2020 Democrats Debates Will Disappoint. Here’s Why Podcasts Are So Much Better.

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Welcome to the presidential debate season. This evening, tomorrow, and then over 16 long months, several dozen proposed debates will occupy much of the news media’s fevered attention.

Millions of us will tune in, but we may well be disappointed.

Instead of informed, insightful coverage of complex issues and character of the candidates, the debates will reinforce saturation coverage of contests, celebrities and clashes.

Sparks may fly, but don’t expect true illumination. Reporting and analysis will be limited to what were the most catchiest soundbites, who screwed up, and which of 20 Democratic candidates actually stood out?

“After a couple of hours, viewers and journalists can usually only remember a couple of genuinely interesting, unexpected interactions,” wrote data analyst David Byler in The Washington Post. These moments “often get lost” and “fail to really change public opinion.”

Despite the political theater of the debates, don’t expect them to tell us much about the men and women who want to be President.

Voters deserve better than this.

For deeper insights, podcasts may be a much better way to learn about their proposals, intellectual rigor, and ability to articulate how they would navigate many huge challenges that will be faced in the White House.

Some campaigns get it. According to the political newspaper and website, CQ Roll Call, candidate Pete Buttigieg has already appeared on more that 30 podcasts. Additional appearances are expected.

Politico reports that at least a dozen 2020 contenders have appeared on “Pod Save America”, a popular podcast for Democratic voters and political junkies.

“One thing that’s great about podcasts is that it allows for more in-depth conversation,” says Buttigieg communications advisor Lis Smith. “You feel like you’re friends with these guys, you feel like you know them,” Smith told Roll Call about podcast hosts. “You trust their judgement, you adopt their lingo… I don’t remember feeling that way about a TV host or a radio host.”

Elizabeth Warren was interviewed for more than an hour on “The Axe Files”, the podcast hosted by former Obama senior political advisor, David Axelrod. With podcasts, “I explore people’s stories and try to convey to the listener who it is I’m talking to,” he says.

During the two-hour TV debates the candidates may say a few worthwhile things.

But because so many Presidential hopefuls will be on the stage, they will only get about nine minutes each to speak. And “a certain amount of that is going to involve answering the inane questions that the moderators inevitably pose,” writes columnist Paul Waldman.

By contrast, podcasts allow us to go much deeper, exploring who the candidates really are and what are the principles that they stand for. Despite the risks of flubbing the answer to a surprising or insightful question, serious campaigns should jump at the chance to be taken seriously by podcasters.

Richard Davies is a podcast consultant at daviescontent.com. He co-hosts “How Do We Fix It?”.

How Do We Fix It? When Did It Become Cool To Be So Angry?

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Why are so many of us so damn angry?

Signs of fury are everywhere.  The national mood has darkened and it’s doing nothing to improve our democracy.

From chaotic scenes last weekend in Las Vegas when Bernie Sanders’ supporters threw a hissy fit at the Nevada’s Democratic Convention, to Donald Trump’s string of outrageous insults, it seems perfectly acceptable to claim that those who we disagree with are evil.

Yet these eruptions come at a time of modest improvement in many aspects of American life.  President Obama has been a disappointment, even to many supporters,  but his approval rating  – 51% says Gallup – is pretty decent for a President close to the end of his second term.

The jobs and housing markets are far from great, but they’re in much better shape today than when Obama first took office after the worst financial crisis in nearly 80 years.

The Affordable Care Act, while flawed, has not been the utter disaster claimed by many critics. Many more people are signing up and the U.S. uninsured rate is at a record low.

The “flood” of Mexicans surging across our southern border is a myth.  Since 2009, more Mexicans left the U.S. than entered the country.

Terrorism is always a threat, but the worst attack on U.S. soil happened nearly 15 years ago.

And he many of us are gripped by a deep sense of malaise and insecurity.  More than 7 in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country.  Cultural divisions, income inequality and a decline in living standards for non-college educated Americans threaten to pull is further apart.

All are reasons why Trump and Sanders have attracted huge crowds and surprising levels of support. But their policy prescriptions are simplistic.  We have very little idea of what they would do, if elected.

Who would pay for Sanders’s sweeping pledges of free health care and college education? How would Trump deal with China, The Middle East, immigration, job creation or the details of tax policy?

After his recent meeting with Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “Going forward, we’re going to go a little deeper in the policy weeds.” Too bad that hasn’t happened already.

Perhaps, Yuval Levin is right.  In his new book, “The Fractured Republic,” he argues that our politics have been paralyzed by nostalgia for the 1950’s and 60’s.  Liberals hanker for a time of greater income equality, before “the rise of the rest” meant that our workers had to compete in the resurgent global marketplace.  The right is nostalgic for cultural cohesion and  “traditional values”.

But those days of post-World War 2 U.S. dominance will not return. Our politics must address the technological and global challenges of today, instead of wallowing in the past.  We need to move beyond the primal screams of anger and work together, across party lines for a better future.

How Do We Fix It? How Bill Clinton Smashed the Passion Gap 

  

Unscripted comments often give us the worst moments of the Presidential campaign. Look no further than the embarrassing Republican debate in early March, when Donald Trump bragged about his penis.

But once in a while a tense, uncomfortable encounter can turn into a civics lesson.

And so it was when Bill Clinton stood up during an event for his wife in Philadelphia Thursday and faced down protesters from Black Lives Matter. They complained vigorously about anti-crime legislation that the former President signed in the early 90’s: a time when the crack epidemic led to a terrible spike in homicides, especially in African-American neighborhoods.

Instead of merely dismissing the shouts and signs of his detractors, or taking a politically correct vow of silence, he engaged them with a series of remarks about policy and the changed political landscape.

“I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African-American children,” the former President said wagging his finger. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She [Hillary Clinton] didn’t. You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.”

The tone may have been somewhat hectoring, and he sort-of apologized for it the next day. But the President’s passion was real. You don’t have to agree with him or his record to be impressed by the outburst of substance.

Far too much of this campaign has been about easy slogans, from Bernie Sanders’ simplistic break-up the big banks (thoroughly dissed in a New York Times column by liberal Paul Krugman) to Trump’s build a wall and make Mexico pay.

The biggest problem Hillary Clinton has been her apparent lack of passion. It’s why she has under-performed, and also why Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio failed to catch fire. 

Voters already know that the former Secretary of State, First Lady and Senator from New York has a deeply impressive resume and an intelligent grasp of governance and foreign policy, but much of her campaign has been canned —  on auto pilot. It’s as if she thinks she can glide to victory without taking risks. Without being a fighter.
But today’s media and political environment has changed. Americans – especially millennials – are increasingly bored with complacent, canned remarks. An occasional flash of humor or even anger can be refreshing and even change minds. 

Bill may have put his foot in it sometimes, but his spontaneous outburst in Philadelphia is a lesson for Hillary and a solution for her wobbly campaign. Fix the passion gap.

If you want to convince skeptical voters that you’re not a crook, put away the script and speak from the heart.

How Do We Fix It?  You and Me.  Our Role in Partisan Divide

 How many times have you heard someone say: “I’m fed up with the campaign and politics in general.”

That’s hardly surprising at a time when media coverage has focused on personal insults, name-calling and partisan gridlock, instead of governance and compromise.

But much of this is our fault. Not just the politicians.  From older angry white men (Trump supporters) to idealistic Millennials (Bernie backers), voters have repeatedly rewarded candidates who use angry rhetoric and blame others for the country’s problems.  Sanders bashes Wall Street “crooks”, while Trump attacks Mexican immigrants and Muslims.

Among the candidates of left and right who have pushed back against this trend, only Ohio Governor John Kasich has won more support than expected.  

“We live with the dysfunction of partisan behaviors and believe we must and can do better,” says Joan Blades, co-founder of the non-profit group, LivingRoomConversations.org.  She makes the case for personal dialog across party lines, arguing that it’s a key part of changing the way all of us think about politics.

A strong progressive, who co-founded the liberal activist group, MoveOn.org in the late 90’s, Joan says you’ll never convince anyone with an opposing viewpoint unless you listen to them first. 

“One of the problems progressives have right now is that if they run into someone who doesn’t believe in climate science, they roll their eyes.” As soon as you do that, “you’ve lost your conversation,” Joan says. “Nobody listens to anybody.”

Americans need to find new ways to speak about our differences and visit websites with opposing political opinions from their own.  Speaking with those you don’t agree with is part of the solution.

 “It’s actually really fun having a living room conversation,” she tells us on episode 44 of our podcast, How Do We Fix It? “They’re more fun than if you have a bunch of people around and you what they’re going to say.”

LivingRoom Conversations.org has simple for ground rules for each meeting – encouraging participants to be curious, show respect and take turns.  

Listening to people is the best way to get people to listen to you. These conversations are not debates. Instead of winning, the aim is come up with solutions.

The group’s guidelines are open-source. People can use whatever works for them. I want to host one.  What about you?  And what topics might work in these settings?  You can find examples at  LivingRoomConverstions.org.
   

Why Hillary Clinton May Have To Make Only Simple Change To Turn Things Around.

  
The one really big thing the polls are telling us right now is that the American people want a Presidential candidate who tells it like it is. 

Donald Trump is the prime example of the unplugged guy who says outrageous things and is fun to watch.  Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders are also anti-establishment “outsider” candidates who are doing far better than expected.  

Hillary Clinton is the prime example of someone who’s telling it like it isn’t.  Her campaign is boring, ultra-cautious, and buttoned-up.  She’s facing an enthusiasm gap.

But despite her apparently disastrous poll plunge, Hillary is still in a place where nearly every competitor would like to be.

Her campaign has a ton of money and a strong organization to fight the primary and caucus states next year after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Unlike Sanders, or Trump for that matter, she has strong support among minority voters. 

Above all, she is un-peaking early and still has plenty of time to recover.  At this point in 2007, with 14 months to go before an election, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson were the top two Republicans in the race. Remember them?

To turn things around, Clinton must make just one really big change. Instead of keeping the press and her critics at a distance, she should welcome them in.  Answer their questions until she’s blue in the face. 

The former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State needs to get into the trenches.  That should include an offer to make regular appearances before Republican-led committees in Congress.  She’s a very smart and seasoned operator, who would do nicely in the spotlight offered by Capitol Hill.

Instead of just doing friendly softball TV shows like “The View” or “The Ellen DeGeneres Show“, she ought to go on Fox. Appear with the scrappy Bill O’Reilly.  Do a bunch of talk radio, just like Trump has. 

Fight back, Hillary.  Get your hands dirty.  Take on your critics in unedited, spontaneous settings.  Go beyond the political echo chamber.

Detractors say Clinton is too defensive and doesn’t like the press.  Those aren’t disqualifications for the White House.

You don’t have to be the most likable candidate in the race.  Face it: she never will be. 

But people do respect a fighter. And above all they want someone who explains in clear English exactly why she wants to be President.

She should find her passion and shed her caution. And yes, be herself.
Recent polls say Democratic voters care far less about the email server controversy than journalists or political elites.

The reason why Bernie Sanders is gaining support not just because he’s an outspoken liberal.  Voters may not agree with all his positions, but many see him as authentic, who sticks to his guns.

Hillary Clinton, if you want to win the Democratic Presidential nomination, stick to yours.