Daines Checked Out the Polls, Voted to Reopen Government -- Temporarily
On October 16, the Senate and House voted to fund the government, but only temporarily. On January 15, Steve Daines and other extreme House Republicans will again threaten to shut the government down. Meanwhile, the economy will just scrape by, uncertain about what's to come.
According to Standard and Poors, the sixteen-day Republican temper-tantrum cost the economy about $24 billion. Its human cost is harder to measure.
The shut-down was not, as some news outlets wanted us believe, the fault of both Republicans and Democrats.
It was solely the fault of Republican Party extremists.
Its origin was a FreedomWorks campaign launched just after the re-election of President Obama in 2012. FreedomWorks is one of several far-right groups funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.
On their website, FreedomWorks has the following: "Harry Reid and his Democrats will have no incentive to compromise unless they know the Republicans are willing to take a hard stance -- even allowing the government to be shut down, if necessary."
On August 21st, a letter (written by a congressman from North Carolina who believes President Obama was born in Kenya) was sent to the Republican congressional leadership. It was signed by 80 of the most extreme House members, including Steve Daines. The letter urged the leadership to work toward FreedomWorks' goal of a government shut-down.
The Billionaire Koch Brothers: Steve Daines' Heroes and Financial Backers
The Koch Brothers-inspired letter read, in part, "We should continue our efforts to repeal Obamacare in its entirety this year, next year, and until we are successful. We urge you [Boehner and Canter] to affirmatively de-fund the implementation and enforcement of ObamaCare in any relevant appropriation bill brought to the House floor in the 113th Congress including any continuing appropriations bill."
Daines, one of the radical 80 who signed the letter leading to the shut-down, looked at the polls showing his Tea Party sinking in popularity (now 25% favorable) and voted to reopen the government.
In a statement to the press after the vote, Daines said that, despite his reluctant vote to re-open the government, he will continue to fight to "repeal Obamacare." So look for him to work with other Teabaggers to create another crisis in January.
Scary-Funny Republican Quotes
Ted Cruz on "compromise": "It is the view of every Republican in this body [the Senate], and indeed every Republican in the House, that Obamacare should be entirely and completely repealed. Nonetheless, the House started with a compromise of saying not repealing Obamacare but simply that it should be defunded."
Michele Bachmann on the House, with God's help, "repealing" Obamacare: "I think before [Obama's] second term is over, we're going to see a miracle before our eyes. I believe God is going to answer our prayers and we'll be freed from the yoke of Obamacare. I believe that's going to happen and we saw step one last week with the repeal of Obamacare in the House."
Larry Klayman, Tea Party hero, speaking at the Ted Cruz-led veterans rally on October 13: "I call upon all of you to wage a second American non-violent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands out."
An Open Letter to Montana's Political Reporters
by Don Pogreda at Intelligent Discontent; edited here and there by R. Turner
The next 355 days are an opportunity for the political press to help Montana voters make informed choices about the candidates who will represent them in Washington.
Political campaigns in Montana are a mess, as they are across the nation. While a great deal of the problem has certainly been caused by campaign advisors, dark money practitioners, PAC's, and the candidates themselves, the political media share a great deal of the blame. [You've] allowed (and even occasionally encouraged) superficial campaigning at the expense of an informed electorate.
And [you in the] media -- understaffed, overworked, and often criticized -- are the group best positioned to improve political discourse and voter information.
How can you change?
Perhaps most importantly, stop treating the political races like horse races. While there's always another poll to write about, another half-informed assessment from Larry Sabato to cite, or another round of speculation about the viability of candidates, none of those stories inform voters about what really matters. There's nothing wrong with running the occasional story about the polls in these races, but non-stop coverage of internal and external polls and quotes from talking heads handicapping the races cheapens the process without helping voters decide anything. Leave that nonsense to the blogs.
On a related note, stories about the campaign strategies and staff might be interesting to wonks but do little to help voters make good choices. For instance, I don't think hearing John Bohlinger talk about his perceived slight from the DSCC really offers much information a voter needs to choose her preferred candidate. You need to report in once -- now let it go.
Next, avoid the temptation to attend and write about every politically manufactured event the campaigns send a media advisory about. Look, I get it. It's easy to attend a "rally" in some small Montana town, collect a few quotes and run some pictures of political involvement. But how often do those events generate real news? How often do they advance the political debate? Given the enormous staffing limitations faced by so many Montana media outlets, it seems awfully hard to justify sending a reporter and a photographer to events that are little more than staged photo opportunities.
Finally, don't wait for an opposing candidate to issue a press release before you run a critical story about another candidate. If a candidate engages in shady campaign finance practices, waiting for another candidate or party to raise the issue turns the story into a "he said, she said" spat that obscures factual analysis. The media's role shouldn't be to transmit competing claims of veracity but to evaluate the facts as they exist.
Enough talk about what you've done at times in the past. What should coverage of these races look like?
Write deep, researched stories. Dig into candidate records, job experience, and issue positions. The power of the media is that you have both the expertise and resources to offer context and historical analysis. I'd much rather see a well-developed story that puts the skills and expertise of someone who has been covering politics for a generation to use than half a dozen stories about some trivial spat over a candidate's hurt feelings about a political ad.
Next, focus on the candidates' positions on critical issues facing Montana and run those stories every week. Voters deserve to hear what the candidates believe about reproductive rights, military intervention, wolves, Social Security, and the whole gamut of issues facing the state and nation in more depth than 30-second ads allow. Give each candidate a set of specific, detailed questions about their proposals, positions, and likely votes and give them the space to answer each in your papers, with more space to explain their positions online. Ask a new question or two each week and run the answers on Sunday.
Let the candidates use their own ad time to stand earnestly in front of a friend's ranch in brand-new gloves talking about their status as fifth-generation [Montanans]; use your coverage to inform voters what those Montanans with such ancient roots here will do if elected.
Take the balanced budget as an example. Every candidate running for Congress over the next year will claim that he/she plan to "balance the budget." None of them will offer any specifics explaining how s/he plans to do it. Press for specific cuts they will champion to achieve their stated goal of reducing federal spending.
"Remember. The politicians need the media far more than the media need the politicians."
On abortion, for instance, ask the candidates to answer how they would vote on specific legislation they are likely to address in Congress. An excellent example on reproductive rights would be to ask candidates how they would vote on a bill like the Women's Health Protection Act, which would prevent "states from passing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws."
Don't voters deserve to know how the people they vote for or against will vote on specific legislation critical to their interests? These stories won't end the barrage of dishonest, sophistic ads from candidates and outside groups, but they certainly might mitigate their influence. Both parties like to claim that they lose races because of what they call "low-information voters." Why not put this to the test?
Critics of my proposal might suggest that it's naive to think that candidates will tell the truth and offer actual, specific answers to hard questions, that they will offer pablum like "balancing the budget is critical to Montana's future" instead of identifying their real and specific positions.
That's where my final suggestion comes into play: call candidates out for refusing to offer specifics. If a congressional candidate doesn't answer the specific question posed, don't simply run his answer -- and tell readers why you didn't [run] it. That wouldn't be an example of bias; it wouldn't be irresponsible coverage. It would simply be accurate. If the candidates lack the courage of their convictions to answer questions honestly, voters need to know that,
no matter how much Super PAC money [the candidates] have to spend misinforming voters.
For some reason, it too often seems that you all in the political media have become so cowed by accusations of midea bias that you won't offer honest, factual assessments of candidates' claims -- or candidates' silence.
Finally, a reminder. The politicians need the media far more than the media need the politicians. Remember that. If candidates for political office won't answer fair, honest questions about what they'd do in Congress, you not only have the right to publicize their refusal, you have an obligation to do it.
Nothing is going to prevent a sea of dishonest television ads and third-party mailers flooding our airwaves and mailboxes in the next year, but naive though it may be, I believe the media in Montana does have the power to raise the discourse of these races. It's time for the political media to remember and reclaim its power in a democratic society. It's time for the media to remember what Walter Lippman said back in 1920 when he wrote, "There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil."
I know we've had our differences over the years, but I'm an optimist. I'm certain that you have the capacity and the will to improve the tenor of our political campaigns.