Thom Hartmann Interview, Part I

Thom Hartmann

If the Iowa precinct caucuses created doubt about the efficacy of our voting process, we are not the only ones with concern.

Thom Hartmann, the number one progressive-talk-show host in the United States wrote the book, The Hidden History of the War on Voting: Who Stole Your Vote and How to Get It Back. It will be released by Berrett-Koehler Publishers on Feb. 11.

Blog for Iowa reviewed the book here and on Jan. 21 interviewed Hartmann about it and his work as a progressive. Hartmann was engaged and spoke freely about his book, about his concerns about voting in the U.S., and about his work as a progressive writer and radio personality.

We will run the interview in multiple posts, beginning with Hartmann’s comments about this book. The interview was transcribed from audio and is presented with only minor grammatical corrections for clarity.

BFIA: Can you tell me about the background, why you came up with this Hidden History series?

Hartmann: I’ve noticed a couple of trends. One is that people have less and less time to read books, and myself included. But I think it’s just ubiquitous. Spread across the culture. You can blame screens, you know, or phrenetic lifestyle, cause of the bite that Reaganomics is taking out of the middle class. I’m sure it’s a whole bunch of different factors but the simple reality is people don’t just sit down and spend ten, fifteen, twenty hours reading a book like they did twenty-five, thirty years ago.

So I wanted to come out with a series of small books that were books that a person could read in a weekend or maybe even in a long afternoon. I also have been just an absolute history fanatic my whole, entire life. My Dad wanted to be a history teacher when he grew up, a college professor. He had to drop out of college because Mom got pregnant with me and that was the end of that. But he had 20 thousand books in his basement; a lot of them were history. And we talked history all my life, you know, until my Dad died.

I proposed this to BK Publishers, said I’d like to do a series about things that are contemporary issues that have historical roots that most people are unaware of the roots. They don’t know where this came from, how this came about.

The first one we did was the Hidden History of the Second Amendment which is kind of self explanatory. The second was the Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America. That is how the Supreme Court basically flipped us into oligarchy in the 1970s and it also takes on the issue of judicial review, something most people don’t know anything about the background of and how angry Thomas Jefferson was about it. The third one was the Hidden History of the War on Voting. I argued it should be titled “Republican War on Voting” because there is no Democratic war on voting. They didn’t want to make it seem too partisan.

It’s fairly evident when you read the book who’s trying to prevent you from voting and who isn’t.

BFIA: Thank you. In the voting book, which is the most recent one I read, is there anything you would like to highlight in particular.

HARTMANN: I think the big aha! For a lot of people who have read the book has been Red Shift and voter suppression. Red shift is something that started showing up around 2000 in the United States.

Around the world exit polls are the gold standard to determine if an election has been fraudulent or not, whether there is election fraud. Historically, and in fact, most countries in the world vote by paper ballot. They don’t vote electronically. As a result it takes a couple of days to count the vote.

Every European Country, Canada, take your choice. I lived in Germany for a year and when they have elections in Germany they call the elections when the polls close because they do it based on exit polls. Exit polls are never more than one tenth or two tenths of a point off, even though it takes them four days to count the vote. We saw this in the U.K. very recently with Boris Johnson.

In the United States our exit polls had always been within a tenth of a point or so of our election outcome. But in 2000 this strange thing started showing up. It got really bad in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008, when what showed up was that in a handful of states, that started out four or five and now it’s more like ten or fifteen, the outcome of the election is anywhere from two to five percent more Republican than the exit polls. And that’s why it’s called Red Shift toward the Republican Party.

And for a long time, and this is not a secret, the exit polling companies were so freaked out about this they didn’t know what to do. I mean this was a crisis for them in the 2004 election, the John Kerry-George Bush election. There was substantial Red Shift, including in Ohio where George Bush supposedly won that election.

So when we first saw these changes in numbers, how they almost always benefited exclusively Republicans, we concluded and they seem to follow the widespread adoption of electronic voting machines. The first guess of most people was that this was rigged or hacked voting machines.

