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.

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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Who Can? The VatiCAN!

The Pope has landed in Washington, DC. What can we expect? An anathema directed at Mr. Trump might be too much to wish for, but one can pray.  Visits by dignitaries are as common in DC as rallies and ruckuses. Most accomplish very little. They generate a press story or two, our local constabulary adroitly keeps the crowds corralled and the traffic moving, and we quickly return to the daily grind.

Will Pope Francis break the mold?

Religion in America today looks nothing like the sweeping, hope-filled crusades of Dr. Martin Luther King’s day.  The dulcet tones of “We Shall Overcome” are distant echoes. Today, far too much of our religious dialog is in the realm of the ideological right; a bile-laden landscape with sweaty condemnations reminiscent of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”  There is a religious left; you find them huddled in a few hundred Unitarian congregations clustered on the coasts, dutifully singing multi-lingual hymns. But the Unitarians have little political power and less social influence, aside from providing political cover for atheist politicians: the Unis will neither confirm nor deny whether or not an individual is on their membership rolls.

But Pope Francis is different. Maybe, just maybe, this visit will be different, too. We have a Pope who knows how to Pope. He is single-handedly shifting the Catholic church’s focus from “abortion,  abortion, abortion, I did not sleep with that male child, abortion” to “love the poor”, and “don’t plunder the planet, for Pete’s sake, it’s the only one we’ve got.” Pope Francis is breathing new life into old time religion, where the meek inherit the Earth and the adherents lead with love.

Maybe Pope Francis will soften the bile on the religious right, re-energize a giant, but soporific, American Catholic church and bring the left back in from the Godless cold. The left, of late, reviles all religion, apparently forgetting that Martin Luther King's first name was technically "Reverend." The left shed crocodile tears over Ben Carson’s Islam-bashing all the while assuming, carte blanche, that any Republican professing a belief in God would govern as a medieval theocrat. The left’s oft repeated mantra “Your religion ends where my rights begin” is no less intolerant of religion than “A Muslim should not be President.”

Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air, and may help bring America to a religious place more sane, and more indicative of what our Founder’s intended. Separation of Church and State was not penned as an atheist’s manifesto

Francis’s remarks over the coming days will likely unsettle both the left (abortion is a sin) and the right (climate change is a moral imperative). That’s a good thing. The moral absolutism in both camps is as obnoxious as it is bankrupt.  But we still have a long way to go. The Catholic hierarchy remains stuffed with arch-conservative Bishops. Francis’s visit will not tone down the nativist crap emanating from the Trump camp, nor the anti-Islamic rhetoric spewing from Carson’s pie hole. Pastors who lived by the bile will likely die by it, but maybe their power will be attenuated. Maybe, just maybe, Pope Francis’s injection of love and compassion will take root here and there. One can hope, and, dare I utter it, pray.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Don't Get Mad, Get ACTIVE

Angry about Congressional inaction? Frustrated sanity is gone from the US House? Find yourself shouting at your computer or the television?

Well, we have two more days until a full blown government default. I’ve worked in politics for almost two decades. I don’t resort to hyperbole and I call politicians by their surnames, not juvenile puns, but I will say this: WE ARE FACING A PROFOUND THREAT TO OUR FUTURE IF WE GO OFF THE FISCAL CLIFF.  That isn’t hypberbole, it’s a fact.

We need to get busy. Here's how to do it.


CALL THE GOP NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS: Call the GOP in DC at: 202-863-8500 Hit 2 to get to the fundraisers. They will always answer the phone, because you can't raise money if you don't pick up the line. The GOP House Members are letting you go to voicemail, so focus on the party. Your message: " I will never vote for a Republican again. The GOP’s actions are dangerous to the financial future of the republic." Don't sound like a liberal and don't resort to name calling. The person at the other end of the phone should not be able to tell who you typically vote for. What they should parse: you are angry and that anger is directly squarely at the House GOP.

Don’t hang up after 30 seconds, it's ineffectual. Engage the person who answers the phone--when they are talking to you they can't raise money. Ask them if they feel any moral qualms working for the GOP while 800,000 Americans go without a paycheck and all of our retirement funds are about to take a kick in the pants with a default. Their stock answer "I am just the messenger." Your retort: "That's immoral. You don't have to work for an organization destroying the country. Shame on you." Make the conversation last as long as you can and keep it to morals. Talk angrily, but SOFTLY. It's effective. Tell them you are worried the GOP is destroying the country, destroying children's future and destroying FAMILY VALUES. Use THEIR language, you will have a greater impact upon them. You can do this on your lunch hour, and no one is too busy. DO IT. It does matter.

