Posts about Politics

Enough testosterone

Full disclosure — I am everything I am about criticize: male, white, old, privileged, entitled, too-often angry.

I, for one, was appalled at Joe Biden’s attack on an Iowa voter who asked him critical questions about his son and his age. Biden, oddly unprepared for either challenge, was immediately angry, calling the voter, an elderly farmer, a “damn liar,” not giving a substantive response regarding his son, and justifying his place in the campaign solely on entitlement: “I’ve been around a long time and I know more than most people.” He challenged the man to pushups and an IQ test. The damn liar he should be challenging is the one in the White House.

I am embarrassed for my age, race, gender, and party. But not so the men around the table at Morning Joe — or Morning Joe (Biden), as I’ve taken to calling the show. They gave a rousing cheer to Biden’s performance, arguing this was just the kind of tough-guy spirit Biden should show to win, this being a fight rather than an election. Mika Brzezinski demurred, as is her wont: “I don’t like it [the video] but I think he’ll be a great president and he’ll win.” Thank goodness the BBC’s Katty Kay was at the table, as she dared criticize Biden for coming off like a fool. I spoke with women yesterday who said he came off as threatening, which is all too frighteningly familiar to them from men.

Please compare Biden’s performance when challenged by an elderly farmer with Nancy Pelosi’s when she was attacked by a right-wing Sinclair shill in reporter camouflage:

Pelosi responded with principle, reason, morality. Biden responded with anger, insult, bravado. What we need now in this nation is a leader who demonstrates the former, not the latter.

I supported Kamala Harris in this campaign for many reasons: her policies, her leadership, her experience, her prosecutorial zeal against Trump, her humanity — and, yes, her new and diverse perspective as a woman, a person of color, and the child of immigrants. Now that she is sadly out of the race, I’m asking myself whom I will support now. Yes, I will support the Democrat in the end. I will contribute, work for, and cheer whoever that is, and not just to work against Donald Trump — though that is reason enough.

But I am having difficulty with the field as it is, especially as it seems we will end up with a lily white debate stage the next time out (and the right is mocking Democrats for that). As I said earlier this week, I am angry that Democrats had a diverse field of candidates that was mansplained over by a parade of entitled white men. I am angry that media dismiss women and people of color and won’t question this in themselves. I am angry that Democrats are treating voters of color as pawns they can take for granted rather than listening to and giving voice to their issues and experiences.

I have a suggestion to improve coverage of the election and the campaign itself: I wish MSNBC would retire its old, white man of the evening, Chris Matthews, and replace him with a show featuring Jason Johnson, Tiffany Cross, Maria Hinojosa, Eddie Glaude Jr., Soledad O’Brien, Zerlina Maxwell, Maya Wiley, Karine Jean-Pierre, Joy Reid, Elie Mystal — so many wise people to choose from. Rather than having them on a round-robin guests or weekend hosts, give them a prime-time, daily show. Rather than treating their communities and issues as after-thoughts, put them at the center. Rather than taking voters of color for granted, listen to them. Give them the opportunity to challenge the candidates and the rest of media and to inform the rest of the electorate. The Democrats will count for victory on serving the needs of voters too long ignored, so don’t ignore them. Media will still reflexively if unconsciously exhibit their bias by constantly seeking out and trying to analyze the angry, white, male voter. Someone can do better.

Not that you should care, but here’s where I am.

If need be I will vote for, contribute to, and work for Biden if he is the nominee and not reluctantly as I know we will end up in agreement about most issues. But I worry that we will end up embarrassed by our own angry and increasingly doddering old man in office. I blame him for the whitening and aging of this field. He is not my first choice.

I respect Warren and think she will bring strong, fresh leadership with a moral vision to the office. But I worry that her policies will be be seen as radical by just enough voters to lose. I also think her attack on tech is cynical and dangerous. Don’t @ me for that.

Bernie? I agree with Hillary. Don’t @ me.

Mayor Pete is smart and impressively eloquent. But he is inexperienced and his education in communities of color has been too much on stage, for show.

That’s the top of the field.

Bloomberg? He’s an able technocrat. But his re-education in stop-and-frisk is also too much on stage, for show. And we do not need billionaires buying office.

Steyer, Yang, and Williamson are novelty candidates. Don’t @ me.