I think one of the things we have learned in the years since then, particularly over the last ten years or so, that Republicans are more open and up front about their strategies. We’ve gotten access to some of their memos going back 15, 20 years, (showing) that what they have been doing in states where the Republicans control the state they throw hundreds of thousands of people off the voting rolls in the year before an election, in particular they do it in the Democratic cities.

And then when those people show up to vote they’re told, “Oh I can’t find your name on the roll, but here is a provisional ballot you can vote on this.” They don’t realize that provisional ballots are only counted if an election is contested. So those votes literally never get counted, with very few exceptions.

But when they walk out of the voting place and speak to the exit pollster, who says, “How did you vote?” They’ll say “Oh, I voted for John Kerry.” And they write that down as a John Kerry vote, neither the pollster nor the voter realizing that because the voter will be on a provisional ballot that that vote will never be counted.

In most states if you want to your provisional ballot votes to be counted you have to show up at the secretary of state’s office within 48 hours, and prove that you are who you are, and where you live, and you are a citizen, and basically go through the whole process of re-registering to vote, or proving that your registration was inappropriately removed, which most people don’t even know they have to do much less know that they can do.

I think that’s probably a better explanation for Red Shift because the red shifts seem to be the worst in the states that had the most aggressive voter purges.

Click here to order your copy of The Hidden History of the War on Voting.

~ Watch for future installments of this interview coming soon.

Social Commentary Writing

Media’s Theft From The Commons

Iowa City Press Citizen Jan. 23, 2019

“Right-wing media have been laying the groundwork for Trump’s acquittal for half a century,” Nicole Hemmer wrote in the New York Times. “These tactics (i.e. minimize Trump’s transgressions and paint a picture of non-stop Democratic scandals) are not inventions of the Trump era. They are part of a decades-long strategy by the right to secure political power — a strategy originating in conservative media.”

For a student of history the story is not only about conservative mass media beginning in the mid-20th Century. It goes further back.

It’s been a few decades since I finished graduate school yet I remember we studied nineteenth century newspapers from the Old West in Kansas, Oklahoma, and the like. They were mainly gossip sheets in which people could and did say just about anything. Whatever was needed to engage locals and sell advertising, whether it was true or not. It is a part of human nature to want to hear gossip and the outrageous things that may or may not be going on in a community.

What’s different now is corporations have exploited this aspect of human nature to generate revenue. They’ve been successful at doing so. In a way, right wing media is yet another corporate theft from the commons.

One can’t make the argument that media has ever been without bias. Journalists, editors, and even historians have their implicit point of view which may or may not serve the truth or other human needs. I’m thinking here of the work of Howard Zinn, David Hackett Fischer, Clifford Geertz and others.

Joan Didion described it as well as anyone, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” What we hadn’t planned for was the malicious intent of people who would come to dominate news and information sources, and the role that would play in the stories we tell ourselves.

The first sign of trouble should have been when our favorite news personalities began to earn millions of dollars annually for what should have been a public service. That Sean Hannity earns $40 million per year is all one needs to know about FOX News. Even Walter Cronkite earned close to a million.

My media behavior toward this impeachment effort is similar to during the Nixon and Clinton proceedings. I tune it out. One exception though. While I’m still in bed, before I turn the light on, I pick up my phone and read Heather Cox Richardson’s daily letter. It’s about all that I can take. Is she biased? Of course. But my tolerance for the biases of Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard where she was educated is a bit higher. Plus she feeds my confirmation bias.


Book Review: The Hidden History Of The Supreme Court

Thom Hartmann Photo Credit – Thom Hartmann Website

The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America by Thom Hartmann is a quick but important read for people who want to review the history of the Supreme Court.