PAY A VISIT TO YOUR LOCAL GOP CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE: If you can, grab a dozen friends, make signs, and go down to the local office of a GOP Congressional Representative tomorrow. Call the media and tell them you will be there. Dress NICELY—the message you want to send: you represent moral, family values America, not the GOP. If interviewed, say ”the GOP is damaging our children’s future. This is immoral.” If you live in a GOP free zone, go and picket the local office of the local GOP.  Same message, same opportunity to make the news.

SEND AN EMAIL REPLY TO ONLINE PETITIONS: Ask the organization in question to organize in person events and to have them call the GOP. The message: "at the juncture, online action is really just inaction."

SHARE THIS POST ON FACEBOOK:  The Tea Party rallied Sunday in DC. They had a thousand folks. Our rally today had maybe 24. WE NEED TO GET BUSY. fI don't normally push this, but please, please, share. We are running out of time.

IF YOU LIVE IN DC: If there is no solution to this mess, show up on the sidewalk at the Rayburn House Office building tomorrow after work tomorrow. Be prepared to bellow, and bellow loudly.  


SIGN ONLINE PETITIONS: Petitions are USELESS. Utterly, staggeringly, mathematically verifiably USELESS. Think about it: will your GOP Representative care that a liberal group dislikes him or her? NO, they will not. At this very late hour, online action is inaction.
POST OR COMMENT ON FACEBOOK DECRYING THE EVIL GOP: It’s preaching to the choir and it accomplishes nothing. Online kvetching is inaction, too.


If Congress passes a one month stop gap for the debt limit, do NOT stop calling the GOP. Call them once a day, Monday through Friday. If we stay focused, we can make a difference. Indeed, we could easily turn the GOP fundraising line into OUR complaint line. Take ownership of it. The country will be all the better for it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Furlough Congress Now

Furlough Congress Now

The popularity of the Tea Party stands at a breathtaking 22%. Before you cheer, consider this: they shut down the government, pushed support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into the toilet, jeopardized the implementation of the ACA in a dozen or more states, and gleefully put 800,000 people temporarily (hopefully) out of work.  We were utterly incapable of stopping them.  800,000 people are headed for needless financial stress, the economic recovery is imperiled and we are, in no small part, to blame.

Two parts to this missive: 

ONE—how did we screw up.
TWO—what do we do now?

A (Not So) Private History of a Campaign That Failed

80 of the most conservative Republican Congressman, whose districts represent a rollicking 18% of the US population, fiercely believe the Democratic Party is evil and must die. They detest the Affordable Care Act, and their hatred of President Obama burns hotter than the sun. The government shutdown  isn’t about deficits or small government. Indeed, most of these Congressional districts are rural, and their denizens are snout deep in agriculture subsidies, federal highway dollars and heaping helpings of Medicare and Social Security. They don’t hate government, they just hate the parts of government that don’t personally benefit them.

This ruby red caucus channeled all their bile into an (un)holy quest: kill the Affordable Care Act at all costs. So, they tied the Affordable Care Act to their zeal the budget bill, hoping they could “defund” the law by crass political maneuver.

They started over a year ago, demonizing the ACA at every opportunity, and launching a relentless (and effective) lobbying campaign aimed at forcing the less radical wing of the GOP in line. They succeeded in driving support for the law to dangerous lows, and they shut down the government.

How did we respond? We didn’t. We simply did not. The cardinal rule in any lobbying campaign is to respond to attacks; especially when they are dripping with misinformation.  

Why did we miss this? Aren’t we smarter?


We are arrogant. And in politics, arrogant is, sooner or later, a synonym for LOSER. Several insidious trends came together to kick our butts:

SOLIPSISTIC IDEOLOGUES. No, I’m not talking about the guy on the corner with the foot long beard and the “get gummit out of my medicare” sign. I’m referring to a subset of the American intellectual left who believe no law is good enough, or left enough, so why bother?

Defend the Affordable Care Act? “Puleeeease dahling, it’s “Republican Lite.” They prefer, of course, single payer, even if most of them cannot even really define the term. When President Obama doubled fuel economy on US cars, he got no help from this crew. “CAFÉ Standards, darling, are a joke. Everyone knows Ford will just cheat.”  No stimulus package was large enough, either.

