This is a Party!

@PltclPrtyCrshr (No. 4)

7/21/16

Let me start with a quick thank you to the Washington Post! I don’t subscribe. I won’t subscribe. But I appreciate WaPo nevertheless.

It’s Thursday afternoon in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention. It’s sunny. The sky is blue. It’s 90 degrees. It’s humid. And WaPo took over an entire bar/restaurant on East 4th Street, right near the Quicken Loans Arena. Not open to the public. But all it took were my media credentials, a confident approach to the disinterested junior staffer at the door and a well timed, purposeful, “I’m here for a meeting.”

So now I’m sitting in the air conditioning, drinking a free beer and picking hors d’oeuvres off the server trays as they come out hot from the kitchen (excuse me for a second, I have to grab another stone-ground mustard meatball – delicious). Gary Johnson just did an interview on the WaPo set wearing sunglasses on his head like at après ski. And Michael Steele is standing (he is very tall) five feet from me at the same table. Oh how happy he must be that he is now the former Chairman of the Republican National Committee and not the current one, and a political pundit who gets to comment and criticize and joke about the current Republican Party and not have to do anything about it. I see Hugh Hewitt talking to some folks. And I see myself ordering another free beer.

Ah, Cleveland. What a week! Here comes the meatball guy again. Very welcome surprise. Except he accidentally dropped the mustard on me. Hey, I’m in a bar…

Three days into the Republican National Convention, the highlights seem to be, Hillary is a criminal, white people, Donald Trump Jr. should run for office and the Trump campaign has its collective head up its collective tush (Melania’s plagiarized speech, the jumbo screen behind the stage was blank or twitching all Wednesday night, the Trump campaign reviewing the Ted Cruz speech and green lighting it, despite no endorsement, John Kasich not bothering showing up, the $400 I am going to lose tonight at the casino).

But this is fun!

Lots of celebrity sightings, including Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted (with attractive wife), MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, New York Congressman Peter King (who talks like he has a mouth full of marbles), Tom Brokaw (unfortunately looking very old), Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma (a ginger!), NBC’s Chuck Todd, Don Trump, Jr. (very slick hair), Florida Governor Rick Scott, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson (very short), Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy, MSNBC’s John Heilman, Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe. I loved that someone started talking to Inhofe and had no idea who he was. Inhofe did not see happy.

Grover Norquist just arrived. He made a joke about the golf movie with Adam Sandler. Grover, it’s called Happy Gilmore. And the bar temporarily stopped serving alcohol. Tax policy really gets Republicans riled up!

More to come.

The Worst Job in the World

@PltclPrtyCrshr (No. 3)

7/17/16

My first job out of college was at a real estate company in Washington, DC. I graduated from one of the nation’s top undergraduate business school programs with a fancy schmancy major in real estate, yet I still knew absolutely diddly (sp.?) about real estate, real estate development and real estate finance. Something I have in common with the Donald. In business school, I learned very little about real estate. In business school, Trump learned very little about humility, tact, class and the world around him.

Since I had applied to law school, my initial foray into the real estate world resembled the 2016 Jim Webb campaign: short-lived. Did he even make it into 2016? Prior to moving out of DC to start law school, a politically-connected family friend, who knew about my interest in one day running for office, told me to go see a certain Congressman, who could provide some guidance. I dropped by one afternoon unannounced, something Congressional staffers love…

One amazing thing about Congress is that any citizen, at any time, can visit a member’s office and get a meeting with at least a staffer. The only security measures at the House and Senate office building entrances are airport x-ray machines and a few security guards. Unfortunately when government is open to everyone, it attracts some crazies. Which is why Congressional staffers are inherently skeptical of anyone who walks in unannounced. Or so I told myself.

I explained who I was to the Congressman’s deputy chief of staff and she handed me a pen and torn piece of paper to leave my contact info. Something invariably requested of visiting VIPs. She said someone would be in touch. Meaning, get out of here immediately. No one from this office will ever call you. Except maybe for a campaign contribution. Although based on your age and the way you’re dressed, I’m certain you won’t receive that call either.

So I quietly left. Then fortuitously bumped into the Congressman in the hallway on his way back from a committee meeting. I stopped and introduced myself. His response, an ebullient, “I was wondering when you were going to stop by! Come on in!” The family friend was a close friend of the Congressman. We walked right by his aide who had blown me off, whose facial expression was a nice cocktail of shock, awe and terror. Between you and me, that felt good. Like a warm bath. Do adults still take baths? The only baths I’ve taken happened during my first two weeks at graduate school because I was too lazy to walk the four blocks to the hardware store to buy shower curtain rings.

I spent about an hour with the Congressman talking about policy, politics and running for office. Two things really stuck.

The first was his advice on where I should run. I was going to law school, so I floated the idea of running from the Congressional district where the law school was located. He disagreed. “Run where you’re from.” Because it’s where you know the real local issues, it’s where the people know you and it’s the place you most care about. You will be the best representative for that place, not somewhere else.

The second was a comment he made about the House of Representatives. Verbatim, “Why do you want this job? This is the worst job in the world.” The comment really threw me, coming from a rising star in the party, whose political aspirations were well known and who had spent his entire life in and around politics.

Worst job in the world? Doesn’t sound as bad as handing out parking tickets or cleaning up a nuclear accident or valet parking cars in Key West in the middle of August. Except it probably is.

Here’s the upside.

You get to help govern and lead the United States of America. You get to try to make the country a better place. You get to help hundreds of thousands of people in your district, hundreds of millions in the United States and billions of people around the world every single day. You get to write, negotiate and vote on laws. You get to talk about public policy issues on television. You get to lead people in the direction you believe is right. You get to work in an incredibly beautiful building. You get to travel to the best and worst places on earth. You get to learn secrets that few others know. You get a decent salary ($174,000) with amazing benefits, like a free Congressional barber, a free gym, free airport parking, maybe a ride on Air Force One, two weeks off in January, President’s Day week in February, two weeks in March, a week in April, a week in May, two weeks in June, two weeks in July, the entire month of August, the entire month of October, three weeks in November and two weeks in December. That $174,000 works out to about $200/hour. You get to have sex with prostitutes (i.e. David Vitter, Republican Senator from Louisiana, who is still in office). And you get to tell people you’re a member of the House of Representatives. I actually do that sometimes. Fifth District, Kansas.

But the downside…

Your life is no longer private. You are held to a higher standard of behavior than everyone else, but you’re still human. You spend most of your time begging for money. You have to reapply for your job every two years. You have colleagues who can’t find Afghanistan on a map. You have colleagues who constantly lie to you. You have colleagues who publicly and frequently verbally desecrate you. Half the public hates you. Some of those people take that hatred out on your family. Some people pay a lot of money to lambast you on television. More than half the public thinks every word out of your mouth is bullshit. You could probably make a lot more money doing something else. And you have to travel a lot to and from your district. It’s surprising that American Samoa can even field candidates for Congress, especially because its elected member can’t even vote! (The United States has six territories that elect a non-voting delegate to the House: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (huh?), Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, DC.)

Yet election cycle after election cycle, people run. Lots of people run. Because they want to be there. They crave the upside and accept the downside. Because power is sexy. And once they get to Congress, they never want to leave. And do whatever it takes to stay. Either because of the power or because of optimism that they can accomplish something with a little more time, or both.

This Congressman was no exception. Though he was exceptional. He mesmerized me in his office with his mastery of the details of public policy, his ability to clearly communicate his positions and his genuine passion for helping make people’s lives better. He was someone who the American people could admire, a model statesman that the founding fathers had hoped would govern our country forever.

And then he resigned because of a sex scandal.

PS – I know Kansas only has four Congressional districts. Did you?

Politics in a Land Down Under

@PltclPrtyCrshr (No. 2)

7/10/16

Political Party Crasher, live from Melbourne for the Australian federal elections.

Truly pathetic, if that were the only reason I flew twenty-three hours to the other side of the world. It’s somewhat bizarre how you can fly that far from the United States and find yourself in a country just like the United States (albeit with much more entertaining slang). The top of my list is use of the word dodgy. In a sentence, “Trump not releasing his tax returns is dodgy, which I can only assume means he is actually bankrupt.”

Well, the timing of my trip was a coincidence. But don’t we all know, there are no coincidences?

Australia does government and elections a little differently down under, 10,000 miles away from the East Coast of the United States. I know it’s about 10,000 miles because one of the dating apps told me I was about 10,000 miles away from someone who asked how it was possible that I was about 10,000 miles away. That person clearly didn’t know the circumference of the Earth. And was a little shaky on the meaning of the word circumference.

Let me provide some background.

Australia is a parliamentary democracy, a hybrid between the Canadian and British systems, according to a tour guide at Parliament in Canberra, which is the nation’s capital. The Canadian/British comparison helped explain the Australian nuances not at all. But the simple concept of a parliamentary system, in contrast to the presidential system we have in the United States, is that voters elect a House of Representatives and whichever party wins a majority picks a party leader. That party leader becomes Prime Minister. The Australian federal legislature also has a Senate, though it only watches and keeps its collective mouth shut in the Prime Minister-selection process. Every American President wet dreams of this system (i.e. a Congress always controlled by the President’s party).

But it’s not all puppy dogs and ice cream. Or baby koalas and Vegemite.

The Australian House of Representatives has 150 seats. 150 is divisible by two, so it can be evenly split. Minor constitutional drafting boo boo. Split means no party has a majority, which means a hung Parliament. This can also happen because, while Australia has two major parties, Labor (left-leaning) and Liberal (right-leaning – Frank Luntz is smiling somewhere), there is a heap of third parties and they typically win a few seats. Examples are the Green Party, the Australian Cyclists Party, the Australian Sex Party (I didn’t ask…) and the Nick Xenophon Team, which sounds like a racist Douglas Elliman real estate brokerage group (I did ask… the founder’s name is Nick Xenophon).

If neither Labor nor Liberal can cobble together 76 seats, Australia has a hung Parliament, which is political speak for no functioning government (save national security and emergencies). In the United States, that situation is simply called Congress. The solution is new elections. After a very close election, Labor finally conceded on July 10, eight days after the election. Australian election officials wait two weeks for all mail-in ballots to arrive (they should probably mail through Amazon). The Liberals won 76 seats, so fortunately, no hung Parliament this time out.

On Election Day (July 2), I went out campaigning at a polling place in Melbourne for the Labor Party, where the race between the Labor and Liberal candidates was a dead heat. Where not one voter raised an eyebrow about a person with an American accent – to be clear, Americans don’t have accents, Australians do – and they are awesome) – handing out preference sheets for Labor. And where no voter felt shy about asking my friends and I to hold their dog when they went inside to vote. And where every voter, irrespective of party affiliation, found it hysterical when my Australian friend announced that I was with the Trump campaign.

So for the record, yes, Donald Trump frightens Australia too.

One fascinating aspect of Australian elections is that voting is mandatory. Non-voting is punishable by death. Kidding, by a fine of AUD$20 (about USD$15). Yet even such a small dollar amount gets the vast majority of people out to the polls.

Voting in Australia is very complex. Think of the 2000 Florida election ballot as a Rubik’s Cube. Think of the Australia ballot as astrophysics. They can run pages and pages long. They are in at least nine languages including Tamil, Khmer, traditional Chinese and simple Chinese (if there is such a thing). The flyers I handed out were not promoting the Labor Party candidate. Rather, they explained how to fill out the ballot to people who had already decided to vote for the Labor Party candidate! The other parties could figure it out for themselves.

Voting is not simply checking a box for one candidate. You rank order every candidate on the ballot (or the ballot is disqualified). The Labor Party preference flyer advised ranking the Labor candidate first and the Australian Sex Party candidate second. I’m not kidding.

Mandatory voting gets many voters to form an opinion and vote accordingly. But it also gets some voters (estimates are 2%, but it’s impossible to really know) to rank the candidates in numerical order from top to bottom. This is called the donkey vote. Which Republicans would find an apt way to describe how all Democrats vote. Some voters can’t even be bothered to donkey vote, so they draw a penis on the ballot. Don’t believe me? Click here.

Mandatory voting is interesting because it nominally guarantees that government is picked by a majority of the entire country, not just the subset that votes. So let’s make voting mandatory in the United States!

Not a chance that ever happens. Why? Three reasons.

First, in the United States, the right to vote is a right, not an obligation.

Second, freedom of speech (First Amendment) includes the right to vote and the right to not vote.

Third, Republicans would never allow mandatory voting. And they would be right for the two reasons above.

Which is lucky for them, because if the United States had mandatory voting, the country would never have another Republican President or Republican Congress. Ever.

Most Americans who don’t vote (young people, students, minorities, poor people) lean overwhelming to the Democrats. Which is why Republicans would block any attempt at mandatory voting. If all these folks voted, there would be no more Republicans. And which is why Republican-controlled state legislatures pass laws to make voting more difficult. Because the voters mentioned above are the ones for whom these restrictions, like no mail-in voting, shortened polling place hours, photo ID requirement, no same day or same week voter registration, make voting more difficult.

Are there reasons for each of these restrictions? Sure. Are they legitimate ones? Not really.

Republicans argue for photo ID to prevent voter fraud. Except study after study shows that statistically, voter fraud does not exist. Republicans want to shorten polling hours because longer hours mean higher costs. That’s probably true, but the balance between those higher costs (which I imagine are not large) and making it easier for more people to vote, in my mind, weighs heavily in favor of the latter. Mail-in voting is a no-brainer because getting out of work on a Tuesday is difficult for many people (Australia votes on Saturday). And without any evidence of voter fraud, there’s no reason not to allow voter registration the same week as the election.

And then there’s the most important argument against mandatory voting. Who wants to see a bunch of ballots covered in pencil-etched dicks?

How It Started

@PltclPrtyCrshr (No. 1)

7/3/16

Let me explain how I got to writing this weblog. I could call it a blog, but I’m not going to do that. I’m calling it a weblog because the word weblog is awkward and no doubt will confuse a few people.

Actually, I’m not going to explain how this started. That would entail revisiting an unknown point in my childhood when, like plenty of other nerds, I got bit by the political junkie bug. Probably right after talking my way out of writing the mandated long report about my Bar Mitzvah haftorah. The inviolable rule at my temple was no report, no Bar Mitzvah, no exceptions. Evidently, I was the first twelve-year-old to think to call the bluff.

I’m sure I could spend time in deep reflection about why I got bit by the political bug, but I’d probably only find that the answer is something embarrassingly petty (Air Force One is super cool), obnoxiously self-serving (I’m smarter than these blowhard politicians), or more likely, some of both.

So I’ll start after the bug.

I did a US government summer program in high school in Washington, DC. Probably not unrelated, I lost my virginity late. During that summer, I spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. It had great air conditioning to combat the sweltering DC summer heat and humidity. It also had a nifty little subway trolley that connected the Capitol Building to the Senate office buildings on the north side and the House office buildings on the south side. Why would a member walk out the front door of the Capitol, across the street and into the office less than a pitching wedge away when he or she could avoid all human contact by taking the subterranean private subway trolley?

The subway was Representatives and Senators aplenty. I met Paul Wellstone (D-MN), an incredibly lovely guy who I was very sad to see die in that plane crash during his reelection campaign in 2002. I met Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who I felt the need to thank for outlawing smoking on airplanes. Which is a shame. Who doesn’t enjoy breathing smoke-filled recycled air at 35,000 feet for five hours? How was that ever legal?

One day on the Capitol side of the Senate subway, I saw Jesse Helms sitting in the Senators-only car, ready to be whisked the hundred yards back to his Senate office. But the subway car didn’t move. Because it broke. All the plebeians got out and took the walking path. But not Jesse Helms. He stayed planted inside the subway car, angry. Maybe because he was pretty damn old and knew he wouldn’t make it walking back. Or maybe because he thought if he just sat still and did nothing, the subway system might fix itself. Which approach sounds eerily similar to how Congress often tries to solve problems.

I loved the Capitol Building, what it stood for and the power of what those inside of it could do (hopefully in the pursuit of good).

I worked on Capitol Hill during a summer in college. I got into an argument with the Senator for whom I worked. He misstated a fact and I politely corrected him. His response was much less polite, which really drove home his reputation as one of the worst members to work for on Capitol Hill. And he kept insisting that he was correct. But facts are facts, which someone else in the room quickly and conclusively verified. Except on Capitol Hill, where often times, facts are not facts.

Later that summer, I watched Ted Kennedy cut in front of all the Senate interns to get ice cream first at an industry reception. Not much of a surprise as he had never liked to wait his turn.

I went to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000. I spent about five minutes ranting to a portly gentleman on the floor of the Convention about how boring and useless the endless parade of speeches was. His response, “I actually really enjoy the speeches.” Then the person standing next to him said, “This is Governor Mike Huckabee.”

After law school, I decided to run for Congress. I both love and hate the fact that anyone who is at least 25 years old, on any morning, can just wake up and decide to run for Congress. Why did I run? Because I felt strongly that I could do no worse than the people in Washington. And who wouldn’t welcome a knowledgeable, energetic young adult onto the political scene? Well, the local party boss, that’s who. He always smiled when I spoke with him, but that was more likely the result of inebriation than his elation that I was contesting a race against his chosen candidate. I lost the race. He got indicted.

Since my ill-fated run for Congress, and other than having endless discussions about public policy and politics and convincing no one who didn’t already agree with me of my views (although I maintain strongly this is more a result of how deep people dig in politically these days as opposed to my ability to argue and reason), I stayed out of politics. I practiced law, then retired and went into business. I now have an adult job in industry. But the ridiculousness of politics and the characters who define it have only gotten worse, and have gone too far. Yes, everyone always says that. But I think now, with the Republican Party, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, on the cusp of nominating fox pelt head Trump to run for President of the United States, we rational folk can agree. But everyone always says that too.

Which is why I absolutely had to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Turns out it’s not quite that hard to get all-access credentials…