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Salute to the U.S. flag devised by pledge of allegiance author Francis Bellamy, known as the Bellamy salute

This series on flag propaganda by the radical right details specific examples of  how lies and manipulation of information is being used to polarize this country, and how it acts to create a vulnerable and gullible group of well meaning conservatives susceptible to ginned up wedge issues to turn out the vote.


We had another one of these many and continuing stories this past week or so, all over the right wing propaganda machine, pandering to conservative prejudice and ignorance.


The latest pseudo-scandal in the ongoing misinformation campaign about our flag by conservatives comes from Florida, specifically the Miami PD where this propaganda is being combined with conservative fascism to attack both freedom of religion, feminism and immigrants — the ultimate in Us vs Them politics — by targeting a black  Muslim woman who is an assistant chief of police in a deep southern state  as the most recent example of flag propaganda.


From the
Miami PD Supports Muslim Assistant Police Chief Who Was Criticized For Not Pledging To Flag

A muslim Assistant Police Chief was within her rights to not salute the American flag during a police ceremony

The Miami Police Department said Assistant Chief Of Police Anita Najiy followed proper code when deciding not to salute the American flag while in uniform during a recent promotional ceremony. According to the Miami Herald, Maj. Delrish Moss said,

“the military code of conduct supersedes police code and that Najiy properly followed that code. While the department’s code of conduct allows for a reprimand if an officer doesn’t salute the flag, it makes no mention of covering the heart during the pledge.”

Najiy was harshly criticized by the Miami Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Javier Ortiz, who publicized the incident insisted that Najiy, who did stand at attention during the ceremony, did not place her hand on her heart because she is a Muslim.

Najiy, a 31-year veteran of the agency and devout Muslimah, made history in Miami last year as an African-American and as a female by being appointed Assistant Chief of Police. It was the first time in the history of the Miami Police Department that a female member was appointed to Assistant Chief of Police. During the ceremony last year, Chief Manuel Orosa said, “I am privileged to select Commander Najiy as one of my assistant chiefs. Our 116-year city has witnessed many milestones, but this, by far, is one of the greatest of our history.”

In response to Ortiz statements, The Miami Police Benevolent Association released a statement on Wednesday criticizing Ortiz’s obsession with tearing down Naijay, saying Ortiz was being hypocritical, considering he himself did not salute the flag because he was busy taping Najiy. The Association said,

“Racism cloaked in patriotism is a huge insult to the American flag, the city of Miami Police Department and the countless hate and anti-Muslim filled rants generated by the recent antics of the FOP president; those two things seem to be the genesis of the current false controversy.”


So, NO, this woman did not fail to put her hand over her heart because she is a Muslim (gasp! <sarcasm>) who hates America, as conservatives want people to believe.  She did it because that was the correct protocol, the correct FORM of respect for her to follow.  There was no anti-American sentiment, no disloyalty or disrespect involved whatsoever.  But THAT is not the factual version circulated by flag propagandists like Fox News and Breitbart seeking to factually alter the real ‘narrative’, as noted by Freethoughtblogs,com:


Sgt. Javier Ortiz, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, wants Assistant Chief Anita Najiy removed from her position as honor guard commander. He sent a letter Monday to Chief Rodolfo Llanes seeking a reprimand.

Ortiz claims that Najiy’s failure to salute the flag “to make a political statement” during Friday’s ceremony at the Miami Police College is a violation of the police oath. He calls her actions “unprofessional and disgraceful.”

“She is actively refusing to show allegiance to the United States of America, which is part of our oath as law enforcement officers,” Ortiz told Local 10 News. “This has been going on for several months.”…

“By not publicly showing her allegiance to our nation with the rest of the Miami Police Department, she is violating our oath,” Ortiz wrote.

Ortiz also questions Najiy’s allegiance to the country.

“If she isn’t loyal to the United States of America, what country is she loyal and allegiant to?” Ortiz wrote.

“What makes you think she does not have allegiance just because of a physical actions?” asked Local 10’s Glenna Milberg.

“Because she is denouncing the United States in full police uniform and she is making a political statement by wearing that uniform,” Ortiz said.

“But is that what she’s doing or that’s your take on what she’s doing?” Milberg asked.

“Well, what else is she doing? She’s not pledging allegiance to the flag,” Ortiz said.


That was  a deliberate LIE circulated by conservatives for a reason – several reasons: to create fear, to gin up hatred towards Muslims, to undermine women in positions of authority, to create a false impression of victimization of conservatives under the cover of pretend patriotism, with a generous garnish of racism and anti-feminism.  The apparently conservative tea bagger Ortiz is appearing to be just a cheap media whore in his ongoing demands for Najiy to be disciplined.


On a fundamental level, it is about how people intentionally peddle hate and ignorance and fear.  On a fundamental level it is about the dumbing down of America.


how we saluted the flag In American classrooms during the pledge of allegiance prior to December 1942 image from wikipedia

On a fundamental level it is about factual versus fictional history, and it is about marginalizing and isolating people in dangerous and evil ways that are profoundly in conflict with our national motto – e pluribus unum, and our history as a tolerant and accepting melting pot of many people forming one nation that is stronger because of those combined cultural influences and ethic heritage.


It is informative as part of a larger understanding of our current politics in the context of factual history, factual current events, and understanding the defining characteristics of conservative fascism which include hyper patriotism and intolerant authoritarianism.
In this regard the pledge of allegiance in our history and how we have saluted – or not saluted – our national symbol, our flag, is particularly apt. At right is a photo of the Bellamy salute, a salute invented by the author of the pledge of allegiance.  This Hitler and Mussolini style salute was changed, precisely BECAUSE it was too fascist.


from Wikipedia:

The Bellamy salute is the salute described by Francis Bellamy, Christian socialist minister and author, to accompany the American Pledge of Allegiance, which he had authored. During the period when it was used with the Pledge of Allegiance, it was sometimes known as the “flag salute”. Later, during the 1920s and 1930s, Italian fascists and Nazis adopted a salute which had the same form, and which was derived from the Roman salute. This resulted in controversy over the use of the Bellamy salute in the United States. It was officially replaced by the hand-over-heart salute when Congress amended the Flag Code on December 22, 1942.
The inventor of the gesture was James B. Upham, junior partner and editor of The Youth’s Companion.[1] Bellamy recalled Upham, upon reading the pledge, came into the posture of the salute, snapped his heels together, and said “Now up there is the flag; I come to salute; as I say ‘I pledge allegiance to my flag,’ I stretch out my right hand and keep it raised while I say the stirring words that follow.” [1]

The Bellamy salute was first demonstrated on October 12, 1892 according to Bellamy’s published instructions for the “National School Celebration of Columbus Day“:

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

— From The Youth’s Companion, 65 (1892): 446–447.


But what is especially significant about the fuss over saluting the flag and the pledge of allegiance, and all things surrounding the flag and assertions of patriotism (or disloyalty to the nation). There is in fact a long history of flag propaganda and attempts to smear individuals using the flag and the pledge of allegiance (continuing from the wikipedia entry linked above), which should of itself instruct us that the flag has a long history of being hijacked for propaganda purposes. Those who do not learn these lessons from history are doomed to repeat them, or worse, to be victimized by them:


The similarity to the Bellamy salute led to confusion, especially during World War II. From 1939 until the attack on Pearl Harbor, detractors of Americans who argued against intervention in World War II produced propaganda using the salute to lessen those Americans’ reputations. Among the anti-interventionist Americans was aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh. Supporters of Lindbergh’s views would claim that Lindbergh did not support Adolf Hitler, and that pictures of him appearing to do the Nazi salute were actually pictures of him using the Bellamy salute. In his Pulitzer prize winning biography Lindbergh, author A. Scott Berg explains that interventionist propagandists would photograph Lindbergh and other isolationists using this salute from an angle that left out the American flag, so it would be indistinguishable from the Hitler salute to observers.

In order to prevent further confusion or controversy, the United States Congress instituted the hand-over-the-heart gesture as the salute to be rendered by civilians during the Pledge of Allegiance in the United States, instead of the Bellamy salute.[2] This was done when Congress amended the Flag Code on December 22, 1942.

There was initially some resistance to dropping the Bellamy salute, for example from the Daughters of the American Revolution,[5] but this opposition died down quickly following Nazi Germany’s declaration of war against the United States on December 11, 1941.


We should ALL be concerned about the attempts to coerce conformity of conduct at the expense of diversity and individual, personal exercise of conscience that are the hallmark of conservative intolerance, as a justification for bigotry and prejudice. The reality is that we have a wide range of people who do not state the pledge of allegiance (in part because of the inclusion mandated by conservative theocrats of the phrase ‘under God’ which was not original to the pledge) and who also do not swear to tell the truth in courts either. It is not uncommon for this to be a reflection of individual conscience or of religion; for example, the very influential Quaker community which was so influential to our nation’s founding, including figures like Benjamin Franklin, did not swear such an oath in court. Instead for centuries there has been a legal alternative of ‘affirmation’ which is perfectly equivalent for the law and our courts. …READ MORE


Thugs and messaging fail

by Eric Ferguson on May 1, 2015 · 1 comment

The DFL of the my senate district recently started a book club with the intention of focusing on messaging and explaining Democratic values (no, you need not live in the district to attend). The first meeting discussed one of the preeminent books on the subject, Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff. Always a worthwhile subject, made more timely by the riots in Baltimore and a huge messaging fail that’s a prime example of the biggest way Democrats screw this up. Well, we said at the end of the book club we should think of some examples to add to what Lakoff provided. Might have been nice if subsequent events hadn’t made it so easy.
Let me put it his way: President Obama spoke for about 15 minutes on the Baltimore riots and the context in which they occurred, but he used the word “thug”, and nobody heard a single other word he said. Seriously, without digging up the video, name anything else he said. The president violated one of the rules of messaging, and the mayor of Baltimore committed the exact same violation. Never use your opponent’s words. If you do want to dig up the video, I dug it up for you.
It’s OK if you don’t get “framing” and “messaging” to such an extent that you could explain them to someone else. It’s enough for most of us to learn some dos and don’ts, so you can at least recognize it when you hear it and avoid some mistakes. One of those don’ts is don’t use your opponent’s words because your opponent has likely chosen those words to build or activate the audiences’ frames in a way that favor your opponent. You play into that by using the opponent’s words. You don’t have to get just what frame is being activated to be aware that when we hear the same word or phrase being used by Fox News, conservative talk radio, Republican politicians, and our conservative friends, it’s on purpose. In this case, the word used over and over again is “thug”. Even if you didn’t get that “thug” was being used as a racial code word to make you think “black” when you hear “thug”, the fact that it was repeated frequently should have told you it’s a word to avoid. So what harm did the president and the mayor of Baltimore do?

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rainbowThis relatively long article is rather fascinating, as it provides a look at the often-preposterous motivated reasoning used by anti-inclusiveness reactionaries.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Minnesota Senate defeated an amendment that would have repealed transgender-inclusive policies of local school districts.
During debate on an omnibus education policy bill, Sen. Warren Limmer, a Republican from Maple Grove, offered an amendment targeting transgender-inclusive policies. The amendment is identical to one that was passed by the House on Saturday.
The Senate defeated the amendment 25 to 40…
Since the House did pass a similar amendment to its omnibus education bill, the two chambers will have to decide what to do with the amendment in conference committee sometime in the next two weeks.


The DFL Botanical Garden

by JeffStrate on April 30, 2015 · 0 comments

Well, MPP possums, few words are needed.  Lets enable the video to speak for itself as the Minnesota Legislature lurches into May.  The bit appears on the new edition of Democratic Visions and is a no budget initiative by Timid Video Theater and a hand full of lefty volunteers.


TPP fast-track gets another headwind

by Dan Burns on April 30, 2015 · 0 comments

tppIt’s been taken for granted, more or less, that fast-track authority for the noxious travesty that is the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, is a gimme in the Senate. Not so fast, according to this:

Trade legislation is sowing discord among Senate Republicans that could make it tougher than expected to pass fast-track trade authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
While much of the attention in the trade fight has focused on the divide between President Obama and liberal Democrats, Republican leaders are facing dissent within their own caucus because of currency manipulation and immigration concerns.
“The polling is bad, and some people are getting nervous,” said a GOP senator who requested anonymity to talk about his conversations with colleagues.
(The Hill)

The fast-track votes apparently still aren’t there in the House, either. The U.S. and Japan are currently trying to wrap things up, on the deal itself.

“No, the TPP Won’t Be Good for the Middle Class.”

The basic argument for why the TPP is likely to be a bad deal for the middle class is pretty simple. For one, even a genuine “free trade agreement” that was passed with no other complementary policies would actually not be good for the American middle class, even if it did generate gains to total national income. For another, the TPP (like nearly all trade agreements the U.S. signs) is not a “free trade agreement”—instead it’s a treaty that will specify just who will be protected from international competition and who will not. And the strongest and most comprehensive protections offered are by far those for U.S. corporate interests. Finally, there are international economic agreements that the United States could be negotiating to help the American middle class. They would look nothing like the TPP.
(Economic Policy Institute)


Who Is It That Is Confused About ISIS?

by SJGulitti on April 30, 2015 · 0 comments

Those who are heavily invested in the notion that it is the religion of Islam that is driving much of the terror in Syria and Iraq and beyond will find these new revelations by the German magazine Der Spiegel tough to swallow. Der Spiegel’s man found out, through an analysis of captured documents exhibited in the article, that ISIS is the creation of a former Iraqi Air Force Officer. This officer, Haji Bakr, who along with the many Iraqi officers kicked to the curb after the fall of Iraq, went on to formulate, lead and propagate ISIS as more or less a criminal enterprise, cloak it in religious form for recruitment purposes and launch it on its way. To date most of the captured leadership of ISIS have been linked to the Baathist Iraqi military of the prior regime.

What’s most ironic in all of this is that it the seeds of this problem can be justifiably found in the failures which took place during the Bush/Cheney administration and not with the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House. So much for all the “appeasement” prattle and whether or not the current administration uses the terms “Islamic Terror” or “Radical Islam”, which as it turns out in this case would be structurally and conceptually inapplicable.


Haji Bakr, wasn’t widely known. But that was precisely part of the plan. The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at ISIS for years.


What Bakr put on paper, page by page, with carefully outlined boxes for individual responsibilities, was nothing less than a blueprint for a takeover. It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an “Islamic Intelligence State” — a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany’s notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency.


ISIS has little in common with predecessors like al-Qaida aside from its jihadist label. There is essentially nothing religious in its actions, its strategic planning, its unscrupulous changing of alliances and its precisely implemented propaganda narratives. Faith, even in its most extreme form, is just one of many means to an end. Islamic State’s only constant maxim is the expansion of power at any price.
(Der Spiegel)


A week ago, the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture claimed that avian flu wasn’t going to be spreading.From the Daily Iowan, a week ago today  (emphasis mine – DG):|

Avian Flu not expected to spread in Iowa
The meat, eggs, and other products from millions of Iowa poultry infected with the H5N2 avian influenza won’t make it to the dinner table, but that’s not the only problem two infected farms could create for the state.
The H5N2 strain of avian influenza currently has not been found to transfer to humans in any way, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said Monday during a conference call.
He said the two Iowa farms that have confirmed cases of the highly pathogenic version of the avian flu could present problems for a variety of people.
“There is other financial impact here as well,” he said. “Each [egg] layer will eat around one bushel per year of corn, so once these birds are euthanized, they won’t be using corn for a while.”
…The infected population includes 27,000 turkeys in Buena Vista County and 3.8 million egg-laying hens in Osceola County.

“Northey said no other farms are currently under investigation and samples tested from farmers in those areas have all been negative.
“We believe this is not going from farm to farm,” he said. “We do not believe this is spreading in a way that is likely to create other problems on other farms.”


Yeah, THAT appears to be completely wrong, per this timeline update.

April 20 – The biggest outbreak so far as H5N2 is confirmed in 3.8 million egg-laying hens in Osceola county, Iowa. The finding in the country’s top egg producing state prompts Mexico to expand its import ban to include live birds and eggs from Iowa.
April 27 – Iowa’s Department of Agriculture and the USDA say initial tests have found probable bird flu outbreaks at five commercial poultry sites in Iowa containing more than 6 million birds. One site was confirmed as positive for HPAI a day later. If the other four are confirmed, the country’s outbreak would reach more than 15.1 million birds, just short of the largest-ever U.S. avian influenza outbreak of 17 million birds in 1983 and 1984.
April 28 – The USDA confirms H5N2 in three more flocks, including a flock of 1.7 million chickens in Sioux county, Iowa, bringing the state’s confirmed tally to more than 5.5 million birds. The three new confirmations lift the nationwide confirmed total to more than 11 million birds. (Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Bernard Orr)

In other news, it has been incorrectly reported that Koch brothers’ sock puppet Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in Wisconsin re: bird flu; what Walker actually did was write an executive order to send out a few National Guard troops to help distribute water to areas affected by avian flu. What you WON’T find in Wisconsin is any reference to the role of global warming on the changing migration patterns of wild birds – a documented fact, as is that the original infections came from migrating wild birds; and you won’t find any acknowledgement from Walker or any WI bureaucrat as to the role of global warming and the increase in pathogenicity in so-called ‘high-path’ avian flu strains spreading, and mutating.

It remains to be seen how this avian flu outbreak progresses; some scientists expect it to continue to get worse.  Some scientists appear to be hoping that warmer weather might actually slow the outbreak and spread of avian flu, but lacking in confidence that this will be the case.  ALL of the scientists who have studied avian flu expect a big escalation of avian flu in the fall, when we have the migration of waterfowl from Canada heading south over the same ares, with additional concern that it will affect other bird populations including potentially pheasants.  This will in all probability lead to additional adverse affects not only in the ag sector, but in the tourism sector as it affects those who hunt both wild or domestic raised waterfowl, but also if it spreads to pheasants, which is already feared by those who raise pheasants for game preserve hunting (although shooting tame birds doesn’t really seem like ‘hunting’ imho).From, near the intersection of So.Dak, MN, and Iowa:


SPENCER, SD – South Dakota pheasant producers are closely watching the bird flu battle. They’re concerned the strain that’s already hit turkey and chicken farms might also infect their flocks.
Royal Flush Pheasants near Spencer, South Dakota raises about 10,000 pheasants every year.  Many of those birds end up in private hunting preserves.  An outbreak of bird flu could cost the Royal Flush a king’s ransom.
Pheasants supply South Dakota’s economy with a profitable nest egg.
“Cafes and restaurants and gas stations and hunting supply stores and that type of thing, it’s a big business in South Dakota,” Royal Flush Pheasants owner Denny Rowley said.
But these hardy and valuable ringnecks wouldn’t stand a chance against the ravages of bird flu.
“A pheasant’s a kind of tough bird, it’s got cold winters, it’s got hot summers, it’s got pesticides, insecticides, you got guys shooting at it all the time, some coyote or fox is trying to eat it all the time, it’s funny there’s any of them here, you know,” Rowley said.


The increasing cost of chicken and eggs, the decreasing supply of chicken and eggs, both in grocery stores and in restaurants, both sit down and fast food retailers, and the ripple effect of the avian flu on other sectors of our economy is very likely going to create greater problems reflecting in areas of wealth and income inequality, food insecurity, government cutbacks in food insecurity assistance, and in seasonal employment.


So far, the mainstream news has focused on relatively trivial issues, like the possible prohibition of poultry at the Minnesota state fair.  I predict that the problems associated with bird flu and with climate change / global warming as it affects US exports and US food supplies, and US public health concerns, is going to be a much more significant set of issues for the 2016 presidential race, senate races, and state level races than is currently predicted.  Most of all, I would expect that the division between global warming deniers and those who recognize the reality of the science as predictions become fact will  result in significant swings in our national, regional, state and local politics.  We are at a point where the impact which to many had seemed theoretical is now becoming real, in people’s back yards and gocery carts.  Deniers are going to be finding themselves on the hot seat, and that hot seat is only going to get hotter for them.  Look forward to the (metaphorical) smoke of roasting conservative political tushies on the grill coming to politics near you. (Hint, it smells a bit like burning pork, only more acrid and acrimonious.)


Abortion rights in the Minnesota legislature

by Dan Burns on April 29, 2015 · 0 comments

prochoiceFirst, a bit of kind-of-good news, from the Capitol.

Minnesota legislators voted down an amendment last week that would have required increased inspection and licensing requirements for clinics that provide abortion services, increasingly common regulations passed by GOP-dominated state legislatures.
An amendment sponsored by Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) to the Minnesota Health and Human Services omnibus bill was defeated in the state senate by a 32-29 vote, mostly along partisan lines, with four anti-choice Democrats joining Republicans in supporting the measure.
(RH Reality Check)

But that didn’t stop the zealots, yesterday, in the House.

There were amendments pertaining to the unborn, as well.
Offered by Rep. Debra Kiel (R-Crookston), one would require licensure of clinics that perform 10 or more abortions per month. It passed 76-57.
Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL-Columbia Heights) called the amendment a “red herring” that seeks to restrict abortions by causing clinics to go out of business due to expensive licensing requirements.
Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud) successfully offered an amendment to prohibit state-funded abortions. Called “unconstitutional” by minority-party members, it also passed 76-57.
(Session Daily)

According to an e-mail I got from NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, the first of those, which would set ridiculous conditions for licensure, could close down 80% of the state’s facilities where women can currently choose to exercise their rights to safe, legal access. That was the deal with the Senate bill, too.
Respect for women’s rights has not been the case in most current political contexts. Among other things, sworn fealty to harsh, senseless 20-week abortion bans seems to be required for all GOP presidential candidates.


mncapitol2I’m taking the liberty of quoting a social media post by Minnesota House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis), from Saturday, in its entirety.

What did the House majority vote for last night?
To eliminate all spending limits for candidates.
To allow candidates to raise all of their campaign cash from PACs and lobbyists.
To get rid of the Political Contribution Refund program which is an important way for small donors and average Minnesotans to participate in our political system.
To block multiple efforts to shine some light on the dark money in politics – protecting the anonymous contributors who run political ads before elections yet refuse to have their names attached to the ads.
This may sound impossible but it is true. It’s time for some real campaign finance reform to restore our democracy by making sure every voice is heard. (And to that, everyone needs to vote!)

In polling from last year, 80% opposed the Supreme Court Citizens United decision allowing virtually unlimited spending in national elections. That included 84% of self-identified Independent voters.

Though obnoxious, disgusting, and anti-democratic, there’s something plaintive about this, too. Republicans are essentially admitting that they’ve lost the people, especially in states like Minnesota, and that trying to buy elections is their only remaining chance.
Except that it’s not their only chance. They could bring the party’s agenda back to some approximation of sanity, and try to get traction that way. But we haven’t been seeing much in the way of reasonableness, or reality-groundedness, from most conservatives in politics, for a good many years now. Conservatism has devolved to greedhead parasites and warmongers perpetuating a giant con, and it’s still getting worse.

Overall, the GOP plan is clearly to push a surfeit of far-right legislation through the House, then try to get what they can while dealing with the Senate and Governor Dayton. Just how confrontational, and shutdown-happy, they plan to be, remains an open question.

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baseball and cash in baseball gloveDemocrats rely on a ground game more than Republicans. Or maybe we do more on the ground because we’re better at it. I suspect ground game tactics are appealing because their cost is lower than advertising and we usually don’t have as much money to throw around as our opponents. Maybe we knock on doors more because our urban and suburban base live in houses closer together and walkable. My doorknocking where houses were spread out certainly made me think about that. Whatever the case, this much I’m sure about: our reliance on a ground game makes it important that we do it efficiently. Since we know that the most effective tactic for increasing turnout is the face to face conversation at the door, and that dropping campaign literature without talking to anyone gets us almost nothing, we should be valuing the proportion of doors where we get conversations, and we should be unimpressed by the raw number of contacts.
Yet that’s not what we’re doing.
This is a follow-up to Applying Moneyball to political campaigns, which I posted roughly a week and a half ago. I explained the concept of moneyball in politics at length there, so if you happened to read that, feel free to skip these next couple paragraphs. For everyone else, here’s the concept.
Moneyball is a book by Michael Lewis that could be about politics — though it’s actually about baseball. Broadly though, it’s about a contest where money is important, and the contestants have greatly varying amounts of it. That means the party with less money either loses, or finds the inefficiencies everyone else is missing. In baseball, that’s what the Oakland Athletics did while Lewis followed them during the 2002 season. They were willing to ask if they were measuring and valuing the right things. They challenged their experience and conventional wisdom with data. They used what statistics said were the best strategies. In the running argument between baseball insiders on one side, and outsiders who happened to be huge fans of both baseball and statistics of which baseball has many, Oakland was the first team to let the statisticians win the debates, and they found good players who were undervalued enough to be affordable. To see Democrats’ problem, replace “baseball” with “politics”, “Oakland A’s” with “Democrats”, and “New York Yankees” with “Republicans”. Basically, Republicans have a collection of crank billionaires who can engage in unlimited spending, and we don’t. They can throw money at problems and we can’t. So we need to find the inefficiencies.
So Democrats need to ask the same questions. Are we measuring and valuing the right things? Are we putting data ahead of experience and conventional wisdom? Are we acting on assumptions rather than knowledge and thereby pursing suboptimal strategies? To answer those questions, I asked what we value, and what we could value instead. The answers were coming on two levels, a macro level like taking back Congress, and a micro level, meaning the ground game where I spend much of my volunteer time. The first post was plenty long explaining the concepts without diving into the weeds of details, so I’m making separate macro and micro posts for detailed weediness. This is the micro post.
Though I said in the first paragraph that our campaigns our valuing the wrong thing by touting the total number of contacts, it’s not a useless number. It’s just that it’s useful only in terms of working out the proportion of doors we knocked on that turned into conversations. Since we have the research to tell us that conversations at the door are easily the most effective tactic at increasing turnout, we should be trying to figure out how to doorknock in such a way as to maximize the conversations and minimize the unanswered doors. Instead, by valuing the sheer number of doors, we’re actually pushing canvassers to do a poor job. That especially matters if we’re paying canvassers. If they’re evaluated on their performance by the number of doors they knocked on or the blocks they covered, then we’re actually providing an incentive to avoid conversations. Even volunteers will pick up on this notion that they’re doing a good job by walking more sheer blocks. Really though, if we don’t talk to anyone at the door, but leave some campaign literature and move on, then we’re getting no more impact than a lit drop, which is campaign jargon for leaving some literature at a door and moving on without trying to contact anyone inside, which is a tactic with a negligible increase in turnout.