Friday, February 24, 2023

Now Is The Time For Democrats

Now Is The Time For Democrats
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, February 24, 2023, p. A6

“Now is the time for all good Iowa Democrats to come to the aid of their party” is more than a keystroking exercise. Iowa Dems’ best and brightest are planning the party’s future. Now is the time to give them our ideas.

Here are three suggestions involving neighbors, civics and finances.

Neighbors. The current issue of Jim Hightower’s “Lowdown” (hightowerlowdown.org) skins alive the party’s national and state leadership for their dismissal of Republican small towns and counties. Even last-minute email and other technology contacts won’t do. “Being there still matters most. Constant in-person connections at ball games, bars . . . just showing up where people live.”


Hightower notes that John Fetterman spent months in Pennsylvania’s small towns, getting to know people, and helping with their challenges. Only later did he campaign there. He didn’t win those counties, but he won three percentage points more than President Biden. Not much? Only until you realize that was 110,000 votes. [For the source, credits, and story accompanying this photo see the first entry under "SOURCES," below.]

“It’s hard to score points if you don’t have a team on the field.”

Civics. Earlier in our nation’s history, civic education was broadly seen as integral to the purposes of public schools and universities. Now, not so much.

What’s even tougher to find are civics courses that include students’ experience with “talking truth to power,” bringing about change – even if just their cafeteria’s offerings. Given the current attacks on public school curriculum, libraries and teachers, this might not be the best time to campaign for civics return.

But there’s nothing to prevent the political parties taking on this responsibility – ideally jointly. Community organizing and campaigning techniques are relatively content neutral. Survival of our democracy depends on millions of young people developing a passion for political action.

Finances. Over 50 years ago California Speaker Jesse Unruh coined the expression, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Today that mother’s milk has gone sour.

Federal candidates spend a half or more of their time in Washington dialing for dollars, millions of dollars, instead of legislation and constituents’ needs. Most of my candidates’ emails last year were a daily drumbeat of requests for money. Years ago my research revealed that the payback on contributions ran $1000 to $1 or more. Contribute a million, get back a billion.

Are there no alternatives to this rotting cancer? Of course there are.

Overturn Citizens United. Impose limits on length of campaigns. Build teams of self-motivated, trained volunteers; cut paid staff. Follow Congresswoman Katie Porter’s example: regularly email thoughtful ideas, not constant begging for dollars. Ban corporate PACs. Create free media worthy of coverage, not paid media viewers shut out.

Cut costs for candidates buy buying for all – stock radio and TV commercials, yard signs with space for personalized stickers.

These are neither the only, nor the best, ideas. But if every Iowa Democrat who cares about our state’s future – or even half of them – would give it some thought, and share those thoughts, we could reshape our party and state.

Nicholas Johnson lives in Iowa City and thinks about Democrats’ days gone by. mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

SOURCES
Photo credit. This photo by Jim Zons appears at the top of an online story in the Washington Monthly by Robin A. Johnson, "How Democrats Can Win in White Working-Class Districts; Let them control their own messages - and give them the resources they need," Washington Monthly, Jan. 17, 2022, washingtonmonthly.com/2022/01/17/how-democrats-can-win-in-white-working-class-districts/. I only discovered this photo and story after my column was being published by The Gazette. Had I known of it earlier I would have given it equal, or higher, prominance along with Jim Hightower's take on these issues.

The caption on the photo in the story reads, "Road work. Democrat Jeff Smith (right) outperforms his party in rural Wisconsin by building close personal relationships with voters."

Excerpts from the first few paragraphs:
Ever since he narrowly won his race for the Wisconsin State Senate in 2018, Democrat Jeff Smith has never stopped campaigning—though he does so in unusual ways. For instance, he regularly parks his trademark “big, red truck”—a 1999 Dodge Ram pickup—on the side of a road, plants a six-foot handmade sign that reads “Stop and Talk With Senator Jeff Smith,” and engages with his constituents on whatever topics are on their minds. These “Stop and Talks” help him in his role not only as a candidate but also as a policy maker. “Every conversation sparks a new idea,” he told me.

Smith represents Wisconsin’s 31st State Senate District in the western part of the state, which Donald Trump won twice. . . . It is emblematic of the kind of geography Democrats have been losing in recent cycles and need to get better at to avoid being wiped out electorally in 2022 and 2024.

To win reelection . . . [is] tough, though, because the Democratic brand has become so toxic in the rural and small-town parts of the district. . . .Voters there, he says, identify the party with unpopular policies, like “defund the police,” that he and most other Democrats never supported. They also increasingly bring up their belief that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election. His best hope, he told me, is to build enough trust with enough individual voters in rural counties that they will overcome their partisan leanings. That’s why he lets those who stop to chat lead the discussion. “If you listen to voters long enough, you can find something we agree on,” he observed, pointing to negotiating down prescription drug prices as an example. “That starts the process of building trust.” If he can engage with voters before the party label comes up, their response is often “You know, you are the only Democrat I can vote for.”
The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969, about halfway through my FCC term, and very much a part of my life at that time. If you are not familiar with its origins, personalities, influance and impact on Washington, you will enjoy, and be impressed by, a high quality, short video documentary. Go to washingtonmonthly.com/about, and at the bottom of the page click on: "How Washington Really Works: Charlie Peters and the Washington Monthly."