That leaves me with my best but long-shot hopes. I like Cory Booker and will donate to his campaign. The same for Julián Castro. And I include Amy Klobuchar in this list of the ones I’d like to see rise. These are candidates I wish were now front and center because they bring the perspectives we need. And maybe there’s still time. I won’t accept the pundits’ predictions, not until voters vote. Now I have some new hats and hoodies to buy.

Thank you, Secretary Clinton

Friday at Radcliffe — in a tent wonderfully filled with 80 or 90 percent women, from the class of ’41 on— I had the privilege of seeing Hillary Clinton receive the Radcliffe Medal. I left ever-more impressed with her wisdom, experience, and civility — with her leadership — and, of course, ever-more depressed that what should be is not what is.

As a journalist and journalism teacher, I was grateful for her defense of my field in the face of the right’s attacks on it and in spite of its certain role in her defeat. “Defend the press,” Clinton urged. “And believe me, that’s not easy for me to say all the time. But I know well that in the absence of a free and vigorous press our democracy is not going to survive.” While the press itself is busy tying itself in knots debating whether to call a lie a lie (isn’t that our single most important job?) she did not mince truth: “It’s not just Fox, it’s now Sinclair. They are essentially delivering propaganda.… We need more outlets for reliable information.” [Disclosure: I donated to and volunteered for the Clinton campaign many weekends in Bethlehem, Pa.]

It is striking how Clinton manages to paint a picture of the nation that is more honest and accurate — and yet, surprisingly, more empathetic and hopeful — than I see painted by my colleagues in the news these days. I can do no better than to quote her admonition at length. Please listen:

Our country is dangerously polarized. We have sorted ourselves into opposing camps…. The divides on race and religion are starker than ever before and as the middle shrank, partisan animosity grew….

Now I don’t want to get political, but I want to say this is not just — just — a both-sides problem. The radicalization of American politics has not been symmetrical. There are forces — and leaders — in our country who blatantly incite people with hateful rhetoric, who stoke fear of change, who see the world in zero-sum terms so that if others are gaining then everyone else must be losing. That is a recipe for polarization and conflict.

I do believe that healing our country will take radical empathy, reaching across the divides of race, class, but mostly politics to try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves, and to try to return to rational debate, to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable, to recapture a sense of common humanity.

When we think about politics and judge our leaders, we can’t just ask: ‘Am I better off than I was four years ago?’ We should also ask: ‘Are we all better off? Are we as a country better, stronger, and fairer?’ And empathy should not only be at the center of our individual lives, our families, and our communities but at the center of our public life, our policies, and our politics. I know we don’t think of politics and empathy going hand-in-hand these days, but they can and they must.

As Madeleine [Albright] writes in her new book: This generosity of spirit, this caring about others and the proposition that we are all created equal is the single most effective antidote to the self-centered moral numbness that allows fascism to thrive….

Right now we are living through a crisis in our democracy. There certainly are not tanks in the street. But what’s happening goes to the heart of who we are as a nation. And I say this not as a Democrat who lost an election but as an American afraid of losing a country.

There are certain things that are so essential they must transcend politics. Waging a war on the rule of law and a free press, delegitimizing elections, perpetuating corruption, and rejecting the idea that our leaders should be public servants, undermining our national unity, and attacking truth and reason — these should alarm us all, whether we’re Republicans, Democrats, independents, vegetarians, whoever we might be.

And attempting to erase the line between fact and fiction, truth and an alternative reality, is a core feature of authoritarianism. The goal is to make us question logic and reason and sow mistrust, toward exactly the people I think we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ultimately ourselves.

So how do we build democratic resilience? It does begin with standing up for the truth, facts, and reason, not only in the classroom and on campus but every day in our lives. And it means speaking out about the vital role of higher education in our society to create opportunity and equity. It means calling out actual fake news when we see it and supporting brave journalism and reporting — and, yes, subscribing to a newspaper; remember those? Most of all, as obvious as it seems, it means voting….

And finally, that’s why I am so optimistic about the future, because of how unbelievably tough we are proving to be. I’ve encountered many people in recent months who give me hope: the students in Parkland, now the students in Santa Fe, many people in communities who have responded with courage and resolve…. And I find hope in the many women — and men — who are dismantling the notion that women should have to endure harassment and violence as a part of life….

So, yes, I know there are many fights to fight, and more seem to arise every day. And it will take work to keep up the pressure and to stay vigilant. We can neither close our eyes nor numb our hearts or throw up our hands and say, someone else take over from here.

But there has not been a time — certainly in fifty years, and maybe not even for longer than that — where our country depends on every citizen believing in the power of your actions, even when that power is invisible, and your efforts feel like you are in an uphill battle, and voting even when your side loses. It comes down to be a matter, really, of infinite faith. So pace ourselves. Lean on each other. Look for the good wherever we can. Celebrate the heroes. Encourage the children. Find ways to disagree respectfully. Be ready to lose some fights. But don’t quit. As John McCain recently reminded us, no just cause is futile, even if it’s lost. What matters is that we keep going.

I could not help feeling that she is leading a government in exile. Like de Gaulle issuing messages on the wireless, she had one for civil servants trapped in an uncivil administration: “I hope people in government who are not political appointees will stay as long as they can.” She is defending our nation against an attack from within: “It’s not been an easy time for more than half our country since the 2016 election. And I still think that understanding what happened in that weird and wild election will help us defend our democracy in the future.” Yes, Mr. Mueller, do your work.

What was striking in hearing about and watching Clinton was that it reminds us what it is like to have a human in politics. No matter how the press portrayed her, she’s charming and funny. She talked about her father forbidding her to attend Radcliffe on his dime because he’d heard it was filled with beatniks. She talked about trying to go incognito and how hard that is with Secret Service in tow: One night while Clinton was walking in Washington a woman on a bike stopped to whisper: “I have to tell you, there’s a man following you.”

I was also impressed with how she never shrinks from the toughest fight. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey asked Clinton what company she’d want to head. She didn’t hesitate, even for a beat. “Facebook,” she replied. Why? “It is the biggest news platform in the world.” This is why I hope someday to be able to talk with her in front of our CUNY journalism students about her view of political coverage and how to fix it.

After her talk, given the chance — what the heck? — I joined the scrum of fans just to shake her hand and thank her. For what? For fighting for us.

Here’s video of the address I transcribed above:

And here is her discussion with Healey:

The Argo election

The release of Argo — a wonderful film — comes ever so coincidentally a month before the presidential election and a month after the murders of our diplomats in Bengazi.

It’s timing that can be exploited. I half wonder whether that helped inspire Romney’s campaign to double down on its attacks regarding Bengazi, trying to make Obama look like Carter (for those of us old enough to remember) and himself like Reagan (well, there is the hair).

But it could go the other way. Tonight in the crowded theater, the audience needed to let out applause after the Americans arrived safely home (no spoiler there) and even again at the end of the credits. In the long, awful saga of American involvement in the Middle East, there was only one other time when I remembered hearing such a release of pride and overdue relief: when Obama announced that we’d gotten Osama Bin Laden.

So will Argo — which undoubtedly will do well at the box office — make more Americans mindful of the morass in the Middle East or of one victory there? Of course, I have no idea. But I do expect it to be exploited, since anything and everything — even Big Bird — has been in this election.

* * *

I do recommend seeing Argo. It doesn’t try to do much more than tell an amazing tale that couldn’t be told for years. That’s enough. It’s plenty. Ben Affleck, the star and director, passes up innumerable opportunities to play for cheers (the audience tonight wasn’t sure when to applaud, only that it wanted to) or to shove us to the edge of the seat (we do know how it turns out, after all) or to go for an exploitive political message (many others will do that for him). It’s just good story-telling.

* * *

Another note: In April 2003, a bit more than a year after I started blogging, I happened upon news of the arrest of an Iranian blogger named Sina Motalebi, revealed by another Iranian blogger, then in Canada, named Hossein Derakhshan and also known as Hoder, who is given more or less credit for helping start the blogging scene in Iran.

From them both, I learned much about Iran and about the power and potential of blogging. I marveled then at how this new medium made connections possible even to a country that I had envisioned mainly from TV reports in the ’70s of those 444 captive days and of angry Iranians in black chanting for our downfall. Argo brings back those memories. It also reminds me that Hoder — who in charming naiveté once declared his candidacy for the Iranian parliament on his blog and who went through some strange times later — is now in prison in Iran for 19 and a half years. It is still a frightening place.