When we spend too much time trying to activate these folks to lobby, we fail. They will go online and scream until dawn. They threaten to move to Canada, but alas, they never do. Rantings aside, they are toothless. When pressed, most of these folks admit they’ve done a sum total of NOTHING to stop this shutdown. They don’t make effective calls to legislators, much less get off the couch, shower, or dress presentable to show up at a Town Hall Meeting or to a volunteer phone bank.

This crew proved a useful ally when Bush was in office—it’s easier for ideologues to damn, rather than praise and they are damn good at damning. They are useful during elections, because there are no concrete policies on the table. But not for lobbying. Ironically, it’s this crew among the GOP (enter, stage right, the stooge with the “gummit” sign) that kicked us in the shorts last week. Their crackpots mobilized, ours kvetched to the choir in cyberspace.

ONLINE EVANGELICALS: No, not Pat Robertson, but the swath of folks who believe that online activism is the ONLY activism.  They send enough email in a week to overheat a coal powered generator, dripping with hyperbole and tabloidesque subject lines:  “Hey GOP, Repeal Your Own Healthcare First” “Tell Boehner: Get Off The Golf Course and Get Back To Work.”

Typically, these are Internet “petitions” and generally collect little more from “activists” than an email address and maybe a zip code. The Most Exquisitely Useless and Politically Naïve Petition of the Week Award goes to MoveOn: “ No Pay for Congress During the Shutdown”

Dirty little secret: MOST of these petitions are never delivered to their targets. They are used to build lists of supporters. Far more cynically put, the real “target” is getting YOUR email on THEIR list. Even those missives that are delivered fall on deaf ears.  Speaker Boehner doesn’t expect a clearly left-leaning group to love him. He will be no more moved by a list of “signers” from MoveOn than Nancy Pelosi upon receiving a pile of hate from the Tea Party Patriots.

The disturbing thing is how many on the left ONLY take action via the petition, making no difference. But the online evangelicals refuse to let go of their precious petitions.

THE WAR BETWEEN THE POLITICAL DIRECTOR AND THE DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR:  Ten years or so ago, fundraising treated email lists with disdain. The direct mail folks got the offices, the online fundraising guy shared a cubicle with the printer and the paper shredder.

So, the online list was the domain of the Political Director. These folks were savvy lobbyists and used the Internet to reach power activists. They’d run conference calls for online volunteers, teaching how to make EFFECTIVE phone calls to legislators and how to be EFFECTIVE in the Town Meeting or when penning a newspaper editorial. And, back in those halcyon days, we even used the email lists to pick smart folks to bring to DC to lobby Congress.

Then we learned how to raise real money online.  

After the Dean campaign, everything shifted. Now, the primary target of those action alerts: what’s in your wallet?  Look in your inbox. How many fundraising appeals did you get on Monday?  The right was focused on calling 10 or 12 swing GOP members in the House, urging them to vote for a shutdown. They ran a lobby day and brought businessmen and clergy to town. Our team shoved electrons into cyberspace: “Can you pitch in $3 dollars.” Yes, we need money to be effective, but we are no longer outspent by the other team. Indeed, more often than not we are spending MORE money, we are just spending it ineffectively, often at the expense of efficacious activism.

Fundraising is one of the reasons we flit from issue to issue. Changing up issues encourages more folks to give. Ironically, we are money driven.

If you click to “TAKE ACTION” on a picture of Boehner frothing at the mouth, and after maybe entering your email are taken to the donation page, you are DONATING, not taking ACTION. That’s fine, to a point. But the political director lost the civil war. Internet activism is dead; fundraising is king. So, the Tea Party launched a serious lobbying campaign online, often with sophisticated targeting and talking points. We raised a few bucks. And we got our butts kicked.

       THE LAST MINUTE: You may have noticed most of our action alerts occur at the VERY, VERY last minute, typically the day before or the day of a vote (when it is often too late to matter). In part, this is a fundraising tactic. Folks respond to political appeals when they are red hot buttons, and are dominating the news. Trouble is, lobbying is a marathon. The right kicked the teeth out of support for the ACA; the best organizations on our team waited 10 months or more to engage. The worst folks in our tent waited until 48 hours before 800,000 people got their asses temporarily shit-canned.

                                      PART TWO: WHAT’S AN ACTIVIST TO DO????

At the risk of raising some hackles on my friends list, GET OFFLINE!!!! Stop replying to Internet petitions. Just STOP. And if you want to give money, do it, but understand that a donation is not a lobbying action.