At 168 pages, the book takes readers through the founders’ vision of the courts, the Powell Memo, the growing influence of fossil fuels companies on the court, judicial review, and the constitution’s preference for property rights over human rights. Hartmann also covers the court’s involvement in key American movements and issues, including labor, abolition, racism, abortion, environmentalism, and the rise of the TEA Party. The final section of the book offers solutions to “save the planet, democratize, and modernize the Supreme Court. It’s a page turner.

“But isn’t Hartmann preaching to the choir?” engaged readers might ask.

What’s important about this book is it exists at all.

Blog for Iowa, and others like it in Iowa and around the country, rose up in the years after the 2004 general election offering an alternative voice to right wing talk radio, evangelical Christianity, and a media landscape where the Fairness Doctrine no longer applied and cable news companies gained hegemony with partisan, conservative messages 24/7. In addition to progressive national and state-based blogs, radio and television personalities competed to gain a progressive audience. Thom Hartmann is one who survived and thrived. He is currently the number one progressive talk show host in the United States according to the about the author section of the book.

The purpose served by The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America is presenting a narrative of the key elements of the Supreme Court’s history to a progressive audience.

So often ideas about the Supreme Court are formed by snippets of information in various media about specific decisions, the judicial nominating process, and groups like the Federalist Society which lobby the government for appointment of certain types of judges. Increasingly social media is a key driver for informing our opinions, yet it presents an incomplete picture. It is not enough. What has been lacking is a more comprehensive look at the supreme court told in language that is easy to understand. Hartmann delivers that and more.

Here’s a clip of Thom Hartmann reading from his book. The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America is available from the publisher and most places where books are sold.

~ First published at Blog for Iowa


Organizing the Organizers

Rural Newport Precinct

The Democratic Party seems on the brink of descent into a primal ooze as we now debate political staffers forming unions in campaigns. What’s there to debate?

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg gets the overarching policy right. “Freedom means the ability to organize in order to hold employers accountable and advocate for fair pay,” according to his website.

To the extent political campaigns employ anyone, those employees have a right to organize. That said, the articles, discussion and posturing about unions and campaign organizers organizing a union are a distraction from the need to defeat Donald Trump, hold the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and gain a majority in the U.S. Senate.

I have some questions about organizing the organizers.


Suzan Erem, who has been a consultant to labor unions, recently posted on Facebook, “no self-respecting union organizes workers whose jobs have at best an 18-month shelf life.”

Either an individual campaign provides a living wage and acceptable working conditions for employees or the candidate suffers the consequences in a primary election. If workers organize a union, the candidate should be willing to sign a contract quickly and get on with the campaign. When there are grievances, they should be timely addressed.

It is important to remember pay and benefits are not what leads talented people to work on a political campaign. The question of organizers unionizing should be a self-motivator for Democratic candidates. Employees have the choice to organize and it should mostly be part of the background noise of a campaign. It should be a non-issue.


“An unnamed person has alleged to a federal agency that the union representing some employees of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign did not properly address a grievance,” Sean Sullivan wrote in the Washington Post. A dispute between a labor union (United Food and Commercial Workers in this case) and a represented member is never good. When it escalates to the National Labor Relations Board, lawyers get involved.

As Sanders and his staff spend time and resources on this NLRB case and resolving any other grievances with their union, the clock continues to tick toward the Iowa Caucus and the dozen states with primaries and caucuses on or before Super Tuesday. Managing labor, organized or not, will take bandwidth.

When the union appears to botch the process as suggested in Sullivan’s article, it is a burden on everyone involved. Some other priority will be neglected while time is spent on this grievance. News outlets may pick up on the NLRB case and neglect covering candidate policy.

To What End?

The period of employment for paid campaign workers is relatively brief. Anyone who has worked on a campaign knows a lot of hours are involved. If it’s too much, why wouldn’t an employee go to their supervisor and ask for relief. If they are not satisfied with the way it is addressed, move on to what is next. It’s not like campaign organizing is a permanent career even if one is still working at it after beginning in the 2008 cycle.

Organizing a union is not always a speedy process. In the meanwhile, the election is just around the corner, after which employment ends for the most part and any union becomes moot. If the campaign is successful there may be another job in Washington, D.C. If it is unionized it would be a separate bargaining unit.

Most working people have an opinion about unions. I do too, and mine is multi-faceted. Unions have good intentions yet outcomes for rank and file members vary in efficacy. During a presidential campaign, especially during the primary/caucus portion of it, the main organizing has to be getting enough votes to get the candidate to the next stage whether it’s winning the primary or the general election. Organizing a union has to be done quickly and efficiently or it becomes a distraction.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


Taking Seeds from the Prairie

Lake Macbride State Park, Summer 2019.

Is it wrong to collect seeds from a prairie restoration project for use in a home garden or another prairie restoration project?

I posed the question on social media. While the responses weren’t that many, they were a unanimous yes.

Not so fast!

“Stealing is stealing,” Cindy Crosby, author of The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction wrote.

A prairie manager I know was out for a stroll on his site when he came across a woman cutting buckets of blooms. Horrified, he said, “Lady, what are you doing?” She replied testily, “Well I tried to cut the flowers up by the visitors center for my party and they wouldn’t let me. So I came out here.”

Wildflowers will replenish themselves, right? Maybe and maybe not.

I asked our local state park ranger for his thoughts about harvesting seeds from prairie restoration areas. His response was speedy and made sense, “You are good to take seeds from the plants but just do not remove the plant itself and you will be ok.”

That’s good enough for me. I’ll be watching the patch of restored prairie for seed formation and try some of the varieties in our home garden.

Prairie used to cover more than 85 percent of Iowa land, according to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Today less than one tenth of a percent of original tallgrass prairie remains in the state. A prairie restoration project, like the ones at Iowa state parks, is a work of human hands and culture.

People like Cindy Crosby have a personal investment in work they have done to restore prairie. Even if such restorations are anything but natural, and a constant struggle to keep invasive plants like garlic mustard at bay, they add cultural value in the form of habitat for plant and animal species and the narratives spun around them. We should tread lightly in their work, take what we need, and leave the rest.

Additional Reading:

Tuesdays in the Tallgrass, a blog by Cindy Crosby.

Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit by Cindy Crosby and Thomas Dean.

Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie: An Illustrated Manual for Iowa and the Upper Midwest by Shirley Shirley.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


State Auditor Rob Sand Speaks… Briefly

State Auditor Rob Sand and State Senator Janet Petersen waiting to go on stage at the Zach Wahls birthday fundraiser in rural Iowa on July 14, 2019

State Auditor Rob Sand spoke at the Zach Wahls birthday fundraiser in rural Johnson County on July 14. He was brief.

Sand’s brevity is becoming a feature of his political tenure. Those of us who hear a lot of political speeches appreciate his willingness to be brief, be brilliant, and then be done.

Blog for Iowa wanted to hear more from Sand so we asked him to participate in a questionnaire via email. He said yes. The questions and Sand’s responses follow, published without significant editing.

BFIA: What do you feel is most important about the first six months of your tenure as auditor? Why?

Sand: In just six months we have accomplished a lot of what we set out to do during the campaign. The office has never promoted efficiency, which I said I would do. Our new PIE initiative (public innovations and efficiencies) will do just that. In addition, very soon we have two individuals with law-enforcement experience starting in the office. I campaigned on the need for professional diversity in the office, and we are making it happen.

BFIA: In my previous article I pointed out the municipality that was dissatisfied with your predecessor’s annual audit of their books. How do you view the role of the state auditor’s office in helping counties and municipalities meet their statutory audit and financial review needs?

Sand: The most significant departure under my time in office will be that we will begin providing real assistance on efficiency and innovation. Historically, the office has not used its ability to do that. That changes now. We should always be doing everything we can to save taxpayer money.

BFIA: I noticed you are a hunter. How did that become a feature of your public appearances as auditor. What is your view of how Iowa DNR expends resources to support hunting and wildlife in the state?

Sand: I believe that most Iowans are interested in not just policy but also who you are as a person. I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad and still do it today, so it is a way for people to get to know me a little bit. Plus, there are endless puns is to be made about finding bucks.

While I have not done a specific review of DNR in my six months in office, I can tell you that the state needs to do a better job supporting hunting and fishing generally. There were a number of bills last year which were harming the ability to add public land for hunting or any other use.

BFIA: What do you like best about the job? Least?

Sand: Compared to prosecuting financial crime, which I was doing for seven years prior, it’s great to be able to wake up in the morning and work on making systems work better, and preventing bad before it happens. Prosecuting by its nature is entirely reacting to bad after it happens.

As for my least favorite part, I’m sure if I were a better politician I would tell you that every single moment is an honor. But since I’m honest, the part I like least are the trite and formalistic aspects of being an office executive from a paperwork and sign-off perspective. I prefer to dive in and do real work.

BFIA: What areas in state government seem ready to improve from an auditor’s viewpoint? Explain.

We are always on the lookout to make government more honest, operate with better integrity, and improve accountability. We also want to see improved efficiency. That applies to every part of government, and as soon as we stop looking for it or asking for it in one part, that’s where it will be needed most!

BFIA: What is your hope for the future of the state, from a personal standpoint.

Sand: I think we need a better focus on putting the public first. Partisanship needs to take a backseat.

A brief biography of Rob Sand can be found on his Wikipedia Page here.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Politics Writing

When to Swallow the Red Pill

RAGBRAI riders stopped at the Norwalk Christian Church for pie. Photo Credit – Trish Nelson

Trish Nelson will be returning to the editor’s desk next week.

Among things she did while on hiatus was ride a couple days of RAGBRAI, posting this photograph of pies behind empty church pews. The image says something more although I’m at a loss to put words to it. It can speak for itself.

Time for me to go on hiatus for a while as well.

Tomorrow I return to the apple orchard where I work in the sales barn doing whatever is needed for the season. If I’m lucky, I’ll have great conversations with some of the thousands of guests who show up on a weekend. If I’m extra lucky, those conversations will be about apples, gardening and farming.

We political activists need to do our best work to elect a replacement for Dave Loebsack in the Second Congressional District and a U.S. Senator to make Joni Ernst a one-term senator. We also need to retain the hard-won seats of Cindy Axne in the third district and Abby Finkenauer in the first. If we have a candidate in the fourth district, there’s work to be done there as well. Those campaigns will have to wait until after the presidential preference in February, because a person can land only one plane at a time. I favor Rita Hart in the second district and Theresa Greenfield for U.S. Senate. There are no clinkers among those running in the primary.

As far as the Iowa caucus goes, I’m in the same boat as a lot of readers. I want to pick a candidate for president to work with after Labor Day. If I can’t decide which one by then, I may go to caucus uncommitted and join a group that needs one more person to be viable.

I expect to run our precinct caucus (because of a lack of volunteers) and don’t want to get into the unseemly discussions we had during the vote count in 2008. Being uncommitted would be a positive in that regard.

Democrats can’t afford to have winners and losers this cycle, so the pre-caucus dynamic is different from 2008 when there were 8-10 candidates for president and everyone worked hard for their guy or gal to be the one. The only thing that remains the same this cycle is Mike Gravel is running again. (Update: The afternoon of the day this was posted, Gravel suspended his presidential campaign).

Someone asked me who were my top three potential presidential candidates. I had to think, but came up with this answer:

Anyone other than Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris needs a breakthrough by Labor Day (maybe Thanksgiving) to ouster these four poll leaders. Polls and second choices will drive the presidential preference Feb. 3.

If not this week, then soon, the less than one percenters will hopefully have made their point and gracefully exited the race to work on other Democratic priorities. I’m very sorry Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is in this group. She couldn’t get over the Franken blow back among Democrats I know and lost important donors. She is uncompromising on women’s rights.

