A tale of two buses: On Ben Carson, Zoltan Istvan, millennialism and eternal life

Good morning Austin:

Yesterday began with a 7:30 a.m. call from Dr. Ben Carson for what I thought was a pretty good half hour interview about his new book, A More Perfect Union, his primer on the Constitution, which I read over the weekend.

I was pleased.

According to the most recent Fox News poll, Carson is one percentage point behind Trump. According to the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, he is three points behind Trump. All within the margin of error.

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Real Clear Politics

In other words, that means, in terms of preciousness-of-time-per-percentage-point-in-the-polls, my half hour with Carson was roughly equivalent to a half hour with Trump.

That’s pretty cool.

And by my preciousness calculation, my half hour with Carson is the equivalent of well over an hour on the phone with Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, between 90 minutes and two hours with Carly Fiorina, three-and-a-half hours with Mike Huckabee, John Kasich or Rand Paul, and a full calendar day on the phone with Chris Christie.

Pretty good.

Carson is also a good interview because his answers are not entirely predictable.

For example, on Sunday’s This Week on ABC, host George Stephanopoulos found himself repeatedly confounded.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s turn to some domestic policy. I was struck by reading your previous book, “America The Beautiful,” of things that you wrote there that sound a little bit more like Bernie Sanders than some of your Republican rivals.

In that book, you wrote about taking the positive aspects of socialism and actually implementing them within capitalism.

CARSON: I meant one of the things that happens, for instance, in Europe, for medical school, is that you don’t have to pay for it. And, as a result, they don’t have the skew that we have here. A lot of people, when they finish medical school, they’re hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

And instead of, you know, doing what they may have wanted to do, which was maybe be a private — a primary care doctor, they decide that I’d better become, you know, one of the specialists that makes a lot more money so I can pay this money back.

That’s not an issue in Europe and they don’t have this — the kind of primary care deficit that we have.

And later:

STEPHANOPOULOS:  You are the only Republican, the only major candidate who opposed President Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan after 9/11.

And I want to show what you said at the debate.


CARSON: Declare that within five to 10 years, we will become petroleum independent. The moderate Arab states would have been so concerned about that, they would have turned over Osama bin Laden and anybody else you wanted on a silver platter within two weeks.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s what you said he should have done.

But how would that have worked?


I simply don’t understand how you think this would have worked.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And just before I move on, though, I just want to be clear here. So you’re standing by the statement that, had President Bush simply declared energy independence back after 9/11, that would have caused the moderate Arab governments to turn over Osama bin Laden?

CARSON: I think they — I think they would have been extremely concerned about what the ramifications of that would have been. And I believe they would have been considerably more cooperative.

Of Stephanopoulos, Carson told me, “He’s trying to act like he doesn’t get it and, `I’m a really smart guy, this guy must be way off the wall.’ That’s the impression he’s trying to give.”

Of his campaign’s success, Carson said, “There’s no question that all the experts and political pundits can’t understand it.”

Carson continued:

And I do believe there’s more going on here than meets the eye and I actually do believe in God and interestingly enough, we claim as a nation we believe n God, we’re always saying , particularly when there is a tragedy, “Let us pray.: So are those just empty words?

I am advocating that people be who they are, that they stand up for what they believe in and not allow someone else tell them what they believe and what they can say, and I think that’s a huge part of what being what an American is. We give that away when we allow others to tell us what’s permissible.

Carson said he ran because he was drafted, his house full of boxes of petitions, people imploring him, “you’re the only hope.”

I said, “Lord, if you really want me to do this you will open the doors, I’m not going to bang them down but if you open them I’ll walk through.” And they’ve been flying open.



Ben Carson at Prestonwood Baptist Church
Ben Carson at Prestonwood Baptist Church

Of course, Carson is not the only Republican candidate called by God to run.

On Sunday, he was one of six candidates who talked about the role faith played in his candidacy at Prestonwood Baptist Church, a huge evangelical church in Plano.

It was an in intense session and both Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina seemed to me a little too tightly wound.

Carly Fiorina at Prestonwood Baptist Church
Carly Fiorina at Prestonwood Baptist Church


Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, seemed wound a little too loosely, like he’s mostly running for president just to get a breather from the rigors of his Fox show and is testing material for his next broadcasting gig.

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Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, with Mike Huckabee

Cruz was his usual laser-guided missile, but leavened with well-practiced affability, and was the home state favorite.

Ted Cruz at Prestonwood Baptist Church
Ted Cruz at Prestonwood Baptist Church

Dr. Jack Graham, Prestonwood’s pastor, interviewed each of the candidates, offering warm praise for all of them, though he was especially effusive with Cruz:

The Lord seems to be elevating you and giving you favor with people.

But, even Jeb Bush, with his high church Episcopal upbringing and conversion to Catholicism, hit the right evangelical notes.

“My parents taught me right and wrong,” said Bush, “But my personal journey began a little later in my life.”

A husband with three kids and involved in myriad things, Bush said,  “I was so overwhelmed.”

I decided to slow down. I started to read the Bible cover to cover, and I got about halfway through Romans when I realized that Jesus was my savior I accepted him as my savior and from that moment on I’ve had a partnership with Jesus Christ that gives me counsel .

I can think with serenity. I can think clearly. I’ve learned to pray. I’ve learned to get down on my knees to pray about things before I make big decisions, and in public life today, it is so important to pray and to think about things clearly because the world has been torn asunder.

But, along with Cruz, the crowd favorite was Carson.

Ben Carson at Prestonwood Baptist Church
Ben Carson at Prestonwood Baptist Church

Some find all this God talk unsettling.

But as I thought about it, I realized that if you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and you are running for the Republican nomination for president, and Jesus has not let you know that you may be the one, well, maybe you shouldn’t be running for president.

Yesterday, a few hours after our phone conversation, Carson signed copies of his book for more than 500 people who lined up at the Costco in Northwest Austin, part of a book tour that Carson, with his preternatural calm, can execute in the midst of a presidential campaign – and watch his numbers climb.


For the Carson faithful at Costco, faith counts for a lot. But, since I first encountered Carson’s foot soldiers at the Conservative Political Conference in March, what impressed was how singularly, positively focused they are on him. They mostly don’t even think about or offer a cross word about the other Republican candidates.



photo by Laura Skelding


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Kiyan Caras and his mother Mahshid, center at Ben Carson book signing at Costco. Photo by Laura Skelding Photo by Laura Skelding


Ryan and Kiyan Caras at Ben Carson's book signing at Costco in Austin
Ryan and Kiyan Caras at Ben Carson’s book signing at Costco in Austin (photo by me)
Leaving the Ben Carson book signing at Costco in Austin. Photo by Laura Skelding


But it seems there is also a touch of Christian millennialism in the rapture for Carson as a chosen figure at a chosen time.

Here is a link to a Carson interview with Sharyl Atkisson on her new Sunday show Full Measure, in which he says we may be getting close to the end of days, a point of view consistent with his faith as a Seventh Day Adventist.

Bob and Joanne Pontius attended Ben Carson’s book signing at Costco. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“The Bible says, `He who blesses Israel will be blessed. He who curses Israel will be cursed,” a cheery Joanne Pontius told me after getting her books signed yesterday. “That’s why we’re in trouble. We’re not blessing Israel.”

Let’s pause here for a brief primer on Christian millennialism.



Among Southern Baptists, differences of opinion arise on the nature of the millennium referenced in Revelation 20. That passage describes a 1,000-year period, known as the millennium, during which Satan is bound. Disagreement occurs regarding the timing of Christ’s return relative to the millennium and whether the number 1,000 is literal or symbolic.

Premillennialists believe Christ will return prior to a literal 1,000-year period.

Among premillennialists, there are varied opinions on whether Jesus will remove Christians from the earth prior to a tribulation preceding His return. Some, known as dispensational premillennialists or dispensationalists, believe in such a rescue for Christians. Others, known as historic premillennialists, believe Christians will not be taken out of the world until Jesus returns. A minority of premillennialists believe Christians will be raptured halfway through a period of tribulation preceding Christ’s return.

Postmillennialists believe the 1,000-year period will occur before Jesus returns. Adherents of this position generally believe the millennium will be a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity under the lordship of Christ. Although postmillennialism has enjoyed proponents such as Jonathan Edwards and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary founder B.H. Carroll, the view faded from Baptist life in the last century.

Amillennialists believe the number 1,000 is figurative and that we are currently in the millennium (some premillennialists and postmillennialists also believe 1,000 is figurative). They argue that Satan was bound by Christ through His finished work at the cross and has limited power until Christ returns. Thus, the millennium refers to the current era when Christ reigns in the hearts of believers without Satan’s interference. Christ’s return will mark the close of this era, amillennialists believe.

Then, of course, there are simply millennials – those born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the new millennium.

courtesy Zoltan
courtesy Zoltan

Enter Zoltan Istvan, who sent me an email at the fateful hour of one minute before midnight Sunday.

I wanted to invite you or one of your journalists to ride on our Immortality Bus as we tour Austin tomorrow (Monday) promoting transhumanism and cyborgism. Our tour is a bit unusual, but increasingly a number of people consider me the leading 3rd party 2016 US presidential candidate in America. My campaign has some totally original ideas about the future and politics, and we’re the only presidential campaign talking policy on designer babies, artificial intelligence, robots taking all our jobs, a universal basic income, ectogenesis, living to 150, etc. We also think our bus tour is possibly historic, and will one day join the ranks of buses like Ken Kesey’s “Further” which helped start the 1960s.

We are just completing the 3rd stage of our national tour tomorrow, and our final event is in Austin. It will be a show and tell of “biohackers”–who put technology in their bodies as upgrades. For example, many of them (like myself) have chips in them.

Well, that’s different.

LIke the folks at Prestonwood, Zoltan wants everlasting life. He just doesn’t want to have to die first.

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From a recent Huffington Post blog by Zoltan (and yes, it’s such a cool and seemingly fitting first name, that I’m going with it as a standalone name.).

It seemed a wild, impossible dream a year ago when I told my wife and young daughters I was going to drive a bus shaped like a coffin across America to raise life extension issues. A week ago, I just finished the second stage of the tour. Soon I’ll begin the third stage from Arizona to Texas, and then across the Bible Belt to Washington DC, where I plan to post a Transhumanist Bill of Rights to the US Capitol building.

Andi Hatch Photography
Andi Hatch Photography

If the bus tour seems like a wacky idea–especially for a presidential candidate–it’s because it is. Of course, to transhumanists, a more wacky idea is how most of our nation largely accepts death as a way of life. In the 21st Century, with the amazing science and technology this country has, I don’t believe death needs to be left unconquered. If, as a nation, we would just apply our ingenuity and resources, we could probably conquer death in a decade’s time with modern medicine. That’s precisely the reason why I’m running for president and driving the coffin bus around the country; I want to tell people the important news and get them to support radical technology and longevity science.

Zoltan in Austin last night

From a Dylan Matthews report in Vox:

Zoltan Istvan is the presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party. The party is new, but the movement it represents is not. Transhumanism is the belief that humans can and should use every technology we have to improve and further evolve the species. We should use elective protheses to gain better arms and legs. We should perfect robotic hearts so no one ever dies of heart disease again. We should use cloning and stem cell research and genetic engineering to design the best humans possible. And those humans should be able to live forever.

The coffin-shaped Immortality Bus symbolizes that goal, and serves as a reminder of what Zoltan is promising, and what his opponents are not. Hillary Clinton will let you die, it says. Donald Trump will let you die. Bernie Sanders will let you die. But Zoltan Istvan will conquer death.

Zoltan — who almost always goes by his first name — is only too aware of how fringe an agenda this is. He knows that third-party candidates stand no chance, especially when their party is contesting its first election ever. The operation is about as low-budget as could be. The Immortality Bus is a 1978 Blue Bird Wanderlodge RV, which Zoltan bought for $10,000 near Sacramento, drove back to his home in Marin County, and, along with volunteers, tricked out with a wooden coffin top, new tires, a new paint job, and even some flowers on the roof (how sad would a coffin be with no flowers tossed on top?).

The mission isn’t to win — not yet, anyway. This campaign — including the opening bus trip that will, knock wood, take us from Mill Valley to a “biohacking” festival in the Mojave Desert to the Venetian in Las Vegas — is more of an awareness-building effort. It’s an attempt to force Americans to consider the possibility that the issues that consume most contemporary political debate are basically sideshows distracting from what is, in Zoltan’s view, the only question that really matters: How can we live as long as possible, ideally forever?

So, 12 hours after my wake-up call from Ben Carson, I found myself at a sweet little house tucked away on a little street off Lamar at a bio hackers meet up with Zoltan.

It was easy to find. It was the house with the retrofitted coffin-shaped Immortality Bus parked outside.






Ok. The Ben Carson bus was cool, and definitely more comfortable.

But the Immortality Bus is sick.

Here are Zoltan’s remarks last night:

And here is a Ted Talk by Zoltan.

On the Immortality Bus with Zoltan was his driver/sidekick/videographer Roen Horn, a reporter from Slate, and two film crews – one from the Guardian and the other an independent documentarian.

Not bad. Carson at Costco had a lot of photographers, local TV, and film crew from the Today Show. And, unlike Zoltan, Carson is about to get Secret Service protection. But still, not bad for third party candidate.

At the meetup, there were presentations by biohackers about cutting edge research – including something that one of the presenters said he stuck inside his gums on one side of his mouth and caused his graying temples to return to brown, and experimental eye drops that allowed for extraordinary night vision.

In between, Horn offered an animated pitch for Zoltan.


“Dying is mainstream,” he said. “Vote for Zoltan If you want to live forever.”


Zoltan and Horn are atheists. They believe religion is a drag on sound thinking.

Horn said that dying rendered living meaningless.

That provoked an interesting back-and-forth with some of the biohackers.

Wouldn’t a limitless lifespan sap any urgency and energy out of living?

Isn’t a belief in atheism as much an act of unprovable faith as a belief in God?

Zoltan wants to build a movement among millennials – like environmentalism – devoted to transhumanism.

He would also, in the future, like to make a more serious run for president.

He has a chip implanted in his hand, but it is not about life-extension but convenience. It can be programmed to open a car door, get through a security system, maybe open a garage door.


Machiavelli, the organizer of the meetup, wants to have a Bitcoin wallet inserted in the same place in his hand, but that’s also just as a cool convenience.

But Machiavelli speaks persuasively about how incredibly fast the world is about to change, with people retrofitting themselves with all kinds of enhancements.

On his way to Austin, Zoltan stopped by the cryonics company where Ted Williams is frozen – in two pieces:

After Williams died July 5, 2002, his body was taken by private jet to the company in Scottsdale, Ariz. There, Williams’ body was separated from his head in a procedure called neuroseparation, according to the magazine.

The operation was completed and Williams’ head and body were preserved separately. The head is stored in a steel can filled with liquid nitrogen. It has been shaved, drilled with holes and accidentally cracked 10 times, the magazine said. Williams’ body stands upright in a 9-foot tall cylindrical steel tank, also filled with liquid nitrogen.

I am worried.

How will Major League Baseball survive a world of bionic implants?

What will a defrosted and reassembled Ted Williams think of all this?

I know a defrosted Bernie Sanders will be assailing life span inequality – the one percent living as perpetual 24-year-olds while the 99 percent age and wither and die.

I returned home late night and told my wife that we may be the last generation to die.

“Isn’t that great,” she said. She meant it.

Not to stereotype, but my wife is Irish American and can hold a grudge, and the idea of her refusing to talk to certain people not just for one finite lifetime but  for the rest of time is exhausting to contemplate.

I can hear myself saying, “It’s been 50,000 years. Can’t you just get over it.”

Also, as someone concerned about eking a few more years out of a career in journalism, the idea of having to do it forever is more than I can bear.

But, listening to Zoltan on the Immortality Bus, I realize I’m just not getting it.

Jobs are going away.

With self-driving vehicles, truck driving won’t even be an occupation in five years.

Zoltan’s wife is a surgeon and her job, he said, will disappear not too many years after that.

No wonder Ben Carson went into politics.

I have other practical concerns.

OK. Fine. I can live with living forever. There’s already more good TV being produced these days than any one person can consume in multiple lifetimes.

But the thought of everyone else living forever is disturbing. If new people keep being born, and no one leaves, well, isn’t that a problem? And if nobody new is being born, yuck.

Where have you gone Ben Carson?


Kendra Biegalski, left and her daughter, Christa, 8 wave goodbye to the Carson bus. Ben Carson brings his improbable campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to Austin Monday for a book-signing of his book A More Perfect Union, at the Costco in Northwest Austin. Carson has suspended most campaigning for the next few weeks for the book tour. He signed books for an hour and a half on Monday. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN








What’s in a meme? On Jason Villalba likening democratic socialist Bernie Sanders to a Nazi

Good morning Austin:

Here is something that Rep. Jason Villalba, the North Dallas Republican, tweeted off Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate.

villalba tweet


Hmmm. Wow. Uh oh.

About that meme.

Number 1 is true.

Bernie Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist.

But number two – and therefore number three –  are indisputably wrong.

Nazis were national socialists, but then again, Saddam Hussein’s elite troops were the Republican Guard. The Republicans were the left-wing government in Spain toppled by Francisco Franco’s Nationalists in the run-up to World War II. Neither of which has anything to do with the Republican Party.

Democratic socialists are not only not Nazis – who are usually and properly described as fascists and never described as democratic anything – but are more exactly in philosophy and history, the opposite and enemy of Nazis.

For more on what Sanders means when he says he’s a democratic socialist, read 8 questions about democratic socialism and Bernie Sanders’s vision for the United States, an excellent post-debate primer by Max Ehrenfreund of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Here’s Ehrenfreund’s point 2:

Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist.” What does that mean?

This difference between socialism and democratic socialism is actually kind of important. First of all, Sanders isn’t talking about using government to take over large sections of the economy. He doesn’t want to make Comcast part of the government, for example. He’s also not talking about putting an end to the stock market and giving workers control over their companies. Some socialist countries, such as China and the Soviet Union, have sought to nationalize services under regimes that haven’t given their citizens much say in those decisions.

Sanders wants the government to pay for health care and college tuition, but those services would still be provided by a combination of public agencies and private organizations if Sanders got his way.

While Sanders thinks that changes should be made to the U.S. economy, he doesn’t envision doing away with the U.S. system of representative government — Congress, the Supreme Court, elections, all that sort of stuff. He believes in democracy. That’s why he calls himself a “democratic socialist.” In particular, as he repeated in Tuesday night’s debate, he wants to reform the U.S. democratic system to limit the influence that wealthy donors who give money to political campaigns have over the process.

In much of the world — in particular in a number of Western and northern European countries —Sanders would be regarded as a moderate. To get a sense of the way socialism works differently around the world, consider the availability of universal health insurance, conventionally a basic tenet of a “socialist” country.