 CALL LEGISLATORS. But understand the difference between a Facebook rant and a persuasive call. If the staffer you are talking to can tell you are a liberal or a Democrat, you’ve failed. Focus on the ISSUE, and try to get into the head of the target legislator. Couch your language in their language:  I have lost my pride in America; how can you turn 800,000 breadwinners out of work because you aren’t doing your job?   OR: You are spooking Wall Street and damaging the fragile economic recovery. I cannot support a party that ignores economists and business leaders. What are you doing?

Express anger by talking more SOFTLY than is typical. It’s breathtakingly more effective.  The LONGER the call, the better. Ranting for 30 seconds, spewing profanity and hanging up is the mark of the lobbying loser.  Ask the staffer questions; make it a conversation. Engage them. “Don’t’ you worry about the people you are putting out of work? How can a compassionate nation let this happen? This ISN’T Christian”.  They will blame Senator Reid, but hit back. “No, you have a moral obligation to negotiate. Every Congressman does.” The more rational folks they encounter, willing to take them on, the more effective you will be. Hit the moral issues hard: “aren’t you concerned as a Christian about what you are doing to this country?” Don’t BASH religion (ye gods, are we stupid on this point), that’s the realm of the solipsistic ideologue; make the staff member consider the issue based upon THEIR sense of religion. Tell them they are being crappy bosses; senior managers don’t penalize employees when they are infighting.

DON’T CALL JUST ONCE: Call once a day, every day. Vary the offices. But keep calling. A one-time caller is a loser. Be creative. Ask for various staffers; the GOP has chosen to tie up the entire federal government, we owe it to those 800,000 folks to cause a little chaos in Boehner’s office, too.

DON’T GO TO VOICEMAIL:  Never, ever go to voice mail. Go through the switchboard and ask to speak to a budget staffer. If they refuse to transfer you, call back 3 hours later and ask for the environmental staffer. It doesn’t matter who, just get PAST the front desk and talk to a living, breathing staffer.  If the lines are busy, look up the District Office and call them. BE RELENTLESS. 

SNAIL MAIL: Leadership offices inboxes are so stuffed with email it won’t get a second thought. A well written letter, printed and mailed, has more impact. Curious but true, the old ways are the best ways. In the final paragraph, include this language: I am respectfully asking for Representative X to write me back. This issue is of crucial importance to our Democracy and I must hear his/her thoughts.

MESS WITH THE MOTHERSHIP: Call the GOP national party. Their phone lines are set up to raise money. Engage them in a long conversation; you cost them money. CALL EVERY DAY while the shutdown is in effect.

Calling once is a disservice to 800,000 folks going without a paycheck. If we want to win, we need to get VERY, VERY, VERY busy here.

     WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Write letters to the editor. People do read them.

      DO NOT ENGAGE IN ARGUMENTS WITH CHUCKLEHEADS  ON FACEBOOK: They are utterly useless. Just don’t get sucked in.

      CONTACT THE MEDIA AND CONDUCT OPPOSITION RESEARCH : Eric Cantor’s Facebook page is filled with some of the most partisan filth ever posted on the Internet by an elected official. LIKE HIM and you'll see. Ask reporters if they’ve seen it, and ask “how can this man negotiate if this is what he truly believes?” Look at the rhetoric on GOP web sites.  Go the GOP Members’ Facebook page and pull quotes from his/her most rabid supporters. Ask the member/staffer “how can you hop in the political sack with these people? It’s disgusting.

Talking points (from OFA), to use in conversations with the GOP. These are good, although it would have been nice to have seen them come out BEFORE YESTERDAY.

The Top Nine Ways a Government Shutdown Affects Real Americans

     1. 800,000 federal employees will go without pay -- and it's unclear if they'll receive back pay for time missed.

     2. 3.6 million veterans may not receive benefits if the shutdown lasts over two weeks.

     3. The Centers for Disease Control will have to stop its flu prevention program, just as flu season begins.

     4. Food safety inspections will scale back their work, exposing millions to risk.

     5. About nine million moms and pregnant women will no longer receive nutritional assistance from the Department of Agriculture's Women, Infants, and Children program.

     6. The Small Business Administration will be unable to process new loans, potentially slowing new small business growth.

     7. National parks and museums will close across the country, damaging our travel and tourism industries by millions for each day the government remains shut down. (Yes, that means the Statue of Liberty is closed for business...)

     8. Head Start programs across the country will start closing, ending educational and health benefits for low-income children.

     9. Disability benefits could be interrupted, leaving vulnerable Americans without the support they rely on.