Tag Archives: GOTV


There are two meanings of the word “performance,” and America’s two political  parties have each embraced one of them. 

One definition is “to perform a task”–in this case, to govern. Like President Biden, most contemporary Democrats have concentrated on that definition. I have previously posted about the effectiveness–the performance– of what Republicans dismissively label “Bidenomics,” and others are beginning to report on those positive outcomes as well. 

Robert Hubbell quoted the New York Times for news that direct investment in manufacturing  had doubled between 2014 and 2021. Also, “per the report, foreign direct investment “in the computer and electronics sector rose from $17 million in 2021 to $54 billion in 2022.”

Jennifer Rubin noted that the President has begun running ads touting the effects of his economic policies.

Respondents keep telling pollsters they are pessimistic about the economy and think we are in a recession, perhaps a reflection of the incessantly negative media coverage. However, as the mainstream media catches up with economic reality (admitting we likely will avoid a recession) and as public and private investment running in the hundreds of billions of dollars works its way through the economy, Biden stands ready to explain how his agenda — “Bidenomics” — brought us from fears of a pandemic recession to recovery. With unemployment and inflation in decline and wages rising, the public finally might be more amenable to hearing an uplifting message.

Performance=doing the job.

Then there’s the other meaning of “performance”– “to act for an audience.” That’s the definition chosen by virtually every Republican candidate for public office. The audience they are performing for is the MAGA cult that has replaced what used to be a political party. 

Performance in that latter sense ignores the hard work of policymaking , instead appealing to the grievances of the intended audience–and dismissing the policy preferences of the wider American polity.

I didn’t watch the first GOP debate, but I’ve read about the candidates’ embrace of  positions held by a distinct minority of Americans. As Robert Hubbell summed it up, in addition to pledging support for Trump if he is the eventual nominee, even if convicted,

 the candidates espoused other outrageous positions: climate change is a hoax, support for a national abortion ban, blaming teacher unions and single mothers for the problems in education, proposing invading Mexico with US special forces, and cutting aid to Ukraine. None of the candidates provided an actual proposal for America’s future, other than Ramaswamy’s line, “Drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear.”

I’m bemused by voters who support candidates having no obvious experience with– or understanding of– government, as though  the skill of managing the enormous complexities of that task can just be picked up on the job. If we needed any proof of the wrongheadedness of that belief, the ongoing performance (in both senses of the word) of the GOP’s looney-tunes culture warriors should provide it.

Perhaps instead of “debates,” we should hold public examinations of candidates for public office. We could focus on whether they understand what the duties of those offices are–and aren’t.  (Here in Indianapolis, the Republican candidate for mayor seems to think he’s running for sheriff–his ads give no indication that he understands there are other dimensions of the job.)

Take a look at the positions embraced by that pathetic crew of presidential candidates–positions that disclose their utter ignorance of the proper role of government and the daunting complexity of many issues presidents face. Their lack of intellectual integrity is appalling enough, but their willingness to ignore international law and medical science, disrespect teachers, and deny the reality of climate change disqualifies every one of them for any public office.

As Rubin reminds us, it’s a fearful worldview.

We have become so used to Republicans railing about elites, critical race theory, transgender kids, immigrants, IRS stormtroopers, the FBI and more that we become acclimated to a terribly dark, frightful view of America. 

That “dark, frightful view” runs from local politics (our Republican mayoral candidate’s ads describe my city–which is actually pretty vibrant–as a dystopian hellhole) to federal candidates assuring the MAGA cult that they can return America to an imagined “yesteryear,” when–glory!!– men were men and women were barefoot and pregnant.

Hubbell reminds us that GOP performance has an upside: most Americans reject the party’s few positions (on abortion and climate change, by twenty to thirty percentage points). These  positions ought to render them unelectable in a general election.

Democrats should convert every negative, destructive, mean-spirited notion espoused on the debate stage into a positive, productive, forward-looking message about Democratic accomplishments over the last three years. 

The key, as always, is turnout: the  GOP cannot win a national election–if the rest of us vote. 

Q And A

Last Sunday, as those of you who read my posted “sermon” will recall, I spoke to the Danville Unitarians. At the conclusion of my talk, I engaged in a brief question-and-answer session, and a couple of those questions echoed comments sometimes posted here.

For example, one parishioner asked what one citizen can do about our unrepresentative  legislature, given the reality of Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering. It’s a reasonable question, given the lack of mechanisms available–we lack a citizens’ initiative or referendum, and a friend of mine who cares a lot about the issue (and not so incidentally spent several years as a judge on Indiana’s Supreme Court) tells me he sees nothing in the state constitution that might be used to overturn partisan redistricting.

My only answer rests on the fact that the most nefarious result of gerrymandering is vote suppression. Hoosiers who live in House and Senate districts considered “safe” for one party or another (and yes, there are a few safe Democratic districts, thanks to the mechanism known as “packing,” aka cramming as many voters of the “other party” into as few districts as possible) tend to stay home. Why bother to vote, if the result is foreordained? 

The voters who stay home are overwhelmingly those of the “loser” party. That’s especially the case in places where the loser party hasn’t bothered to field a candidate.

But here’s the dirty little secret: in a number of those “safe” districts, if there was a massive turnout, the “losers” could win!  That’s because, in a number of Indiana’s rural districts, Democrats have failed to go to the polls.

There are two reasons for that.

Reason one: When an acquaintance of mine who ran in one such district went door-to-door, she was astonished by the number of people who expressed surprise that there were Democrats living in the area. Years of being told that they were rare exceptions had beaten them down, and added to the belief that they were rare–and powerless.

Reason two: as another member of the congregation noted, the suburban/bedroom communities around Indianapolis and other urban areas have been growing significantly–and much of that growth comes from young, educated people looking for less-expensive housing and able to work remotely at least part of the time. Given the significant political divide between people with a college degree and those without, it’s fair to predict that many–if not most– of those new residents have more progressive political orientations.

It’s obviously impossible to know how politically significant those two observations are unless many more people vote. So my answer to the young woman who asked that question was: do everything you can to get out the vote. We know is that those engaging in the redistricting process rely upon prior years’ turnout when drawing their district lines. If longtime residents of the “other” party who haven’t previously gone to the polls were suddenly to do so–and if newcomers with different values and concerns join them–a lot of those presumably “safe” districts will no longer be so safe.

There was another question that struck me as important. A young man followed up the previous question with what he characterized as an “expanded version.” What could congregations do? Not as individuals, but as congregations.

It was a great question, because one of the most annoying aspects of our terrible legislature is the serene belief of far too many of its members that God is on their side. (Their God hates the same people they do…) When someone like me–Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian– comes to testify, it’s easy to ignore that testimony. 

But when a church lobbies or testifies, it’s a lot harder to dismiss out of hand.

We sometimes forget (as our legislature clearly does) that not all religions–or even all Christian denominations– endorse the punitive doctrines of the fundamentalists who control today’s MAGA Republicans. There are enormous differences–not just between religions, but between denominations of the Christianity that dominates American culture. It’s past time for  the many congregations that preach love and acceptance, embrace modernity and equality and care about the “least of us,” to speak up at the Indiana Statehouse.


The day before yesterday, I posted about a Christian legislator who had the guts to challenge a performative Christian lawmaker on biblical grounds. We need more people like that authentically religious legislator, and we especially need more congregations willing to challenge hateful and discriminatory measures at the Indiana Statehouse.

Those are the challenges to which our pathetic lawmakers should have to respond. Not to the “rule of law”  and “fair play” people like yours truly, but to the co-religionists they  inaccurately claim to represent.

Negative Partisanship

Us versus Them–tribalism– seems to be a constant in human nature. It’s a primary motivator of war, a significant element of policymaking, a constant of religious strife–and the primary tool of campaigns to get out the vote.

Political polarization and what political scientists call “negative partisanship” get more people to the polls than reasoned appeals based upon policy promises.

I still recall a conversation with another politician back when the GOP was still a political party and not a theocratic cult; I had criticized one of our candidates , and he responded  “He may be a nutcase, but he’s our nutcase.” It was a perfect expression of what has since become the defining trait of the Republican Party. (Democrats—being far less cohesive–are somewhat more forgiving of intra-party criticism.)

Time Magazine article written after the first public hearing held by the January 6th committee considered that insistence on group solidarity as it is currently being applied to Liz Cheney.

In GOP circles, two things are true at once. First, large majorities of Republican voters disapprove of the January 6 rioters. At the same time, large majorities still approve of Donald Trump, and Liz Cheney—the Republican most prominently intent on investigating and exposing what happened—is less popular with Republicans than renowned conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene.

In fact, Cheney might now be the least popular Republican in the entire Republican Party, in spite of her consistently conservative voting record and her support for Donald Trump’s re-election in 2020. The reason is simple. She has violated the prime directive of negative partisanship. Even if she’s right to be upset by the riots, she’s attacking her own team. It’s the responsibility of GOP politicians to always, always train their fire on the left.

And that rule–that your guns must always be trained on the other guy–is why, as my kids might say, we Americans can’t have nice things.

Negative partisanship is a simple concept with profound implications. At its most basic, it means that “the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose.” When negative partisanship dominates, a political coalition is united far more by animosity than policy. The policy priorities are malleable and flexible, so long as the politician rhetorically punches the right people.

Negative partisanship is why Republicans in the Senate voted against the PACT Act after voting for it–in identical form–just a few weeks earlier. (They did grudgingly reverse that vote in the wake of a huge blowback.) The vote had absolutely nothing to do with the Act itself, and everything to do with a spiteful “We’ll show you!” response to the deal hammered out between Schumer and Manchin.

Negative partisanship helps explain Republican acceptance of conspiracy theorists like Marjorie Taylor Greene. The same polling that shows Cheney underwater with Republican voters shows Green with a slight positive rating, despite her constant stream of utterly bizarre and baseless claims. As the article explains, she fights the left, and the left despises her, and for millions of Republicans that’s all it takes to earn their approval.

Negative partisanship also played a significant role in America’s vaccine hesitancy. Republicans were literally willing to risk death in order to “own the libs.”

Of course, Democrats disapprove of Republicans just as much as Republicans detest Democrats. But people like me, who would love to see the current hostilities replaced by genuine efforts to work across the aisle, are stymied by the reality that today’s parties are not morally equivalent. Germany really was an “evil empire” in the thirties, and the current GOP really has morphed into something other than a traditional, flawed political party.

And that something is malignant.

We Americans who live in what the George W. Bush administration dismissively called “the reality-based community”  find ourselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. We don’t want to paint the entire GOP with a broad and unforgiving brush, but we also don’t want to be so naive that we ignore the very real threat posed by a party now dominated by White Christian Nationalists and wacko conspiracy theorists.

Can that scorned “negative partisanship” come to our rescue?

If Democrats were to turn out in Kansas-like numbers this November–spurred by the GOP’s unremitting attacks on constitutional  liberties and democratic norms–a historically-improbable midterm defeat might begin the process of returning the GOP to its roots as a political party. As the Time article put it, the threats to America’s constitutional order currently come from the Right–and it’s the Right that must put its house in order.

If that happens, Americans of good will can focus their efforts on combatting tribalism and negative partisanship. If it doesn’t, all bets are off….



A longtime friend–a moderate Democrat–recently sent me the following email (I am pasting it in verbatim.)

A recent headline, “The brand is so toxic Dems fear extinction in rural US” jumped off the page. The article by AP writer Steve Peoples repeated and articulated well what so many of us have thought for several years. Ds do a terrible job of creating a desirable brand. Here, in southern Indiana, where less than 10% of the population has a college degree, Ds use terms like metric tons of CO2, while Rs talk about outrageous price per gallon at the pump. Ds read and quote the NYT and US News and condemn the idea of book police. Rs text why Coach Woodson’s player rotation is wrong. Ds promote the statistical benefits of vaccinations. Rs simply demand that the school kids not have to wear a damn mask.

I am proud to be among the 10% who read the NYT, see benefit in exposure to ideas, think the liberal arts professors are underpaid and still wear my mask into ACE Hardware. But Mr. Peoples is correct. One need only look at Indiana’s 9th congressional district to see clear and irrefutable evidence. We Ds are terrible at branding. We seem doomed to take a licking, and maybe soon stop ticking, to paraphrase John Cameron Swayze.

It’s hard to disagree with the essential point, which is that Democratic “talking points” aren’t connecting to those we think of as “average Americans.” I would also agree with the rather obvious implication of that observation, to wit: Democrats need to fashion messages that would be likely to resonate with the inhabitants of southern Indiana and the country’s rural precincts.


It’s easy enough to cringe at slogans like “Defund the Police” –which not only repelled large numbers of voters, but utterly failed to describe the policy change that was  being proposed.  The persistent complaints about messaging, however, aren’t limited to such examples.

It may be worth taking a step back and examining the roots of that perceived messaging problem–and the extent to which it is and is not about messaging.

As I have previously noted, today’s Democratic Party is not only a far bigger “tent” than the GOP, it is a far bigger tent than it has previously been, thanks to a massive exodus of sane people from what the Republican Party has become. Devising messages that will appeal to all parts of the Democrats’ ideological spectrum–a spectum that spans from relatively conservative GOP refugees all the way to the Democrats who think AOC and Bernie Sanders are insufficiently liberal–isn’t a simple exercise in clever PR.

There is another challenge to the strategists trying to devise messaging that will appeal to “ordinary Americans” who don’t read the New York Times or accept the scientific consensus on climate change or COVID. As those of us who count ourselves among those refugees (in my case, a long-time defector) can attest, there is no messaging that will penetrate the faith-based  cult that is  today’s GOP. Today’s Republican Party is owned by White Christian Nationalists who cheered for Trump and Putin because they were champions for their version of Christianity–pro-patriarchy, anti-LGBTQ, anti-“woke,” etc. They aren’t going to respond to messages from a point of view that is entirely inconsistent with their  hysterical effort to reinstate cultural dominance.

That leaves “messaging” directed to the dwindling numbers of “persuadable.”  I agree that it would be worthwhile to find an approach that would  appeal to those individuals–but I will also point out that any effort to craft such messages should be preceded by research into the reason(s) for their current status. Are they disconnected and disinterested? Disgusted by today’s political reality and loss of civility? Uninformed? All of the above?

I am by no means intending to diminish the importance of messaging. Words matter, and they matter a lot. But given where we are right now–given the substitution of a semi-religious cult for one of our only two major parties–I’d suggest putting all of our resources into  messages and volunteer efforts focused on turning out the substantial majority of voters who already are in broad agreement with Democratic priorities. Polling consistently shows that the elements of Biden’s Build Back Better, for example, are widely popular.

We just have to remember that–given the multiple political and psychological barriers to casting a ballot–messages alone will not get voters to the polls.

And as Paul Ogden periodically reminds us, we also need to make sure that the people counting the votes of those we do turn out are counting them accurately.


Diagnosing Democracy’s Illness

A few days ago, I was in a small meeting devoted to civic education. Attendees included some very smart, very savvy individuals, all of whom were veterans of the longstanding effort to increase civic knowledge and civic literacy. But when the individual who had convened this particular group asked what should have been a simple question, we were all stumped.

The question was: why are so many Americans uninterested in voting?

She might as well have asked why so many Americans are uninterested in democracy.

There were, as always, several theories: some of us felt that disinterest was due to a lack of understanding of what government does, and the multiple ways in which its operations affect our daily lives. Others noted that–for the millions of people barely scraping by–the daily struggle for survival leaves little time or energy for political involvement.

Perhaps the culprit is the culture, and the distractions provided by entertainment and celebrity. Or perhaps there’s something to my longtime theory that  gerrymandering has produced so many “safe” seats, it has convinced significant numbers of citizens that their votes won’t count, so why bother? It’s all rigged against them anyway, and taking time to inform oneself and cast a ballot would simply be time spent doing a useless thing.

Of course, even people who would otherwise vote continue to encounter practical barriers to exercise of the franchise. America makes it hard to vote, and Indiana is among the worst: our polls close earlier than those of all but one other state.

In 2020, FiveThirtyEight.com considered the question.

In any given election, between 35 and 60 percent of eligible voters don’t cast a ballot. It’s not that hard to understand why. Our system doesn’t make it particularly easy to vote, and the decision to carve out a few hours to cast a ballot requires a sense of motivation that’s hard for some Americans to muster every two or four years — enthusiasm about the candidates, belief in the importance of voting itself, a sense that anything can change as the result of a single vote.

The site conducted a poll, and found that the answer to the question who votes — and who doesn’t — is complex, and that most Americans don’t fall neatly into any one category.

Of the 8,000-plus people we polled, we were able to match nearly 6,000 to their voting history. We analyzed the views of the respondents in that slightly smaller group, and found that they fell into three broad groups: 1) people who almost always vote; 2) people who sometimes vote; and 3) people who rarely or never vote. People who sometimes vote were a plurality of the group (44 percent), while 31 percent nearly always cast a ballot and just 25 percent almost never vote….there weren’t huge differences between people who vote almost all the time and those who vote less consistently. Yes, those who voted more regularly were higher income, more educated, more likely to be white and more likely to identify with one of the two political parties, but those who only vote some of the time were also fairly highly educated and white, and not overwhelmingly young. There were much bigger differences between people who sometimes vote and those who almost never vote.

Nonvoters were more likely to have lower incomes; to be young; to have lower levels of education; and to say they don’t belong to either political party, which are all traits that square with what we know about people less likely to engage with the political system.

Getting people to the polls is pretty daunting–especially in Indiana, which routinely ranks at the bottom for measures of engagement and turnout. But the small contingent of civic educators continues to try…

Among that contingent is Bill Moreau, who established the Indiana Citizen a couple of years ago. It’s sort of a one-stop shop for electoral information –how to register, where to vote, and other practical information–but also a place to find the sorts of nonpartisan reporting that allows readers to cast an informed vote. What is Indiana’s legislature doing now, and why? Why can’t Hoosiers get redistricting reforms passed? How will this year’s gerrymandering affect me? Who’s running for what, and what are their policy proposals?

We used to turn to local newspapers for this sort of coverage, but–as I constantly complain–the pathetic remnants of those papers no longer provide the coverage that a democratic polity requires. The Indiana Citizen is among the various credible websites trying to fill the gap left by what we now call “the legacy press”–but of course, in order to fill that gap, people need to know it’s there–and that’s a significant barrier to overcome.

If you are a Hoosier, check it out. Tell your friends. And vote.