There is essentially universal coverage in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, where socialist philosophy is embraced by many parts of government. In the United States, where socialism is often a dirty word, health insurance has become quasi-universal since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. About 10.4 percent of Americans are without coverage. And in China, which is nominally communist, many go without access to affordable care.

Add in the fact that Sanders’ father’s family was mostly wiped out during the Holocaust, and you’ve got the makings of one offensive meme.

Villalba’s tweet provoked considerable irritation and anger.

For example.

I was perplexed.

Villalba does like to tweet, but he seemed among the least likely Texas Republicans to call Bernie Sanders a Nazi.

JT Jason Villalba Ledge

Did he mean it? Did he so misunderstand the pertinent history? Did he not anticipate the reaction? Was he trying to outflank Rep. Molly White?

I talked to him yesterday evening and here was what he had to say.

Bernie Sanders  is actually self-described as a Democratic socialist and then to his left (I think he probably meant right, but no matter) are other people who are essentially soft socialists. Any Republican will tell you that, and any Republicans worth their salt believes that Hillary Clinton is a soft socialist, much like this president.

Now including the meme below it is something that struck me as humorous. I attached it and I tweeted it out. So is the history accurate in this? Of course not. Look, was I trying to make a connection between Sanders and the Nazi party? Absolutely not. I categorically reject any suggestion that that  is what I was intending to do. It was meant  just to point out that the Democratic Party, as we understand them today and as they were going through their debate, have exhibited a level of left-wing social engineering that we haven’t seen in our country in decades. And so that was my statement.

Now if you want to try to tie that to that meme I included as a sort of a  second-hand jokey-joke, that’s somebody else laying those intentions over what I was was thinking. But what I was saying was that on the stage tonight was a self-avowed democratic socialist along with a soft socialist, and I stand by that.

You have national socialists and democratic socialists and most people recognize the distinct difference. N-A-Z-I is national socialist. I realize it was a flip, glib sort of commentary on where we are.  Somehow, you invoke the Nazi meme and all of a sudden the Twittersphere breaks through. But  you know, if you’re  socialist, was Stalin any less horrific a leader in his country as a socialist? I don’t think so.

Socialism is wrong for America. It’s not what we want to see from our leadership. I stand by that statement.

Look, if there’s any suggestion for a moment that I was trying to compare Bernie Sanders or anyone in the Democratic Party with Nazis then I categorically deny that and reject that and would tell people who read the  Twitter at night to get their news and information should probably be a little less  focused on some of the bad history included in the memes and realize that it’s a medium to  sort of get broad-themed ideas out there and I stand by the broad-themed idea that the Democrats are on the wrong side of the debate in America today.

Where did he find that meme?

It was on a blog somewhere I don’t even remember. I think it was on another Twitter feed and I saw it and I read it as sort of glib, sort of ridiculous way to accentuate the larger theme that I was making. I slapped it on there as a second thought and obviously that’s what inflamed everyone, because they were suggesting somehow that I was making this comparison between Bernie and the Nazi Party, which is absolutely ridiculous because anyone who knows me knows I know better than that and the history of what that it is.

Now is it sloppy to have anything in a Twitter meme that has the word Nazi in it? Clearly you can’t say something like that and not expect people to react in the way that they do, but clearly it was not intended to be taken as a history lesson for the Twittersphere. It was more meant to again put the emphasis on the broad theme on where the Democrats stand.

Look at my actual quote. Look at what I actually said. And in Twtter today if you’re held liable for anything you either retweet or include in something that’s not yours,  is clearly somebody else’s and is clearly meant to be tongue-in-cheek or satire, then most Twitter statements, you’re going to have to get rid of those because that’s what most of Twitter is. But, if you look at my  actual quote, I stand by my actual quote. It is about democratic socialists and I believe that this  president and most of those who serve in his administration are soft socialists, and we saw that last night.

So, Villalba apparently saw his tweet-with-meme as of a piece with President Obama’s “jokey-joke” about Bernie Sanders at the White House Correspondents’ dinner: “Apparently people really want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House,” the president said. “We could get a third Obama term after all.”

But that’s actually funny.

Villalba acknowledged of Twitter: “It really is a dangerous medium.”

I like to use Twiter for a number of different things. I use it to be  playful with an audiences so that they can get to know me as a person.  I use it  to make statements in real time about issues that are developing right before us. I like to use it to talk about important issues of the day in a very light 140-character style way.

If you really want to understand what I’m about, read my op-eds which are 900 words and get a better feel for what I’m about, when I’m clearly being much more thoughtful, much more articulate on these issues, doing the fact-checking necessary to put a statement with my name on it.

If you’re looking to Twitter as your source for news information and historical reference then you’re probably not going to be getting the best information because Twitter is just not that. Twitter is about scenes and not about long thoughtful, thought-out, fleshed-out ideas.

Villalba, a prime target of the tea party and Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan, is facing a Republican primary challenge from another Dallas attorney, Dan Morenoff.

Said Villalba:

They hate me on the far right, now they hate me on the left … Most of the country stands center right, which is right where I stand.

As I was talking with Villalba, it was the seventh inning of the the Texas Rangers-Toronto Blue Jays, an unbelievable inning that would end the Rangers’ season, which was followed by the Astros-Royals game which ended the Astros’ season.

It was a terrible few hours for Texas, but, of course, it had less to do with the players on the field than the errant tweet issued earlier in the week by Gov. Greg Abbott, or, at any rate, his official gubernatorial account.

It is a cautionary tale about he perils of Twitter.




“That’s bush league man,” Joe Scarborough said of Abbott’s tweet on Morning Joe this morning. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”



Viva Las Vegas: On casino capitalism, democratic socialism and honeymooning on the Volga

Good morning Austin:


It’s not clear to me why the Democrats held their first presidential debate in Las Vegas.

Maybe if Bill, not Hillary, Clinton were on stage. But Elvis has left the building.

I mean shouldn’t Trump and the Republicans be debating in this shrine to free market opulence and  gaudy excess?

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Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 6.56.43 AM

Instead, here are the five Democratic contenders gathered for the first time on the stage of Wynn casino in Las Vegas debating whether they should go from the being the party of creeping socialism to being the party of leaping socialism.

ANDERSON COOPER: Senator Sanders. A Gallup poll says half the country would not put a socialist in the White House. You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, we’re gonna win because first, we’re gonna explain what democratic socialism is. And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent — almost — own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. That when you look around the world, you see every other major country providing health care to all people as a right, except the United States. You see every other major country saying to moms that, when you have a baby, we’re not gonna separate you from your newborn baby, because we are going to have — we are gonna have medical and family paid leave, like every other country on Earth. Those are some of the principles that I believe in, and I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.

COOPER: Denmark is a country that has a population — Denmark is a country that has a population of 5.6 million people. The question is really about electability here, and that’s what I’m trying to get at. You — the — the Republican attack ad against you in a general election — it writes itself. You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist. Doesn’t — doesn’t that ad write itself?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, let’s look at the facts. The facts that are very simple. Republicans win when there is a low voter turnout, and that is what happened last November. Sixty-three percent of the American people didn’t vote, Anderson. Eighty percent of young people didn’t vote. We are bringing out huge turnouts, and creating excitement all over this country. Democrats at the White House on down will win, when there is excitement and a large voter turnout, and that is what this campaign is doing.

COOPER: You don’t consider yourself a capitalist, though?

SANDERS: Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t. I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.

Very good.

But, as Anderson Cooper noted, the Republican attack ads really do write themselves.

It’s one thing to attack casino capitalism in a casino, but, here in the home of the 24-hour wedding chapel and the heart-shaped tub is a candidate who honeymooned in the Soviet Union.

Really? Can that be true?

Ninotchka in reverse?

Say it ain’t so, Bernie.

From The Guardian:

When Sanders was mayor, Burlington formed an alliance with another city – in the Soviet Union. When Sanders traveled to Yaroslavl, 160 miles north-east of Moscow, in 1988, the trip doubled as a honeymoon with his new wife, Jane. Not much survived in terms of paperwork from that trip, although the mayoral archives do contain a tape recording of Sanders interviewing Yaroslavl’s mayor on a boat somewhere on the Volga river.

After receiving a rundown of central planning, Soviet-style, from Yaroslavl’s mayor, Alexander Riabkov, Sanders notes how the quality of both housing and healthcare in America appeared to be “significantly better” than in the communist state. “However,” he added, “the cost of both services is much, much, higher in the United States.”

Sounds like the same comparison applies to honeymoon accommodations

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Rates From: USD$51.00 per night.

Looks nice. Very comfortable. Quite adequate.

Ah, but maybe the photos are misleading.

I checked the on-line reviews.

Viktor G. gave it a 6. Pretty good.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 7.18.58 AMIt seems the general tenor of the post-debate headlines and pundit reaction was that Hillary Clinton prevailed and strengthened her position.

But, not according to the Republican National Committee.

Here from an after-midnight email from the RNC’s Ruth Guerra:

Good evening – Lots of analysis tonight on the Democrat debate, but consider these takeaways:

· Bernie Sanders won the focus group conducted by Frank Luntz.
· Bernie Sanders won the focus group conducted by Fusion.
· Bernie Sanders won the focus group conducted by CNN.
· Bernie Sanders won on the issues according to Facebook users.
· Bernie Sanders was the most searched candidate following the debate according to Google Trends.

Hillary Clinton may be the strongest debater on the stage – she was in 2008 too – but it was Bernie Sanders that won the hearts and interest of Democrat voters.

Here, from Guerra’s links.

According to Luntz’s reaction meter, the best-received moment of the debate was when Sanders said he and the American people were tired of hearing about Clinton’s emails.

SANDERS: Let me say this. (APPLAUSE)

Let me say — let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails. (APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Thank you. Me, too. Me, too.

SANDERS: You know? The middle class — Anderson, and let me say something about the media, as well. I go around the country, talk to a whole lot of people. Middle class in this country is collapsing. We have 27 million people living in poverty. We have massive wealth and income inequality. Our trade policies have cost us millions of decent jobs. The American people want to know whether we’re going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens Union. Enough of the e-mails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.


CLINTON: Thank you, Bernie. Thank you.

Luntz’s focus group loved that.

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But Trump, on Morning Joe, said Sanders let Clinton off the hook on an issue of her greatest vulnerability. “It was a great soundbite but I think it was a big mistake.”

Back to Guerra’s links.

From Fusion. (What is Fusion? From the Atlantic: Fusion began as a channel aimed at Hispanic millennials. Its executives soon found, however, that the demographic didn’t want their own network. So it chose to focus on millennials as a whole.)

From a CNN focus group.

From a CNN Facebook poll.


From Google Trends:


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I asked three experts on political discourse to offer some commentary on the debate.

From Jennifer Mercieca, professor of communication at Texas A & M University:

The low point for Hillary was her (I’m paraphrasing, but this is what it sounded like to me) “the emails thing is a vast right-wing conspiracy” answer. She was best on foreign policy, but that won’t matter because only Republicans care about that and they are not persuadable when it comes to her.

And yet, she did what she needed to do, which was to solidify her lead with those who’ve been wavering lately. No one else could match her and Chafee bombed. The worst moment of the debate was his “I just arrived” answer about Glass-Steagall. We want a president who is ready on day one, not making excuses years later for what he didn’t know on day one. Hillary came off, as she wanted to, as a pragmatic progressive. Bernie was true to form, character, and message, but he doesn’t seem presidential and he’s hardly a Democrat. His line about Hillary’s damn emails was pretty great though.

Chafee’s “worst moment” was pretty bad.

COOPER: Governor Chafee, you have attacked Secretary Clinton for being too close to Wall Street banks. In 1999 you voted for the very bill that made banks bigger.

CHAFEE: The Glass-Steagall was my very first vote, I’d just arrived, my dad had died in office, I was appointed to the office, it was my very first vote.

COOPER: Are you saying you didn’t know what you were voting for?

CHAFEE: I’d just arrived at the Senate. I think we’d get some takeovers, and that was one. It was my very first vote, and it was 92-5. It was the…

COOPER: Well, with all due respect, Governor…

CHAFEE: But let me just say…

COOPER: … what does that say about you that you’re casting a vote for something you weren’t really sure about?

CHAFEE: I think you’re being a little rough. I’d just arrived at the United States Senate. I’d been mayor of my city. My dad had died. I’d been appointed by the governor. It was the first vote and it was 90-5, because it was a conference report. But let me just say about income inequality. We’ve had a lot of talk over the last few minutes, hours, or tens of minutes, but no one is saying how we’re going to fix it. And it all started with the Bush tax cuts that favored the wealthy. So let’s go back to the tax code. And 0.6 percent of Americans are at the top echelon, over 464,000, 0.6 Americans. That’s less than 1 percent. But they generate 30 percent of the revenue. And they’re doing fine.

COOPER: Thank you, Governor

I think the dream of Chafee 2016 may have expired in that exchange.

But Chafee, who went from Republican to Independent to Democrat, is one very idiosyncratic duck.

Here from a Nov. 14, 2004 story in The Providence Journal by M. Charles Bakst, when Chafee was in the throes of deciding whether to remain a Republican.

His party affiliation sway-pole act was overshadowed only by vacillation over how he’d vote for president this year. Sometimes he signaled he was for Mr. Bush; at other times he backed off.

A spectacular low point came on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention. (He would make only a brief appearance on the New York scene.) Chafee said he supported Mr. Bush’s reelection but wouldn’t commit to voting for him. He looked ridiculous, and Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, more conservative, more combative, and a possible challenger in a 2006 Senate primary, could barely contain himself, asking in an interview:

“What does that mean? Usually, the people you support you vote for. Would you vote for one you wouldn’t support? Or is he saying he supports two people?

Then Chafee, distancing himself further from the president but also wanting to stay away from Democrat John Kerry, hit upon the solution of writing in the name of the president’s father, an old family friend whose policies he like better.

But, in declining to choose between candidate Bush and candidate Kerry, Chafee didn’t make a decision, he avoided a decision. Citizens look to leaders to lead. Chafee is often accused of wanting to have things both ways. This time he outdid himself.

True, Rhode Island was going to be a walkover for Kerry no matter what Chafee did, but the symbolism of his move left him open to ridicule, and, one might say, retaliation. I was struck by a letter to the editor from Edward Smith of Providence:

“When Lincoln Chafee runs for re-election to the U.S. Senate, I will write in his father’s name.”

And then, in an Election Day interview geared to his actually going ahead with his write-in strategy, Chafee compounded his problem by saying he might leave the GOP if the president won a second term.

Forget the “honeymoon on the Volga” Republican attack ad on Sanders.

How about their Lincoln Chafee was for George W. Bush before he was against him before he was for him before he was against him ad.

Asked by Cooper whether his political metamorphosis suggested a flighty nature, Chafee said, “You’re looking at a block of granite when it comes to the issues.”

That brought to mind another Yankee blue blood, Endicott Peabody, who in 1972 actually entered the New Hampshire primary as a candidate for vice president with the slogan, the number one man for the number two job

From the New England Historical Society entry on Peabody.

During his terms as governor, detractors told a joke at his expense: Massachusetts liked him so much they named four places after him: They are Endicott, Peabody, Marblehead and Athol.

OK. Here’s another take on the debate from Kirby Goidel, also an expert on political communication at A&M.

I thought this was an interesting debate where the front-runners did most of what they needed to do. Hillary Clinton is better in a debate format that in a lot of venues. The interaction helps her and she appears smart, well-informed, and engaging. Toward the end of the debate when she got the question on maternity leave she even showed a flash of Bernie Sanders style outrage. Overall, I thought she did well. 

Bernie Sanders was Bernie Sanders, consistent, forthright, and genuine. I was unsure how he might come across in the debate setting but the fact that is unapologetic about who he is is endearing. He might have “won the debate” with his sound bite on being tired of hearing about those damn emails. 

I am not sure how some of his answers will play in the long run – embracing democratic socialism, for example, where he seems outside of the mainstream. The fact that he embraces these differences and uses them as an opportunity to explain his views works for him. The question though is does it expand his base? 

Martin O’Malley did OK but I don’t think we’ll enough. He had an important misstatement on Assad and Syria, though I think he just misspoke. The problem is – he needed to have a home run and he didn’t hit it out of the park. I thought he was at his best when he responded to Sanders saying “we already did that in Maryland.” 

Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee were not helped. 

I have no idea what Joe Biden will do, but I don’t think the debate opened the door any wider. If he was waiting for a sign, I don’t think he got it. 

O’Malley has the extraordinary burden of explaining how this year’s Baltimore riots don’t reflect on his tenure as the city’s mayor and the state’s governor.

COOPER:Governor O’Malley, the concern of voters about you is that you tout our record as Baltimore’s mayor. As we all know, we all saw it. That city exploded in riots and violence in April. The current top prosecutor in Baltimore, also a Democrat, blames your zero tolerance policies for sowing the seeds of unrest. Why should Americans trust you with the country when they see what’s going on in the city that you ran for more than seven years?

 O’Malley answered at length, including this:

O’MALLEY: Well, let’s talk about this a little bit. One of the things that was not reported during that heartbreaking night of unrest in Baltimore was that arrests had actually fallen to a 38-year low in the year prior to the Freddie Gray’s tragic death. Anderson, when I ran for mayor of Baltimore back in 1999, it was not because our city was doing well. It was because we allowed ourselves to become the most violent, addicted, and abandoned city in America. And I ran and promised people that together we could turn that around. And we put our city on a path to reduce violent crime, or Part 1 crime by more than any other major city in America over the next 10 years. I did not make our city immune to setbacks. But I attended a lot of funerals, including one for a family of seven who were firebombed in their sleep for picking up the phone in a poor African-American neighborhood and calling the police because of drug dealers on their corner. We’ve saved over a thousand lives in Baltimore in the last 15 years of people working together. And the vast majority of them were young and poor and black. It wasn’t easy on any day. But we saved lives and we gave our city a better future, improving police and community relations every single day that I was in office.

The one line that stood out to me was I attended a lot of funerals.

Not good.

And here is a first take on the debate from University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus:

Bernie Sanders’s first national debate exposure came off as strident and angry. The message resonates with Democratic voters but the tone needs to be drawn back from angry old man to idealistic critic.

Senator Webb came off as turgid and slightly arrogant but knowledgeable. The only moment where he seemed warm was when Bernie Sanders praised his military service. Otherwise he was forgettable.

Martin O’Malley had the greatest opportunity but fell most short of the mark of anyone on the stage. He struck a timid tone and, other than a little passion on gun control issues, didn’t break through on a single issue.

These debates are a lose-lose for Clinton, like death by 1,000 paper cuts. The subtle jabs and obvious comparisons to the other candidates, either modest or favorable, make her look less viable in comparison. Even so, she presented a poised balance and rational approach to Bernie Sanders’s disagreeable rail against capitalism. Sanders absolved her on the email scandal, at least among Democrats, putting this debate in the positive column for her. Clinton was personal and persuasive on the family leave issue which humanized her and made her more approachable.

