Monthly Archives: November 2010

POLITICAL REALITY

Why Washington Is Likely To Fail America.

Many Americans wonder why their political leaders cannot get along and appear to be unable to solve the tough problems facing the country.  The reason is simple — our leaders are afraid to lead because they fear us.  They know the truth but are scared to death that, if they reveal it, we will vote them out of office.

They see us as spoiled children — wanting more from government yet simultaneously claiming we want to shrink it (e.g., “Get the government out of health care and leave my Medicare alone”).  They see us as unwilling to sacrifice to any significant degree and they worry any call for sacrifice will result in their electoral loss.

Consider any politician who calls for us to pay higher taxes for the benefits we receive rather than borrowing trillions from future generations.  Such a “Tax and Spend” policy is far more responsible than our current “Borrow and Spend” approach but we consistently disparage the former and support the latter.

If a politician calls for higher taxes or for the severe reductions in government services which would be requisite to balance the federal budget if no tax increases were to occur, he or she immediately would be met by an opponent who would argue, “No, we don’t need higher taxes or severe losses of benefits.  We should cut taxes (or at least tax rates) as that would boost the Economy and actually result in more tax revenues because more people would be working and would be paying taxes — and even if they were paying taxes at a lower rate, the aggregate amount of taxes collected would increase.”

Most voters — when choosing between these two scenarios understandably would choose the rosier, lower-tax, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too option.  This is consistent with how politicians use “Perception Politics” to win elections — manipulating how we already feel rather than trying to substantively change our minds about issues and candidates.  It is easier for politicians to work with what we are than try to change us — that is the beauty of Perception Politics.  And who doesn’t want to have it all without paying for it now?

In the example of balancing the Federal Budget, however, the problem is there are limits to lowering tax rates for two reasons.  First, at some point, tax revenues will decrease.  Obviously, if rates were cut to 1%, revenues would be almost nonexistent, so the question becomes “What rate structure minimizes tax burdens, maximizes incentives for economic activity, and generates the maximum amount of tax revenue?”

Second, tax revenues often depend on the state of the Economy.  For example, when capital gains tax rates are cut during a time when there are huge profits amassed in assets subject to capital gains (such as real estate or stocks), one can expect significant tax revenue increases from tax rate cuts as asset owners cash in to take advantage of rate reductions and then purchase other assets.

Cutting the same capital gains tax rates when the values of such assets have plateaued or even decreased (as is the case with most real estate and many stocks today) could result in lower tax collections, however, even if owners had an incentive to sell such assets (which they don’t).  So we have to be thoughtful about where and when to cut tax rates.

Because we have failed to fully inform and educate the American public about the specifics of these issues, citizens are more likely to succumb to the most attractive claims politicians make.  Once fully informed, however, the public would be less susceptible to the erroneous and misleading albeit attractive assertions made by many politicians.

Thus, educating ourselves about economics, for example, could serve to inoculate us against politicians of any stripe who depend more on demagoguery than facts to get our votes.  Where our system has failed is neither major political party has shown any sincere interest in fact-based discussions.  Instead, each continues to rely on Perception Politics as the most efficacious way to manipulate voters.  That is why one party wins in one or two election cycles and the other does the same a few election cycles later.

Only when there is a long-term investment in the education of voters will the approach used by politicians change.  Unfortunately, those who win are the ones who govern and today’s winners see themselves as the beneficiaries of Perception Politics while the losers see Perception Politics as the quickest path back to the top.

We can change the winners into true leaders if each of us answers the question, “How do we, as citizens, become accurately informed so we can help our leaders make better decisions?”  By demonstrating our expertise and understanding of the issues, we can give our elected officials the courage they need to make the tough decisions America requires to prosper once again.  Until we do that, however, our leaders will fear us too much to do what is best for our country.

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Aaron Harber hosts “The Aaron Harber Show” seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays at 8:00 pm as well as n COMCAST Entertainment Television on Mondays at 7:30 pm.  It also is on ION Television (KPXC-TV) and is viewable 24/7 at http://www.HarberTV.com.  Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com.  (C) Copyright 2010 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber.  All rights reserved.

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WAS ANYONE REALLY SURPRISED?

Were the 2010 election results more predictable than we want to admit?


When a former gubernatorial candidate wrote “Thanks for these amazingly accurate predictions,” I realized that, while many of my correct prognostications were helped by my being objective about the outcome of the 12 contests for which I predicted all 12 winners, a good number of the predictions were easy to make.  Here was my analysis prior to Election Day.

U.S. SENATE.  This was the toughest race to call because I had thought for some time Republican Ken Buck would win it thanks to the Republican wave but, after looking at the pounding he was taking for several campaign-ending comments, I predicted Democrat Michael Bennet would win by one point.  He did.  Buck definitely snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and probably could have won by (a) responding faster to a series of outrageous claims against him and (b) following Bennet’s strategy of minimizing contact with the Press (although, personally, I don’t like that approach!).

GOVERNOR.  It was easy to predict John Hickenlooper would win this race and he did.  Thanks to the mutual loathing between Dan Maes and Tom Tancredo all Hickenlooper had to do was find a way to pass the time.  Plus everyone liked the Mayor — including his two opponents.  Initially Tancredo was a spoiler who made it impossible for Maes to win.  Then they switched positions with Tancredo eclipsing Maes but forced to focus on his conservative base as Maes became the spoiler.  Tancredo never had enough time to collect sufficient centrist and unaffiliated votes to form a plurality.  Hickenlooper could have campaigned from Erie (Pennsylvania) and he still would have won.

ATTORNEY GENERAL.  Democrat Stan Garnett needed an extra $500,000 plus six more months to catch incumbent Republican John Suthers.  Garnett could not get issues to resonate and the race was drowned out by bigger position and ballot issue contests.  This was a contest where Garnett should have gotten some traction but Suthers did a good defensive job.  The dominance of other campaigns made it difficult for either candidate to be heard.

SECRETARY OF STATE.  Both candidates started glacially with incumbent Democrat Bernie Buescher caught up running his office and Republican challenger Scott Gessler consumed with his law practice.  Gessler caught the Republican wave and focused on Big Picture issues but was accused of being partisan.  Buescher focused on how well he was managing the office and his accomplishments while in office for just 18 months but that did not exactly catch fire with citizens.  Not many voters paid attention to any of this.

TREASURER.  Colorado hasn’t seen such a contest for this position as incumbent Democrat Cary Kennedy fiercely battled Republican challenger Walker Stapleton.  While in most years, Kennedy’s name would have helped her, it probably didn’t this time.  Known as a smart, capable, straight-shooter, Kennedy strayed from her focused-on-the-facts reputation by launching a last-minute attack using a DUI charge Stapleton had a decade ago and extrapolated this made him unfit for office.  It altered voters’ positive impression of Kennedy as a not-your-typical-politician.  Now she was just like everyone else and enough votes went to Stapleton — one of the nicest guys you could meet — for him to squeak by.

1ST C.D.  The biggest surprise in the victory by Democratic incumbent Diana DeGette was her massive margin over impressive Republican challenger Dr. Michael Fallon.  DeGette was partying as if it were 2006 or 2008 again.  She transformed the Republican wave into a ripple in Denver.

2ND C.D.  The numbers were similarly overwhelming for incumbent Democrat Jared Polis in his victory over Republican challenger Stephen Bailey.  Without any financial support, Bailey ran a good campaign but knew Polis had the ability to bring out the big guns if he ever felt threatened.  Polis never felt threatened and coasted to victory.

3RD C.D.  Three-term incumbent John Salazar faced a tough challenge from Republican State Representative Scott Tipton.  Both candidates had a lot of outside help but Tipton adroitly rode the Republican wave in what frequently has been a conservative district.  Tipton stayed on message, campaigned ferociously, and knew he had the momentum.  Salazar was an excellent fit for the District so his loss was a surprise to many.

4TH C.D.  Similar to the 3rd C.D., Republican challenger and State Representative Cory Gardner ran a solid campaign against incumbent Democrat Betsy Markey to win the District.  Gardner was seen by many as the ideal representative for the 4th and voters agreed.  Markey ran a solid campaign but the Republican wave probably felt like a tsunami to her.

5TH C.D.  Republican incumbent Doug Lamborn easily dispatched Democrat Kevin Bradley, who had less resources and visibility than any other Democratic challenger.

6TH C.D.  Democratic nominee John Flerlage gamely tried to make a go of his race against incumbent Mike Coffman but it was futile given (1) the political configuration of the District, (2) Coffman’s long-term record of political success, (3) his good fit with the District, and (4) the Republican wave.

7TH C.D.  Democratic incumbent Ed Perlmutter ran for his political life and saved it as Republican challenger and Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier offered a tough challenge.  Rather than parrying the seeming contradiction that Frazier’s charter school took the very stimulus funds Frazier had railed against (e.g., by saying, “So what?  Once the funds were made available, we played by the rules and sought them…”), Frazier appeared to be a deer frozen in the headlights.  It wasn’t the only factor though as Perlmutter consistently exploited every mistake Frazier made.

WILD CARD?  An interesting possibility is the sponsors of Amendment 63 — an effort to contest President Obama’s health care legislation — may have unwittingly directed anger away from Democratic candidates in Colorado and served, instead, as a safety valve for those upset with the Administration’s health care policies.  Could Michael Bennet owe his victory to the Independence Institute and John Caldara?  Stranger things have happened.

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Aaron Harber hosts “The Aaron Harber Show” seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays at 8:00 pm and on COMCAST Entertainment Television on Mondays at 7:30 pm.  It also is on ION Television (KPXC-TV) and is viewable 24/7 at http://www.HarberTV.com.  Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com.  (C) Copyright 2010 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber.  All rights reserved.

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Silence is Golden

The morning after…

Waking up on Wednesday, November 3rd — after just 2½ hours of sleep after watching election returns with the Democrats and then the Republicans at their respective Election Night headquarter parties in Denver — I felt something was missing as I turned on the radio and then the television.

What was that sound?  No, it wasn’t a sound I heard that caught my attention; rather, it was the absence of sound which was so soothing.  Not a single political advertisement was assaulting me!  Who would have thought the absence of something could be such a blessing?

Most people — whether political experts or members of the general public — agreed this year’s political ads, as a group, were the worst ever.  With the overwhelming percentage being negative, it was easy to become soured on both the attackers and the attackees.

The problem is attack ads work — we pay more attention to them and we remember more about the messages they convey than positive ads.  They also are intentionally deployed to demotivate certain groups of voters so those people will be less likely to support a candidate or even to cast their votes.

Changing this dynamic is difficult because, with the First Amendment on their side, those who sponsor advertisements which are misleading or even grossly dishonest know they have constitutional protection.  Courtesy, politeness, and mutual respect do not enter the political equation.  Watchwords such as “All’s fair in love, war, and politics,” “You only govern if you win” and “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser” are the dominant operating philosophies of campaign strategists.

Unless we take action, because political campaign managers know we remember negative ad content at a much higher rate than positive content, the ads will only get worse unless we take action against them.  Otherwise the preponderance of political ads in tight race (e.g., 75% or more) will continue to be negative and unscrupulous.  To change this, several actions must be undertaken in concert.

The Press needs to play a greater role serving as fact-checking sources and highlighting ads with false or distorted claims.  Some organizations make tepid efforts, at best, to take on this challenge but usually are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ads.  The result is they may analyze only one-tenth of the ads to which voters are exposed.

Local news sources should take advantage of some of the national fact-checking efforts and integrate those findings into their own news reports.  FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, and others provide excellent sources of information which can be the starting point for local news sources verifying facts.

Burying objective analyses of ads or keeping them too concise lessens the effectiveness of any watchdog effort.  The analyses should be front and center.  Newspapers should make their stories the Front Page news of a section or even of the entire paper.  Television stations, for example, when finding an egregiously erroneous advertisement should (1) offer free response time to the unfairly attacked party, (2) run a “Fact Check” disclaimer, (3) have a serious discussion of the ad by a bipartisan panel, and/or (4) have the courage to pull the ad (which one or more Colorado television stations did during this election cycle).

It is easy for a broadcaster to say, “It’s a Free Country and candidates can say whatever they want.  If a candidate or committee’s advertisement distorts the truth, the opposition is free to buy an advertisement to counter the false ad with a response.”  The line between Free Speech and False Advertising will almost always be drawn in favor of Free Speech but forcing a candidate or committee to spend money to correct a falsehood is an unfair burden if the person or entity being attacked does not have the resources to respond.

Just because candidates and campaigns have the right to lie about those they oppose does not mean that kind of behaviour should be tolerated.  It is time to more openly discuss this bad behaviour rather than accept it as a fait accompli.

Television and radio stations hold a broadcast license granted to them by the Federal Government on behalf of the people of the United States.  They have an obligation to provide a public service to their communities.  Perhaps it is time for these stations to reflect on how they could better serve America with their segment of the public airwaves.

It is time to openly consider the inherent conflict of interest between the public service responsibilities of radio and television stations and their corporate mission to maximize advertising revenue.  After all, it is difficult or even undesirable, from a business perspective, to be responsible for policing your customers — especially when they are paying you billions of dollars every two years.

Independent nonpartisan initiatives (such as the 2006 Truth In Political Advertising Project in Colorado — http://www.TIPAP.org) need to be supported and encouraged to start early in every election cycle.  These entities have proven they can serve as a widely-accepted governor on the behaviour of candidates and campaign committees on both a local and national scale, especially if the Press highlights their findings.  In the case of the TIPAP, its effect was lauded by people ranging from Bill Armstrong to Bill Clinton.

A large-scale effort by an organization such as the TIPA Project is needed to address the sheer volume of political ads so there can be an immediate (within 24 hours and, ideally, same-day) response to every false ad.

Truly nonpartisan efforts such as the TIPA Project need to be made a permanent fixture on the political landscape — with universities and colleges involved with news operations on an ongoing basis.  Such programs then could serve as a stable source of evaluations for news outlets — ranging from newspapers to bloggers to the television and radio stations making tough decisions about how to deal with exceptionally unfair ads.

Voters need to learn enough about the candidates and issues so negative advertising is blunted by a foundation built on facts.  Such a foundation will make negative advertising less effective and force candidates and campaigns to be more substantive.  Voters need to consider ways to electorally punish candidates and their supporters who unfairly malign opponents.

At the same time, voters need to be more forgiving.  If a candidate made a mistake one, two or three decades ago and paid his or her debt to Society, perhaps we should be more willing to accept he or she has changed or, at the minimum, met his or her obligations.  We need to be more willing to give second chances and be thoughtful about how relevant and important, if at all, a past transgression might be.  If voters were more forgiving, the effectiveness of many attack ads could be blunted.  If attack ads were to become less effective, candidates and campaigns would be forced to focus more on the issues and be more substantive.

Unless we take action now, the withering assault of the upcoming 2012 election cycle will make us pine for the “good ol’ days” of the 2010 campaign.

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Aaron Harber hosts “The Aaron Harber Show” seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays at 8:00 pm and on COMCAST Entertainment Television on Mondays at 7:30 pm.  It also is on ION Television (KPXC-TV) and is viewable 24/7 at http://www.HarberTV.com.  He also hosted “Colorado Election 2010” (www.Colorado2010.com).  Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com.  (C) Copyright 2010 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber.  All rights reserved.

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