will eliminate Planned Parenthood, we will fight to end same sex marriage, we will lower taxes, we will sack the Iran nuclear deal, we will vanquish Obama and his minions. But the Republican Congress can do next to nothing with a Democrat in the White House.  Frustrated by gridlock they don’t completely understand, a small but noisy cohort of Tea Party activists capture Congressional seats. They add to the gridlock, causing rifts even within GOP ranks. Their sole legislative tactic is the government shutdown, which is wildly unpopular even among most Republican voters.  So, the rhetoric grows hotter as the gridlock grows more entrenched.

The left is angry, too. President Obama, like most Presidents, campaigned in poetry but governed in prose. The left, in 2008, envisioned a grand New Deal, which was never going to pass muster even with 60 Democratic Senators. Not all 60 of those Senators were ideologically on the left or in lockstep with them.  Once the Democrats were blown out in the 2010 Congressional midterms, progress slowed. The left wants dramatic action on climate change, jail to the bankers, and free college tuition. Ultimately, President Obama can do very little with a Republican dominated Congress.

Ironically, as a response to gridlock we are electing ever more ideologically driven member of Congress. Which adds to the gridlock. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will ever completely vanquish one another. Until we can start getting along again, the cycle will continue. We cannot govern by base support alone.

THAT is what we are seeing in the 2016 election, and it is alarming. Gridlock is our Brave New Political World.

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