I believe the use of the photo and these paragraphs is well within the law of "fair use," given the subject matter, the amount used, the total lack of any economic benefit to myself, and the positive (and de minimis) economic impact for the magazine, author and photographer. Objections to this conclusion can be sent to: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Now is the time. J. Ajlouny, “Who Said That?” Feb. 28, 2016, https://www.jajlouny.com/who-said-that/ (“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”

Charles E. Weller (1840–1925)

Scarcely anyone who learned to type before 1960 is not familiar with this “little finger exercise” created by New Jersey typewriter salesman Charles E. Weller. The phrase was composed to help learners become accustomed to the rigors of typewriting. It was used by millions of typing students until the newer, less political “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” was coined by an instructor whose name has been forever lost to posterity. There was an advantage to the new phrase, however; in using each letter of the alphabet at least once, it also served as a quick test to determine if the machine had any broken or missing keys.”)

Iowa IDP Reformers’ proposals. Laura Belin, “New Iowa Democratic Party chair Rita Hart has her work cut out for her; Iowa Democrats at lowest ebb in decades,” Capital Dispatch, Jan. 30, 2023, iowacapitaldispatch.com/2023/01/30/new-iowa-democratic-party-chair-rita-hart-has-her-work-cut-out-for-her

“Hart Vision for IDP,” 2023, 11 pp., pdf, https://www.bleedingheartland.com/static/media/2023/01/Hart-Vision-for-IDP-2023.pdf

Brianne Pfannenstiel, “Tired of losing, big-name Iowa Democrats forge new groups looking for long-term gains,” Des Moines Register, Oct. 3, 2022, https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2022/10/03/iowa-democrats-new-solutions-for-long-term-gains-elections/10390964002/

(“The work has evolved out of a group called The Hughes Project, which launched in the wake of the 2020 elections. . . . [Jack] Hatch banded together with . . . Fred Hubbell, Democratic donor Harry Bookey, former Gov. Tom Vilsack and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn — to launch the Hughes Project in early 2021. . . . Out of that work, Hatch said, came a plan to launch a donor group called the Alliance For A Better Iowa, a research hub called the Heartland Research Project, a communications hub and a nonprofit hub — all individual organizations that would be part of a broader political constellation with a shared progressive agenda.

Though the goals align with those of the Iowa Democratic Party, the groups operate as separate organizations.

“Likeminded Iowans and donors have come together to build an offensive, long-term strategy and create change,” said Jamie Burch Elliott, the executive director of Alliance For A Better Iowa. “… This type of work is new for Iowa, and we’re still in the startup phase.”

The changes mirror projects in other states. But Burch Elliott said Iowa's efforts are not aligned with the Democracy Alliance, a national organization that pools money from Democratic mega-donors to fund ‘the infrastructure necessary to advance a progressive agenda for America,’ according to its website. . . . “[Jack] Hatch said one of the groups the Alliance is helping to fund is Progress Iowa, a progressive issue advocacy group that has been operating in the state for about seven years and is part of the larger Progress Now network.

‘This year, we've been able to expand our staff, expand our capacity to do the work that we've done for years, which is to organize and connect Iowans with their local government and tell their story,’ Progress Iowa Executive Director Matt Sinovic said.

He said the group regularly works with Iowans to help connect them with their local elected officials, post on social media, write letters to the editor and engage in public advocacy efforts.

‘When you talk to people around the state, they’re just living their life and doing the best they can,’ Sinovic said. ‘All they want is for the political process to help them out a little bit. And when you give people the opportunity to share that, that is incredibly powerful.’”)

Brianne Pfannenstiel, “Iowa Democratic heavyweights joining forces to figure out how to win elections again,” Des Moines Register, March 3, 2021, https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2021/03/03/iowa-democrats-review-what-went-wrong-2020-chart-path-to-win-2022-vilsack-governor-politics-election/6815912002/ (“After a round of ‘heartbreaking’ losses in 2020, a group of Iowa Democratic heavyweights are banding together to take stock of what went wrong and how to bring the party back to relevance in 2022.

Former Gov. Tom Vilsack, first lady Christie Vilsack, former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, former state Sen. Jack Hatch, 2018 governor candidate Fred Hubbell, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn and Democratic donor Harry Bookey are leading the effort.

The group — which is calling itself the ‘Hughes Project’ after former Iowa Gov. Harold Hughes — is circulating a survey to Democrats at every level of state and local politics to gauge what went well and what fell flat. . . . ‘We are listening and learning from unions, community leaders, candidates, elected officials, volunteers and all those who care about Iowa's future,’ [Fred] Hubbell said in a statement.”

Ellen Goodmann Miller, “Iowa Democrats: It’s Time to Challenge Ourselves,” Bleeding Heartland, Jan. 27, 2022, https://www.bleedingheartland.com/2022/01/27/iowa-democrats-its-time-to-challenge-ourselves/ (“I’m concerned that if we only invite people who can afford a seat at the table to decide who is worthy as a candidate in our party, we’re not only losing our way, we’re forgetting who we are.”)

The Hightower Lowdown. Jim Hightower, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?” The Hightower Lowdown, vol. 25, No. 1, Jan. 2023, https://hightowerlowdown.org/article/dear-democratic-party-cant-anybody-here-play-this-game/ (“Casey Stengel spent over 50 years in baseball as a player, manager, and colorful raconteur, capping his Hall of Fame career in 1962 as manager of a brand-new major-league ball club, the New York Mets. The start-up team was, in a word, terrible. It lost 120 of its 160 games that first year, the worst pro team since 1899. Exasperated by the players’ almost comical ineptness, Stengel threw up his hands: “Can’t anybody here play this game?” It’s my New Year’s wish that the national Democratic Party establishment will quit playing the momentous game of politics as though they’re the ’62 Mets, muffing easy ground balls, dropping pop-ups, and botching scoring opportunities.

. . .

Start with a basic: GET THE HELL OUT OF WASHINGTON! Not just organizationally, but politically, ideologically … attitudinally. The once-proud Party of the People has become (in the public mind and in fact) a corporate-serving Washington party of aloof, well-off insiders. Today’s entrenched Democratic establishment of high-dollar donors, lobbyists, consultants, and old-line politicos regularly opposes The People, especially you “outsider” democratic champions who dare challenge the plutocratic status quo. The party’s Washington club has become particularly aggressive in mounting negative campaigns against strong progressive Democrats running for Congress and other top offices. The insiders’ electoral strategy is to recruit and finance candidates in their own image–urban, urbane professionals who try to tiptoe into office with bland, middle-of-the-road policies of pretend reform that preserve all the abusive power of the existing system.

. . .

ADIOS, SUCKERS

But in the past year or so, the party’s strategic thinkers have formulated a plan for these alienated constituents. It’s called “Adios.”

Yes, believe it or not, they’ve actually decided that the smart thing to do is just kiss-off entire swaths of the country–especially the farm counties and factory towns of rural America. Forget the “Give ’em hell” scrappy spirit of Harry Truman, these geniuses are surrendering those millions of voters without a fight, labeling them a lost cause, unworthy of expending political money and effort.

. . .

BEING THERE

Despite today’s emphasis on high-tech, low-touch campaigning via Zoom, cell phones, email, TikTok, instant polls, robocalls, etc., being there still matters most. That means constant in-person connections with people at backyard barbeques, ball games, places of worship, community events, bars, farmer’s markets, festivals … and, well, just showing up where the people live. This is especially true for progressive efforts to build grassroots trust, defeat lies, and develop long-term political relationships with voters. And it’s truer yet in smaller communities where word-of-mouth support is invaluable.

A party or campaign that only passes through town with a get-out-the-vote crew in the last month of an election does not count as being there. People need to feel that the party is a living presence –with ears as well as a mouth–committed to being a helpful participant in the whole of community life.

. . .

It’s hard to score if you don’t put a team on the field!

. . .

WHY RURAL MATTERS

. . .

The Rural Democracy Initiative reports that several 2022 campaigns that openly defied the party strategy of ignoring rural areas turned small gains into vital Democratic victories. For example, prior to running for US Senate in Pennsylvania, John Fetterman had spent months visiting the state’s many small communities, getting to know the people and working with them on their various needs. He established a personal link and some level of trust that Democrats generally didn’t have. Then, as a candidate, he came back and actively campaigned for support. As a result, even though he didn’t win the red counties, he increased the Democratic share there over Biden’s 2020 run from 26% to 29%. Although the increase looks small, the impact was huge: By “showing up” in rural counties that the national party says to abandon, Fetterman pulled in more than 110,000 extra votes.

. . .

SIGN OF THE TIMES

A tangible indicator of the Democratic Party’s withdrawal from the rural landscape is that local party supporters in many states literally can’t even get an allotment of yard signs for distribution. GOP banners for statewide candidates crop up like weeds in many small towns and along country roads, but there’s often no visible trace of Democrats contesting for the area’s votes.

. . .

IMMOVABLE VOTERS?

This is not a population that is squeamish about confronting the moneyed powers, about fighting repressive Republican authoritarianism, or about embracing laws and programs that help workaday people get a fair shake. Economic inequality is not a theory out here–it’s personal experience, and the term “1-percenter” to refer to the entitled rich is a common expletive. Yet, viewing the hinter-land from their lofty Washington perch, party consultants have proclaimed that “rurals” might once have been FDR Dems, but now they’ve indelibly turned into blood-red Republican Trumpers, opposed to all things Democratic, from candidates to policies.

Uh … no. Even in states that are now largely run by Republicans, rural voters want aggressively progressive democratic reforms:

Two of the biggest issues in the farm country of the Plains, upper Midwest, and South are stopping destructive pipeline profiteers and breaking up the monopoly power of industrial meat factories that routinely exploit workers, farmers, and the environment.

. . .

Democrats are not losing rural elections because their ideas are radical or too anti-establishment, but specifically because party leaders are too timid and unwilling to fight for those ideas (and too often maneuvering behind the scenes to kill them). People see this. Longtime activist Matt Hildreth, who heads RuralOrganizing.org, says the result of the hypocrisy is inevitable: “The number one question that we lose rural voters on is ‘Are Democrats fighting for you?'”

POSSIBILITIES

Are the Democrats going to be a national party, seeking a governing majority that unifies the full progressive potential of America’s diverse people around our ideals of equal opportunity for all? Or not?

Yes, the party must mobilize and increase the base of tried-and-true Dems, for their activism, leadership, and votes are the bedrock of the party’s success. But that focus does not require any compromise of party principles, nor does it limit reaching beyond that support to bring home alienated voters who both hold deep democratic values and embrace bold Democratic policies. To the contrary, such outreach strengthens the party’s numbers and its political credibility as an unflinching champion of “little-d” democratic progress.

Also, getting there is doable, for a nucleus of tenacious, gutsy, smart, passionate, energetic, and optimistic grassroots progressives abides in these counties. There might only be two of them in a particular town, or they might constitute a latent majority, but however many, they represent potent potential, eager to battle anti-democracy elites and organize locally for policies and candidates advancing the workaday majority.

Rather than keep paying $500-an-hour fees to its flock of old-line Washington consultants, the national party apparatus should be sending $500-a-month to each of these scrappy groups of rural Democrats. With even the slightest wherewithal and long overdue moral support, they will build a grassroots election infrastructure that, in conjunction with metro Democrats, can actually produce a government worthy of the American people’s progressive aspirations.

That’s a party worth fighting for.”)

Civics education/Earlier in our history. Integral to K-12 and higher ed. Lisa Guilfoile and Brady Delander, “Introduction, Guidebook: Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning,” Education Commission of the States and National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement, Jan. 2014, http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/10/48/11048.pdf (“Earlier in our nation’s history, civic education was broadly seen as integral to the purposes of public schools and universities.”) Education Commission of the States, https://ecs.org (search: “civics”) Educating for American Democracy, https://educatingforamericandemocracy.org

Attacks on schools, teachers. Chelsea Sims, "GOP bills attack Iowa school libraries, librarians," BleedingHeartland, Feb. 21, 2022, https://www.bleedingheartland.com/2022/02/21/gop-bills-attack-iowa-school-libraries-librarians/ ("Coordinated political groups around the country have decided that school libraries are a threat to their children, rather than a safe haven filled with wonder and connection.

The Iowa GOP has joined this effort to discredit and defame the incredible work of educators and librarians, claiming we are distributing obscene materials or teaching a false version of history. Although we can't help taking these attacks personally, we also know they are part of a decades-long effort to defund public education and funnel public dollars to private schools and the corporations that benefit.")

Money is mother’s milk of politics. “Jesse M. Unruh,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_M._Unruh#cite_note-9 (“Quotes On campaign contributions: "Money is the mother's milk of politics." 1966[9] 9. Lou Cannon. Ronnie and Jesse. p. 99.)

Elected officials fundraising. "An Inside Look at Congressional Fundraising," The Government Affairs Institute, https://gai.georgetown.edu/an-inside-look-at-congressional-fundraising/ ("[R]aising campaign money involves a lot of . . . time. Incoming lawmakers are instructed to spend upwards of four hours per day raising money, which is time taken away from the legislative responsibilities of being an elected official. . . . [W]inning a congressional seat is not cheap. According to data compiled by MapLight, successful House members in the 2012 cycle raised an average of $1,689,580, while winning Senators, on average, raised $10,476,451.")

$1000-to-1 return. Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996, p. C2, https://www.nicholasjohnson.org/rcntpubl/campaign.html ("We could pay about $4 apiece in direct federal funding of campaigns. That's $1 billion from us, and $1 billion for the campaigns.

Or we could end up paying $4000 each. That's what happens when we sit it out, and let America's wealthiest individuals pay the $1 billion. That's $1 trillion from us to get $1 billion for the campaigns.

The $3996 difference? That's what we'll pay in increased prices for food, insurance, gasoline, bank interest rates, and bills from doctors, telephone and cable-television companies, among others.

The choice is yours. Tell your elected officials you want federal funding of campaigns and pay $4, or stick with the present system and pay $4000. Which will it be?" Supporting sources included.)

"Politicians & Elections," OpenSecrets, https://www.opensecrets.org/elections/ ("[A] campaign contribution may carry an expectation that the money will get repaid in the form of favorable legislation, less stringent regulations, political appointments, government contracts or tax credits-to name a few forms of payback.")

Citizens United. Adam Schiff, "Congressman Schiff Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United," Press Release, March 24, 2022, https://schiff.house.gov/news/press-releases/congressman-schiff-introduces-constitutional-amendment-to-overturn-citizens-united ("Today, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and once again allow for reasonable restrictions on corporate campaign contributions and other spending.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations and special interest groups could spend nearly unlimited funds on election campaigns. In the decade since, outside groups spent more than $4.4 billion in federal elections – nearly $1 billion of which was untraceable “dark money” – with some of the biggest contributors coming from Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, and the NRA.

'Thanks to one disastrous ruling, wealthy megadonors, corporations, and special interest groups have been able to influence elections when that power should belong with the American people. This has eroded faith in the government’s ability to deliver for the people and their families,” said Schiff. “Dark money should have no place in our democracy. It is time to return power to the people, and overturn Citizens United once and for all.'

Specifically, the amendment would make it clear the Constitution does not restrict the ability of Congress or the states to propose reasonable, content-neutral limitations on private campaign contributions and independent expenditures. It would also allow states to enact public campaign financing systems, which can restrict the influence of corporate and private wealth.")

Shorter time for campaigns. Danielle Kurtzleben, "Why Are U.S. Elections So Much Longer Than Other Countries'?" National Public Radio, Oct 21, 2015, https://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/10/21/450238156/canadas-11-week-campaign-reminds-us-that-american-elections-are-much-longer ("The U.S. doesn't have an official campaign season, but the first candidate to jump into the presidential race, Ted Cruz, announced his candidacy on March 23 — 596 days before Election Day.

Meanwhile, Canada just wrapped up its latest campaign season. That one was longer than usual — about 11 weeks. To the south, Mexican general election campaigns start 90 days before election day (and have to stop three days prior to the election), with an additional 60-day "pre-campaign" season, in which candidates vie for the nomination.

How do so many other countries keep their campaigns so short while the U.S. drags on so long? The simple answer is that many countries have laws dictating how long a campaign period is, while the U.S. doesn't.

. . .

'Voters in [Canada] would not have the tolerance or would not accept a system where that kind of money is spent on campaigns. There would be a huge uproar,' said Don Abelson, professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario. 'The elections tend to be very short. They don't tend to be terribly expensive.'

Indeed, Canadians balked even at the country's recent 11-week campaign.

And in many countries, there's not room for a massive advertising arms race like the U.S. has, anyway. Brazil, the U.K. and Japan, among many others, simply don't allow candidates to purchase TV ads (but that doesn't mean zero ads — in some countries, like Japan, candidates each get equal, free, ad space).")

Public financing. "Public Campaign Financing; Why It Matters," Brennan Center for Justice, https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/reform-money-politics/public-campaign-financing ("Brennan Center for Justice has pioneered the most effective and promising solution to the problem of big money in politics: small donor public financing, a system in which public funds match and multiply small donations.")

Nick Thompson, "International Campaign Finance: How Do Countries Compare?" CNN, March 5, 2012, https://www.cnn.com/2012/01/24/world/global-campaign-finance/index.html ("In Norway, government funding accounted for 74% of political parties’ income in 2010, according to Statistics Norway. And unlike in the U.S., where candidates and their supporters can buy as much television time as they can afford, political ads are banned from television and radio.")

"Campaign Finance," Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campaign_finance ("Other countries choose to use government funding to run campaigns. Funding campaigns from the government budget is widespread in South America and Europe.[10] The mechanisms for this can be quite varied, ranging from direct subsidy of political parties to government matching funds for certain types of private donations (often small donations) to exemption from fees of government services (e.g., postage) and many other systems as well. Supporters of government financing generally believe that the system decreases corruption; in addition, many proponents believe that government financing promotes other values, such as civic participation or greater faith in the political process. Not all government subsidies take the form of money; some systems require campaign materials (often air time on television) to be provided at very low rates to the candidates.")

Congresswoman Katie Porter. "Katie Porter," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katie_Porter, ("[Katie Porter] is the U.S. representative from California's 47th congressional district since 2023, previously representing the 45th congressional district from 2019 to 2023. She is the first Democrat to be elected to represent the 45th district, covering much of south-central Orange County was born on January 3, 1974, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. She grew up on a farm in southern Iowa. . . . In 2005, she joined the faculty of the University of Iowa College of Law as an associate professor,[14] becoming a full professor there in 2011.[19]" Examples of substantive emails received by the author include: "Support 100 Black Men of America" (with an appeal for funds, not for herself, but for that organization), Feb 6; "Beyonce and Ticketmaster," (describing the problem and urging "the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into Ticketmaster after the Taylor Swift ticket mess."), Feb. 4; and "Katie's New Amendment" (congressional amendment to allow Americans to "virtually testify" before the House Oversight Committee), Feb. 1)

Stock TV commercials. No source; personal experience. As a board member of the Democratic National Committee Harriman Communications Center, Washington, D.C., I participated in the effort to save candidates (and states' Democratic Parties) the expense (as I now recall of about $50,000) for the production of a TV commercial. The proposal was that stock footage would be prepared for a list of the issues candidates were addressing. Candidates could buy each commercial for about $500 (rather than $50,000), add a personal touch on the open and close, and have professional quality commercials. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the dates of those meetings or find any records.

# # #

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

What Happened to Radio?

Right-Wing Takeover of Radio
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, February 8, 2023, p. A6
NOTE: For space constraints, text [in brackets] was removed by editors; text (in parentheses) was added by editors.

How did millions of Americans come to believe that the components of authoritarian dictatorships will better protect their “freedoms” than our democracy?

The answers fill a long list. I’ve selected one: radio.

[Radio? That’s right, radio.]

Before radio, political consensus emerged from conversations, meetings, newspapers, and the occasional political speech on the village square.

With radio, a station owner could speak to the hundreds or thousands within the station’s signal area.