In one of the best moments of the night, Clinton was firm and strident on gun control, addressing the general electorate rather than the Democratic Party electorate. She took some hits over Syria but showed both her strong connection to the positives of the Obama Administration but also her deep knowledge. Some of the more damaging hits she took were on voting for the Iraq War, a similar trope from 2008. Foreign policy is not where Secretary Clinton’s opponents are going to quell her in any case but the Iraq issue hurts her with core Democrats, Hispanics and African-Americans. The other damage she sustained was on the war on Wall Street where her admonition of the big banks as Senator fell flat in comparison to Sanders’s populist message.

The bottom line is that Hillary Clinton, while challenged, can’t lose any debate to a group of candidates who are almost a Republican, almost a socialist and almost an independent. The Party wants to be inclusive of a range of ideas but Clinton is the only candidate that hits all the strings on the Party chord.

All in all, I thought the debate was OK, though not nearly as entertaining as the Republicans.

And frankly, I would have much rather been watching my Mets battling the Dodgers, even with its unfortunate outcome.

Even President Obama said he was going to be channel surfing between the two, and when Trump, on Morning Joe, was asked about his decision to solely watch the Democratic debate, he replied:

I can’t believe it either. I thought I had an obligation to sit through the entire thing.

Me too.

Sid Miller, the Slim Pickens of Texas politics

Good morning Austin:

It is a shame that Slim Pickens is no longer with us because I can’t think of any actor more perfectly suited to star in the Sid Miller biopic – the story of how a rancher, farmer and championship rodeo cowboy from Stephenville, Texas, went from being elected Texas agriculture commissioner in 2014 to serving as secretary of state in the first Trump administration.

Pickens, a former rodeo cowboy, is best known for his role as Major T.J. “King” Kong, the ebullient B-52 pilot who, on an errant mission to nuke the Soviet Union, gives his last, whooping and hollering astride the hydrogen bomb heading towards its intended target.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 7.38.45 PM
Slim Pickens as B-52 pilot ,Major T.J. “King” Kong, riding the hydrogen bomb to its intended target in 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove”

Miller first came to Trump’s attention in the dog days of August 2015 when he shared a provocative meme  on his Facebook page, suggesting that the 70 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was time to nuke “the Muslim world.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 4.24.58 AM

The posting on his campaign Facebook page drew some heat, and what was said to really impress Trump – who only a day earlier had said on Meet the Press that he got his military advice from watching the Sunday shows – was how Miller didn’t go the “loser” route of backing down, but instead doubled down, sending a terse text message from remotest China, where he was on a critical trade mission, that there would be no apologizing.

OK. So I’m projecting a bit here.

I don’t know that Trump yet knows about Sid Miller, or will ultimately tap him to guide American foreign policy if and when he is elected president.

But the rest of it is pretty much what happened, with Miller’s campaign sharing the post, taken from a Facebook page called “The Patriot’s IV Drip 2” on Sunday.

Originally, as reported by Lauren McGaughy at the Houston Chronicle, Miller’s people backed off, and removed the post late Monday morning.

Reached for comment mid-Monday, Miller’s special assistant Luke Bullock said the post was made without the commissioner’s knowledge by a staffer who does not work for the state agency.

“It was an error by a staffer. The posting did not reflect the views of Commissioner Miller and as a result it’s been removed,” Bullock said, calling the post “inappropriate.” He added Miller “will ensure that future postings do not reflect views that do not align with his view.”

But, in short order, Todd Smith, Miller’s longtime campaign consultant and political spokesman, said that, while the meme had been posted to the site without comment and without the knowledge of the commissioner, who was in the midst of an eleven-day trade mission to China, once Miller was alerted to the controversy via a very balky cell phone connection in Lanzhou, he had managed to send back his simple, certain sentiment.

The Texas Democratic Party wanted an apology and he didn’t intend to give it to them, Smith texted Miller.

“OK,” Miller texted in reply.

Linda Ryan, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department, said that Bullock, who is Miller’s scheduler in the office, was wearing his “other hat” with the Miller campaign, when he talked about the post – which had nothing to do with Miller’s official duties.

Smith told me, “the post was taken down because a TDA staffer had told a news outlet that the post had been taken down and I was trying to make sure that commitment had been honored.”

But, when some of the Miller faithful took offense at the post’s removal, Smith wanted it known that neither he nor Miller felt there was anything wrong with the post.

“The post that was placed on Commissioner Miller’s campaign Facebook page was thought-provoking. It came at a time when we are remembering the 70th anniversary of VJ Day and hopefully will cause Texans and others  to think about the current state of crisis we face in the world. Even though Commissioner Miller did not make the post and was unaware that it had been made because he was traveling in China on a trade mission at the time, we have not and we will not apologize for those who wish to discuss these important issues and use our page as a forum.”

A young Sid Miller, rodeo rider.
A young Sid Miller, rodeo rider.

Strangely, or maybe I should say strangelovely, I mentioned Dr. Strangelove in my last First Reading, recalling its subtitle,  How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, to describe how this past weekend I came to terms with the fact that Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy seemed to be turning into the real deal.

Here’s a basic plot description of Dr. Strangelove from IMDB:

Paranoid Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper of BurpelsonAir Force Base, believing that fluoridation of the American water supply is a Soviet plot to poison the U.S. populace, is able to deploy through a back door mechanism a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union without the knowledge of his superiors, including the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Buck Turgidson and President Merkin Muffley. Only Ripper knows the code to recall the B-52 bombers and he has shut down communication in and out of Burpelson as a measure to protect this attack.

(For more on the perils of fluoride, Austin, circa this week, see Andra Lim: Anti-fluoride activists, who have been frequent faces at council meetings in the past several years, say that drinking fluoridated water lowers IQ, damages bones and causes hypothyroidism, among other dangers. Plus, it’s wasting taxpayer money, they say.)

From TV Tropes:

Gens. Ripper and Turgidson could both be seen as caricaturing different aspects of real-life USAF General Curtis LeMay.

Ripper also draws on Army General Edwin Walker, who was reprimanded by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy for distributing John Birch Society literature to his troops (illegal under the Hatch Act) and making seditious comments about American officials. After resigning Walker ran for Governor of Texas and became a well-known spokesman for right-wing causes. Today however, Walker is probably better-known for Lee Harvey Oswald trying to assassinate him.

And from the New York Times obit of LeMay:

General LeMay, who directed the air assault over Japan in the final days of World War II and relayed the Presidential order to drop nuclear bombs, years later wrote that a solution to the Vietnam War might be to bomb North Vietnam ”back into the Stone Ages.’

I hadn’t heard that turn of phrase for a long while.

But then, last August, I was covering the Koch bothers’ Americans for Prosperity summit in Dallas, when Sen. Ted Cruz invoked it, saying of ISIS:

They want to go back and reject modernity. Well, I think we should help them. We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age.

Cruz was subsequently asked in an interview, “You said that the U.S. should bomb ISIS back to the Stone Age. Should that take congressional approval or does the president have the authority to do this on his own?”

“It should absolutely take congressional approval.” Cruz said.

Well, that’s good.

Miller has made headlines more closely associated with his role as agricultural commissioner – most notably by declaring an amnesty – not for undocumented farmworkers, but for cupcakes. He also approved the return of fried foods and sugary sodas to school lunches (see Julie Chang). Defending the Texas diet from the likes of Michelle Obama and Michael Bloomberg, it can be said that Sid Miller put the lard back in schoolyard.

Wednesday night is Miller’s big dinner with Pecan Roasters and Importers in Shanghai, where I suppose he will reveal the recipe for Pecan Duck that will expand the already booming Chinese market for Texas’ state nut.

If there is no documentary film team accompanying Miller on his trip, that is truly a terrible shame.

After all, Nixon in China became an acclaimed opera.

Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, on Monday branded Miller’s post “hate speech,” and wondered why Miller was opining on world affairs at all.

But Todd Smith said, “Our social media presence and social media engagement is one of the driving forces why Sid Miller is agriculture commissioner today,” comparing the page to Grit Magazine, which Smith used to sell as a kid.

As someone who works in a business increasingly built on clicks, there is much to admire in Miller’s page.

For example:

There is always a joke of the day, usually funny and often with a bit of a political edge to it.

Like this one, posted August 16.

The leader of the vegetarian society just couldn’t control himself anymore. He just needed to try some pork, just to see what it tasted like. So one summer day he told his members he was going on a vacation. He packed out of town, and headed to the nearest restaurant. After sitting down, he ordered a roasted pig, and impatiently waited for his delicacy.

After just a few minutes, he heard someone call his name, and to his great chagrin he saw one of his fellow members walking towards him. Just at that same moment, the waiter walked over, with a huge platter, holding a full roasted pig with an apple in it’s mouth.

“Isn’t that something,” says the leader after only a moments pause, “all I do is order an apple, and look what it comes with!”

There are tributes and shout-outs on important occasions.

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Very nice.

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Very thoughtful.

There’s some agricultural stuff.

Sid Miller
August 15 at 12:01pm ·
Here is a wonderful article from Forbes magazine that shows how a few lessons from the Texas hay fields can teach any entrepreneur the importance of scaling their business properly. Texas farmers, ranchers, and agriculture producers are leading the nation in innovation, creativity, and old fashioned hard work.

There’s some just fun stuff.

August 13 at 7:48pm ·
Learn how to make a watermelon smoothie with a watermelon, coat hanger and a power drill. This is a neat idea that I am sure your children and grandchildren will enjoy. ‪#‎gotexan‬

As the narrator explains, “Organic. Refreshing. A little bit creepy.”

And, of course, there’s Miller, fearless leader in a politically correct world.

Keeping America one nation “under God.”

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Defending Voter ID.

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Boycotting Target for going gender-neutral in some of its signage.

Sid Miller
August 13 at 2:38pm ·
Well, it looks like there will be one less store where I will be shopping. This political correctness has run amok and needs to stop now. Maybe retailers will start listening if they don’t see us in their stores. Enough is enough!

And of  course, the threat of radical Islam

Sid Miller
23 hrs ·
The brutality of ISIS is horrific. To perform these heinous acts in the name of God is abhorrent. These radical Islamic barbarians must be stopped and to do that means they must be destroyed.

Here he links to the truly horrific recent report in the New York Times – ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape by Rukmini Callimachi

My guess is that if you were to show the nuclear meme that was posted on a Miller’s page to a majority of Americans, they would wince with disapproval, but if you showed it to them immediately after reading that New York Times story, the wince might be slower in coming.

Here are some of the posts from Miller’s page talking about the meme.

Islam Ayad-Albuttma In your position, you have a responsibility to the people. Either you stick to your guns and uphold your islamophobic views or you apologize for being wrong. You shouldn’t be able to have it both ways. There are many Muslim American families who’ve sacraficed their blood and Family for the sake of the USA. not only are you disgracing them, you disgrace all of America and what we stand for

Yosefa Leah You are a terribly racist and xenophobic human. I’m sorry the political parties of Texas are so backward that they would endorse such incredible hatred. You should be ashamed of your behavior. Standing proud with islamophobia doesn’t make you a decent politician—it makes you a public bigot. But that’s no surprise to a state that caters to a white fundamentalist patriarchal imperialist agenda.

John Slate Sick, Un-American and Un-Christian bigot. you are a stain on the great state of Texas. Stick to your cupcakes and fried foods.

Danna Duenas Yosefa Leah perhaps you would be happier in a Muslim country where women are beaten raped and murdered at the whim of a man .Where you have no voice no right to education or what you choose to wear..And can be given to other men where you are not even as valuable as their camel.

Karon Hartzo Thanks Sid you are not the only one who thinks we should drop “the big one” on those murdering pedophiles that call themselves ISIS, but before we did they should be sprayed with bacon grease. Don’t run from the truth just because some liberal idiot got butt-hurt.

 Renee Updike Sid Miller I was looking for your post from Sunday where I read in the news you posted something “controversial” regarding Muslim’s. It appears you took it down. I haven’t been on for a couple of days or I would have “liked” it and had your “back”. Before you take something down check with us, the people who voted you in office! We got your back here in TX.

Sid Miller
August 16 at 9:14pm ·
We did it my friends!!! 105,000 Facebook LIKES before Midnight. In fact, we did it with three hours to spare. Thank you for stepping up and helping us reach our goal. I am blessed to have the most dedicated and hard working campaign supporters in Texas. Thank you for standing with me, for Texas, and for the values that make us strong! God bless you and may God continue to bless Texas.


I’ll close with Miller’s joke of the day from August 12:

A farmer was driving along the road with a load of fertilizer. A little boy, playing in front of his house, saw him and called, “What’ve you got in your truck?”

“Fertilizer,” the farmer replied.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked the little boy.

“Put it on strawberries,” answered the farmer.

“You ought to live here,” the little boy advised him. “We put sugar and cream on ours.”

Texas Agriculture Commissioner candidate Sid Miller on October 15, 2014. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas Agriculture Commissioner candidate Sid Miller on October 15, 2014. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Ivana, can I buy a vowel? How Trump’s Texas visit prompted a newspaper apology

Before Donald Trump’s hastily announced, eagerly anticipated appearance in Laredo, the ostensible GOP frontrunner was already causing trouble for the Laredo Morning Times, the daily newspaper in the Texas-Mexico border city.

The LMT’s lead headline Thursday featured an unfortunate typo: “Trump vists Laredo.”

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The newspaper sought to set things straight with The Donald with an online apology Thursday that did more than just apologize to a candidate who has talked tough on the border and Mexican immigrants, both of which are hot topics in Laredo.

Said the apology:

Laredo Morning Times apologizes to Laredo and to Mr. Donald Trump for the typographical error on Page 1A in today’s edition of LMT. We welcome Mr. Trump. Enjoy your visit.

Later, the apology to Mr. Donald Trump was updated to add another sentence that pretty much sums up the episode: “Let’s all learn from today’s lessons.”

Since bringing Jesus into his campaign, Cruz has risen

Good morning Austin:

Here is a candid shot of Ted Cruz having Easter dinner with his wife and children.

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Actually, no.

It is a screen grab from the first official paid political ad of the 2016 presidential campaign, and a remarkable ad it is.

It is about the power of the “transformative love of Jesus Christ” in Cruz’s life, and it appeared in the primest of prime time  – at just before 9 p.m., on the most Republican spot on the television dial – the  FOX News Channel – two hours into the broadcast of the three-hour movie, Killing Jesus.

Political sweet spots don’t get much sweeter than that.

Except maybe during the Good Friday broadcast of Killing Jesus, and Cruz had that covered as well.

Amid commercials for anti-itch cream, the abundance of awe-inspiring national parks in Utah, the hospitable business climate in New York State (!), and an appeal from that very model of the modern Democratic president – the West Wing’s Martin Sheen – to give so that no child in Appalachia should go to bed hungry, the Cruz ad ran twice on each each broadcast of Killing Jesus.

Killing Jesus.

I will admit that, as a Jew, tuning in a show with that title inspires a certain deeply embedded trepidation. Where they going with this? Who made this movie? Is this another Mel Gibson production?

Well, no. From the FOX promotion:

Tune in tonight to watch “Killing Jesus,” a re-telling of the political and historical conflicts that led to the crucifixion, based on the best-selling book by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.

And it originated with National Geographic Channel. Nothing here seems pogrom-worthy.

The Cruz ad, called Blessing, opens, “Were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would have been raised by a single mom without my father in the house.” As that line is being delivered, Cruz is seen hugging his father Rafael, now a pastor, who returned to his family those many years ago, thanks to Jesus.

Here is the ad:


The ad excerpts Cruz’s March 23 announcement for president at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which bills itself as the world’s largest Christian University.  It was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority.

Cruz’s speech at Liberty was explicitly Christian in its focus, evangelical in tone and delivery, and very personal.

When my dad came to America in 1957, he could not have imagined what lay in store for him. Imagine a young married couple, living together in the 1970s, neither one of them has a personal relationship with Jesus. They have a little boy and they are both drinking far too much. They are living a fast life.

When I was three, my father decided to leave my mother and me. We were living in Calgary at the time, he got on a plane and he flew back to Texas, and he decided he didn’t want to be married any more and he didn’t want to be a father to his 3-year-old son. And yet when he was in Houston, a friend, a colleague from the oil and gas business, invited him to a Bible study, invited him to Clay Road  Baptist Church, and there my father gave his life to Jesus Christ.

And God transformed his heart. And he drove to the airport, he bought a plane ticket, and he flew back to be with my mother and me.

There are people who wonder if faith is real. I can tell you, in my family there’s not a second of doubt, because were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would (not) have been saved and I would have been raised by a single mom without my father in the household.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 7.47.36 AM

The ad concludes with Cruz saying:

God’s blessing has been on America since the very beginning of this nation. Over and over again, when we’ve faced impossible odds the American people rose to the challenge.This is our fight, and that is why I’m running for president of the United States.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 7.48.13 AM

Cruz was the first name-brand candidate to formally announce his candidacy for presidency, and, right now, still the only one. But Sen. Rand Paul is expected to announce his candidacy in his home state of Kentucky on Tuesday, and hit the early primary and caucus states with kickoff appearances the rest of the week. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will announce his plans next Monday.

But Cruz had Easter all to himself.  And he seized full advantage.

I had a story in Sunday’s paper about how Dan Patrick seemed to be treading into new rhetorical territory in the history of Texas politics in describing himself as a “Christian first” in his inaugural address after being sworn in as lieutenant governor in January.

It now appears that on the national presidential scene, Cruz is pulling a Patrick.

When Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, launched his 1988 presidential campaign in 1986, he talked a lot about God, but made no explicit mention of Jesus. But here was Cruz, in his announcement and his first ad, aired on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, talking explicitly about Jesus by name.

“I was very excited by it,” Patrick said of Cruz’s speech.. “I would have given a very similar speech.”

Evangelical Christians hold tremendous sway in the Iowa caucuses next January, and Cruz is not the only candidate staking a claim to the vote. The last two winners of the caucuses – former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 – banked on that support, and both may be running again this time.

But Cruz is the latest model and, as is his wont, the brashest.

Compare his ad, for example, to this warm-and-fuzzy Huckabee ad that he put out in Christmas 2007 with its unsubtle but still ostensibly subliminal cross.


And here is another in which Huckabee talks about his faith, but still without mentioning  Jesus.


Cruz’s aggressive approach seems to be paying off in Iowa.

From CNN’s Ashley Killough in Cedar Falls, Iowa:

As aides politely tried to rush Ted Cruz from an event in Cedar Falls to one in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, the presidential candidate continued shaking hands with anyone who wanted to meet him.
Finally, after the selfies and conversations started to die down, his aides managed to move him closer to the door when a tall, burly man stopped him.

“Senator,” he said, “can I pray with you real quick?”

“Yeah,” Cruz said, as he clasped the man’s upper arm and the two bowed their heads.

It was one of the many moments when Cruz connected with voters on a religious level last week, as the senator from Texas hit the trail in Iowa for the first time as a presidential candidate.

Being the only official contender in the race, Cruz drew large crowds during his two-day swing across the state. He’s counting on Iowa, known for its vocal and active evangelical base, to propel him forward in what’s expected to be a tough competition among a crowded field of GOP candidates.

Cruz, himself, displays a pastoral swagger when he is speaking on stage and working a room. The senator regularly avoids using a podium, instead favoring pacing the stage with a wireless microphone, a scene reminiscent of a Sunday morning sermon. When he meets with people after events, he embraces each one’s hand with both of his, softens his usually theatric tone and looks people square in the eye — a familiar interaction between churchgoing Christians and their pastors.

The past two winners of Iowa’s caucuses rose to victory with support from the Christian right, and Cruz, who announced his bid last month at the well-known Baptist school Liberty University, is aiming to energize that same base and claim the coveted state as his prize.

Evangelicals make up a large segment of Iowa’s Republican voter bloc. According to a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll from January, 44% of likely 2016 Republican caucus-goers said they were born-again or evangelical Christians.


“If you look at available places for the party to expand the vote, it doesn’t exist in the middle, it exists in the evangelical vote,” said Rick Tyler, a top Cruz adviser. “It isn’t a pond, it’s an unfished ocean of available voters who are conservative.”

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he expects to see record turnout among evangelicals in 2016 no matter who the nominee is or what that person says.

Now there is plenty of push-back to the notion that Cruz is employing what will be a long-term winning strategy beyond Iowa.

From Paul Waldman, at the liberal American Prospect, on Sunday’s ad.

Wait, why were you running again? Because the American people rise to challenges? Or because “this is our fight”? And what is our fight?”

OK, so we shouldn’t expect too much specificity from a 30-second ad. But it’s pretty clear that at least at this point Cruz is presenting himself as the most Christian candidate (Cruz is a Southern Baptist). I get that his religious faith is very important to him, but as a political strategy, even in a party made up in significant part of evangelical Christians, taking Jesus as your running mate is a sure loser.

We know that because so many people have tried it before and failed. That’s what Rick Santorum did in 2012, and what Mike Huckabee did in 2008. It doesn’t succeed for a couple of reasons. First, the evangelical voters to whom it’s primarily aimed are a large part of the party’s voters, but not so overwhelming a part that they swamp everyone else. For instance, in 2012, evangelicals voted 4-1 for Mitt Romney, but they were only 21 percent of the electorate. Which means that they made up only about a third of Romney’s voters. That’s a lot, but it isn’t so many that you can get the Republican nomination if evangelicals is all you’ve got.

Secondly, no one’s going to get all of them in the primaries, or even nearly all. Even if you’re looking for the most devout candidate, there will be plenty of contenders to choose from, including Scott Walker (whose father was a Baptist minister), maybe Huckabee (himself a Baptist minister), possibly Bobby Jindal (who holds prayer rallies), and definitely Rick Perry (who’s “not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian“). Even if Cruz succeeded in becoming the top choice of Christian conservatives, that would still leave him a long way from the nomination.

Somebody always tries to be the Christian candidate, and that person never gets the nomination. But maybe Cruz is just starting out by establishing his religious bona fides, and then he’ll move on to win more people over with his compelling policy ideas.

 And here from Steve Chapman, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, in the libertarian magazine, Reason, under the headline,  Ted Cruz’s New Campaign Slogan: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.” Why catering to the Born-Again GOP is a losing strategy

President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill making “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto,  but his approach to religion was not excessive in its rigor. “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious belief,” he once declared, “and I don’t care what it is.”

He might have been taken aback at the spectacle presented by fellow Republican Ted Cruz Monday in Lynchburg, Va. The Texas senator sounded less like he was running for president of the United States than for president of the Southern Baptist Convention.


Invocations of the Almighty have long been a normal and harmless part of American political rhetoric. Even Barack Obama, whom many people continue to believe is a Muslim rather than a Christian, ends his speeches, “God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”

But Cruz takes this custom to a novel extreme. He was not paying the normal tribute to general and widely held Christian beliefs. He was informing a narrow slice of Protestants, “I’m one of you.” Most religious expressions by politicians are inclusionary. His was the opposite.

Politically this sounds like a losing long-term strategy, since white evangelicals (the chief target of his appeal) make up a small, shrinking group. Today, they are only 18 percent of the population—just slightly more than the percentage with no religious affiliation. Cruz’s message will alienate at least as many people as it will attract.

It puts him in a geographic box as well as a sectarian one, since white evangelicals disproportionately live in the South. It hinders him with younger voters, who are the least likely to be born-again Christians.

But in the short run, or the Republican primaries, his born-again appeals may help him compete against candidates like Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, Rick Santorum, a religious culture warrior, and Scott Walker, son of a Baptist minister. One of them is bound to use this campaign slogan: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.”

It’s hard to believe that white Southern evangelicals once took a very different view of politics. In 1960, when Democratic candidate John Kennedy needed to address concerns about his Catholic faith—something no president had shared—he spoke to Protestant pastors in Houston.

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” he proclaimed. “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation on him as a condition to holding that office.”

When he was done, his audience applauded. If a politician were to say the same thing to modern evangelicals, they would be more likely to sit in stony silence.

Cruz is unabashed in implying that his religious views are an excellent reason to vote for him. He also thinks they are, and should be, inseparable from his views on policy. He won’t get much argument in GOP debates.


On CNN’s  State of the Union, anchor  Jim Acosta Sunday had this exchange about Cruz with Rabbi Matt Gewirtz of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey, and Father Edward Beck, CNN religion commentator.

ACOSTA: Ted Cruz was the first to jump in. He announced his candidacy at Liberty University, which is a university who was founded by Jerry Falwell. How did that strike you, to see a candidate for the presidency of the United States launch his campaign from a university that is essentially founded by Christian conservatives?

GEWIRTZ: I think it would have worked well in the ’90s and maybe pre-2001. I think it’s tone deaf now.

I think it’s tone deaf because I do not think faith is under attack. What I do believe is I have members of my congregation who so badly want to embrace faith. When they hear the kinds of things they’ve heard during the last couple of weeks it makes them think, if that’s what faith is about, then I don’t want any part of it. That they want spiritual life, they want inner life.

And, you know, before 2001 it was a luxury to think of the Terri Schiavo’s of the world. Who would think about those kinds of wedge issues that worked really well to get people elected. But guess what, since then I think it’s 36 states have now passed gay marriage laws. And I think either America’s beginning to move on or beginning to see that people of all stripes have a place around the table.

ACOSTA: Father Beck, what do you make — because I think it’s fair to say that Ted Cruz is wearing his religion, his faith on his sleeve. I don’t think that’s a slam on Ted Cruz. Do you find that to be authentic when you see candidates, political candidates wearing their faith on their sleeves?

BECK: I think perhaps it may be authentic for them but polls show Americans don’t want it. Americans want to keep that separation. And so I think that they do it at their own peril because people are going to say, `look, if that’s what it’s going to be about for you, just bringing your faith into every decision, then you’re not going to represent the vast majority of the country. And therefore, you may not be our candidate.’


And this from the Friendly Atheist blog:

 Continuing where he left off at Liberty University, Sen. Ted Cruz has released his first presidential campaign ad set to air this weekend during the “Killing Jesus” special on Fox News Channel.

As expected (and just in time for Easter), it’s all about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

And that’s reason 1 of 28934233829 why he’s not getting my vote.

suggests that Cruz’s strategy is even more fundamentally flawed than his targeting evangelicals.

Sen. Ted Cruz was born in 1970, six years after events refuted a theory on which he is wagering his candidacy. The 1964 theory was that many millions of conservatives abstained from voting because the GOP did not nominate sufficiently deep-dyed conservatives. So if in 1964 the party would choose someone like Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, hitherto dormant conservatives would join the electorate in numbers sufficient for victory.

This theory was slain by a fact — actually, 15,951,378 facts. That was the difference between the 43,129,566 votes President Lyndon Johnson received and the 27,178,188 that Goldwater got on the way to winning six states.

The sensible reason for nominating Goldwater was not because he could win: As Goldwater understood, Americans still recovering from the Kennedy assassination were not going to have a third president in 14 months. The realistic reason was to turn the GOP into a conservative weapon for a future assault on the ramparts of power. Hence in September 1964, William F. Buckley told an audience of young conservatives to anticipate Goldwater’s defeat because he had been nominated “before we had time properly to prepare the ground.” The candidacy had, however, planted “seeds of hope, which will flower on a great November day in the future.” Sixteen Novembers later, they did.

Today, however, there is no need to nominate Cruz in order to make the GOP conservative. Cruz sits in a Senate that has no Republicans akin to the liberals Goldwater served with — New York’s Jacob Javits, Massachusetts’s Edward Brooke, Illinois’s Charles Percy, New Jersey’s Clifford Case, California’s Thomas Kuchel. When Jeb Bush, the most conservative governor of a large state since Ronald Reagan (by some metrics — taxes, school choice — Bush was a more conservative governor than Reagan), is called a threat to conservatism, Republicans are with Alice in Wonderland.


Announcing his candidacy with characteristic fluency before the Christian students and faculty of Liberty University, Cruz noted that “roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting” and imagined “millions” of such voters surging into the electorate. Cruz, like Shakespeare’s Glendower (“I can call spirits from the vasty deep”), hopes his rhetorical powers can substantially change the composition of the Republican nominating electorate. Skeptics of Cruz’s summoning respond like Hotspur: “But will they come when you do call for them?”

(Subsequent to Cruz’s announcement, PolitiFact Texas did its own check of of his claim that “roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting,” and found it “mostly false.”)

 Will concludes that, ultimately, the outcome of the general election comes down to a handful of competitive states and that the real test is, Which Republican is most apt to flip Pennsylvania by accumulating large majorities in Philadelphia’s suburbs?
He says it’s not Cruz.
OK. So Cruz has his work cut out for himself to get elected the next president of the United States.
But, what seems indisputable is that his roll-out so far has been a stunning success, grabbing the microphone, stealing the headlines, and vaulting him into the top tier of the Republican field. What more could a candidate want?
Here from Public Policy Polling, on April 1.
From The Verge
From The Verge

This watercolor was painted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

As I explained in Sunday’s story:

He offers a card on which is printed a watercolor of what appears to be Jesus Christ as the Statue of Liberty. It is titled “His Nation.”

Patrick painted it on a cruise aboard the Queen Mary from London to New York about five years ago on which he and his wife, Jan, dined with a renowned watercolorist who offered to give them lessons each day of the cruise.

For his second painting, Patrick attempted an avant-garde Statue of Liberty in the style of Andy Warhol, but couldn’t get the face right so dabbed it with a damp paper towel to remove some paint and start over. As it dried, he said, the face of Jesus emerged.

I just looked at that and looked, and said, `Wow.’ That’s a true story. I couldn’t repaint that if you paid me a million dollars,” said Patrick.


“Where is the original?” I asked Patrick.

“You know I don’t know where the original is,” Patrick said. “It’s got to be around the house somewhere.”

Fire and Nice: Cruz burns bright while Perry says, `Let’s not fight’

Good morning Austin:

Let’s begin with yesterday’s Tweet of the Day, from Texas’ First Citizen, Gov. Greg Abbott.

This seems like it could be a kind of a Rorschach test.

You might be a Texan if it brings an unambiguous smile to your face, though perhaps with a tinge of mailbox envy.

You might not be a Texan if your first thought is, isn’t there some kind of local ordinance against this, and if there isn’t, shouldn’t there be?

My first thought was, isn’t that nice, they’re still delivering mail to the Branch Davidian compound.

Meanwhile, in the presidential contest, a week into becoming the first and still only officially declared candidate for the Republican nomination (among the name contenders), Ted Cruz remains hot, very hot. His decision to be the first in seems to have paid off with a surge in his standing in the polls and attention paid, and it is clear that he the kind of lightning rod for controversy that will hold the gaze of national and local media unless and until his numbers evaporate.

He is great copy and excites passions.

Also, I love the look of his Twitter page.



Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 4.12.57 AM

From the black and white profile picture, one is not sure whether he is a televangelist or headliner at the Sands Hotel, circa 1966. But then one notices his hands in prayer mode, and the shards of light from on high, and one knows God is on his side and that he is burning with a passion for Reigniting the Promise of America.

Cruz likes to play with fire images. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, Cruz told a young audience about how his father, at 14, was throwing Molotov cocktails in support of the Cuban Revolution.

“Each of you has an ability to spread a fire; I am asking you to be an arsonist,” Cruz said. “I encourage you to light fire of liberty in other young people, so it burns and rages and spreads from one young person to another. That is how we turn the country around.”

Two weeks ago, he piqued the interest of a three-year-old at a New Hampshire appearance – and got a torrent of national coverage – when he declared “the whole world’s on fire.”

And, you can see from his Twitter page that he has taken for his logo the flame symbol for natural gas.



Washington Gas
Washington Gas


Or is it Pentecostalism.



Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 4.58.27 AM
Church of Pentecost


As Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote in the Washington Post, under the headline, Ted Cruz’s logo: A burning flag, Al Jazeera’s logo or a Pentecostal church logo?:

It’s common for Pentecostal logos to include something with fire in them, connected to a verse about Pentecost. “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them,” Acts 2:3 says.

Meanwhile, there is Rick Perry, who is expected to announce in May or June that he too is running for president.

Here is a recent Web ad from RickPAC.

Perry’s world does not appear to be engulfed in flames.

He says:

This is really about the next generation, regardless of who you are or what the sound of your last name is … regardless of whether you are right or left. We need somebody that can can stand up and say, “Let’s quit fighting each other. Let’s find the places that we can agree on.” We’re looking for someone in this country who has the experience to take America on a different path than it’s on today.


You know there’s nothing wrong with America today that can’t be fixed with new leadership.

Regardless of whether you are right or left.

Let’s quit fighting each other.

Let’s find the places that we can agree on.

What about, there’s no red America or blue America?

And even President Obama knows that’s bunkum.

But here is Rick Perry offering himself as the anti-Cruz, a healing, uniting figure, an elder statesman who knows how to govern. Well, in a crowded field every candidate has to find their niche.

With his gift for retail politicking, Perry seems to be looking to humbly insinuate himself back into national contention, one person at a time, in Iowa and New Hampshire; to establish himself as some people’s first choice but almost everyone’s second or third choice, an acceptable alternative across the party spectrum, and then lay back and bide his time while the rest of field, one by one, takes each other out.

The problem for Perry is how to remain in the mix long enough to still be around if and when that moment arrives.

During his unfortunate last go-round with presidential politics, E. Michael Young wrote in American Thinker that Perry didn’t come across as likable enough:

After slipping in the national polls from the high 30s, briefly leading his Republican rivals, to his current position around 10%, Rick Perry is attempting a comeback with his flat tax proposal.  But he will never regain the lead unless he changes his style at the debates.  In short, he must become more likable.

 In the final analysis, when all is said and done, the determinative factor that decides presidential elections is who is the most likable candidate.  This might be a depressing fact to comprehend — are American presidential elections, the process by which we choose the most powerful man in the world, nothing more than high school popularity contests?  Well, if you scan over the last several presidential elections, you will see that this is indeed the case.


If you don’t like the high school popularity contest analogy, then perhaps you might like the TV show analogy better.  The average American watches over four hours of television per day.  So when Americans pick a presidential candidate, they are subliminally thinking about whom they would prefer to see on TV every day for the next four years.  In 2008 they rejected the idea of watching John McCain in Grumpy Old Men and decided instead to watch Obama in The Fresh Prince of D.C.

 The point is that the most likable candidate usually wins the election, and in the last four debates — and especially the last one in Nevada — Rick Perry has not been an attractive figure.  He looks mean-spirited and angry.  Instead of talking about his own accomplishments and offering a positive vision, he constantly attacks his rivals, often in a ham-handed, cheap fashion.

 Rick Perry needs to relax and allow the softer, more appealing side of his personality to show.  As Perry grows more confident and gets accustomed to the overwhelming demands of the campaign, he might overcome the fight-or-flight instinct that seems to take control of him at these debates.  A self-assured, successful man, like Reagan, he can make jokes about himself and not feel the need to meet every implied insult with a kidney punch.

Perry has many endearing qualities he can use to his advantage.  His ruggedly handsome face, which can unexpectedly soften with a boyish grin, is definitely an asset.  On the stump he is very engaging and energetic.  When he gets out and meets the people, he can be relaxed and charming.  And he is improving in the one-on-one interviews, like the one he recently did with Bill O’Reilly, where he came off as thoughtful, almost articulate, and yes, more likable.

It appears that this time, Perry clearly has likable down.

But, as Dave Carney, who advised Perry in that campaign, has noted, “Making a first impression a second time is hard, very hard.”

In an email last night, Carney laid out the difficulty of the task now at hand for Perry.

As for Governor Perry I don’t know what their plans are but I would suggest he has three objectives.

Raise enough money to stay in the game regardless of his standings in the early contests. I’d say well north of $50m combination of both hard dollars and the elixir of all contenders dreams – Super Pac funds.

Second, he needs to continue to grow both in the state public polls and nationally to be considered serious. This takes funds, time and an organization in enough states to be credible through the early March super duper Tuesday.

And thirdly, a message that takes advantage of his strengths: fiscal discipline, economic powerhouse, jobs jobs jobs, and his populism. He must get a slice of each of the establishment vote and the social conservative block and a portion of the libertarian vote. All of this done through the prism of the Jr High meme of the national (and more then a few local) cynical and churlish political reporters.

He needs excitement, credibility and organization to appear viable in order to attract activists and then primary voters. That is not easy!

I thought I knew what Carney meant by reporters’ Jr. High memes, but I asked him to clarify.

Petty mean girls. Cool kids and the not so cool kids. When one cares more about what table in the cafe you sit at then how good a student leader one might be! 

Cruz appears now to be a first tier candidate, or at any rate, in the first tier of public and press consciousness. Perry runs the risk of falling into that great morass of the also-running.

The likely field of name-brand candidates is now well past a dozen and on its way to two dozen.

This week has George Pataki and (Austin native) Carly Fiorina, advertising the increasingly favorable odds of their jumping into the race.

From Freeman Klopott at Bloomberg:

George Pataki, the former three-term New York governor, has a tip for gamblers: Place your chips on his running for president.

Pataki has traveled to New Hampshire six times since September and two weeks ago appeared at the Republican National Committee’s donor retreat in Boca Raton, Florida. In an interview with Rita Cosby on WABC in New York, Pataki said he’ll probably run, suggesting that the only hold ups are campaign-finance laws that would limit his fundraising once he formally declares.

“If you care about the country, it’s very hard to sit on the sideline if you believe you have the ability to run a government like this country’s well,” Pataki said Sunday. “At this point, I am strongly inclined to do it.”

Pataki has grappled with running in the last two presidential races. He said he’s closer to entering the field than ever. 

“If I were a betting person, I would bet that I’d make the decision to go,” Pataki said.

And from Josh Richman at the San Jose Mercury News:

Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina now says the chance of her running for president in 2016 is “higher than 90 percent,” and she’ll make and announce her decision in the next month or two.

 The Republican told “Fox News Sunday” that her business background — the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company — gives her “a deep understanding of how the economy really works.” And though HP’s board forced her out in 2005 after the company’s stock value declined, she said she’s proud nonetheless of having piloted and restructured the company through the dot-com bubble’s collapse.

Fiorina, 60, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010, moved from California to the Washington, D.C., area some years ago and for now is the only woman in the field of potential GOP candidates. She has been visiting early primary states, giving speeches at conservative gatherings, and wooing contributors and staff for several months. With polls showing Fiorina has a steep uphill climb, observers say she may be setting herself up as the eventual nominee’s running mate.

 A CNN poll conducted in mid-March found Fiorina trailing 13 other potential GOP candidates among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents; a McClatchy/Marist poll conducted at the beginning of the month found her in 11th place.

“I admire her for her self-confidence,” said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State professor emeritus and political expert.

Cruz, meanwhile, is clearly on the rise since his announcement.

From the latest CBS News Poll:

Senator Ted Cruz has undergone the biggest change since last month (interviews were being conducted for the poll when he announced his candidacy): 37 percent of Republicans would now consider voting for him, last month only 23 percent said so. Senator Rand Paul has gained 9 points since last month; now, 39 percent would consider voting for him, up from 30 percent in February.


CBS News Presidential Poll
CBS News Presidential Poll

Perry was down four percentage points since February – from 34 to 30 percent who would consider voting for him – not a big drop, but moving in the wrong direction as the field begins to clarify itself.

Here is the most recent New Hampshire poll from Suffolk University.


Suffolk University Poll. New Hampshire
Suffolk University Poll.
New Hampshire

Note that Perry is barely hanging in at one percent, perilously close to the Bolton-Pataki-Pence zone.

Still, as Susan Page writes at USA Today, New Hampshire is along way off and remains very fluid.

WASHINGTON — Despite a long list of presidential prospects that includes governors, senators, corporate executives and others, a third of those likely to vote in the opening New Hampshire primary next year express dissatisfaction with their choices for 2016.


The poll provides a starting point, says David Paleologos, director of the research center. “The Republican primary in New Hampshire is fluid and offers candidates an opportunity to work hard in those counties, make their case, and launch their national aspirations,” he says.

It also illustrates the libertarian leanings of New Hampshire — where the state motto is “Live Free or Die” — in ways that put it out of step with the GOP’s national platform. The likely Republican primary voters are more likely to favor than oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, 43% to 39%. On abortion, they are more likely to consider themselves pro-choice than pro-life, 49% to 41%.

On the Affordable Care Act, 45% say the health care law should be repealed; 35% say it should be modified, and 12% say it should be “left alone.”

The Boston Herald and Franklin Pierce University also have a new New Hampshire poll, with some interesting results, especially its finding that George W. Bush is way more popular than brother, Jeb, with New Hampshire voters.


Franklin Pierce College/Boston Herald New Hampshire poll
Franklin Pierce College/Boston Herald New Hampshire poll

From the Herald report:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has lost his front-runner edge in New Hampshire, not because GOP voters are sick of the Bush family but because conservatives are roundly rejecting him, a new Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald poll shows.

Bush is tied with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 15 percent, while a pack of other GOP contenders are within striking distance, according to the poll of 429 likely GOP primary voters in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is the top choice of 13 percent of likely Republican voters, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie follows at 10 percent and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at 9 percent in the Franklin Pierce-Herald poll, conducted March 22-25.

But the race is still fluid and New Hampshire voters are demonstrating their discerning reputation – more than 80 percent of respondents said they could change their minds before next year’s primary.

The poll reveals the so-called “Bush fatigue” factor is not dragging down the 2016 GOP presidential contender – in fact older brother George W. Bush easily wins family bragging rights in the Granite State. A staggering 77 percent of likely GOP voters in New Hampshire view the former president favorably, 24 points higher than the ex-Florida governor.

“Jeb Bush would love to have George W. Bush’s numbers,” said R. Kelly Myers, a Marlin Fitzwater Fellow at Franklin Pierce University and head of RKM Research, which conducted the poll.


Cruz, who last week became the first GOP candidate to officially launch his campaign, appears to gotten a bounce out of his announcement and a trip to New Hampshire. The poll shows he will be fighting for more conservative voters.

And this from Franklin Pierce’s R. Kelly Myers:

Among a long list of Republican presidential hopefuls, the most popular possible candidates include Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (56 % favorable), Texas SenatorTed Cruz (55% favorable), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (55% favorable) and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (53
% favorable).

Another important source of Cruz’s national strength, and potential longevity in the race, is talk radio.

From Hadas Gold and Jonathan Topaz in Politico, under the headline, The talk show primary
Ted Cruz may be trailing in the polls, but he’s winning big among conservative radio hosts.

Glenn Beck wants listeners to pray for him. Mark Levin says Fox News is out to get him. Hugh Hewitt calls him an “intellectual leader.” Rush Limbaugh thinks his campaign launch was “masterful.” Laura Ingraham hails him as “Reaganesque.” Erick Erickson considers him a “good friend.”

Ted Cruz may be trailing in the polls and strapped for cash, but the first declared candidate of the 2016 race is winning in at least one key contest — the conservative talk-show primary.

Tens of millions of listeners — and potential GOP primary voters — tune in each week to the biggest right-wing radio hosts, who hold forth on the merits and demerits of the various 2016 Republican hopefuls as keenly as they spit invective about Barack Obama and the Democrats. Many of them are big fans of the Texas senator, if not outright supporters. Most are holding their cards close, refusing to hug any candidate too tightly, be it in the spirit of equanimity or out of fear of alienating some listeners.

But nearly all the kings and queens of the conservative airwaves express admiration for a man almost universally despised by his Senate colleagues and dismissed by the mainstream media: Cruz. And they are equally clear about who they do not like: Mushy “progressives” like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.

No question — in past elections, conservative radio hosts have struggled to translate their enthusiasm for a candidate into a winning presidential campaign. But the frequent encomiums to Cruz will provide him with a reliable supply of free media and powerful, sustained validation from some of the most important gatekeepers in the Republican sphere.


Cruz’s biggest booster may be Beck, who — though he declared this month that he is no longer a Republican and no longer supports the party — remains a powerful force on the right, with an estimated base of 7 million listeners.

 In December 2013, Beck said Cruz “may be our Ronald Reagan, because that guy does not take prisoners. That guy is a thousand times smarter than 99 percent of the politicians I have ever met.”

Cruz even called Beck the Friday before his campaign announcement to tell him about his plans and to talk about prayer, a move Beck said “means the world to me.” Beck urged his flock to “fast and pray like you have never fasted and prayed ever before because all the guns are coming out for this guy, all of the guns.”


 Even California host Hewitt, a constitutional law professor who rates among the more thoughtful conservative radio personalities, is high on Cruz. Hewitt urged his listeners to get out the vote for Cruz in his 2012 Senate campaign and said a year later that the Texas freshman “could dance to the nomination on a combination of principled channeling of the tea party, incredible smarts and the rhetorical gifts that suit him to the age.”

Hewitt has said Cruz “may be the smartest senator” and likened him to Reagan — “the same kind of charisma, easy affability and smart, smart, smart.” Now, he sees five “intellectual leaders in the Republican Party,” all of whom are likely or declared candidates: Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Jindal and Walker.

Rush vs. Root

In a monologue vigorously defending Ted Cruz on climate change Thursday, Rush Limbaugh had this to say:

RUSH: This is Texas Tribune website.  TexasTribune.org.  Again, Ted Cruz being interviewed by a reporter there named Jay Root, and during a conversation about climate change, question came up.  “You don’t believe in global warming, Senator Cruz.  Are you out of step with most young voters on this?”

CRUZ:  If you look at global warming alarmists, they don’t like to look at the actual facts and the data.  The satellite data demonstrate that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years.  Now, that’s a real problem for the global warming alarmists, ’cause all of the computer models on which this whole issue was based predicted significant warming, and yet the satellite data show it ain’t happening.

RUSH:  Now, that’s right on the money.  That is so right on the money, that I bet you the young people being talked about here won’t believe it.  Do you realize…? This has been a cause of mine for 25 years.  Actually longer than that. It’s been a cause of mine since all the way back when I was in Sacramento and I was watching the Sunday show with Brinkley on it and I first heard about this with some scientist named Oppenheimer telling us we only had 20 years. We couldn’t prove that global warming was happening yet. 

Back then what they were saying was the best way they illustrate it, to try to scare people, is use Southern California, and they said, “Imagine everybody on a typical summer evening firing up their barbecue pits at the same time to grill hot dogs, hamburgers, and steaks — and vegetables for the vegans.  Can you imagine all of that car coal exhaust, all of that carbon? You’re telling me that doesn’t affect the atmosphere?”  And people said, “Whoa, my God! I never thought about it that way.” 

George Will even fell for it.  He was using that as an example. The first I heard it was Oppenheimer guy. Alan Oppenheimer? That probably wasn’t his first name, but he’s some Ivy League guy, and he’s wringing his hands about global warming and he’s saying, “Well, we can’t firmly prove it yet but we only have 20 years, if we’re right.” This is 1984, folks.  We’ve blown past these 20 years like they didn’t even happen.  “We’ve got 20 years to get this right! 

“If we do not immediately embark on policies,” which to him were raising taxes on carbon to eliminate carbon emission. “If we don’t do this we are going to see sea levels rise,” and all that crap that they’ve been predicting by now was gonna have happened in such a bad way that we would all be sunk.  That’s the first time I heard of it, and I didn’t buy it then because the guy didn’t have any evidence, and he admitted it back then. He said, “All we have are the computer models that are telling us this,” and that’s all it’s ever been.  

There has never been any evidence. 

All there has been is theory. 

Every shred of global warming/climate change hysteria is rooted in computer model predictions of 50 years and a hundred years out.  Computer model predictions.  Do you realize we can’t even now, with computer models, predict the exact track of a hurricane that we know exists?  Yet we’re relying on computer models? Climate models and are the result of what?  Man-made input, data that is input by man.  You know: Garbage in, garbage out. What you get is what you get. 


Twenty-five years of every day, practically, because that’s how frequently the proponents are out pushing it.  It’s a great illustration.  To stop this stuff, you have to fight it every day and you never totally beat it ’cause they never go away.  Now, here’s the next one.  After that answer, the same guy, Jay Root, at the Texas Tribune website, asks, “But what if there is something to it, Mr. Cruz? What if there is something? What if there is global warming? Why not do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint?  Why not have some humility about it?”

CRUZ:  I read this morning a Newsweek article from the 1970s talking about global cooling, and it said, “The science is clear! It is overwhelmingly! We are in a major cooling period, and it’s gonna cause enormous problems worldwide,” and the solution for all the advocates in the seventies of global cooling was massive government control of the energy sector, of our economy, and aspects of our lives.  Now, the data proved to be not backing up that theory. So then all the advocates of global cooling suddenly shifted to global warming.

RUSH:  And he wasn’t through.  He continued.

CRUZ:  The global warming alarmists, anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate.  What do they do?  They scream you’re a denier; they brand you a heretic.  Today the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-earthers.  You know, it used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

RUSH:  The most interesting part of this, to me, is this question. “But — but what if there is something to it, even though there’s no evidence?  What if there is something to it?  Why — why not do everything we can anyway and have some humility about it?  Why — why — why be so damn sure of yourself?”  That’s what it really comes down to.  “How can you be possibly be so sure of yourself?  Why can’t you allow…? Why can’t you be humble about this and maybe you’re wrong? Maybe you’re wrong! Maybe some other people have a point. Why can’t you…?”  ‘Cause they’re wrong, they’re full of it, just like you are, buddy, and here are the reasons why. 

The good news is that Jay – and his boss – were thoroughly undaunted.

A&M bids for presidential debate

At noon EST today, the Commission on Presidential Debates is expected to announce which colleges and universities have put in bids to host one of the three 2016 presidential debates, or the one vice presidential debate, in the fall of next year.

What we do know is that Texas A&M submitted a better than 100-page proposal by today’s deadline.

José Luis Bermúdez, Texas A&M’s associate provost for strategic planning, said the proposal was the combined effort of a campus-wide steering committee with expertise in facilities, transportation, telecommunications, catering and security, as well as representatives from the cities of Bryan and College Station, and an academic planning committee, made up of faculty from across the university, together with student representatives.

Bermúdez said that plan deals with every detail of accommodating one of the most watched events in the nation’s civic life, as well as ways to incorporate the event in A&M’s curriculum, teaching and outreach through the whole university system, the Extension Service and 4-H, with an aim to increase voter participation and civic engagement.

“I suspect that there are other Texas schools in the mix, but we’ll find out tomorrow,” Bermúdez said last night.

The last previous national debate in Texas was the Dole-Mondale vice presidential debate on October 15, 1976, at the Alley Theater in Houston.

Where Texas excels: On compulsory voting and exercising the right not to vote

Good morning Austin:

Texas is a bad state. A very bad state.

Texas ought to be ashamed of itself.

The report earlier this month from Nonprofit VOTE, confirmed that once again in the 2014 midterm elections, Texas distinguished itself for its low voter turnout:

As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Nonprofit VOTE is pleased to release its biennial voter turnout report, America Goes to the Polls 2014, based on final data certified by state election offices. The report ranks voter turnout in all 50 states to look at major factors underlying voter participation in this historically low-turnout election.

While just 36.6% of eligible citizens voted, the lowest in a midterm since World War II, turnout varied widely across states by as much as 30 percentage points. Maine led the nation with 58.5% turnout among eligible voters, follow by Wisconsin at 56.8%, and Colorado at 54.5%. Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Texas and Indiana made up the bottom five all with less than 30% of their eligible voters participating.

AGTP2014_pg8 copy




What can be done?

From Brian Miller, executive director of Nonprofit VOTE:

When measured against voting eligible population, Texas has among the bottom five nationally in voter turnout. In fact, Texas is 50th in a 51 state (and DC) ranking with only 28.9% of eligible voters turning out. The top 5 states had between 53 and 58% of eligible voters turning out.

Almost any of the reforms we lift up in the report that are characteristic of high-turnout states would be a move in the right direction for Texas, including Election Day Registration, pre-registration of 16 and 17-year olds, and shortening the long 30-day preregistration requirement. We also happen to know from experience that Texas makes it particularly hard for local nonprofits, service providers, and civic organizations to do nonpartisan voter registration drives. Changing that would help. Finally, Texas would also benefit from more competitive elections. One way to promote that is by moving to nonpartisan redistricting.

But, within a few days of release of  Nonprofit VOTE’s report, President Obama offered a bolder idea.

From the Associated Press:

They say the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. President Barack Obama wants to add one more: voting.

Obama floated the idea of mandatory voting in the U.S. while speaking to a civic group in Cleveland on Wednesday. Asked about the corrosive influence of money in U.S. elections, Obama digressed into the related topic of voting rights and said the U.S. should be making it easier — not harder— for people to vote.

Just ask Australia, where citizens have no choice but to vote, the president said.

Oh no, Barack, Don’t go there. Compulsory voting? Australia?

Republicans would have a field day with this. Ted Cruz would call it Obamacare for voting. Fox, Breitbart and Rush would spin wild scenarios – Democrats open the borders, let in every non-Anglo in sight, offer a blanket amnesty, mandate and expedite citizenship, celebrate their permanent electoral lock  and rewrite the textbooks to declare Barack Obama the father of the New America.

I asked Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist and the co-founder of the new group Liberty Action Texas, his take on compulsory voting.

“I am happy to go on the record to say that the government should not be allowed to force you to vote,” he said. “What’s next, forcing Americans to vote for only the government-approved candidates? Sounds like a bad idea and antithetical to freedom, if you ask me.”

The mantra of Battleground Texas is that Texas is not a red state, Texas is a non-voting state. Make voting compulsory, and Texas turns blue. Right?

Here’s more from the AP report on Obama in Cleveland:

“If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” Obama said, calling it potentially transformative. Not only that, Obama said, but universal voting would “counteract money more than anything.”

Disproportionately, Americans who skip the polls on Election Day are younger, lower-income and more likely to be immigrants or minorities, Obama said. “There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls,” he said in a veiled reference to efforts in a number of Republican-led states to make it harder for people to vote.

Statistically speaking, Obama is correct. Less than 37 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2014 midterms, according to the United States Election Project. And a Pew Research Center study found that those avoiding the polls in 2014 tended to be younger, poorer, less educated and more racially diverse.

At least two dozen countries have some form of compulsory voting, including Belgium, Brazil and Argentina. In many systems, absconders must provide a valid excuse or face a fine, although a few countries have laws on the books that allow for potential imprisonment.

Fines for not voting? Imprisonment? Say it ain’t so, BHO.

And, indeed, the day after he floated the idea, it turned out that the president was just musing, just thinking out loud.

From the next day’s White House press briefing:

Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to ask you about President Obama’s comments yesterday when he said it would be transformative if everyone voted, at the event in Cleveland.  And I know you referenced the —

 MR. EARNEST:  Kind of provocative, huh?  Yes.

 Q    Yes, it was provocative.  And he referenced Australia’s mandatory voting law.  So I wanted to know if the President believes that the United States should adopt such a mandatory voting law.

MR. EARNEST:  The President was not putting forward a specific policy proposal.  I think somebody had asked him a pretty open-ended question about campaign finance reform and about the state of elections in this country.  And I think the President gave a pretty open-ended answer about a variety of ways in which this challenge could be confronted.  He talked about a constitutional amendment that would relate to campaign finance, and then that from there he talked about some of the reform proposals that have been implemented in other countries.  The President was not making a specific policy prescription for the United States.

During a subsequent webinar on the Nonprofit VOTE report, Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, who maintains the United States Election Project, said he did not think there was any chance compulsory voting would come to pass in America – it rubs too strongly against the American grain.

From Brian Miller:

On the POTUS statement re: compulsory voting, it’s great to see the President thinking outside the box about solutions to the dismal voter turnout. It’s important that we start a real conversation about low voter turnout, what it means for our democracy, and some solutions that can revitalize voting and the health of our democracy. Compulsory voting, like is done in Australia and other nations, is unlikely to happy anytime soon in the US. Additionally, compulsory voting is easier to pull off when you have a multi-party system and a broad range of choices as Australia has. Either way, we’re a long way from such action in the US.