Look at it this way. Once I figure out what/who I’m supporting I’ll swallow the red pill and follow the rabbit hole where it leads. With the primary in June, there’s plenty of time to work on Rita Hart and Theresa Greenfield after caucus.

Or look at it another way. If Warren had run in 2016, I would have worked hard to make her the nominee. I’m satisfied she’s not too old today. There’s no one else left in the top 4 besides Kamala Harris. I’m less than confident a woman can get elected in 2020. I don’t like most of the men.

So there’s my indecision. If I can’t decide by Labor Day I may not declare and throw my one preference to which ever group could be viable with it, except maybe Sanders.

The most important endgame is coming together once we have a nominee. Keeping the red pill in a waterproof vial for now.

Hope readers enjoy the rest of summer. Thanks for the clicks during the last five weeks.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Politics Social Commentary

Jimmy Carter and Prejudice Against Women

Jimmy Carter at the Iowa State Fair, August 1976 – Photo Credit – Des Moines Register

On Jan. 19, 1976, the day of the Iowa precinct caucuses that started Jimmy Carter on a path from relative obscurity to becoming the Democratic nominee for president, I was in U.S. Army Basic Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

I didn’t really care who became president because anyone would be better than Richard Nixon.

As we now know, “Uncommitted” won the presidential preference that year getting 37 percent of the delegates with Carter coming in second with 28 percent. He became president and served for a single term from 1977 until 1981.

On July 19 Carter announced he was losing his religion. “Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God,” he said.

After six decades in the Southern Baptist Convention, at the point when leadership determined that women must be subservient to men, he decided to leave.

“At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime,” Carter wrote. “But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.”

The view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief, he said.

Read Carter’s entire article in The Age here. What is the context for Carter losing his religion?

Earlier in July and before Carter’s letter, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights to examine the role of human rights in US foreign policy. It is expected the commission will be a vehicle to roll back protection of human rights in US diplomacy.

“What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right,” Pompeo said at the State Department according to CNN. “How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored?”

“Words like ‘rights’ can be used for good or evil,” he said.

What is or isn’t a human right has been debated even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 by the United Nations. One can assume the same impetus that led Pompeo to embrace the Rapture is at work in this commission. I expect a new attack on women’s rights driven by the same prejudices Carter discusses in his letter.

At 94 years, Jimmy Carter continues to serve our nation and a global community. If there is justice God will forgive him for losing his religion to continue his efforts in pursuit of women’s rights.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


Politics In Isolation

Rural Polling Place

It must be hard for out of state political organizers to penetrate the shield of work, family and friends behind which many Iowans spend most of their time.

That’s especially true as the large field of presidential candidates self-sorts in the polls, resulting in what seems an inevitable field of Biden, Harris, Sanders and Warren. If they can gain traction through some sort of campaign breakthrough, maybe add Booker, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and one or two of the others people recognize. A recap of 20 Iowa polls from is here.

According to a June CNN poll 44 percent of primary voters had decided their first choice for president, with most of the rest saying their choice is subject to change. There is a long Iowa tradition of waiting until the last minute to decide for whom to caucus in presidential years. What plays a role this cycle is the common statement, “I support X, but will vote for whoever the party nominates because we have to beat Donald Trump.” Against this background, organizers have to identify voters to support their candidate, knowing minds could change in the more than six months until the Iowa caucuses. Based on my experience there will be a groundswell behind candidates who are perceived as potential caucus winners.

The basics of political organizing haven’t changed in a long time. My father explained how he organized for the 1960 campaign of John F. Kennedy. The union provided mimeographed 8-1/2 x 14 inch sheets with a blank grid of homes on it. Dad’s job was to contact people in each house on the blocks he was assigned, discuss the election with them, and record the results on the sheet. The completed sheets went back to the union hall. Dad had no trouble completing this work in a timely manner and he enjoyed meeting with neighbors. It was pretty basic, and of course Kennedy won that cycle.