The 1920s and 1930s increased public awareness of the manipulative power of advertising and political propaganda. [After TV, Harvard economist Ken Galbraith declared radio and television to be “the prime instruments for the manipulation of consumer demand.”]

Ironically, the 1920s Members of Congress were more aware of the potential dangers of radio than their successors have been.

As Texas Congressman Luther Johnson [(no relation to President Johnson)] put it to his colleagues in 1926, “American thought and politics will be at the mercy of those who operate these stations. . . [If] placed in the hands of a single selfish group then woe be to those who dare to differ with them.”

The Radio Act of 1927, Communications Act of 1934, and FCC regulations constrained this potential threat to democracy. The public owned the airwaves, not broadcasters. Broadcasters needed an FCC license to use a frequency – initially limited to six months.

The granting and renewal of licenses turned on whether the station’s programming served “the public interest.” Specific FCC requirements gave meaning to those words.

The Fairness Doctrine required stations seek out local “controversial issues of public importance” and provide, not “equal time,” but a range of views. If stations gave one political candidate free time it triggered a right in opponents to an “equal opportunity.” Anyone attacked had a right of reply.

Other regulations encouraged diversity of views. Limitations on the number of stations one licensee could operate in a single market – or throughout the country. Restrictions on common ownership of newspapers and stations, or concentration of station ownership within a state or region.

This lasted roughly 60 years.

[So, what happened?]


What happened (then) was that Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio talk show hosts, and station owners carrying their programs, saw the Fairness Doctrine and ownership restrictions as a barrier to their goal of a nationwide, constant flow of unchallenged right-wing programming.
(If there be doubt about Limbaugh's conservative credentials: "In an unusual departure from protocol, Rush Limbaugh was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Trump during the State of the Union address. [It is] the country’s highest civilian honor." NY Times, Feb. 4, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/04/us/politics/rush-limbaugh-medal-of-freedom.html Photo credit: Golfing buddies, Trump and Limbaugh, at Trump's Golf Club; White House, Joyce Boghosian)

They successfully persuaded enough FCC commissioners and Members of Congress of their position, (and) the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, along with most ownership restrictions. Soon Clear Channel owned 1,207 stations in 201 of 287 radio markets, and the top 15 right-wing conservative radio talk show personalities were putting out 45 hours of unanswered assertions every day.

Millions of Americans, whose occupations were consistent with all-day radio listening, were getting an overload of a conservative perspective on America in workshops and kitchens, factory floors and restaurants, tractor and semi-truck cabs.

[That’s what happened.]

As the more moderate radio star Paul Harvey would say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Nicholas Johnson served as a Federal Communications Commission commissioner, 1966-1973. maiilbox@nicholasjohnson.org

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SOURCES
January 6 Attack. Brian Duignan, “January 6 U.S Capitol Attack; Riot, Washington, D.C., U.S. [2021],” Britannica, Jan. 7, 2023 update (“Because its object was to prevent a legitimate president-elect from assuming office, the attack was widely regarded as an insurrection or attempted coup d’├ętat. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other law-enforcement agencies also considered it an act of domestic terrorism. . . . [Trump’s] false accusations were indirectly endorsed by several Republican members of Congress who expressed uncertainty about the election’s outcome or who simply refused to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory. Their calculated reticence helped to spread false doubts about the integrity of the election among rank-and-file Republicans.”)

Radio Act of 1927. Stuart N. Brotman, Communications Law and Practice, 1995, 2006, Law Journal Press, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Communications_Law_and_Practice/FKnhFoQykdgC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=radio+act+of+1927&pg=SA1-PA9&printsec=frontcover

Luther Johnson. “Luther Alexander Johnson,” Wikipedia, (“American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations. [If] a single selfish group is permitted to ... dominate these broadcasting stations throughout the country, then woe be to those who dare to differ with them." [67 Cong. Rec. 5558 (1926).”)

See generally, Nicholas Johnson, “Breaking Through Power: The Media; Harnessing Progressive Reform to 21st Century Media,” FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com, May 24, 2016, https://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2016/05/breaking-through-power-media.html (“Lord Reith’s preference for public over private ownership was reflected in the House floor debate about the Act. As Congressman Luther Johnson warned his colleagues, ‘American thought and . . . politics will be . . . at the mercy of those who operate these stations. . . . [If] placed in the hands of . . . a single selfish group . . . then woe be to those who dare to differ with them.’”)
Quoted from, Nicholas Johnson, “Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland; The Vast Wasteland Revisited Essays,” note 31, Federal Communications Law Journal, May, 2003, 55 F.C.L.J. 521 (2003), https://www.nicholasjohnson.org/writing/masmedia/55FCL521.html [Full Congressman Johnson quote in footnote 31: “American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations. For publicity is the most powerful weapon that can be wielded in a Republic, and when such a weapon is placed in the hands of one, or a single selfish group is permitted to either tacitly or otherwise acquire ownership and dominate these broadcasting stations throughout the country, then woe be to those who dare to differ with them. It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people.”]

Fairness Doctrine. Matt Stefon, “fairness doctrine,” Britannica, Aug. 16, 2017, https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/ICRC/32.pdf (“In 1949 the commission promulgated a report, In the Matter of Editorializing by Broadcast Licensees . . . to promote ‘a basic standard of fairness’ in broadcasting. Licensees had the duty to devote airtime to fair and balanced coverage of controversial issues that were of interest to their home communities. Individuals who were the subject of editorials or who perceived themselves to be the subject of unfair attacks in news programming were to be granted an opportunity to reply. Also, candidates for public office were entitled to equal airtime.”)

“FCC Fairness Doctrine,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FCC_fairness_doctrine (“The demise of this FCC rule has been cited as a contributing factor in the rising level of party polarization in the United States.[5][6]”

Origins
In 1938, a former Yankee Network employee named Lawrence J. Flynn challenged the license of John Shepard III's WAAB in Boston, and also lodged a complaint about WNAC. . . . [I][n 1941, the commission made a ruling that came to be known as the Mayflower Decision which declared that radio stations, due to their public interest obligations, must remain neutral in matters of news and politics, and they were not allowed to give editorial support to any particular political position or candidate.

In 1949, the FCC's Editorializing Report[8] repealed the Mayflower doctrine, which had forbidden editorializing on the radio since 1941, and laid the foundation for the fairness doctrine . . ..

In 1969, the United States courts of appeals, in an opinion written by Warren Burger, directed the FCC to revoke Lamar Broadcasting's license for television station WLBT due to the station's segregationist politics and ongoing censorship of NBC network news coverage of the U.S. civil rights movement.[15]

Conservative talk radio
The 1987 repeal of the fairness doctrine enabled the rise of talk radio that has been described as "unfiltered" divisive and/or vicious: "In 1988, a savvy former ABC Radio executive named Ed McLaughlin signed Rush Limbaugh — then working at a little-known Sacramento station — to a nationwide syndication contract. McLaughlin offered Limbaugh to stations at an unbeatable price: free. All they had to do to carry his program was to set aside four minutes per hour for ads that McLaughlin's company sold to national sponsors. The stations got to sell the remaining commercial time to local advertisers." According to The Washington Post, "From his earliest days on the air, Limbaugh trafficked in conspiracy theories, divisiveness, even viciousness" (e.g., "feminazis").[44] Prior to 1987 people using much less controversial verbiage had been taken off the air as obvious violations of the fairness doctrine.[45]

. . .

On August 22, 2011, the FCC voted to remove the rule that implemented the fairness doctrine, along with more than 80 other rules and regulations, from the Federal Register following an executive order by President Obama directing a "government-wide review of regulations already on the books" to eliminate unnecessary regulations.[4]”)

Ownership. “The FCC’s Rules and Policies Regarding Media Ownership, Attribution, and Ownership Diversity October 27, 2004 – December 16, 2016,” Congressional Reference Service, https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/R43936.html

https://www1.udel.edu/nero/Radio/pdf_files/T&A_%20Media%20Ownership.pdf (“Clear Channel leads in radio broadcast station ownership with 1,207 stations reaching 201 out of 287 markets in the United States.”)

Right-Wing Radio. Google search: right wing domination of talk radio stations

Paul Matzko, “Talk Radio Is Turning Millions of Americans Into Conservatives; The medium is at the heart of Trumpism,” New York Times, Oct. 9, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/09/opinion/talk-radio-conservatives-trumpism.html (“By the early 2000s, it [the conservatism of talk radio] had embraced a version of conservatism that is less focused on free markets and small government and more focused on ethnonationalism and populism. It is, in short, the core of Trumpism — now and in the future, with or without a President Trump. . . . [J]ust the top 15 shows are putting out around 45 hours of content every day. . . . [T]he dedicated fan can listen to nothing but conservative talk radio all day, every day of the week, and never catch up. . . . Talk radio listeners make up a group at least three times as large as the N.R.A. and are just as committed to a particular vision of America. [Google search: “How many members in the NRA?” 5 million in Dec. 2018; = talk radio listeners  15 m]

Paul Matzko, “When Conservatives Forget the History of the Fairness Doctrine,” CATO Institute, Sept 2, 2021, https://www.cato.org/blog/when-conservatives-forget-history-fairness-doctrine (“But dedicated broadcasters like Limbaugh knew that imposing a rigorous Fairness Doctrine regime would demolish their core operating model. It is no accident that Limbaugh’s show did not receive national syndication until a few months after the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.

That wariness about the effects of the Fairness Doctrine on conservative broadcasting extended to President Reagan. He might be better known for his screen presence, but Reagan was an old radio hand. Indeed, he delayed formally announcing his presidential candidacy for 1980 so that he could keep his daily radio show Viewpoint on the air on 286 stations nationwide as long as possible.

Their skepticism paid off. Repealing the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 enabled the rise of conservative‐dominated talk radio with vast political consequences. Without talk radio, it’s hard to imagine the success of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” in 1994 or the impeachment of Bill Clinton. And the tens of millions of regular talk radio listeners created a coherent audience that could be targeted later by conservative media entrepreneurs like Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes. For good or for ill, the conservative movement would look dramatically different today if the Fairness Doctrine had not been repealed.