Still, the fact that President Obama would even broach the subject of compulsory voting struck me as odd, and it was something I was already primed to think about because of an encounter a few days earlier that I wrote in passing of in a previous First Reading.

I was at the launch of a new group, Liberty Action Texas, featuring Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who will be announcing for president next week. There, I remade the acquaintance of Michael Goldstein, who graduated from UT in August with a BS in computer science – and where he ran the Mises Circle, an economics reading group – and who now works full-time as a programmer. As I wrote of my encounter with Goldstein:

Michael Goldstein at the Liberty Action Texas launch where Rand Paul spoke.
Michael Goldstein at the Liberty Action Texas launch where Rand Paul spoke.

He had just run into Rand Paul downstairs at the high-rise where it was held, and said he had asked the senator, “Are you here for the Rand Paul event?” Paul replied that  he was, and laughed.

But – and here is the peril for Paul – libertarians can be a quirky lot. Even though he was attending the event and would seem to have, in Paul, a candidate of a similar libertarian bent, Goldstein said he probably wouldn’t vote, because the time required to adequately evaluate the field of candidates was too great to be logically worthwhile. And, he said, his quick interaction with Paul before the event, was probably more valuable than anything he might achieve with his vote.

My interest was piqued by this exchange, and, in light of the Nonprofit VOTE report and the president’s remarks on compulsory voting, I emailed Goldstein some questions. here is his reply:

My disincentive to participate in elections is mostly an economic one. To be a responsible voter requires a lot of time and energy, especially when there are multitudes of conflicting issues at stake. Think of how much time you would have to spend to have a thoughtful choice in every Federal, state, and municipal election you vote in. My guess is: most, if not all, of your time. Furthermore, the odds of any specific person’s vote changing the outcome of an election, as Gordon Tullock used to joke, is less than the odds of that person getting killed on his way to the voting booth.

 The costs of being a responsible voter, then, are massive amounts of time that could be spent more productively: spending time with family, learning new skills, helping your community, etc. And this assumes politicians are being honest. Calculating the odds of that is left as an exercise for the reader.

1. How do you decide if and when to vote?

I would vote if A) I had the domain-specific knowledge for a particular issue that would allow me to form a responsible and thoughtful opinion and B) if the odds of my vote affecting the outcome to even a small degree was possible. As a 23 year-old, it would be presumptuous to assume A was true, except perhaps on matters of Bitcoin or the latest Kendrick Lamar album (both are great, check ’em out). Being in Austin and thus living in a large city in a large state in a large country, B is pretty much out of the question.

2. Should registration and voting be made easier?

Registration and voting is already very easy, as far as I can tell. I am inundated with opportunities to register every time I am at the library or near the UT campus. I think I registered once, and it took all of 3 minutes. Early voting gives ample time to get to the booth. Rather, being able to avoid political activism and punditry should be made easier.

3. Do Americans have a right not to vote, and if they don’t vote, are they shirking a civic responsibility.

Americans absolutely have the right to abstain from voting. I can’t imagine the psychology, even laziness, of a person who believes dragging yourself to a voting booth every 1-4 years is the pinnacle of civic responsibility. I described how ineffective casting a vote is in effecting change in the community, so voting is perhaps the very least you could do to claim civic responsibility, if at all.

4. Is it an unhealthy sign that so many people don’t vote?

Nope. I hope they spend their time participating in real civic engagement, with a focus on family, community, and entrepreneurship. Technology like Uber solve transportation problems more effectively than Capital Metro, Khan Academy better than AISD, etc. An unhealthy sign would be people not looking for creative entrepreneurial solutions to personal, family, and community problems, and instead bothering friends and family with their political opinions, or checking the latest polls. A favorite article of mine: http://nakamotoinstitute.org/mempool/working-and-saving-are-revolutionary-acts/

The right to abstain from voting.

The right not to vote.

Think about that for a minute.

If Americans have a right not to vote – and I doubt there are very many Texans who think otherwise – then Texans (along with Hoosiers) surpass all other Americans in asserting that right not to vote, in exercising their right to not exercise their franchise.

If you look at politics through the lens of the right not to vote, it totally flips the script, turning all those charts that show Texas scraping the bottom on voting upside down and placing Texas at the pinnacle of charts on not voting.

We go from being number 50 to number 1.

On the philosophical underpinnings of the right not to vote, I turned to Jason Brennan, a philosopher at Georgetown University, where he is an assistant professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy and teaches courses in ethics, political economy, moral psychology, entrepreneurship, and public policy.

He is the author of among other books, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2012), The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press, 2011), with David Schmidtz, A Brief History of Liberty (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), and Compulsory Voting: For and Against, with Lisa Hill (Cambridge University Press, 2014). She argues for compulsory voting, he argues against.

Compulsory Voting book cover

When President Obama, out of the blue, brought up compulsory voting, Brennan posted at Bleeding Heart Libertarians what he described as “a handy dandy  list of the main arguments I’ve encountered for compulsory voting. Alas, none are sound. Also, two arguments against compulsory voting, both of which are sound.”

Here it is:



The Turnout Argument

Compulsory voting produces high turnout.
If compulsory voting produces high turnout, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Consent Argument

Democracy should be based on the consent of the people.
Citizens show consent by voting.
Therefore, a democracy without high electoral turnout rules without consent.
Therefore, we should compel people to vote.

The Legitimacy Argument

Democratic governments are illegitimate unless there is high voter turnout.
Governments should be legitimate.
There will not be high turnout unless there is compulsory voting.
Therefore, democratic governments may impose compulsory voting.

The More Democratic Argument

It is more democratic if everyone votes than if only part the population votes.
We should do whatever is more democratic.
Therefore, we should force everyone to vote.


The Demographic Argument

Voters tend to vote for their self-interest.
Politicians tend to give large voting blocs what they ask for.
When voting is voluntary, the poor, minorities, the uneducated, and young people vote less than the rich, whites, the educated, or older people.
If so, then under voluntary voting, government will tend to promote the interest of the rich, of whites, and of the old, over the interests of the poor, of minorities, or of the young.
Under compulsory voting, almost every demographic and socio-economic group votes at equally high rates.
Thus, under compulsory voting, government will promote everyone’s interests.
Therefore, compulsory voting produces more representative government.
If compulsory voting produces more representative government than voluntary voting, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Trust and Solidarity Argument

It is good for citizens to trust their government and to feel solidarity with one another.
If there is high turnout, citizens will trust their government more and feel greater solidarity with one another.
If 1 and 2, then whatever increases trust and solidarity is justified.
Compulsory voting is necessary to ensure high turnout.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Generic Consequentialist Argument

Compulsory voting would produce good consequence G.
If compulsory voting would produce good consequence G, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Duty to Vote Argument

Citizens have a moral duty to vote.
If citizens have a moral duty to do something, then government may force them to do it.
Therefore, government may force citizens to vote. (I.e., compulsory voting is justified.)

The Gratitude Argument

Citizens who fail to vote are ungrateful for their hard-won liberties. (Our troops died to protect those freedoms.)
People should be grateful.
Therefore, citizens should be compelled to vote.

The Autonomy Argument

It is valuable for each person to be autonomous and self-directed, and to live by rules of her own making.
In order for each person living in a shared political environment to be autonomous and self-directed, and to live by rules of her own making, she needs to have and exercise her right to vote.
Compulsory voting ensures everyone exercises her right to vote.
Therefore, compulsory voting enhances autonomy.
If compulsory voting enhances autonomy, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore compulsory voting is justified.

The Assurance Argument

Low turnout occurs because citizens lack assurance other similar citizens will vote.
Compulsory voting solves this assurance problem.
If 1 and 2, then compulsory voting is justified.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.

The Public Goods Argument

Good governance is a public good.
No one should free ride on the provision of such goods. Those who benefit from such goods should reciprocate.
Citizens who abstain from voting free ride on the provision of good governance.
Therefore, all citizens should vote.
If all citizens should vote, then government should compel them to vote.
Therefore, compulsory voting is justified.


The Burden of Proof Argument

Because compulsory voting is compulsory, it is presumed unjust in the absence of a compelling justification.
A large number of purported arguments for compulsory voting fail.
There are no remaining plausible arguments that we know of.
If 1-3, then, probably, compulsory voting is unjust.
Therefore, probably, compulsory voting is unjust.

The Worse Government Argument

The typical and median citizen who abstains (under voluntary voting) is more ignorant, misinformed, and irrational about politics than the typical and median citizen who votes.
Irrational about politics. Both the median and modal voter will be more ignorant, misinformed, and irrational about politics.
If so, in light of the influence voters have on policy, then compulsory voting will lead at least slightly more incompetent and lower quality government,
It is (at least presumptively) unjust to impose more incompetent and lower quality government.
Therefore, compulsory voting is (at least presumptively) unjust.

 Brennan wrote another post the same day,that is well worth reading in its entirety – The Demographic Argument for Compulsory Voting, with a Guest Appearance by the Real Reason the Left Advocates Compulsory Voting.

From that post:

Okay, let’s skip past the bull…, and look at the real reason lots of people on the Left advocate compulsory voting. They advocate compulsory voting because they think it will help left-wing parties gain seats. After all, at first glance, it sure seems like the people who choose not to vote are more likely to vote Democratic than they are to vote Republican. But, again, that’s wrong. There are ways of studying this, and it turns out that compulsory voting has few partisan effects.

For instance, political scientists Raymond Wolfinger and Benjamin Highton say,

 [There is a] widespread belief that “if everybody in this country voted, the Democrats would be in for the next 100 years.” …this conclusions…is accepted by almost everyone except a few empirical political scientists. Their analyses of survey data show that no objectively achieved increase in turnout—including compulsory voting—would be a boon to progressive causes or Democratic candidates. Simply put, voters’ prefers differ minimally from those of all citizens; outcomes would not change if everyone voted.
Wolfinger and Highton agree that compulsory voting would bring at best modest changes in electoral outcomes. And that’s just one study. Other studies find the same results. In her review of all the extant empirical work, Sarah Birch also finds that compulsory voting has little to no effect on partisan outcomes, except, perhaps, that it helps far right wing nationalist parties get a couple seats in proportional voting regimes.

So, to Democrats, I say, be careful what you wish for. If you force everyone to vote, you not only won’t help Democrats win, but you will change what Democrats want. An excerpt from my book:

The Ideological Elephant in the Room

Let’s be really frank here. There is unstated reason why many political theorists, political scientists, and philosophers are sympathetic to compulsory voting. Most of my American colleagues are Democrats. Many of them sensibly believe compulsory voting would help the Democratic Party. (Similar remarks apply to my colleagues outside the US with respect to their favored left-leaning parties.) As we saw in chapter 2, they are mistaken—the best available evidence indicates that compulsory voting has few partisan effects and does little to help left-leaning parties. However, suppose compulsory voting would in fact increase the power of the Democratic Party. If so, should that give my Democratic colleagues at least some reason to favor compulsion?

Perhaps not. Democrats are not united in their moral and political outlooks. High information Democrats have systematically different policy preferences from low information Democrats. Rich and poor Democrats have systematically different policy preferences. Compulsory voting gets more poor Democrats to the polls. But poor Democrats tend to be low information, while affluent Democrats tend to be high information voters. The poor more approved more strongly of invading Iraq in 2003. They more strongly favor the Patriot Act, of invasions of civil liberty, and torture, of protectionism, and of restricting abortion rights and access to birth control. They are less tolerant of homosexuals and more opposed to gay rights. In general, compared to the rich, the poor—including poor Democrats—are intolerant, economically innumerate, hawkish bigots. If compulsory voting were to help Democrats at all, it would probably help the bad Democrats. The Democrats would end up running and electing more intolerant, innumerate, hawkish candidates.

Here is the first of several YouTubes you can watch in which Lisa Hill, Brennan’s opposite number on the issue, talks about compulsory voting.

In another paper – Polluting the Polls: When Citizens Should Not Vote (Jason Brennan. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 87, No. 4 (2009): 535-550, p. 537.) – Brennan goes further, arguing that citizens not only have a right not to vote, but indeed, a kind of moral obligation not to vote rather than cast a bad, ill-informed vote.

The citizen of a Western democracy has a moral right to vote, founded on justice. Still, the right to vote does not imply the rightness of voting. Voters are not obligated to vote, but if they do vote, they ought to vote well. Most citizens would not vote well, and so for them, voting would be wrong. People tend to vote in what they perceive to be the national interest rather than their narrow self-interest. However, their perception of the national interest is often wrong, as it is grounded in ignorance and unreliable, irrational processes of belief formation. Their ideological bents reflect bias. Voters make systematic errors and these errors lead to to harmful policies. This paper argues that if a person forms her political beliefs in an unreliable or irresponsible way and lives in a society in which the majority of other citizens also form their beliefs in unreliable ways, she ought not vote. In societies in which most people are ignorant, irrational, or irresponsible about politics, ignorant, irrational, or irresponsible citizens ought to abstain from voting. Individual voters ought to abstain rather than vote badly.

This thesis may seem anti-democratic. Yet it is really a claim about voter responsibility and how voters do not seem to be meeting this responsibility. On my view, voters are not obligated to vote, but if they do vote, they owe it to others and themselves to be rational, unbiased, and well informed about their political beliefs, at least to a higher degree than they are. Similarly, most of us think we are not obligated to become parents, but if we are to be parents, we ought to be responsible, good parents. We are not obligated to become surgeons, but if we do become surgeons, we ought to be responsible, good surgeons. We are not obligated to drive, but if we do drive, we ought to be responsible drivers. The same goes for voting.

This drew a reply from Marcus Arvan, who is in the Department of Philosophy & Religion at the University of Tampa, in which he asks:

Are the costs of avoiding bad voting always (or even usually) less than or equal to the collective harms caused by bad voting? No. Consider one of Brennan’s own examples: citizens voting badly for a harmful economic policy that costs the economy 33 billion dollars the following year.

If we assume there to be 300 million citizens (roughly the number of citizens in the U.S. today), the collective harm averages out to a $200 cost per citizen. That is a significant harm. Yet what costs would an individual bad voter have to incur to avoid voting badly? Getting a university education in critical thinking, philosophy and economics costs far more than $200. So too, in many cases, does self-education.

Although self-education may not literally cost one more than $200 (education is possible for free via
the Internet or public library), the time, energy and other personal investments involved (e.g. neglecting family and leisure time) could surely be worth more than $200 to oneself.

But, beyond dollars and cents, in another piece on the ethics voting at The Art of Theory, Brennan compares voting to serving on a jury:

Imagine a jury is about to decide a murder case. The jury’s decision will be imposed involuntarily (through violence or threats of violence) upon a potentially innocent person. The decision is high stakes. The jury has a clear obligation to try the case competently. They should not decide the case selfishly, capriciously, irrationally, or from ignorance. They should take proper care, weigh the evidence carefully, overcome their biases, and decide the case from a concern for justice.

What’s true of juries is also true of the electorate. An electorate’s decision is imposed involuntarily upon the innocent. The decision is high stakes. The electorate should also take proper care.

As I was working on First Reading last night, one of my favorite movies, Wag the  Dog, was on. Released in 1997, it is a brilliant black comedy about how, on the eve of a presidential election, a covert team of Washington political consultants and show biz types (including Willie Nelson as songwriter-for-hire Johnny Dean) fake a war to divert attention from a sex scandal threatening to envelop the president.

At one point there is this small sequence in which a few of the conspirators talk about why they don’t vote.

Stanley Motts (Dustin Hoffman): “Would you vote for that person based on that commercial?”
Fad King (Denis Leary): “You know I don’t vote.”
Stanley Motts: “Why don’t you vote?”
Fad King: “The only time I voted was that one time when Major League Baseball started the fan’s voting thing and I voted for Boog Powell for first base and he didn’t get in and it just disappointed me. It stayed with me. It’s futile.”
Stanley Motts: “You’ve never voted for President?”
Fad King: “No. (Pause.) Do you vote?”
Stanley Motts: “No. I always vote for the Academy Awards. But I never win.”
Fad King: “Liz, do you vote?”
Liz Butsky (Andrea Martin): “No. I don’t like the rooms. Too claustrophobic. I can’t vote in small places.”

The good news, or I suppose the very bad news, about people not voting, is that, according to a paper last year by two leading political scientists – Martin Gilens, a professor of politics at Princeton University, and Benjamin Page, a professor of decision making at Northwestern University – it all doesn’t make much difference anyway.

From John Cassidy’s report in the New Yorker, under the headline, Is America an Oligarchy?

From the Dept. of Academics Confirming Something You Already Suspected comes a new study concluding that rich people and organizations representing business interests have a powerful grip on U.S. government policy. After examining differences in public opinion across income groups on a wide variety of issues, the political scientists Martin Gilens, of Princeton, and Benjamin Page, of Northwestern, found that the preferences of rich people had a much bigger impact on subsequent policy decisions than the views of middle-income and poor Americans. Indeed, the opinions of lower-income groups, and the interest groups that represent them, appear to have little or no independent impact on policy.

“Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” Gilens and Page write:

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

That’s a big claim. In their conclusion, Gilens and Page go even further, asserting that “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover … even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”


HONK!TX 2015.

This past weekend was Honk!Tx 2015, a three-day festival of community street bands.


It was terrific, and restorative. Here is a not great video I shot, but you catch the spirit.



Imagine Ted Cruz as president; it’s easy if you try

Good morning Austin:

The political world, it seems, finds itself divided in two.

There are those who can imagine Ted Cruz being elected president – or at least being the 2016 Republican nominee – and those who cannot and will not allow themselves to contemplate that possibility. I am among the former, in part because every prediction of Cruz’s imminent political self-immolation so far has proved wrong, and because of how unhinged Cruz deniers tend to get in their denials.

Look, for example, at who the Daily News puts on its No, We Can’t Imagine front page.

And …

The imagine meme was irresistible.

Here, courtesy Breitbart, are the 35 things Cruz asked his audience at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, to imagine. (Bravo Breitbart, but feel free to skim.)

  1. Imagine your parents when they were children.
  2. Imagine a little girl growing up in Wilmington, Delaware during World War II
  3. Imagine a teenage boy, not much younger than many of you here today, growing up
    in Cuba. Jet black hair, skinny as a rail.
  4. Imagine for a second the hope that was in his heart as he rode that ferry boat across
    to Key West.
  5. Imagine a young married couple, living together in the 1970s, neither
    one of them has a personal relationship with Jesus.
  6. Imagine another little girl living in Africa, in Kenya and Nigeria.
  7. Imagine another teenage boy being raised in Houston.
  8. Imagine millions of courageous conservatives, all across America, rising up together to say in unison “we demand our liberty.”
  9. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls
    and voting our values.
  10. Imagine millions of young people coming together and standing together, saying “we will stand for liberty.”
  11. Imagine instead of economic stagnation, booming economic growth.
  12. Imagine small businesses growing and prospering.
  13. Imagine young people coming out of school with four, five, six job offers.
  14. Imagine innovation thriving on the Internet as government regulators.
  15. Imagine America finally becoming energy self-sufficient as millions and millions of
    high-paying jobs are created.
  16. Imagine in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.
  17. Imagine health care reform that keeps government out of the way between you and
    your doctor and that makes health insurance personal and portable and affordable.
  18. Imagine a simple flat tax that lets every American fill out his or her taxes on a postcard.
  19. Imagine abolishing the IRS.
  20. Imagine a president that finally, finally, finally secures the borders.
  21. Imagine a legal immigration system that welcomes and celebrates those who
    come to achieve the American dream.
  22. Imagine a federal government that stands for the First
    Amendment rights of every American.
  23. Imagine a federal government that works to defend the sanctity of human life…
  24. Imagine a federal government that protects the right to keep and bear arms of all
    law-abiding Americans.
  25. Imagine a federal government that protected the privacy rights of every American.
  26. Imagine repealing every word of Common Core.
  27. Imagine embracing school choice as the civil rights issue of the next generation.
  28. Imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.
  29. Imagine a president who says “I will honor the Constitution, and under no
    circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
  30. Imagine a president who says “We will stand up and defeat radical Islamic
    terrorism and we will call it by its name.”
  31. Imagine it’s 1775, and you and I were sitting there in Richmond listening to Patrick Henry say give me liberty or give me death.
  32. Imagine it’s 1776 and we were watching the 54 signers of the Declaration of
    Independence stand together and pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred
    honor to igniting the promise of America.
  33. Imagine it was 1777 and we were watching General Washington as he lost battle,
    after battle, after battle in the freezing cold as his soldiers with no shoes were dying,
    fighting for freedom against the most powerful army in the world.
  34. Imagine it’s 1933 and we were listening to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tell
    America at a time of crushing depression, at a time of a gathering storm abroad, that
    we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
  35. Imagine it’s 1979 and you and I were listening to Ronald Reagan.

Here’a a Cruz-Lennon mashup from the The Takeaway.

For what it’s worth, and in loving memory of John Lennon, here are the lyrics to Imagine, which, suffice it to say, would not qualify as an appropriate Liberty University anthem

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Cruz might as well be borrowing from the socialist Internationale.

Call it the audacity of imagine.

From Michael Tyler at the Democratic National Committee:

Just imagine if Ted Cruz had his way: Imagine millions of Americans losing access to quality health care. Imagine another $24 billion government shutdown.  Imagine a greater tax burden on the middle class. Imagine tax breaks for the wealthy and powerful corporations. Imagine an end to hope for immigration reform. Imagine abolishing the Department of Education and slashing Pell Grants. Imagine a president who won’t support equal pay legislation. Imagine a president who thinks Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.

Imagining all of this makes one thing clear: Ted Cruz can’t be trusted to fight for hardworking Americans.

But, from Matt Lewis at The Week, an explanation about the thinking behind sampling Lennon, sort of.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Cruz’s speech, though, is how much it reminded me of Senator Barack Obama. I’m obviously not the first person to compare these two ambitious, young, Ivy-educated freshmen senators who spent roughly 15 minutes in the U.S. Senate before deciding to run for president.

But that’s not what I’m referring to. Obama’s message of “Hope and Change” was always premised on convincing voters who were desperate for something new and authentic to buy into the notion that he could change politics, unite the country, and appeal to his political enemies’ better angels. There was no rational reason to believe Obama could get this done, of course. He had no track record of governing or of transcending the old model of politics. People who bought into his cult of personality simply believed it would happen — that he was special and that change would come to pass simply by virtue of the force of his personality and the majesty of his soaring rhetoric.

Cruz is tapping into the same notion. During his speech on Monday, he said the word “imagine” 38 times by my count. That’s no accident. As Frank Luntz has wisely noted:

“Imagine” is still the most powerful word in the English language because it is inspiring, motivating, and has a unique definition for each person. When you want to inspire, imagine is the language vehicle. [Huffington Pos

 Chris Matthews picked up on the imagine language.

Just picture it – it’s not hard – what the Republican debates are going to look like. Just like the Reverend Al Sharpton came to dramatize every Democratic presidential debate in 2004, Ted Cruz is going to do the same or more to the Republican get-togethers of 2015 and 2016. 

He will be the center of the media coverage.  He will control the conversation for the basic reason that he will be working the outside lane, the far right lane of conservative Republican rhetoric.   He, Ted Cruz, will be the one quoted on the front page.  And that’s what, starting today, the Republicans are going to have to look forward to.

So what a day for the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, a Republican party so positioned to the right it can’t find its way back. 

Wayne Slater with Chris Matthews on Hardball
Wayne Slater with Chris Matthews on Hardball

Putting aside the fact that I don’t particularly recall Al Sharpton taking over the 2004 debates, Matthews becomes quite overwrought on the subject of Cruz, who, as on yesterday’s show, he describes, over and over, as Joe McCarthy incarnate, only maybe worse.

On yesterday’s panel Matthews was joined by the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page – who described Cruz as “desperate” – the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman – who called Cruz “an angry evangelist,” and WAYNE SLATER.

It was great to see Wayne. He looked terrific. And it was left to Wayne to attempt to give Matthews the Moonstruck “snap out of it slap.”

Slater tried to explain to Matthews that Cruz draws strength from the attacks on him by the likes of John McCain and Peter King (and Chris Matthews), that it buttresses his narrative of himself as that one courageous man, standing against the powers-that-be, proclaiming, “I will not fold.”


I’m not sure it did any good

“He’s Christie without the bridge,” Matthews said.


Meanwhile, Fineman, writing at the Huffington Post, takes Cruz seriously.

Cruz beat the establishment in Texas like a drum. They hate him for it, but he is also going to raise a lot of cash in, yes, Texas.

He is as pure an across-the-board conservative as it is possible to find in what has to be regarded as the big leagues of politics: culturally, fiscally, in monetary policy, in foreign policy.

Cruz is triple 7s on the slot machine of issues: anti-abortion, a global-warming mega-skeptic, to the right of Likud on Israel, anti-immigration to the max, big on defense spending, etc.

He is a libertarian, traditional conservative, war hawk and evangelical Baptist son of a preacher who fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba. There are plenty of philosophical and tactical contradictions in Cruz’s construct, but he ignores them all.

His array of hot-button positions and his hunger combine to make him, on paper, a potential force in the early primary and caucus states, where true believers matter most.

He is an academic star with two Ivy League degrees.

Yet he is making the formal announcement of his candidacy at the Falwell family’s evangelical enterprise, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

At Liberty, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, they don’t teach evolution; they teach what their website calls a “robust, Young-Earth creationist view of Earth history.”

Cruz is an anti-intellectual intellectual, if there is such as thing. And that could be just perfect for the Republican Party of today.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, marks the start of his presidential campaign by giving the convocation address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Monday,  Photographer: Jay Paul/Bloomberg
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, marks the start of his presidential campaign by giving the convocation address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Monday, Photographer: Jay Paul/Bloomberg

At the Upshot, The New York Times offers its own dismantling of Cruz’s realistic chances, in Why Cruz is Such a Longshot. 

 In nearly every presidential primary, a few candidates attract a lot of news media attention even though they have almost no chance to win the nomination. Sometimes they even lead national polls or win states, but invariably their appeal is too narrow to allow them to build the broad coalition necessary to unite a diverse party.

Ted Cruz, the Texas senator and Tea Party favorite, who on Monday became the first candidate to formally enter the race, has seemingly been on track for this role since he first ran for the Senate in 2012. He is the darling of conservatives in a conservative party. But he remains a long shot, at best.

The most interesting question about Mr. Cruz’s candidacy is whether he has a very small chance to win or no chance at all.

The candidate with the most support from party elites doesn’t always win the nomination, but support from elites is probably a prerequisite for victory.

“A candidate without substantial party support has never won the nomination,” said John Zaller, a political-science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and one of four authors of “The Party Decides,” an influential work on the role of parties in the nominating process.


In April 2013, he was identified as “The Most Hated Man in the Senate” by Foreign Policy magazine, which described him as “the human equivalent of one of those flower-squirters that clowns wear on their lapels.” And that was before he led the government shutdown. If you did a web search for “Senators Hate Ted Cruz” on Sunday, that Foreign Policy article wouldn’t have even come up on the first Google page. It was supplanted by titles like “Why Senate Republicans Hate Ted Cruz,” “GOP Still Despises Ted Cruz,” “Everybody Hates Ted Cruz” and the generously titled “How Unpopular Is Ted Cruz Right Now?” Answer: very.

Mr. Cruz is not an outsider, grass-roots version of President Obama in 2008. He is unacceptable to many conservative officials, operatives, interest group leaders and pundits. If they don’t take him seriously, voters won’t either. The elites would rally to defeat such a candidate if he ever seemed poised to win.


Just 40 percent of Republicans in an NBC/WSJ poll last month said they could see themselves supporting Mr. Cruz, while 38 percent said they couldn’t. That two-point margin in the plus column was the second worst among the elected officials who are thought to be major contenders for the nomination. Only Chris Christie fared worse.

(note: Oh, now I get it – Cruz is “Christie without the bridge.”)

Despite considerable national media attention, Mr. Cruz holds only about 6 percent of the vote in national polls. Early national polls aren’t exactly predictive of the nomination, but every presidential nominee since 1976 except Bill Clinton has reached about 15 percent of the vote by this point in the campaign.

The point isn’t that Mr. Cruz’s low level of support precludes him from winning the nomination. But he clearly hasn’t entered the race as the favorite of conservatives, and there isn’t much reason to assume that he will eventually become the favorite.

Closer to home, the Texas Observer’s Christopher Hooks offers a similar take under the headline, President Ted Cruz? Meh.

There are political reasons and policy reasons this is the case, as well as personal ones—are Americans really going to cheer for an Ivy League snob with an affinity for paisley bathrobes and Jesse Helms who hung a giant oil painting of himself arguing in front of the Supreme Court in his office?

But there’s a simpler reason to doubt Cruz: In almost every presidential election since FDR’s last re-election, Republicans have nominated the more moderate, business-minded candidate over an ideologue, with 1964 being the only real exception. (There’s 1980, too, but that’s something of a special case.) The conservatives who love Cruz are right: The donor class—the people who care a lot about estate taxes and not all that much about the gays—run the national party, more or less. Cruz is a Barry Goldwater in an era that’s not looking for one.

 Well, paisley bathrobes are among the more vivid and disturbing images to emerge from wealth of Cruz profiles – though I’m not sure its of Romney-dog-on-roof-of-the-car caliber. But, as to that parenthetical special case, I am old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan seemed too far right to be a plausible president, let alone a man who would forever change the trajectory of American political history.

Caroline Cruz, 6, right, waves an American flag after she joins her father, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas on stage, with his wife Heidi, and their other daughter Catherine, 4, left, as Cruz announces his campaign for president. Monday, . (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Caroline Cruz, 6, right, waves an American flag after she joins her father, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas on stage, with his wife Heidi, and their other daughter Catherine, 4, left, as Cruz announces his campaign for president. Monday, . (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

John Judis, co-author in 2002 of The Emerging Democratic Majority, recently wrote in National Journal a revisionist review of his own work. That emerging Democratic majority is now, he concludes, An Emerging Republican Advantage:

After the 2008 election, I thought Obama could create an enduring Democratic majority by responding aggressively to the Great Recession in the same way that Franklin Roosevelt had responded in 1933 to the Great Depression. Obama, I believed, would finally bury the Reagan Republican majority of 1980 and inaugurate a new period of Democratic domination.

In retrospect, that analogy was clearly flawed. Roosevelt took power after four years of the Great Depression, with Republicans and business thoroughly discredited, and with the public (who lacked any safety net) ready to try virtually anything to revive the economy. Obama’s situation was very different. Business was still powerful enough to threaten him if he went too far in trying to tame it. Much of the middle class and working class were still employed, and they saw Obama’s stimulus program—which was utterly necessary to stem the Great Recession—as an expansion of government at their expense.

In the wake of the dramatic gains Republicans have made during Obama’s presidency, I now read the history of the last 80 years much differently. The period of New Deal Democratic ascendancy from 1933 to about 1968 may well prove to have been what historians Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore have called the “long exception” in American politics. It was a period when Americans, panicked about the Depression, put on hold their historic aversion to aggressive government economic intervention, when the middle and bottom of the American economic pyramid united against the top, and when labor unions could claim the loyalty of a third of American workers. That era suffered fatal fissures in 1968 and finally came to a close with Reagan’s landslide in 1980.

It now appears that, in some form, the Republican era which began in 1980 is still with us. Reagan Republicanism—rooted in the long-standing American distrust of government, but perhaps with its roughest theocratic and insurrectionary edges sanded off for a national audience—is still the default position of many of those Americans who regularly go to the polls. It can be effectively challenged when Republicans become identified with economic mismanagement or with military defeat. But after the memory of such disasters has faded, the GOP coalition has reemerged—surprisingly intact and ready for battle.

Cruz is testing the proposition whether, amid the rise of the tea party movement, there may be longing in the conservative movement for a return to its roughest theocratic and insurrectionary edges, albeit as brought to you to by a Princeton/Harvard anti-intellectual intellectual.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.59.08 PM
Jon Stewart reacts to the Ted-Heidi Cruz kiss, which he said they rehearsed the day before.


From the New Yorker’s John Cassidy, under the headline, Can You “Imagine” Ted Cruz as President?

The conventional wisdom is that Cruz hasn’t got a chance, and, as far as the Presidency goes, it’s probably accurate. To many Americans, he is the uppity loudmouth who, in the fall of 2013, less than a year into his first term as a senator, helped bring the federal government to a halt. Noted for railing against President Obama and denying the existence of climate change, he holds views that, according to an analysis by the Web site FiveThirtyEight, make him “more conservative than every recent G.O.P. nominee, every ’12 contender and every plausible ’16 candidate.”

But if Cruz’s ultra-conservatism rules him out as a serious Presidential contender, it won’t necessarily work to his disadvantage in the Republican primaries, where his first goal is to distinguish himself from other right-wingers who are leading him in the polls, such as Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson. As Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich demonstrated in 2012, the conservative G.O.P. electorate is a fluid one, which falls for articulate rogues who can package age-old nostrums and prejudices in rhetoric that vaguely resembles a coherent political philosophy. Although Cruz is off to a slow start, this weakness should play to his rhetorical skills, which are superior to those of the rest of the G.O.P. field.


Most likely that Cruz intends to run as the Howard Dean of the religious right—a tub-thumping insurgent who uses social media to outmaneuver better-financed rivals. Speaking on Fox News, Joe Trippi, the Democratic strategist who ran Dean’s campaign in 2004, said after the speech, “I thought he did a great job.” Ed Rollins, the veteran Republican operative who was once Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, was equally impressed. He raised the prospect of Cruz winning the Texas primary, which will take place next March, and emerging as a serious contender.

That’s looking a long way ahead, and Cruz has a lot of ground to make up. In the latest CNN/ORC poll of Republican-leaning voters, just four per cent of respondents picked him, placing him eighth in the G.O.P. field. But the Texan terror does have the first-mover advantage, and, for one day, at least, he made the most of it.


Jason Jones and Samantha Bee demonstrate what happens if a married couple tries to kiss without rehearsing.
Jason Jones and Samantha Bee demonstrate what happens if a married couple tries to kiss without rehearsing.

Cruz’s hopes depend on Iowa, and his choice of Liberty University managed to exquisitely target evangelical voters in Iowa without being so nakedly, narrowly focused as to have his announcement actually in Iowa.

Here is how his campaign debut was covered by Jason Noble in the Des Moines Register:

Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign from Virginia on Monday with a message aimed straight at Iowa.

Cruz, a Republican U.S. senator from Texas, became the first person from either major party to formally announce a presidential candidacy with his speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

In style and substance, the announcement from an arena at the world’s largest Christian university made clear that Cruz intends to court evangelical and small-government conservatives — elements of the GOP base with outsize influence in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s staking his electoral prospects very clearly with Iowa’s tea party and evangelical electorate,” said former Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn. “The good news for Senator Cruz is that’s a large share of the caucus electorate. The bad news is there’s about a half-dozen other candidates who are going to be going after the exact same voters.”

Those other candidates could include past caucus winners Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, as well as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.


Ted and Heidi Cruz were interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show this morning.

Here is a bio video the campaign put out.

And, Hannity devoted his full hour on Fox last night to an interview with Cruz.

From Bloomberg’s David Weigel:

To understate the matter, Sean Hannity is not the right’s toughest interviewer. The host of an eponymous Fox News and radio show is to Republicans what a warm log cabin is to the weary traveler—a place for a respite and relief from the harsh elements outside. It was fitting, then, or perhaps just comforting, that Cruz ended his first day as a presidential candidate with a meandering, friendly Hannity chat.

Let’s see.

Cruz did reveal to Hannity that one of the reasons he chose Monday to announce his candidacy was that it was the fifth anniversary of Obamcare.

Cruz also said that, “When the New York Times says the Washington elites despise me, the only question is whether I have to report that to the FEC as an in-kind donation.”

Cruz said the mainstream media (of course not including Fox – “God bless Fox,” said Cruz) always portrays Republicans as stupid or evil. Reagan and and George W. Bush were stupid, while Nixon was evil.

“Stupid is better,” said Cruz, though he said he he took as a kind of backhanded compliment that they had identified a new category just for him – crazy.

Cruz said that answer for Republicans in handling the media is to make like Reagan.

“Reagan went over their head and went directly to the people.”

Cruz, who likes to do imitations, did a passable Ronald Reagan famously responding to a Sam Donaldson question at a White House press conference.

Here’s the original.



From Battleground Texas to Battleground Israel, all politics is global

Shalom Austin:

Once upon time, the soul of wisdom was Tip O’Neill’s “all politics is local.”

In the 21st Century, that’s been flipped to “all politics is national.”

You can get elected dog catcher in Texas, let alone governor, running against Barack Obama.

But, watching the Twitter traffic overnight in the wake of the Israeli election, it appears that all politics is now global.

Here is the post from RedState.com’s Erick Erickson:

Team Obama poured amazing resources into Battleground Texas to help Abortion Barbie, Wendy Davis, win and to turn Texas blue. Arguably, the Obama team had so many resources directed at Texas that they weakened themselves elsewhere. But they had a tremendous media operation and their acolytes in the press wrote hagiographic story after hagiographic story on how awesome Battleground Texas was.Likud_phonebg_onlybibi

The media even lumped Battleground Texas’s money with Wendy Davis’s money to build the narrative that she was financially competitive with then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. It all went down in flames. Reporters who were openly cheering for Battleground Texas put a pillow over it and held down till there was no pulse.

 And then they did the same in Israel.

A bipartisan investigation in the United States Senate is now uncovering evidence that Team Obama used federal tax dollars to try to influence the Israeli election against Benjamin Netanyahu. Team Obama went to the mats to defeat Bibi. Not only that, like with Battleground Texas, Battleground Israel also produced a media narrative that Netanyahu was in serious trouble.

On election day in Israel, the American media continued to push a “too close to call” narrative long after Netanyahu had declared victory and long after the Israeli media agreed. But Battleground Israel persisted into the night with the story that it was too close to call.

Here is Ted Cruz’s comment on Netanyahu’s victory:

 Prime Minister Netanyahu has been an extraordinary leader for Israel, and I congratulate him on what appears to be a victory today. His electoral success is all the more impressive given the powerful forces that tried to undermine him, including, sadly, the full weight of the Obama political team. American officials should not be undermining the elected leaders of our closest allies, especially when Prime Minister Netanyahu’s heroic – even Churchillian – opposition to a nuclear Iran has done such tremendous service to U.S. national security. The American people are proud to stand steadfastly with our Israeli brothers and sisters. May our friendship grow and prosper, and may the Nation of Israel stay forever strong.

And here is the statement I received late yesterday afternoon from Bird:

“While the election results remain to be seen, one thing is beyond question: V15’s passion and smart organizing approach inspired hundreds of thousands of Israelis to make their voices heard in an election that just a few months ago no one believed would even be competitive,” said Jeremy Bird, a founding partner of 270 Strategies. “Using best practices in organizing both online and on the ground, V15 transformed an unprecedented groundswell of organic energy into a movement for change — that’s a major victory for V15 and for Israelis who will continue to demand responsible leadership for their country.”

Let’s back up here.

From the Jerusalem Post last week, under the headline: Netanyahu: There is a worldwide effort to topple Likud rule 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested Monday to a meeting of Likud activists in Kiryat Gat that there is an international effort to remove him from power.

In a recording of the meeting obtained by Army Radio and aired on Tuesday, Netanyahu is heard saying of the current election campaign, “This a very close battle. Nothing is ensured because there is a great, worldwide effort to topple Likud rule.”

Netanyahu and the Likud have suggested throughout the run-up to the March 17 election that groups such as V15, an organization advertising to remove Netanyahu from power, are being funded by millions of shekels pouring in from abroad.

Last month, the Likud asked State Attorney Shai Nitzan to probe whether V15 was breaking laws prohibiting raising too much money for parties and raising money for parties from people who are not Israeli citizens.

But Nitzan did not find a connection between V15 – which has raised huge sums abroad for its effort to unseat Netanyahu – and any particular party.

Netanyahu’s professed alarm brings to mind then Attorney General Greg Abbott’s comments in Waco in April 2013.

“One thing that requires ongoing vigilance is the reality that the state of Texas is coming under a new 
assault, an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons,” Abbott said. “The threat that we’re getting is the threat from the Obama administration and his political machine.”

Astonishingly, when you get right down to it, both Benjamin Netanyahu and Greg Abbott were warning that they and their respective domains – Israel and Texas – were under political assault and, ultimately from the same source – Barack Obama in the person of Jeremy Bird.

(note: Abbott’s domain is bigger – with more than three times the population and more than 30 times the land mass. You can see here how Israel would fit into Texas – a possible remedy if things get worse over there. Call it a third-state solution.)

Here, from last month, a story by Julie Hirschfeld Davis in The New York Times: Former Obama Campaign Aide Now Works to Oust Netanyahu

WASHINGTON — Jeremy Bird, the architect of the grass-roots and online organizing efforts that powered President Obama’s presidential campaigns from Chicago, is advising a similar operation in Tel Aviv. But this time it is focused on ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

His consulting work for the group V15 — an independent Israeli organization that does not support specific candidates but is campaigning to replace Israel’s current government — has added yet another political layer to the diplomatic mess surrounding Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to address a joint meeting of Congress next week on Iran.

The White House has argued that Mr. Netanyahu’s plan to deliver the speech on March 3, two weeks before the Israeli elections, is harming the United States-Israel relationship by injecting partisanship. Republicans contend it is Mr. Obama who is playing politics and cite the work of Mr. Bird as proof that the president is quietly rooting for the defeat of his Israeli counterpart.

American strategists have for decades signed on to work in Israeli political campaigns, with Democrats usually aligned with the Labor Party and Republicans often backing Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party. There is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Obama or any of his senior aides had anything to do with the move by his former top campaign official, who has never worked at the White House, to join the effort to defeat Mr. Netanyahu.

But Mr. Bird’s involvement in the elections is drawing attention when tensions between the two countries are so acute that what is usually considered standard practice for American political consultants in Israel is now seen as a provocation.


“We’re witnessing something special happening in Israel right now: There’s a groundswell of organic energy as more than 10,000 supporters are coming together to have a voice in their country,” Mr. Bird said through the spokeswoman. V15’s “efforts are already paying off as they have reached out to more than 200,000 targeted voters, both in person and on the phone, about the need for change in Israel.”


“It is eye-rolling for Netanyahu to complain about former Obama aides working against him when he cooked up a speech to Congress with Boehner and didn’t tell the White House,” said Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council aide to Mr. Obama. “He has removed his ability to complain about playing politics by openly meddling in U.S. politics. The notion that Jeremy and the 270 team were sent there with the blessing of President Obama is just silly.


Republicans in Congress have criticized Mr. Bird’s involvement and the work of OneVoice, which has received grants from the State Department. In a letter to the department last month that prominently mentioned Mr. Bird and his ties to Mr. Obama, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Lee Zeldin of New York, both Republicans, said they were concerned that American taxpayer money was being used to influence the Israeli elections and unseat Mr. Netanyahu.

“It is deeply troubling that President Obama’s national field director is helping run the campaign to defeat the democratically elected leader of one of our closest friends and allies, the nation of Israel,” Mr. Cruz said in an interview on Friday.


A month before the Times story, January Roy (Chicky) Arad, wrote in Haaretz, under the headline: The Obama campaign strategist who could break the Israeli elections wide open
The group V15, which denies that its motto is ‘anyone but Bibi,’ is working with U.S. political strategist Jeremy Bird to replace the government in March:

During a stroll along Tel Aviv’s Lilienblum Street, it was difficult to avoid noticing that the ground floor of one office building had been converted into a campaign headquarters, packed with “Victory 2015” signs and young people wearing V15 campaign buttons. Hanging on the wall is a map of greater Tel Aviv, marked into numbered districts, and scrawled on a whiteboard are various slogans in advertising language.

The place looks like a television set for a series about a presidential campaign. I signed up and walked into a motivational lecture with about 30 enthusiastic young Israelis who were learning how to approach potential voters. After a few minutes they realized there was a journalist in the room, and a more organized meeting was arranged in the adjacent offices of the OneVoice Movement.

It was only a month ago that Itamar Weizmann, a 22-year-old history student, posted the following, rather banal, text on Facebook: “Hi. There’s an election. Let’s do something different this time.”

Nimrod Dweck, the 33-year-old founder of Dice Marketing whose Linkedin page describes him as a “marketing ninja,” pounced on the idea. The pair rapidly arranged a meeting of activists. Former Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin jumped on board, and supporter numbers are rising constantly.

The group, which began with nothing more than an idea and youthful energy, soon morphed into something far greater, a movement with real offices whose goal is nothing less than an electoral upset. If the momentum continues to gather according to plan, V15 could carry influence in the upcoming election.

With the help of American money and a former campaign adviser to President Barack Obama, V15 is trying to replace Israel’s government. The money and organization comes from V15’s partnership with OneVoice.

Jeremy Bird
Jeremy Bird

Their secret campaign weapon is Jeremy Bird, a 36-year-old American political strategist who worked for Obama. Bird has come with a team of four consultants that will try to channel the energies of V15 into an organized methodology. Bird was the field director for South Carolina in Obama’s primary campaign for the 2008 election. Early opinion polls in the state gave Obama and Hillary Clinton equal odds, but in the primary vote Obama beat her two to one. That victory helped Obama to clinch the Democratic nomination, and it resulted in Bird’s promotion to deputy national field director for the 2008 national election. For Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, Bird was national field director. After the election, Bird parlayed his success into 270 Strategies, a political consulting firm that helps election campaigns all over the world to build grassroots strategies.

“It’s not right to do in Israel exactly what we did in the United States, the context is completely different,” admits Bird, who still has some of the Hebrew he learned as a student in Haifa in 1999. But he says the mess in the OneVoice office — many empty cartons from newly purchased equipment — reminds him of Obama headquarters, he says: lots of energy and lot of talent. Israel is an ideal country for a door-knocking campaign because of its relatively small size, Bird says. Israel has very complex politics, a large number of parties and relatively high voter turnout, he says, adding that it’s possible to speak with enough people here to replace the government.

Bibi Got Back


I wondered Monday why Vincent Harris wasn’t at Austin’s Capital Factory to Stand with Rand when Rand Paul, in advance of a formal declaration of a presidential candidacy April 7, opened up his campaign’s tech office, which will be under Harris’ command. Turned out Harris was on his way to #StandWithNetanyahu.

From a Feb. 2 story in  The Times of Israel Likud hires top Republican strategist ahead of elections

A leading American political strategist with deep ties to the Republican party was hired by the ruling Likud party and will serve as its media consultant ahead of the upcoming March 17 elections, Army Radio reported.

Vincent Harris, the CEO of the Austin-based firm Harris Media, currently serves as Chief Digital Strategist to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and was highly active in the 2012 US presidential elections, where he handled online campaigning for candidates Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

Harris also worked in digital campaigning alongside Senator Ted Cruz in 2012 and Senator Mitch McConnell in 2014, significantly advancing social media presence and following for both US representatives.

The news of Harris’s joining with Likud comes amid a furor over a link between the V15 movement, a nonprofit Israeli group working to oust Netanyahu, and a former Democratic campaigner.

On Sunday, Likud accused the rival Zionist Camp of working with the V15 movement, which is funded by international donors, thereby engaging in illegal campaign financing.

Last week, Cruz issued an inquiry letter to the White House after Haaretz reported Jeremy Bird, the national field director for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, was leading V15’s get-out-the-vote effort.

And from Gil Hoffman at the Jerusalem Post:

An American digital media guru denied reports Monday that suggested he was sent by the Republicans in order to help Netanyahu win reelection.

Army Radio reported that the Likud employed Vincent Harris, who worked for Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz. The report said the Likud complained about US President Barack Obama’s former field director, Jeremy Bird, advising groups working to unseat Netanyahu, even though they were using the same tactic.

Harris told The Jerusalem Post that he started working for the Likud more than six weeks ago, just like Republican strategist John McLauglin and just like other American strategists had worked for Netanyahu in other elections going back to 1996. He denied any connection between the senators and his employment with the Likud.

“I have not spoken to Senator Cruz or to Mitch McConnell about my job here,” he said. “My Israeli work is completely separate from my work in the US, so what is being reported is not true. I love Israel, and I am excited to be here to help the Likud and the prime minister use digital media in an effective and forward-looking manner.”

Likud officials said there was a big difference between Harris, who is employed by the Likud, and Bird, who has worked for OneVoice, an organization that has received funding from foreign governments and is working now to topple Netanyahu.

Cruz, a possible 2016 candidate for president, and New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin sent a letter on Thursday to Secretary of State John Kerry calling on the State Department inspector-general to investigate whether OneVoice Israel – part of the OneVoice Movement, a US-based nonprofit organization – has used US grant money to support its partnership with V15 and whether its actions violate its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

In response to Cruz’s letter, the OneVoice Movement said it received two grants from the State Department in the past year to help fund campaign in support of the Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, but according to both OneVoice and the State Department, both grants ended before December 2014 and are not part of OneVoice’s current campaign.

“No payment was made to OneVoice after November of 2014,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday.


As the electon result was becoming clear, I exchanged emails with Michael Duncan, vice president of digital strategy at Harris Media:

Harris Media was brought on by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Likud Party to oversee their digital strategy ahead of today’s election. I’ve been living in Tel Aviv since early January, working with our team in Austin and the local team here on website design and development, social media, online advertising, online video, graphic design, and email marketing.

Here’s some of their website work in English and Hebrew:


And Netanyahu’s social channels:


I asked Duncan a few questions overnight.

1. Why does a country like Israel not have its own homegrown political talent.

There’s certainly talented political operatives in Israel. Our campaign manager was Aron Shaviv, an Israeli who’s done extensive work internationally as well. I think the reason for so many American consultants in Israeli politics is that we hold more elections than they do through their national proportional representation system. We have Presidential campaigns, Senate, House, Governor’s races, and then all the down-ballot contests. American consultants just have more experience, our campaigns are longer, and they’re more expensive. There’s also over ten political parties in Israel, so the talent pool gets thinned quickly and requires looking to America for professional help.

2. Does Israel’s very different personality require a wholly different approach than, say, in Texas, or are voters simply voters?

The complexity of an election with over ten political parties requires a disciplined and targeted message strategy. We knew we had to persuade right wing supporters of the Jewish Home party, Orthodox voters, and some centrist voters of Kulanu, to switch over to support Likud. We used alot of issues and tactics to recruit subsets of these voters, but in the last week it became a very simple message: We’re all on the right and we represent a majority of the electorate. But if we don’t unify behind Prime Minister Netanyahu, we risk letting the left form the next government.

Imagine a general election ballot that’s Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Jim Webb, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul. That’s the complicated nature of Israeli politics.

3. Any impression of Jeremy Bird’s work and the V15 campaign?

I saw some of the V15 advertising, which I thought was creative but I question the effectiveness. If you’re advertising video online, and you’re burying the lede, and it’s over a minute long, you’re doing digital wrong. Here’s V15’s “viral” ad: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=835408989854745&permPage=1

Political advertising is about reach and frequency to persuadable audiences. Half your audience is going to stop watching online after 15 seconds, so what about those people? It’s much more valuable to produce shorter spots that reach a specific subset of your voting population: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152774470972076&permPage=1

Voters on the right turned out big time, giving 30 mandates to Netanyahu and Likud, which is more than anyone expected. I don’t know what Bird did on the grassroots side here in Israel, but doesn’t seem it like it was any more effective than the doomed Battleground Texas project.

And, here is Duncan on the V15 ad linked to above:

The cinematography of the V15 spot is beautiful. It parallels a person going to the polls to vote against Bibi, with Netanyahu and his wife packing up to leave the PM’s residence. The tag line at the end is “Thank you, goodbye.” A simple message from the voters to Netanyahu. And I have nothing against long-form ads like these, except when you make them the focal point of your digital campaign. If you only watched 10 or 15 seconds of this ad, as half of people do online, how did V15 persuade them? I think their generic “Anyone but Bibi” strategy backfired. Even Herzog and Livni strategist Reuven Adler admitted he was against this plan: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-Elections/Likuds-win-The-second-Israel-has-spoken-394300

The more V15, the Zionist Union, and the Israeli media focused on Netanyahu, the more we were able to crystallize this election as left versus right, rather than a 10 party race. They criticized Netanyahu attending the March in Paris and they criticized his speech in Congress, but our polling showed it only served to burnish our security credentials on the right. It elevated us: When Netanyahu speaks, the world listens.


The post Duncan cites quoting Reuven Adler is illuminating:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impressive victory in Tuesday’s elections can be explained by going back to the early days of the state.

The Ashkenazi immigrants from Eastern Europe were seen as having an unfair advantage over their Sephardic counterparts from North Africa and the Middle East. The people who are called “the second Israel” have complained since then that the “elites” in the Israeli Left, the media and academia have discriminated against them.

The “second Israel” did not like the way the media seemed to be deposing of Netanyahu and bringing to power the Left under the leadership of Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who were raised not far from each other in North Tel Aviv and are both the children of former Knesset members.

The Zionist Union inadvertently played into Netanyahu’s hands with a campaign of “anyone but Bibi.”

Zionist Union campaign strategist Reuven Adler, who joined the campaign late, said Wednesday morning that he was against that strategy from the start. By contrast Likud strategist Aron Shaviv got the Israeli Right correct. He sent Netanyahu to give countless interviews – it made him look like he was panicking (and he was), but the public got the message.

Many who considered staying home, or voting for one of the Likud’s satellite parties, hurried to the polling stations to cast ballots for Likud. People who have not voted in years – or at least not for Likud – felt the need to save Israel from the Left, Iran and from a hostile international community.

On Monday, Shaviv revealed a poll that for the first time, less than 50 percent of the public thought Netanyahu would form the next government. Shaviv said at the time that if it gets closer to 40 percent the Likud will win the election.

In Netanyahu’s appeal to the “second Israel’ he succeeded, and because of that, he won a fourth term.

On Morning Joe this morning, Israeli journalist Ari Shavit of Haaretz, made a similar point. He said that the election represented the triumph of a disparate coalition united by their opposition to an Israeli WASP elite – WASP, in this case, standing for White Ashkenazi Supporters of Peace.

Israel, Shavit said, is now split in half, with a red Israel and a blue Israel.


I don’t think there is any such things at the Israeli Tea Party, but the parallels in the political dynamic between Texas and Israel are striking.

Netanyahu, like Abbott, scored a huge victory by building a majority that was stirred to action by fears that an elite, with help of powerful outsiders, specifically including Obama and his minions (or maybe in the Israeli context, minyans), and flush with out-of–state shekels, was trying to impose a liberal/leftist government on them.

It appears that in Israel, the directed political assault on Netanyahu may have made him look like he was reeling, but it actually strengthened him and helped drive up his turnout. Likewise, the argument can be made that Battleground Texas, whatever success it had in signing up volunteers and registering voters, did more to give Texas Republicans, who after years of dominance could be lulled into complacency, a sense of threat and urgency that motivated their voters to turn out.

The Likud slogan was, "It's us or them."
The Likud slogan was, “It’s us or them.”

I had two other questions for Duncan.

The Likud slogan was “It’s Us or Them.”

Wow, I thought. Doesn’t get more basic – even primordial – than that. (It brought to mind Mel Brooks as the 2000 Year Old Man recitation of mankind’s first national anthem: “Let ’em all go to hell/ Except Cave 76”)


Can’t take credit for It’s Us or Them, senior strategists Aron Shaviv and John McLaughlin deserve credit for framing this race and getting the Prime Minister to take the fight to the left in the critical last week.

And finally, I asked about Chuck Norris.

The last time I saw Norris he was campaigning for Greg Abbott in Midland, Texas, just before the election.

Chuck Norris campaigning for Greg Abbott just before last fall's election.
Chuck Norris campaigning for Greg Abbott just before last fall’s election.


On the eve of the Israeli election, Norris once again got political, releasing an endorsement video for Netanyahu.

With all due respect to Norris, Duncan said, “I don’t think it impacted many votes.”

But, he said, “All the supportive comments from elected officials in the United States certainly helped us push back on the false narrative that Netanyahu was eroding American support for Israel.”