Things are different in 2019. To be successful, candidates have longer range plans than contacting voters and dutifully recording their opinion in a database. For example, Elizabeth Warren has organizers holding “office hours,” working on art projects, tabling at farmers markets, attending local events, and working on farms. There may be some payoff to such activities in the form of signed commitment cards. What seems more important is outside organizers become part of the community. When we think of the candidate, we can put a face with that name and have a contact for outreach if there is a question. It is not just Warren using a longer term approach and candidates who don’t seem unlikely to gain traction.

There is also the money issue, which has rendered contact with most candidates via email, social media and other communications methods meaningless. People get it. Campaigns cost a lot and sending me three or four emails per day soliciting donations is a numbers game in which you hope to wear us down with repetition.

What makes this year different is the shield. It is hardening. In case you missed it, things are not great in America these days. Beginning with health care, including Medicaid, Medicare and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Republicans are trying their best to undo it all. The care provided in these programs has never been the best. Just ask someone who needs care or knows someone who does. At the same time, they represent something positive in our lives. Social Security is a target even though it is funded separately from the government and viable at least until 2034. Republicans also seek to break up the scientific approach to problem solving in USDA, EPA and other government agencies turning them more political. The Justice Department re-instated the death penalty this week. Government is becoming more political than it was. Post-World War II progressive initiatives are being rolled back.

Whatever the outcome of these long-standing Republican initiatives, voters are withdrawing into smaller, isolated communities where they protect their own interests first. As others have noted, this gives rise to an us vs. them view of the world with which political organizers have to work. People have become skeptical that participating in politics has much meaning and push back on politics except within their group. Under the shield, political discussions can be very active, but mostly among group members regarding their core concerns.

Community organizing remains an important aspect of penetrating the shield of isolation. Finding common ground with friends and neighbors and with others in the community, is no panacea, yet it remains a centerpiece of problem solving. The trouble is picking an action, and there has been little agreement in groups to which I belong or with which am familiar unless a problem is obvious and significant.

Behind the shield, behavior harkens back to tribal both in selection of targets for action and in attitudes and methodologies used to achieve them. If a community’s drinking water is sub-standard, members are likely to take action if they can. Politics? Not so much.

It is difficult to see how the Democratic presidential nominating process will turn out. What seems clear is voters’ disaffection with politics has created a type of isolation that requires a new kind of campaigning. Someone will be the Democratic nominee for president and a majority of Democratic voters will support him/her. However, the thrill is gone in primary campaigns among Democrats, which makes traditional, individual campaign strategies and tactics less useful in producing a winning candidate.

There are no easy answers. Hard work and grit will play a role as they always have. Voters will be canvassed as they have been for generations. To the extent campaign organizers don’t work to penetrate the shield, their efforts seem unlikely to produce a winner in the Iowa caucus.

In the meanwhile, summer is here and is fit distraction from political talk. Maybe people will engage outside their tribe when the new year begins. For now we need protection from the harsh summer of Trumpism.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Politics Social Commentary

Why Racism?

Thom Hartmann Photo Credit – Thom Hartmann Website

Racism is a feature of the Trump administration geared toward activating marginal voters who support his racist statements to get them to vote to elect Republicans, posits Thom Hartmann in the clip below.

“When Trump said this he knew exactly what he was saying,” Hartmann said on his eponymous program, referring to the president’s statement addressing four Democratic U.S. Congresswomen, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Hartmann explores racism related to the president’s comments, answering the questions “Why won’t the GOP comment on Donald Trump’s racist comments?” and “Has the GOP now moved so far to the right that this will get Trump re-elected?”

He suggests politics as we know it — each party’s base voting for their candidates with the middle or swing voters being targeted for conversion each election cycle — has been turned on its head by the president.

I don’t know if he’s right, but it’s food for thought as we enter a high summer of RAGBRAI, sweet corn, tomatoes and vacations.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa