Saturday, November 27, 2004

Update on Recount in Ohio

Some supporters of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and running mate John Edwards cling to the hope that an Ohio recount can swing the election

by Adam Stone

A White House spokeswoman told North County News last Friday that citizens should embrace the Election Day results and dismiss recount efforts in Ohio that could hand Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts the presidency.

"The election has ended, and now is the time for the country to come together to address the challenges our nation faces," the spokeswoman, Suzy DeFrancis, remarked.

Bush won Ohio by a vote of 2,796,147 to John Kerry's 2,659,664, according to the official tally.

In a series of e-mail interviews with North County News two weeks ago, Kerry spokesman David Wade spoke about recount efforts led by a team of 17,000 lawyers that could trigger the removal of President George W. Bush from office.

Since then, under mounting pressure from alternative media outlets as well as progressive voices outside the Democratic Party, Kerry issued a statement to his supporters that left open the possibility that he could obtain--through a recount--the requisite electoral votes to seize the White House.

"Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted--and they will be counted--we will continue to challenge this administration," Kerry said through a web-exclusive statement and video Friday, which, curiously, was not distributed to the press.

The usage of the word 'regardless' in the carefully parsed statement was the first indication Kerry has offered that, in his mind, the official election results might be inaccurate enough to tilt the election in his favor.

Wade was e-mailed the remarks from the White House spokeswoman.

"Any president of the United States should make it a priority to count every vote in our country because every citizen's full faith in the democratic process is critical," Wade responded yesterday (Tuesday). "That's why John Kerry and John Edwards built a voter protection team of lawyers around the country, lawyers who are today monitoring recounts and the counting of provisional ballots including Ohio and New Mexico. Every vote will be counted, and we Democrats aren't afraid to fight to protect voters' rights."

A Kerry victory in Ohio would give the senator enough electoral votes to seize the White House.

In another signal the Kerry/Edwards team is increasing its involvement in the recount effort, a note was posted on the campaign website yesterday that called on supporters to contribute to the Kerry-Edwards 2004 General Election Legal and Accounting Compliance Fund.

"The Federal Election Commission has just granted our request to raise funds now to cover recount expenses," the website states. "Your contribution to Kerry-Edwards 2004 GELAC will provide the resources to make sure we are prepared to win the post election day battles."

Other than alleged voting irregularities, some have called into question the reversal of the exit polls (surveys of individuals who have just cast ballots), which early on predicted a Kerry victory.

Based on the full set of the 4 p.m. Election Day exit poll data Dr. Stephen F. Freeman from the University of Pennsylvania calculated that "the odds of just three of the major swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania all swinging as far as they did against their respective exit polls were 250 million to one."

The Ohio Election Protection Coalition's public hearings have documented insufficient voting machines in black Democratic precincts resulting in five-to-seven hour waits, voter intimidation, machine malfunctions and other irregularities.

Another significant development this week was the Democratic Party breaking its silence on the matter.

Ohio Chairman Dennis White distributed a press release on Monday afternoon that ran the headline: "Kerry/Edwards Campaign Joins Ohio Recount."

It stated "assuring Ohioans receive an accurate count of all votes cast for president has prompted the Democratic Party to join the initiative to recount the results of the November 2 presidential election."

The White House was asked to respond specifically to Wade's statements in last week's North County News article and also address the Ohio recount and reports of voting irregularities.

DeFrancis declined to comment on the particulars.

The article sparked dozens of impassioned e-mail responses from readers outside of North County News' northern Westchester coverage area, with the piece being picked up by assorted alternative media news outlets.

With the recount controversy spreading through the Web universe at a feverish pace, the article ranked as the top hit on the Yahoo search engine for basic research entries about what is being dubbed as "Votergate."

The article buoyed the spirits of a New York-based activist group that was formed to pressure the mainstream media into covering the stories chronicling voting irregularities and the Ohio recount effort commissioned by the Libertarian and Green parties.

"Democracy is at stake and this needs major media attention," remarked Ellen Frank, an East Hampton, New York resident.

"There is an unofficial lockdown by the mainstream press," said Frank, whose brother, Dr. Justin Frank, published a book in June named "Bush on the Couch: Inside the mind of the president."

"When I read the article, I said: '17,000 lawyers. Is this really true? Are they really working on this?,'" remembered Frank, who distributed the article at a party.