. . . talk radio had become a key pillar of conservative political success.”)

Al Tompkins, “How Rush Limbaugh’s rise after the gutting of the fairness doctrine led to today’s highly partisan media; Limbaugh’s success after President Reagan declawed the doctrine, gave rise to others and provided encouragement for Fox News’ 1996 launch,” Poynter, Feb. 17, 2021, https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2021/how-rush-limbaughs-rise-after-the-gutting-of-the-fairness-doctrine-led-to-todays-highly-partisan-media/ (“Rush Limbaugh was more than a talk radio host. He was a key element in the development of the highly partisan journalism and other media that envelop us today.

Limbaugh’s talk radio program was not possible until the Federal Communications Commission relaxed the fairness doctrine.”)

Kevin M. Kruse and Julian Zelizer, “How policy decisions spawned today’s hyperpolarized media; The demise of the Fairness Doctrine played an underappreciated role in fomenting media tribalism,” The Washington Post, Jan. 17, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/01/17/how-policy-decisions-spawned-todays-hyperpolarized-media/ (“In 1987, the FCC announced that it would no longer enforce the Fairness Doctrine. . . . Almost overnight, the media landscape was transformed. The driving force was talk radio. In 1960, there were only two all-talk radio stations in America; by 1995, there were 1,130.”)

Repeal of ownership limits.

Google search: right-wing conservatives pressed FCC to repeal ownership limits

Nikki Finke, “FCC Ownership Rules Blamed For Total Dominance By Right-Wing Talk Radio,” Deadline, June 21, 2007, https://deadline.com/2007/06/fcc-ownership-rules-blamed-for-overwhelming-dominance-of-right-wing-talk-radio-2626/ (“The Center for American Progress and Free Press just released the first-of-its-kind statistical analysis of the political make-up of talk radio in the United States. It confirms that talk radio, one of the most widely used media formats in America, is dominated almost exclusively by conservatives. The new report entitled “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio” blames the FCC for the current imbalance, in particular . . . the relaxation of ownership rules. . . .

Americans listened on average to 19 hours of radio per week in 2006. Among radio formats, the combined news/talk format leads all others. Through more than 1,700 stations across the nation, it reached 50 million listeners each week.

Of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners this spring, 91% of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative, and only 9% was progressive.”)

Eric Boehlert, “Former FCC chairman: Deregulation is a right-wing power grab; Reed Hundt says Monday's historic vote was ‘the culmination of the attack by the right on the media,’" Salon, May 31, 2003, https://www.salon.com/2003/05/31/fcc_4/ (“In a historic session on the future of the U.S. news media, Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission voted Monday to ease long-standing rules so that more and more of the nation's newspapers and broadcast stations can be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

Underlying that agenda, Clinton-era FCC chairman Reed Hundt saw something more primal unfolding: an extraordinary conservative power grab that could shape the political landscape for generations.

For all the philosophical conflict over diversity in the media and the efficiency of the free market, Hunt told Salon, the vote is really about an alliance of interests between the political right and the corporate media. ‘Conservatives,’ he said, ‘hope ... that the major media will be their friends.’" . . .

The FCC has long had rules regulating media ownership, based on the assumption that the number of broadcast frequencies is limited. The regulations were designed to ensure that radio and television stations remained diverse, independent voices and could withstand predatory conglomerates. But on Monday the FCC dumped those rules.

. . .

At the time, Hundt was among the few to warn of the consequences. The new laws would allow "a few companies to buy all the radio licenses in the country," he said then. "I don't believe that's good for this industry or for this country."

His words proved prophetic. Since the law's passage, Clear Channel Communications, which in 1995 owned approximately 40 radio stations, has expanded to approximately 1,200 outlets, nearly 1,000 more than its closest competitor.

[Reed Hundt during interview:] “When Newt Gingrich was running the House of Representatives, effective in the fall of 1994, he called all the media owners together in a room down on Capitol Hill, and according to what people who were there told me, he told them he'd give them relaxed rules allowing media concentration in exchange for favorable coverage. Now I wasn't there, but that's what they said they understood he meant.”)

Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj, “Understanding the Rise of Talk Radio,” Political Science and Politics, Cambridge University Press, Oct. 18, 2011, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics/article/abs/understanding-the-rise-of-talk-radio/25394FEA4F469026712C17BE514A786C (“The number of radio stations airing political talk shows—predominantly conservative talk radio—has surged in the past few years. This massive change in the radio industry says something about the demand for such shows, but attributing the rise of talk radio to a corresponding rise in conservative popular opinion is misleading. We argue that this remarkable growth is better explained by the collision of two changes that have transformed the radio business: deregulation and the mainstreaming of digital music technologies. Regulatory changes have shifted much of radio production and control from local to mass production (managed by industry giants such as Clear Channel Communications) and created a context ripe for nationally syndicated hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin.”)

Rest of the story. “The Rest of the Story,” Wikimedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rest_of_the_Story (“The Rest of the Story was a Monday-through-Friday radio program originally hosted by Paul Harvey.[1] . . . The broadcasts always concluded with a variation on the tag line, ‘And now you know...the rest of the story.’")

And see, “Paul Harvey,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Harvey

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