Tag Archives: usa

In defence of Sarah Palin (sorta)

Bloggers have been lining up to expose the “hypocrisy” and “stupidity” of Sarah Palin calling Barack Obama an evil socialist for calling for redistribution, while supporting it herself:

“And Alaska – we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.”

Hat tips all round to Stephen Glenn, Jennie Rigg and Andrew Ducker, but they all got it from Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, and his delivery is quite entertaining so why not enjoy it for a few minutes?

But I feel the need to defend Palin here because it is just possible she is making a distinction between redistributing income and redistributing wealth. Alaska’s system works by redistributing the revenue raised from Alaska’s natural resources, specifically oil and other minerals, while Obama’s proposals are to switch taxes from people on low and middle incomes to taxes on high incomes.

Obama’s plan sounds very moderate and reasonable to these European ears, but it has to be said that it is very different to the Alaskan system that Palin is referring to. What’s more, it would almost certainly be a good thing if the Alaskan system were used more widely.

Of course, McCain isn’t campaigning on such a promise, and Palin and her Republican colleagues have repeatedly attacked the very concept of “redistribution” as leftwing and “totalitarian,” so we can safely say they themselves fail to understand the difference. But there is a fine distinction and we should give Alaska credit for having a sensible policy.

Pallin’ around with sexists?

So is the left condoning sexism against Sarah Palin? Kira Cochrane thinks so, and cites numerous examples. I’m less convinced.

Is there sexism out there about Sarah Palin? Absolutely. But what is so remarkable about Larry Flynt making a Sarah Palin film, as opposed to all the other porn films he has produced over the years?

The more serious charge is that progressives are indulging in misogyny to attack Palin. Here, Kira has an ally in Peter Hitchens who was making such claims as early as late August, loudly applauded by Iain Dale (Iain has since changed his mind about her), and it is certainly true there have been the odd attack that sneaks into sexist territory. I’ve been looking through the Sarah Palin Sexism Watch pages on Shakesville and some of them are on the money while others, not so much. But here’s the thing: people have been openly discussing Palin and misogyny pretty much since the day she entered the world stage. It’s one of the most hotly contested subjects out there at the moment. Cochrane’s article implies somehow that there is a conspiracy of silence to not talk about it; I simply don’t accept that.

We also get into very murky territory; where does legitimate criticism end and sexism begin? It is surprising for an article on the subject for Cochrane’s not to mention the whole lipstick on a pig/pitbull debacle, yet this was one of the iconic moments of the campaign so far. Is “Caribou Barbie” sexist? Yes, actually, although it is something Palin herself referred to on her SNL appearance. What about the reports that she has spent $150,000 on clothes for the campaign? On one level, this is a simple story of a grasping politician. On the other hand, it feeds into the “Caribou Barbie” sentiment. So should we not mention it, or that she spent the money on clothes? For feminists, Palin’s attitude towards abortion is a particular talking point. Somehow the fact that it is a woman expressing those views is more provocative than if it was a man (cf. Nadine Dorries). How to do ensure that criticism of the candidate is entirely ungendered without muting that criticism? This is a more interesting discussion in my view than a handful of anecdotes of people clearly crossing the line.

When it comes to Palin and sexism, what I don’t see is any particular trend. By contrast, when it comes to discrimination I have seen far more ageism in the media (both MSM and amateur variety) about McCain. Regarding Palin herself, I’ve been uncomfortable on more than one occasion by the way she is attacked not for being a woman but for being a hick. From this side of the pond, the US looks like a pretty divided nation at the moment – something which Palin herself is particularly responsible for. But her opponents have been happy to go for the bait. And again, is it really fair to say that the attacks on her intellect are gendered when we have just had eight years of abuse heaped upon the current US President, who happens to be male?

Finally, Cochrane writes that one of her interviewees has received emails from women who were considering entering politics who have been put off by the attacks made on Palin. But how many women will have seen Palin and been inspired? We don’t know and it is an entirely moot point at the moment, but I do think we are seeing a sea change. Even twelve months ago, the idea of having a male-female ticket was not even on the agenda. Despite failing to secure a place for herself, Hillary Clinton changed this (irrevocably? We’ll know in four years). I simply refuse to believe that any woman worthy of political office could not have seen that, and the obstacles that Obama has overcome, and not find some inspiration. Whatever happens on 4 November, history will be made. The question is, will attempts be made to capture that inspiration, or will key opinion formers and campaigners purely focus on the negative? The history of the political women’s movement suggests that there will be a bit of both.

Louise Bagshawe – from chick lit to book burning?

Are you serious?

How do I love Sarah Palin?

Let me count the ways…

I love the excitement she brings to the base. I love how her rallies outdraw Barack Obama. And, for that matter, Joe Biden in his hometown. I love how she handles hecklers: “Bless your heart, sir, my son’s in Iraq fighting for your right to protest.”

I love her politics. And this morning I especially love her hilarious appearance on Saturday Night Live, bopping along to an hysterical rap by nine months pregnant Amy Pohler (go Amy!)

I don’t really know what to add to that. I can understand how people can admire Sarah Palin – damnit, even I admire her gumption. But to love her politics?

A former Labour Party member, Bagshawe was being held up a couple of years ago as proof positive that Cameron had changed the Conservatives. Now she is expressing love for a set of social policies that make Nadine Dorries look like a moderate. Somebody at CCHQ, take action quick! You’re candidates’ masks are starting to slip!

US court rules God is not omnipresent

A victory for common sense:

A US judge has thrown out a case against God, ruling that because the defendant has no address, legal papers cannot be served.

So, after thousands of years of theology, it comes down to a judge in Nebraska. If he isn’t omnipresent, that rules out pantheism and panentheism and leaves us with deism and of course atheism, which I can live with.

Forward! Forward to defeat!

Just had an email from RedState.com. It may give you an idea of where the Repubicans’ heads are at right now (my emphasis):

I’ve heard from many of you who share our concerns that November 4, 2008 has the potential to not be a very good night for Republicans.

The race at the head of the ticket is anyone’s call at this point, but there are a number of House and Senate races out there in which we are quite likely to succeed.

These are races in which contributions from real people–not lobbyists or professional “bundlers”–can make a real difference.

In the Senate, four incumbant Republicans are fighting close re-election fights. I don’t have to tell you that if the Democrats get to sixty seats, we will have a hard time stopping their left-wing agenda.

In the House, there are six Republicans who each have a very good chance of beating a Democrat incumbent or holding an open seat that an incumbent Republican is leaving.

You can see a full list of races to consider here. Your help can make a real difference. Together we can mitigate the damage.

You will forgive my hollow laughter. That’s it. That’s the scale of their ambition. I think this email tells me more about how the election is going in the US than any opinion poll.

Whisper it, it’s unfashionable, but political parties still need members

Chandila Fernando, to his credit, is at least campaigning for some radical ideas in his campaign for Lib Dem President. He wants the Lib Dems to “become the first mainstream political party to move away from the tired concept of card-carrying membership” replacing it with “a system of registered supporters.”

Fernando’s website has currently been replaced by a holding page (is it me or does that big beaming face scream “over-exposed”?) so we cannot penetrate the words of wisdom within. However Mark Littlewood, in his role as Head Fernando Cheerleader, expanded this idea on Lib Dem Voice as follows:

1. Anyone can become a member of the party (which I’d probably retitle “registered supporter”) if they are on the electoral register in the UK and sign some form of statement saying they are a supporter of the Liberal Democrats.

2. This data would be centrally collated – although obviously shared with local parties – on a database package that could be deployed for campaigning and fundraising purposes.

3. Once the system had been successfully implemented, which may take some months (at least!), the party’s constitution should be reviewed in order to attempt to enfranchise these supporters into the party’s decision-making process. This might start with consultation and then go on to “open primaries” for PPC selection and even lead ultimately to mass enfranchisement for a party leadership election.

4. A whole range of issues would need to addressed (length of tenure on supporter list before you get a vote, preventing mass last minute non-LD sign-ups to infiltrate the party, provision for those under the age of 18) etc. These are very serious issues – but are essentially technical and administrative points.

5. The explicit aim of such an exercise would be wider participation and involvement, not “demutualisation” or converting the party into a company controlled an oligarchy.

6. The President of the party wouldn’t, of course, have the authority to impose such a system, but he or she could set a direction of travel. He/she should accept that a traditional party membership model is becoming an anachronism. When Charles was elected, there were 82,000 members. When Ming was elected, there were 72,000 members. When Nick was elected, there were 67,000 members. I suspect the total may have slipped further since then (we’ll see when the Presidential vote is tallied). (These totals contrast with 101,00 Liberal members and 58,000 SDP members at the time of merger – or at least those were the totals for ballot papers issued in 1987 and 1988)

It’s easy to dismiss radical ideas out of hand, but it is certainly worth exploring this idea in at least some detail. It certainly is true that party membership (across all parties) is in serious decline and if the current trend continues at some point the Lib Dems will simply cease to be a viable operation. But is a registered supporter system the answer?

I have to declare an interest at this point. I work for Unlock Democracy, which was created last year when the New Politics Network and Charter 88 merged. Charter 88, up until a couple of years ago, did not have members but instead had a database of “signatories” who agreed with the organisation’s founding charter – of which I was/am one. New Politics Network meanwhile specialised for a while in the funding of political parties and published several publications on the topic, most notably these two. For a couple of years this was my main focus at work. Combined with my experience of the party at all levels, I feel I’m fairly well qualified to interrogate this idea.

The first thing to note is that the idea of political parties having registered supporters rather than members is not new. Indeed I think I’m right in saying the US Democrats had registered supporters before any UK party had members. Party membership as we understand it did not exist until the 20th century. At first Labour didn’t bother with members at all and was wholly owned by trade unions and socialist societies. The Conservatives only adopted a centralised membership system under Hague in the late 1990s. The 1950s is generally regarded as the height of party membership but those members had few rights – party membership was as much a social thing as anything else. It is only really the 1970s, with the advent of one-member-one-vote in the Liberal Party, that what we currently understand as party membership emerged.

The registered supporter system in the US emerged out of the system of caucuses and primaries they tend to use to select candidates. There are as many types of registered supporter system in the USA as there are US States. The one thing however that US States do have in common however is that the two-party system is dominant. Independent and third party politicians are a rare exception. Registered supporter systems tend to work better in two-party systems with good reason: two-party systems for all their flaws are relatively immune from entryism.

This is a crucial point when considering how a registered supporter system would work in the UK. With low participation rates, entryism is already rife in the UK. If anyone on the electoral system could ‘join’ at effectively no cost, anyone could run a mass recruitment campaign with a view to stitching up a candidate selection, regardless of whether they agreed with the party’s values or not. Now, that could arguably lead to us having candidates that better reflected the communities they stood in and superficially that is a good thing. But it would mean the party would effectively be a franchise open to anyone to take over. And however problematic this might be in a system where all parties operated in the same way, it would be much worse for a party that voluntarily chose to do this on its own.

It is interesting to note the Conservative experience with primary selections. The party has not rolled primaries out to all Associations as a matter of course, but has been quite scrupulous in picking and choosing which constituencies to hold them in. Participation rates tend to vary but I haven’t heard of any area which had significantly more participants than they would have had if voting had been restricted to members. No Parliamentary candidate has been elected with a four figure tally of votes as far as I’m aware and even the high profile Mayoral selection was a damp squib.

So the closest example of a registered supporter system we’ve so far seen in the UK has been far from a runaway success. But that will be of no surprise to people who closely observe US politics. Presidential primaries gain all the attention, but the level of participation for congressional candidates is approximate to the Tory experience.

Don’t believe me? Have a look at these results, bearing in mind that each House Representative has about ten times as many constituents as each MP. This is not an exercise in mass political participation by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, presidential primaries are a different story. Speaking personally, I think the idea of using primaries to elect party leaders – our closest equivalent to a presidential candidate – has a lot going for it (and before anyone claims Fernando has inspired me, I first mused about this in January). But that is a very different type of election and fundamentally much easier to control.

Is party membership in terminal decline? Certainly there has been a negative trend but it is statistical nonsense to infer that this is irreversible. There has been some talk about how the Conservatives’ membership has continued to decline despite Cameron’s popularity and how this contrasts with Labour’s fortunes ten years before. A sign of the times? Perhaps, or perhaps a more prosaic answer would be to point out that Labour’s increase in membership in the mid-90s went hand in hand with a massive recruitment drive during that period. For an eighteen month period, the Labour Party had a recruitment form in the Guardian (and often on the front page). It was a key strategic objective of theirs, very much comparable to Obama’s 50-state drive happening today, and judging by the busloads of supporters that would drive past me while I delivered my knocking up leaflets in Oldham East and Saddleworth in 1997, it was a strategy that paid off. But it was also a very costly and ultimately unsustainable strategy; no party could do it in the long term.

The Lib Dems can neither afford a recruitment campaign of that scale nor would it be as effective, but fundamentally if you want to reverse a decline in membership you need a recruitment strategy. We lack one at the moment because, frankly, we haven’t really needed one. If you can deliver growth in seats and votes without more members, why spend money recruiting? As time goes on however, that calculation will change as we run out of activists. Arguably, we have already reached the point where serious action needs to be taken.

We also have to consider momentum. Barack Obama has done a fantastic job at creating momentum, but will he have the same easy time of it in four years time? Is what he’s doing sustainable? What happens once the circus has moved on? Members are certainly harder to recruit than supporters, but they are also less likely to drift away during the tough times.

For an example of this, consider Charter 88’s experience. Charter 88 is one of the most successful pressure groups in history. Creating a database of 50,000 “signatories” in just two years, it embarked on a campaign strategy which delivered significant democratic reform in 1997. Having read the organisation’s 1990 business plan, it is remarkable how even back then it more or less sketched out the Cook-Maclennan agreement seven years later.

Charter’s success was borne of its ability to create a sense of momentum. For nine long years it stormed along like a snowball on steroids. In the 1992 general election it held around 100 public meetings; in 1997 it held around 200 (I helped organise the one in Manchester Gorton). Local groups sprang up all around the country. It was really an exciting organisation to be a part of.

And then it all came to a shuddering halt, almost overnight. By the 2001 general election it was a shadow of its former self and continued to decline after that, only really starting to recover a couple of years ago. There are a large number of factors behind this (if you want to know more, Charter 88 – 20 years of Unlocking Democracy will be in the bookshops in time for Christmas), but one of them, I personally have no doubt, was the fact that its supporter base was essentially shallow. Signatories did not own the organisation and it was all too easy to drift away. And once some people drifted away, it became even easier for others to follow suit. The positive feedback which fuelled the campaign for so many years went into reverse.

Fernando is keen on branding so he should consider the different messages sent out by the terms “registered supporter,” “signatory” and “member”. The latter implies that the individual has a personal stake in the organisation in question; the former terms are passive by comparison. Of course we would want our registered supporters to get involved, but would they? I’m highly sceptical.

The other thing to consider is fundraising. I think I am correct in saying that Charter never once sent a mailing to every single one of its signatories (which peaked at around 80,000). Rather, you would receive newsletters and information for a while but would only continue to do so if you gave regularly to the organisation. This is a sensible strategy; there is no point in endlessly mailing people who you hear absolutely nothing back from. No organisation could afford to throw money into a black hole in that way. Any political party serious about campaigning which was based on a registered supporter system would have to operate in the same way; the cost of keeping hundreds of thousands of people in touch otherwise would simply bankrupt it. Fernando talks about using the internet but significant numbers of people don’t have access to it and direct mail remains a more effective means of communication in any case. How would he hold an “all supporter” election for 300,000 people, most of whom contributed nothing financially? Via teh intenets (excuse me while I stifle a laugh)?

Indeed, I’m convinced that if Charter had looked to consolidate itself in 1997 and become a membership organisation (which it ended up doing nine years later), it would have gained some measure of stability. Having members gives you a core supporter base which you can see you through the tough times as well as the good ones. It gives you a sustainable base on which to conduct internal democracy. There is certainly a downside – members of political parties are by definition less representative of the wider population – but in terms of cost-benefit it is the neatest compromise.

None of this is to say that the party should not have a supporters database and should not seek to engage with them. I have no clear idea how the party centrally currently engages with supporters but judging by what it sends members it is almost certainly lacking. Supporters should be carefully nurtured – from them we can develop donors, activists and – yes – new members. We should take every opportunity to get further involved in the party. We should offer to take them there in baby steps. We should offer local parties incentives to send the central party leads in the form of a cut of every penny they end up giving. But while nurturing supporters should be at the heart of any recruitment strategy, this is very different from treating support as equivalent to membership.

To conclude then, what Fernando is proposing is not new – indeed takes us closer to a Victorian style of party politics. In its pure form it is simply not sustainable. It would be susceptable to entryism. We could not afford to service hundreds of thousands of new “members” without getting income from them. It would not significantly increase participation.

And crucially, supporters are not stakeholders. If we were to devalue membership in this way, it would be naive in the extreme to assume that our members would not devalue their own membership accordingly. Just as we would expect more “registered supporters” to get involved during the good times, we would expect a sharper decline in the bad times. Yes, we have seen membership drop alarmingly during the past decade, but things would have been so much worse if we had adopted the Fernando plan ten years previously. Thank goodness he has no chance of winning.

Sarah Palin: are the democrats worried?

That’s Iain Dale’s rather improbable analysis, over a series of increasingly aerated posts this weekend, based on the fact that, erm, a lot of people on the left are talking about her surprise nomination in its immediate aftermath. Who’dathunkit? The most surprising political event in months has happened and people are actually talking about it? They must be pooing themselves!

More hilarious is Iain’s transformation into a feminist, citing Peter Hitchens as a fellow traveller. According to Iain and Peter, the left hates women because the left like anti-women policies such as abortion. Genius analysis there. Suddenly, the brains behind “it’s DD for me!” has become super-concerned about how sexist the coverage of Sarah Palin is in the sunday papers. Funny that I don’t recall him having similar concerns about the media’s portrayal of Harriet Harman, Jacqui Smith and Hillary Clinton.

As for the claim that “[the left] cannot stand it when a black person becomes famous as a Conservative – remember Ray Lewis?” – it wasn’t the left that took down Ray Lewis but the Church of England. And despite having defended him here in the past, what I’ve heard since suggests that they were right to do so. Can’t Iain think of a better example of the left’s alleged racism? And you simply can’t imply that Ray Lewis must be innocent on the basis of his skin colour (and political views), and expect to be taken seriously, whilst simultaneously writing this.

Speaking personally, I think appointing Sarah Palin was a mistake which smacks of panic. I think Iain thinks that too, given that a week ago he was citing Mitt Romney as a dead cert. Iain’s subsequent attempts to tar Obama with the Palin inexperience brush simply doesn’t wash: she has been governor of one of the US’s smallest (population-wise – Alaska has roughly the same population as Glasgow) and certainly most isolated states for two years.

Her appointment comes across as too calculated – to be blunt, she ticks far too many boxes. It is too ‘cute’. And many of these boxes are mutually exclusive – how many disaffected Hillary supporters are likely to be wooed by a shootin’, fishin’ and anti-abortion candidate? How many sanctity of marriage obsessives are likely to be convinced that a woman with five children is fit for the job? They certainly have the anti-corruption line in common, but if I were running McCain’s campaign I’d be worried that she reminds voters about what McCain is not, and not in a good way. Do the democrats really need to do more than show the screen of a heartbeat monitor superimposed with her face to get their point across?

I didn’t read any of the allegedly sexist stuff out there about Sarah Palin this weekend, but I did read a perceptive piece by Michael Crowley in the Observer. However much they might try to keep open the rapidly healing Clinton-Obama wound, it is the Republicans who are divided in this election, not the Democrats. Sarah Palin’s appointment on Friday very briefly looked like a masterstroke, but the shock of the new is already diminishing and she has just been dropped in at the deep end. Things like the Daily Kos’ allegations over the maternity of her fifth child may be unfair (the picture of her daughter Bristol does look incriminating but I’m not so sure that the pictures of Palin herself are that convincing – Alaskans tend not to walk around in bikinis in spring), but surely in this post-Rove era no McCain supporter can really convincingly put on the ingenue act? After eight years of humiliation, the Democrats are in to win this thing and at the moment Palin looks like a pretty big target. They might cross the line occassionally, but going for the kill is not a sign of desperation, but rather indicate that the gloves have come off at last. And based on Iain’s rather hysterical reaction, the right just won’t be able to take it.

John McCain botches his saving throw

The McCain camp is in full scale meltdown after making jibes at “the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd” (okay, I exaggerate slightly). This has lead to Wired running this rather imaginitive and amusing thread.

Truth to tell, it is an odd target of Team McCain considering the physical resemblance of their candidate:

funny pictures
moar funny pictures