"We're trying to get enough major media attention to challenge the election," said Frank, who filed a complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court during the 2000 election, citing herself as a disenfranchised voter.

Two minor-party presidential candidates raised enough money to file for an official recount of the vote in Ohio.

The Green Party has been working with the Libertarian Party--both parties were on the ballot in Ohio--in securing a recount. Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik say they've demanded that Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who co-chaired this year's Bush campaign in Ohio, recuse himself from the recount process.

Cobb Media Director Blair Bobier said, "The Ohio presidential election was marred by numerous press and independent reports of mismarked and discarded ballots, problems with electronic voting machines and the targeted disenfranchisement of African-American voters."

"Due to widespread reports of irregularities in Ohio's voting process, we are compelled to demand a recount of the Ohio presidential vote," Badnarik and Cobb said in a joint statement. "Voting is at the heart of the American political process and its integrity must be preserved. When Americans stand in line for hours to exercise their right to vote, they need to know that their votes will be counted fairly and accurately..."

The Ohio vote will be certified on December 3 at the latest, Bobier said. The Electoral College votes on December 13, so it is unclear whether or not a recount would be completed by then.

The minor-party presidential candidates filed a federal lawsuit Monday to force a recount of Ohio ballots, and a spokesman for the state Democratic Party said it intended to join the suit.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo, Bobier said.

Dan Trevas, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said the party would join the recount request after the secretary of state certified the results, or sooner if an early recount is ordered by a court.

"Counties are very upset," said Keith Cunningham, director of the Allen County Board of Elections and incoming president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, who called the lawsuit "frivolous."

"Commissioners are beginning to understand--and if they don't, will understand soon--what kind of financial impact this is going to have on them, in a year when elections already cost a great deal more than expected," Cunningham told the Associated Press.

Badnarik and Cobb have raised $235,000 as of Monday morning, an amount which covers the $113,600 bond they had to provide as demanded by Ohio election law, plus some of their own organizational expenses.

Ohio law requires payment of $10 per precinct, or $113,600 statewide, but election officials say the true expense would be far greater. "It's going to crush county governments," Cunningham said.

Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Blackwell, has estimated the actual cost at $1.5 million.

Dr. Frank, whose book explores Bush's "psychological limitations," believes the Ohio recount will hand Kerry the presidency.

"I think that a recount in Ohio, if done properly, will show a narrow Kerry victory and he should be inaugurated hopefully by January 20, 2005," the Washington D.C.-based, clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center said.

"The disruption and cries of foul will be huge," the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst said. "But I think Bush lost. Kerry people are finally joining in, though I think they have been active all along, just quietly."

Pursuant to a request by independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, votes in some New Hampshire towns are being recounted. An analysis showed wide differences in voting trends between the 2000 and 2004 elections: about three quarters of precincts with severe changes used Diebold optical scanning machines.

Last week, Diebold agreed to pay $2.6 million to settle a lawsuit with the state of California. Diebold officials misled state leaders about the security and certification of its products to get payments from the state, according to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

Diebold is headed by Republican Wally O'Dell. Last year, O'Dell wrote to Ohio Republican donors, saying he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year."

Nader doesn't expect to change the outcome: In New Hampshire, Kerry defeated Bush, 50 percent to 49 percent, while Nader got less than one percent from the state's 301 precincts.

Don DeBar, an Ossining resident and Nader campaign worker in San Antonio, Texas this year, is trying to stitch together the fragmented left and have progressive activists unite on the recount issue.

Liberals, he said, need to "get past political antagonisms," for the time being.

"One thing that I've done is bring this to the airwaves in NYC," the area activist said. "As a reporter on the drive-time morning program Wake Up Call on WBAI-FM, I provided some detailed coverage of the issue, from the many reports of intimidation, error and fraud to the failure of the Kerry campaign to act to protect the voting rights of his own voters..."

The University of California's Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Team released a statistical study - the sole method available to monitor the accuracy of e-voting -reporting irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000 to 260,000 or more excess votes to President George W. Bush in Florida in the 2004 presidential election. The official tally in Florida shows Bush with 380,978 more votes than Kerry. The three counties where the voting anomalies were most prevalent were also the most heavily Democratic: Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, respectively.

CNN reported a 377,000-vote margin between Bush and Kerry. The study shows an unexplained discrepancy between votes for President Bush in counties where electronic voting machines were used versus counties using traditional voting methods, what the team says can be deemed a "smoke alarm."

The probability of this arising by chance, they say, is less than 0.1 percent. The research team formally called on Florida voting officials to investigate.

Kathryn Levy was a volunteer coordinator in the Kerry headquarters in Broward County, Florida and said yesterday she received "innumerable complaints."

She was the supervisor of a hotline in Broward that handled the complaints.

Levy believes "there was a systematic effort to disenfranchise thousands of citizens in that heavily Democratic county."

"Many newly registered voters were told that they needed to present multiple IDs at polling places, when in fact only one is required," Levy wrote for an intended op-ed piece that was truncated into a letter to the editor published last Tuesday in Long Island's Newsday. "Others were informed that they had already voted and were turned away although they had not yet cast their vote. Many of those requesting provisional ballots were denied even that recourse."

"Perhaps the most chilling complaints concerned the electronic voting machines," Levy continued. "We received several reports of voters who repeatedly pressed the name Kerry on their voting screen only to have Bush appear. In other cases, voters pressed Kerry and were later asked to confirm their Bush vote."

John Zogby, president of the polling firm Zogby International, is concerned about the difference between some of the exit polls and the official vote counts.

"We're talking about the Free World here," he told the Inter Press Service News Agency.

"Something is definitely wrong," Zogby also told the news agency.

Bush now leads Kerry by about 136,000 votes in Ohio. A battle is looming over nearly 155,000 provisional ballots. The Ohio Democratic Party has joined a lawsuit by elector Audrey J. Schering, which asks United States District Judge Michael H. Watson to order Blackwell to impose uniform standards for counting provisional ballots in all 88 counties.

The lawsuit cites the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Bush v. Gore, which "held that the failure to provide specific standards for counting of ballots that are sufficient to assure a uniform count statewide violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution."

Of 11 counties that had completed checking provisional ballots, 81 percent have been ruled valid.

On Saturday, November 13, the Ohio Election Protection Coalition's public hearings in Columbus solicited extensive sworn first-person testimony from 32 Ohio voters, precinct judges, poll workers, legal observers and party challengers. An additional 66 people provided written affidavits of election irregularities.

The testimony, according to Harvey Wasserman, a senior editor at the Columbus Free Press, revealed an effort on the part of Blackwell to deny primarily African-American and young voters the right to cast their ballots within a reasonable time.

On November 17, Blackwell wrote an op-ed piece for Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times, stating "every eligible voter who wanted to vote had the opportunity to vote. There was no widespread fraud, and there was no disenfranchisement. A half-million more Ohioans voted than ever before with fewer errors than four years ago, a sure sign of success by any measure."

Additional testimony also called into question the validity of the actual vote counts. There are doubts that the final official tally in Ohio, due December 1 to Blackwell's office, will have any validity.

At the Columbus hearings, witnesses testified under oath that the election was riddled with discrimination and disarray.

"In precincts 1 A and 5 G, voting (at) Hillman Elementary School, which is a predominantly African-American community, there were woefully insufficient number of voting machines in three precincts," Werner Lange, a pastor from Youngstown, Ohio, said in his testimony.

"I was told that the standard was to have one voting machine per 100 registered voters," he continued. "Precinct A had 750 registered voters. Precinct G had 690. There should have been 14 voting machines at this site. There were only 6, three per precinct, less than 50 percent of the standard. This caused an enormous bottleneck among voters who had to wait a very, very long time to vote, many of them giving up in frustration and leaving...I estimate, by the way, that an estimated loss of over 8,000 votes from the African American community in the City of Youngstown alone, with its 84 precincts, were lost due to insufficient voting machines, and that would translate to some 7,000 votes lost for John Kerry for president in Youngstown alone. . . ."

According to a November 5 article by the Associated Press, election officials in Ohio admitted that an error with an electronic voting system gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in a Gahanna precinct. Franklin County reported Bush with 4,258 votes and John Kerry with 260, even though only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct.

Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting, along with people from Florida Fair Elections, showed up at Florida's Volusia County Elections Office on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 16 and asked to see, under a public records request, each of the poll tapes for the 100-plus optical scanners in the precincts in that county. The election workers, having been notified in advance of her request, handed her a set of printouts dated November 15 and lacking signatures.

Harris pointed out that the printouts given to her were not the original poll tapes and had no signatures, and thus were not what she had requested.

Reportedly, they told her that the originals were held in another location, the election office's warehouse, and that, since it was the end of the day, they should meet her the following morning to show them to her. The next day she started searching the garbage bags outside, finding public record tapes in the trash. Disparities between the November 15 tape and November 2 tape emerged--all reportedly favoring President Bush.

Harris could not be reached for comment by press time.

The mainstream media, which has suffered increasingly in recent years by charges of liberal bias and Democratic partisanship, has largely taken a pass on the recount story. In fact, The New York Times, the symbol and primary target of conservative media critics, published a front-page article two weeks ago that portrayed the recount effort as a campaign being waged by partisan, conspiratorial and error-happy bloggers with a liberal agenda.

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has tracked the story aggressively on both his "BLOGGERMANN" web log and "Countdown," a television news analysis program he hosts for the cable network, which is home to commentators of all political stripes, from Pat Buchanan to Ron Reagan.

In fact, Olbermann referenced the North County News article in a Sunday blog entry. He borrowed a quote from the article that triggered perhaps the most attention from activists: "We have 17,000 lawyers working on this, and the grassroots accountability couldn't be any higher -no (irregularity) will go unchecked. Period," Wade had told North County News.

Kerry conceded the 2004 presidential contest on November 3, the day after the election, a decision that carries no concrete legal standing. That day, he and his running mate, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, pledged to ensure every vote is counted, although they said at the time there was no chance a voting tally update would result in swinging the result in their favor.

Former Vice President Al Gore conceded in his 2000 battle with Bush for the White House before demanding a recount, which was ultimately halted by the U.S. Supreme Court, ending the debacle in Florida.

Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for Newsweek, appeared on Countdown on Monday night.

"They keep saying these little things designed to make clear, at least to their supporters and the whole blogosphere out there, that they take the possibility (of a Kerry victory) and the need for a recount seriously," Fineman said of Kerry and his surrogates during an interview with Olbermann.

Fineman said he talked to Blackwell earlier in the evening.

"There in fact will be a recount," Fineman remarked. "We will be talking about chads once again."

Olbermann posted an entry on his blog on Monday evening, after that night's Countdown telecast.

"As Kerry himself calculated early on November 3, the provisional ballots alone obviously could not provide anything close to enough bona fide Democratic votes to overcome President Bush's 135,000 vote plurality in the Ohio election night tally," he wrote. "But as Howard also pointed out - and my colleague David Shuster so thoroughly extrapolated in a previous post on Hardblogger - the provisionals plus the 'undercount' could make things very close indeed. The punch-card ballots 'where it looks like nobody marked anything' when read by an optical scanning machine, might produce thousands of legitimate votes if hand-counted and judged by Ohio's strict laws defining how many corners of the proverbial chads have to be detached to make a vote valid."

Fineman's analysis, Olbermann writes, "(puts) it in terms that the mainstream can't ignore."

That's heartening to the likes of Ellen Frank.

"There is something very wrong here with the press," said Frank, who suspects, like other recount activists, that top level producers and editors in the mainstream press have barred their talent from covering the story extensively, as to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

"We believe democracy itself is at risk," said Frank, whose ad hoc group of philanthropists, writers and other activists are, among other things, mounting letter-writing campaigns about the recount to newspapers across the nation.

"We believe this was a fraudulent election," she said. "...We are fearful that 'major' media is intimidated. We are fearful we are abandoned by our own Democratic Party. We are working to hold the administration and our party accountable."

Friday, November 19, 2004

Kerry Reaches out to Supporters: Vows Fight for Children's Health Care

Kerry's Email to Supporters


Kerry-Edwards 2004
Watch this special video message from John Kerry

Sign John Kerry's "Every Child Protected" pledge today and forward it to your family, friends, and neighbors:

Sign the pledge

I want to thank you personally for what you did in the election -- you rewrote the book on grassroots politics, taking control of campaigns away from big donors. No campaign will ever be the same.

You moved voters, helped hold George Bush accountable, and countered the attacks from big news organizations such as Fox, Sinclair Broadcasting, and conservative talk radio.

And your efforts count now more than ever. Despite the words of cooperation and moderate sounding promises, this administration is planning a right wing assault on values and ideals we hold most deeply. Healthy debate and diverse opinion are being eliminated from the State Department and CIA, and the cabinet is being remade to rubber stamp policies that will undermine Social Security, balloon the deficit, avoid real reforms in health care and education, weaken homeland security, and walk away from critical allies around the world.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted -- and they will be counted -- we will continue to challenge this administration. This is not a time for Democrats to retreat and accommodate extremists on critical principles -- it is a time to stand firm.

I will fight for a national standard for federal elections that has both transparency and accountability in our voting system. It's unacceptable in the United States that people still don't have full confidence in the integrity of the voting process.

I ask you to join me in this cause.

And we must fight not only against George Bush's extreme policies -- we must also uphold our own values. This is why on the first day Congress is in session next year, I will introduce a bill to provide every child in America with health insurance. And, with your help, that legislation will be accompanied by the support of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

There are more than eight million uninsured children in our nation.

That's eight million reasons for us to stay together and fight for a new direction. It is a disgrace that in the wealthiest nation on earth, eight million children go without health insurance.

Normally, a member of the Senate will first approach other senators and ask them to co-sponsor a bill before it is introduced -- instead, I am turning to you. Imagine the power of a bill co-sponsored by hundreds of thousands of Americans being presented on the floor of the United States Senate. You can make it happen. Sign our "Every Child Protected" pledge today and forward it to your family, friends, and neighbors:

This is the beginning of a second term effort to hold the Bush administration accountable and to stand up and fight for our principles and our values. They want you to disappear; they are counting on that. I'm confident you will prove them wrong, and you will rewrite history again.

Here is what I want you to know. I understand the strength, commitment, and passion that are at the core of what we built together -- and I am determined to make our collective energy and organization a force to be reckoned with in the weeks and months ahead.

Let's roll up our sleeves and get back to work for our country.

Thank you,

John Kerry

John Kerry

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Looking Ahead to 2006 Senate Races

33 Senators will be running for reelection in 2006. (Some may decide to retire) There will be 18 democrats, 14 republicans and 1 independent up for reelection:

I've Highlighted the Names according to Red or Blue states

Akaka, Daniel - (D - HI) Class I
(202) 224-6361

Allen, George - (R - VA) Class I
(202) 224-4024
Web Form:

Bingaman, Jeff - (D - NM) Class I
(202) 224-5521

Burns, Conrad - (R - MT) Class I
(202) 224-2644
Web Form:

Byrd, Robert - (D - WV) Class I
(202) 224-3954
Web Form:

Cantwell, Maria - (D - WA) Class I
(202) 224-3441
Web Form:

Carper, Thomas - (D - DE) Class I
(202) 224-2441
Web Form:

Chafee, Lincoln - (R - RI) Class I
(202) 224-2921
Web Form:

Clinton, Hillary - (D - NY) Class I
(202) 224-4451
Web Form:

Conrad, Kent - (D - ND) Class I
(202) 224-2043
Web Form:

Corzine, Jon - (D - NJ) Class I
(202) 224-4744
Web Form:

Dayton, Mark - (D - MN) Class I
(202) 224-3244
Web Form:

DeWine, Mike - (R - OH) Class I
(202) 224-2315
Web Form:

Ensign, John - (R - NV) Class I
(202) 224-6244
Web Form:

Feinstein, Dianne - (D - CA) Class I
(202) 224-3841
Web Form:

Frist, Bill - (R - TN) Class I
(202) 224-3344
Web Form:

Hatch, Orrin - (R - UT) Class I
(202) 224-5251
Web Form:

Hutchison, Kay - (R - TX) Class I
(202) 224-5922
Web Form:

Jeffords, James - (I - VT) Class I
(202) 224-5141
Web Form:

Kennedy, Edward - (D - MA) Class I
(202) 224-4543
Web Form:

Kohl, Herb - (D - WI) Class I
(202) 224-5653
Web Form:

Kyl, Jon - (R - AZ) Class I
(202) 224-4521
Web Form:

Lieberman, Joseph - (D - CT) Class I
(202) 224-4041
Web Form:

Lott, Trent - (R - MS) Class I
(202) 224-6253

Lugar, Richard - (R - IN) Class I
(202) 224-4814

Nelson, Bill - (D - FL) Class I
(202) 224-5274
Web Form:

Nelson, Ben - (D - NE) Class I
(202) 224-6551
Web Form:

Santorum, Rick - (R - PA) Class I
(202) 224-6324
Web Form:

Sarbanes, Paul - (D - MD) Class I
(202) 224-4524
Web Form:

Snowe, Olympia - (R - ME) Class I
(202) 224-5344

Stabenow, Debbie - (D - MI) Class I
(202) 224-4822
Web Form:

Talent, James - (R - MO) Class I
(202) 224-6154
Web Form:

Thomas, Craig - (R - WY) Class I
(202) 224-6441
Web Form:

'Changed forever,' Kerry returns to his Senate role

(Excerpt) By Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY

John Kerry, departing from past practice for losing Democratic presidential nominees, doesn't plan to do a disappearing act. He returns to the Senate Tuesday and aims to be a force in his party.

Kerry does not rule out another run in 2008 but calls it "inconceivable" to think about that now.

More immediately, he anticipates pressing his signature campaign issues on Capitol Hill and on the national stage. He has pledged to continue to fight to expand health coverage and stem cell research, build energy independence and protect Social Security (news - web sites) "with all of the energy that I have and all of the passion I brought to the campaign."

Kerry is looking for creative ways to promote those ideas and also planning a think tank to serve as a "venture capital fund" for new ideas. And he is taking steps to form a political action committee to keep alive a network that generated record fund-raising and voter turnout for Democrats. The PAC would fund his travel and allow him to help congressional candidates in the 2006 elections.

Though he is going back to his old job as junior senator from Massachusetts, associates say Kerry will be doing it in a new way. He was "changed forever" by his presidential campaign, spokesman David Wade says, and returns "on a mission" to lead the nation toward affordable health care and "a foreign policy in the tradition of Roosevelt and Truman."

Kerry is "looking ahead at how to be a voice for the 56 million people who voted for him," his brother Cameron says. "There is a process of transformation that you undergo when so many people invest their hopes and aspirations in you and your campaign. You become enlarged by the weight of all that."

Kerry has been studying ways to emulate the legacies of several presidential hopefuls who returned to the Senate. Barry Goldwater helped build a national Republican Party. Hubert Humphrey and Edward Kennedy became champions of Democratic causes. But the most relevant example may be Republican Sen. John McCain: He nudged his party toward reform after his 2000 bid and remains an active prospect for 2008.

Monday, November 15, 2004

"Framing" the Issues: Democrats Turn to George Lakoff

Why the Democrats Need to Stop Thinking About Elephants

If George Lakoff had his way, the Kerry campaign would have run a commercial attacking the "baby tax." Dr. Lakoff, a Berkeley linguistics professor and Kerry campaign adviser, wanted to divide the interest on the national debt by the number of Americans born each year. The result, $85,000 per newborn, say, would have been handed to a baby in the form of a bill, and the baby would have started to cry. That, Dr. Lakoff says, "frames" the issue "in a way people can understand."

"Framing" is a hot topic among political junkies and in the blogo-sphere right now, thanks to Dr. Lakoff. In "Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate," his surprise best seller, Dr. Lakoff argues that Republicans have been winning elections because they have been better than Democrats at framing issues - from taxes, to abortion, to national security - in ways that resonate with core American values.

Dr. Lakoff has been stepping out of the classroom lately to lecture everyone from the Senate Democratic caucus to "living wage" advocates on how to use linguistics to craft a more effective message. "Framing" alone won't give the Democrats the White House, or the Senate and House. But Dr. Lakoff's theories offer the Democrats a road map for going forward.

The title "Don't Think of an Elephant!" comes from a classic experiment Dr. Lakoff conducts in Cognitive Science 101. He tells his students not to think of an elephant, and he has yet to find one who has managed it. Thinking about elephants is the frame, and negating it simply reinforces it. This was the problem, he says, with President Richard Nixon's famous declaration, "I am not a crook."

Trying not to think of elephants, Dr. Lakoff suggests, sums up the Democrats' plight. Since Republicans have framed the key issues, Democrats cannot avoid being on the losing side. Take taxes. Republicans have succeeded in framing the issue as "tax relief," a metaphor that presents an affliction, and that predetermines who are the heroes - tax opponents - and villains. Taxes are, of course, necessary even for programs Republicans back, like the military, and simple economics dictates that we cannot keep cutting taxes and maintaining spending forever. But the Democrats are hard-pressed to make these points once the frame is "tax relief.

"It is not by accident that "tax relief" presents taxes in moral terms, as a calamity in search of a cure. Values, Dr. Lakoff argues, are the key to framing campaign issues. Democrats have an unfortunate tendency, he says, to see campaigns as product launches, believing that if they roll out a candidate with the best features, or positions on issues, voters will support him. Republicans understand that people vote their identity, not their self-interest - that they seek out candidates whose values appear to match their own.

After the election, pundits made much of the influence of a few "moral" issues, like gay marriage and abortion, on the outcome. But Dr. Lakoff argues that values play an important role in almost every campaign issue. The Republicans' success has been driven in large part, he argues, by their ability to frame less morally charged subjects in terms of core values. He is impressed by a line from President Bush's last State of the Union address: that we do not need a "permission slip" to defend America. It reframed multilateralism, once a widely accepted foreign policy principle, as weakness and national infantilization.

As Dr. Lakoff sees it, Democrats need to start framing issues in terms of their own values, which, he insists, are no less popular with the American people than the Republicans' values. This project will, however, take more than spin and sloganeering. On many subjects, he argues, the Democrats suffer from what he calls "hypocognition" - more simply, a lack of ideas. Republicans have been working for the past 40 years, since the defeat of Barry Goldwater, in well-financed think tanks, on developing conservative ideas that voters will rally around. The Democrats, he says, need to start catching up.

One frame Dr. Lakoff likes, which he believes could become a progressive wedge issue, is "poison-free communities." The Republicans' war on government regulation has left industry increasingly free to spew toxins into the air and water, despite the harm it is doing to the public. Keeping people healthy is a core progressive value, but it is one that many swing voters and Republicans share. Few people want their children poisoned by mercury in the name of a theory about the appropriate size of government.

Framing can also deflect the other side's charges. Dr. Lakoff argues that the Democrats should fight the Republican campaign for "tort reform" by recasting it. Rather than debate over frivolous lawsuits, he says, they should talk about protecting people from law-breaking corporations and negligent doctors. When Republicans talk about greedy trial lawyers, he says, Democrats should talk about - and he really needs a better phrase here- "public protection attorneys."

For all of his good insights, Dr. Lakoff can get a little too caught up in his own frame. His intense focus on language leaves too little room for other attributes of a successful campaign, like a charismatic candidate or a strong field operation. Just as professional campaign managers have given too little thought to his frames and hypocognition, he has a tendency to undervalue what they do. The least compelling part of his book is a commercial he suggests Democrats use on taxes. His script begins, "Taxation is paying your dues, paying your membership fee in America." That quickly reframes the issue to: "Where did I put the remote?"

Rehabilitating the word "Liberal" - Advice from the Mayor of Madison, WI

I Am a Liberal: Rehabilitating a Word
By Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

OK, you're not going to Canada. In the days following John Kerry's loss, many of us felt like we had lost more than just an election. I know people who talked seriously about moving north of the border. In fact, only hours after Kerry's concession speech I gave an interview in which I said I felt physical pain. But I took a couple aspirin. And on Friday an F-16 flight courtesy of the 115th Fighter Wing helped me shake out the cobwebs and the recognition of the danger these guys face as they defend our nation helped put this all in perspective. We lost an election folks, but we haven't lost our country.

We've had our days of mourning. It's time to figure out what to do next. And we can't prescribe a cure until we understand the ailment. I believe the problem starts with a simple word: liberal. Since Ronald Reagan, those of us who consider ourselves liberals have stood by and allowed conservatives to define the term and then paint us with it as if it were an accusation akin to being an axe murderer. Conservatives who love to talk about personal responsibility never seem to take any of it themselves. While conservatives have run everything for the last four years and almost everything for years before that, they still accuse liberals of being the cause of everything from bad test scores to gingivitis. For being the party out of power, I had no idea we had so much of it.

But there is evidence that liberal values are not really so out of favor. Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold -- people who don't back down from their principles-- won the strongest majorities of their Federal careers. John Kerry-- a Massachusetts liberal with a record to prove it-- got 48% of the vote and the most conservative President in modern history had to wait until mid-day after election day to claim his "mandate." Even the gay marriage issue, in the final analysis, wasn't as divisive as we might have thought. Exit polls showed that 62% of Americans supported at least civil unions for gays and lesbians.

So, it turns out that liberals are not so out of step with America. But one of the reasons we continue to lose ground in electoral politics is that too often we run from who we are. Too many liberals, when accused of being just that, respond by calling themselves "progressives" or by launching into long discussions about the danger of labeling. Meanwhile, conservatives shout about being conservatives from the roof tops.

It wasn't always that way. The shoes used to be on the other feet. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson went up to New York and helped Bobby Kennedy get elected to the U.S. Senate by reassuring voters that Kennedy was a strong "liberal". It took people like Bill Buckley to start rehabilitating the word "conservative." Buckley didn't shrink from the word that was then as discredited as "liberal." He helped define it as something positive. Liberals are in just about the same place as Buckley and the conservatives were in the 1960's. It's not like we really have a choice. No matter how hard we try to run from it, the other guys will define the word liberal and then tar us with it. We can protest all we want, but as long as we let them define the term it will be used to beat us every time. So, it's time to stand and fight.

Now, Democrats have always been willing to embrace a bigger tent and with that comes a little natural chaos. Will Rogers said he was a member of no organized political party. He was a Democrat. There should be room in our party for conservative Democrats. I'm not calling for the same kind of rigid dogmatic purity that the Republicans have demanded on the right. But a political party needs to have a clear and unifying theme and set of principles even if all the members don't necessarily adhere to every detail. And we need to be able to draw a clear convincing contrast to the other party.

Those who point to Bill Clinton's success at co-opting Republican themes are pointing to the exception that proves the rule. Clinton won because of his enormous personal talent and charisma, but Clintonian politics didn't translate beyond his own two terms as president. It was under Clinton that Democrats lost majorities in Congress and that Republican majorities in state houses grew while more governorships fell into GOP hands. Clinton's formula, though brilliant, worked only for Clinton.

A better strategy is just to be who we are because Americans have already embraced the policies if not the label. Much of the bedrock of American domestic policy, things that we take for granted today, would not have happened if liberals hadn't fought for them. Most people like Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and Head Start, all liberal ideas. Most people like a strong public school system and a clean environment, things that liberals have always fought for. Most people like the free enterprise system but don't want it unfettered to allow things like child labor and air and water pollution. That's a liberal idea.

Here in Madison we have had liberal government for a good thirty years. And it has helped create the best business environment and the lowest unemployment in the nation. We've lost count of the number of top ten lists we've made. This is because investments in the public realm coupled with sensible regulation that protects workers and the environment are good for our quality of life -- and that's good for business. Far from being an island, Madison is a laboratory of liberal policies that work.

So the next time somebody calls you a liberal, thank them for the compliment. We shouldn't spend the next four years trying to be more like the conservatives. Given the choice between real and fake Republicans, a smart electorate is going to pick the real ones every time. If we insist on fighting the next elections on our ground - on whose policies are best for health care and jobs and education and ending the war - we will start to win again. So, keep the faith and keep your citizenship. Canada is a great place to visit, but I still want to live here.

Friends of Dave Cieslewicz
P.O. Box 2164
Madison, WI 53704

Saturday, November 13, 2004

A message to the President from 56,000,000 Americans

Dear President Bush,

In case you forget over the course of the next 4 years, we want to remind you of 56,000,000 reasons why you do not have a mandate to pass your right wing agenda.

John Kerry pledged to return to the Senate and continue to fight for the values and issues that are important to so many Americans who supported him in his Presidential bid.

Not only do we expect him to keep his promise, but we intend to do everything we can to support him.

Progress is on the march and you're in the way, Mr. President. Hope and love will always defeat fear and hate. It's the American way.


The IFK Editors

Friday, November 12, 2004

Welcome Independent Minded Voters

I'm starting this blog to share ideas and invite discussion from voters (independent or otherwise) who backed Kerry in 2004. As time goes on I will also be discussing Kerry's leadership in the Senate and his chances for a Presidential bid in '08. For starters I'd like to seek out thoughts on the direction of the Democratic Party.

Where do they go from here?

How do they frame their message to reach out to more voters in the future?

What would you like to see Kerry do in the Senate?

What are your priorities for America?

How can the Dems better organize and mobilize voters in '06 and '08?

Your contributions and ideas are appreciated.