Sina made it out of jail and out of Iran. He found his way to London, where he now works for the BBC and where last April — nine years after I first heard of him online — Sina’s 9-year-old son resurrected his father’s original blog, called Webgard, with this message: “My dad was originally the creator of this blog so this post is partly to say that, how much the Iranian government try, they will never stop bloggers like me and my dad, how much they harass, torture, and basically make the fear into normal people… They will never take our freedom.”


So I was angry. Watching TV news over dinner — turning my attention from scandals in the UK to those here and frankly welcoming the distraction from the tragedies in Norway — I listened to the latest from Washington about negotiations over the debt ceiling. It pissed me off. I’d had enough. After dinner, I tweeted: “Hey, Washington assholes, it’s our country, our economy, our money. Stop fucking with it.” It was the pinot talking (sounding more like a zinfandel).

That’s all I was going to say. I had no grand design on a revolution. I just wanted to get that off my chest. That’s what Twitter is for: offloading chests. Some people responded and retweeted, which pushed me to keep going, suggesting a chant: “FUCK YOU WASHINGTON.” Then the mellifluously monikered tweeter @boogerpussy suggested: “.@jeffjarvis Hashtag it: .” Damn, I was ashamed I hadn’t done that. So I did.

And then it exploded as I never could have predicted. I egged it on for awhile, suggesting that our goal should be to make a trending topic, though as some tweeters quickly pointed out, Twitter censors moderates topics. Soon enough, though, Trendistic showed us gaining in Twitter share and Trendsmap showed us trending in cities and then in the nation.

Screen shot 2011-07-24 at 7.33.24 AM

Jeff Howe tweeted: “Holy shit, @JeffJarvis has gone all Howard Beale on us. I love it. And I feel it. Give us our future back, fuckers. .” He likes crowded things. He’s @crowdsourcing. He became my wingman, analyzing the phenom as it grew: “Why this is smart. Web=nuance. Terrible in politics. Twitter=loud and simple. Like a bumper sticker. .” He vowed: “If this trends all weekend, you think it won’t make news? It will. And a statement. .”

And then I got bumped off Twitter for tweeting too much. Who do the think they are, my phone company? Now I could only watch from afar. But that was appropriate, for I no longer owned this trend. As Howe tweeted in the night: “Still gaining velocity. Almost no tweets containing @crowdsourcing or @jeffjarvis anymore. It’s past the tipping point. .”

Right. Some folks are coming into Twitter today trying to tell me how to manage this, how I should change the hashtag so there’s no cussin’ or to target their favorite bad man, or how I should organize marches instead. Whatever. not mine anymore. That is the magic moment for a platform, when its users take it over and make it theirs, doing with it what the creator never imagined.

Now as I read the tweets — numbering in the tens of thousands by the next morning — I am astonished how people are using this Bealesque moment to open their windows and tell the world their reason for shouting . It’s amazing reading. As @ericverlo declared, “The party platform is literally writing itself.” True, they didn’t all agree with each other, but in their shouts, behind their anger, they betrayed their hopes and wishes for America.

@partygnome said: “#fuckyouwashington for valuing corporations more than people.”

@spsenski, on a major role, cried: “#fuckyouwashington for never challenging us to become more noble, but prodding us to become selfish and hateful…. for not allowing me to marry the one I love…. for driving me to tweet blue.”

@jellencollins: “#fuckyouwashington for making ‘debt’ a four letter word and ‘fuck’ an appropriate response.”

@tamadou: “#fuckyouwashington for giving yourselves special benefits and telling the American people they have to suck it up or they’re selfish.”

@psychnurseinwi: “#fuckyouwashington for having the compromising skills of a 3 year old.”

I was amazed and inspired. I was also trepidatious. I didn’t know what I’d started and didn’t want it to turn ugly. After all, we had just witnessed the ungodly horror of anger — and psychosis — unleashed in Norway. I’ve come to believe that our enemy today isn’t terrorism but fascism of any flavor, hiding behind anger as supposed cause.

But at moments such as this, I always need to remind myself of my essential faith in my fellow man — that is why I believe in democracy, free markets, education, journalism. It’s the extremists who fuck up the world and it is our mistake to manage our society and our lives to their worst, to the extreme. That, tragically, is how our political system and government are being managed today: to please the extremes. Or rather, that is why they are not managed today. And that is why I’m shouting, to remind Washington that its *job* is to *manage* the *business* of government.

The tweets that keep streaming in — hundreds an hour still — restore my faith not in government but in society, in us. Oh, yes, there are idiots, extremists, and angry conspiracy theorists and just plain jerks among them. But here, that noise was being drowned out by the voices of disappointed Americans — disappointed because they do indeed give a shit.

Their messages, their reasons for shouting and holding our alleged leaders to higher expectations, sparks a glimmer of hope that perhaps we can recapture our public sphere. No, no, Twitter won’t do that here any more than it did it in Egypt and Libya. Shouting is hardly a revolution. Believe me, I’m not overblowing the significance of this weekend’s entertainment. All I’m saying is that when I get to hear the true voice of the people — not the voice of government, not the voice of media, not a voice distilled to a number following a stupid question in a poll — I see cause for hope.

I didn’t intend this to be anything more than spouting off in 140 profane characters. It turns out that the people of Twitter taught me a lesson that I thought I was teaching myself in Public Parts, about the potential of a public armed with a Gutenberg press in every pocket, with its tools of publicness.

* * *

For an excellent summary of the saga as it unfolded on Twitter, see Maryann Batlle’s excellent compilation in Storify, as well as Gavin Sheridan’s Storyful. CBS News Online’s What’s Trending was the first in media to listen to what was happening here. David Weigel used this as a jumping off point for his own critique of Washington and the debt “crisis” at Slate. Says Michael Duff on his blog:

Everybody knows you guys are running the clock out, waiting for the next election. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t go on TV to scare the shit out of us every day and then expect us to wait patiently for 2012.

You can’t use words like “urgent” and “crisis” and then waste our time with Kabuki theater.

Either the situation is urgent and needs to be solved now, or it’s all just an act that can wait for 2012. This isn’t 1954, gentlemen. The voters are on to you now. We know you’re playing a game and we know you’re using us as chess pieces.

That’s why is trending on Twitter. We’re tired of being pawns.

Every politician in Washington needs to pay attention to this outrage, and remember who they’re working for.

And then there’s this reaction from no less than Anonymous: “@jeffJarvis you’ve started a shit storm. Nice going.”

: MORE: Handelsblatt writes about the Twitter movement.

And a Washington Post blog chimes in.

Here’s TechPresident’s chimes in. “>report.

Discussions occurring with this post at CommentIsFree on the Guardian and HuffingtonPost.

Süddeutsche Zeitung on #fuckdichwashington.

: The next day: covers the tag — and finds a safe way to illustrate the story.

Here’s The Wrap wrapping it up.

And the story has been covered in France, where sounds, well, elegant and sexy:

Here’s the CBS Early Show report on the tag:

More CBS: It’s online show What’s Trending also reported on the event. Stupidly, they disable embedding of videos. That won’t help them trend, will it? But here’s an old-fashioned link.

Here’s NBC’s wimp-out presentation of .

KABC local TV report here.

: A week later: The hashtag passes 100k tweets and Howie Kurtz and I talk about it on Reliable Sources:

Human in the throne?

In March, 2007, for a Guardian column, I asked the then-head of now-PM David Cameron’s web strategy whether the man would continues making his personal, folksy videos if he moved into No. 10. Sam Roake replied: “If it suddenly stopped, that would be seen as a very cynical move . . . You can’t stop communicating.” This, he argued, is “a new stage of politics” that is about “sustained dialogue with the public.”

We shall see.

The new No. 10 moved to new YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter addresses. They are putting up press conference videos and linking to photos of the PM.

Yes, but will he talk with the people from the kitchen, as he used to? His last Webcameron video asks people to vote (you’d think he’d at least have one saying thank you). We haven’t yet seen the PM buttering toast. Will he? Can he?

Barack Obama got to office using the internet to be human and then he took on the imperial form of the office, mostly giving pronouncements. And he now inexplicably tries to paint himself as a techofuddy. Nicolas Sarkozy also got to office using video to present himself as human. Now, I suppose, he’s more human than ever — though inadvertently; when I search YouTube for his name, the first video is of him drunk at the G8. Germany’s Angela Merkel, who frankly never came off as terribly warm and human, nonetheless make a podcast.

Can a politician who takes the highest office stay human? In this age, can he or she afford not to? I think Roake was right: not to continue communicating eye-to-eye makes the persona of the campaign into theater or it makes office into theater.

Here’s a video I did of Cameron in Davos in 2008 asking him about talking to small cameras: