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Commentary: Religion and politics? It’s good to talk – San Antonio Express-News



Most of us grew up being told to avoid talking about politics and religion with those with whom we disagree, especially loved ones and family members. While, no doubt, there are cases where this adage still holds in 2020, as a totalizing principle applicable to everyone, it no longer makes sense and arguably perpetuates obstacles to needed change.

Perhaps instead we should learn how to conduct civil and less inflammatory conversations on difficult and controversial topics. Otherwise transcending the polarization paralyzing the nation and inhibiting genuine democratic deliberation will never occur — something no one really desires.

Call me naive, but as a teacher and scholar of rhetoric for more than 40 years, I believe productive dialogue, though difficult, is possible. The challenge is how to engage in civil discourse. I hope members of my academic discipline (which includes public, interpersonal and organizational communication) will conduct research about how to do this, then teach what they learn to students and the public.

Maybe I am guilty of being overly optimistic; however, finding common ground, the hallmark of communication dating back to the writings of ancient Greek rhetoricians, is possible and a key part of meeting the challenge. A colleague and friend suggested that finding common ground requires that we approach discussion as having “positions” rather than “sides,” that we talk about “we” and “our,” not “us” and “them,” and that we avoid associating vitriol with disagreement.

For example, while we may not share truths about President Donald Trump’s performance and whether he should be re-elected, certainly there are other matters about which we do agree and share values. Using those sources of common ground affords the potential to create reflection, cognitive dissonance and compromise — whether we are Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives.

That in turn might yield productive outcomes on many important political issues demanding immediate attention and expedient action on problems that aren’t an all-or-nothing referendum on the current White House occupant. Creating safe schools, making health care available to more people, adopting measures to help address the economic and health suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and improving the environment are a few examples where common ground can be found.

To suggest this is impossible is tantamount to claiming that all of us are inherently dogmatic, never changing our opinions on personal and public issues — something that totally defies our experience. Research in rhetoric, for instance, offers the concept of “self-risk.” This suggests that when individuals genuinely argue with one another, they enter the exchange admitting the possibility that their worldviews will change as a result.

In essence, “self-risk” is the opposite of dogma; it documents a willingness to argue and be constructively responsive rather than just repeating our view over and over. Research shows “self-risk” is more than an academic platitude; as I am claiming here, it is principle developed precisely because it not only can be invoked but frequently is. I challenge readers to suggest they never “self-risk.”

So perhaps each of us should reconsider the adage about avoiding conversations about politics and religion with those who disagree with us.

Richard Cherwitz is the Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Republican duo reshapes Montana politics in Trump’s style – 570 News



BOZEMAN, Mont. — Steve Daines is the affable one, the smiler, a consummate salesman who parlayed his corporate success into a meteoric rise through Montana politics and a seat in the U.S. Senate.

His former boss, Greg Gianforte, is more brusque, sometimes even harsh, a self-made technology mogul whose political career has proved rockier and included a stinging defeat for governor and unwanted notoriety when he assaulted a reporter during a successful run for U.S. House.

Together they form a powerful political alliance on the cusp of dominating Montana politics for years to come, pushing the state’s Republican Party away from a Western brand of centrism and toward the hard-line partisan agenda of President Donald Trump.

Daines, 58, is seeking a second six-year term while Gianforte, 59, is pouring millions of dollars from his private fortune into another run at the governor’s mansion.

Dual victories would mark the latest achievement for men who first bonded on family camping trips in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains more than two decades ago. They worked in tandem to attain huge riches in the corporate world before leveraging that success into a political juggernaut that has reshaped the state’s Republican Party.

It’s a shift Montana Democrats argue is out of step with the state’s independent-minded electorate. Democrats have their own power duo hoping to hold the line in November: Gov. Steve Bullock, challenging Daines, is one of the Democrats’ best hopes to tilt the balance of power in the closely divided Senate. His lieutenant governor for the past five years, Mike Cooney, faces Gianforte.

But Democrats are handicapped by Gianforte’s willingness to spend his own money on the race — $3.5 million so far, after spending more than $6 million in 2016 — and a strong push for both by Trump, who carried Montana by 20 percentage points in 2016.

Daines has long benefited from his ties to Gianforte, who hired Daines into his Bozeman-based software firm, RightNow Technologies, that was later sold to Oracle for almost $2 billion.

Years later, when Daines was in the U.S. Senate, he would use Gianforte’s private plane, including to shuttle back and forth to Washington for key votes — at least 11 trips since 2017, according to financial disclosure reports.

Gianforte, one of the wealthiest members of the U.S. House, has been boosted in his run for Montana governor by Daines’ clout. A strong turnout for Gianforte could now help Daines fend off the challenge from Bullock, a two-term governor whose handling of the coronavirus has put him in the limelight.

The similarities between the two Republicans were on display during a recent joint interview after they toured a high tech manufacturing facility under construction in their hometown of Bozeman.

Stitting across from each other at a picnic table near the same office park that houses Oracle, Daines and Gianforte played off one another’s jokes and finished each other’s stories. Both men linked their political careers to their Christian faith. Daines is Presbyterian. Gianforte belongs to the fundamentalist Grace Bible Church.

“We’re here to serve and not be served,” Daines said.

“Service above expectations,” Gianforte added. “It’s the same theme.”

They cast the upcoming election as a stark choice pitting “socialist” policies of Democrats against the free enterprise system that Daines and Gianforte say propelled the economy and their own careers, creating several hundreds jobs in Montana along the way.

“This system we have in this country has lifted more people out of poverty than any system in the history of the world,” Gianforte said.

Asked if they had any political disagreements, they looked stumped. Daines finally shriveled his face and said Gianforte likes to eat the meat from black bears that he shoots.

“I’ll still take a good piece of beef,” Daines said with a laugh.

Democrats paint a more nefarious picture of the friendship, contending Daines and Gianforte rose to riches on the backs of American workers and that their claim to be job creators belies RightNow Technologies’ role helping companies outsource jobs overseas.

Corporate interests still dominate their agenda, said Montana Democratic Party spokeswoman Christina Wilkes, who described Daines and Gianforte as being in lockstep on corporate tax cuts and repealing provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

“They’re mega-wealthy, and they are out for people like themselves,” Wilkes said.

One area where the two Republicans differ is personality, said Amy Wiening, who worked for Daines and Gianforte on the sales team at RightNow.

Both were supportive of each other and their workers, she said. But where Daines was easygoing and always made time to talk about family or matters outside work, Gianforte was more driven and could be harsh in his delivery, she said.

“He reminds me of a doctor you would totally want to be your doctor because he would know what to do. But he would not want to console you if it’s bad news,” Wiening said.

Daines was first to enter politics, running for lieutenant governor in 2008 while still at RightNow. He lost, then left the company in 2012 for a successful campaign for the state’s sole U.S. House seat. He ran for Senate two years later, cruising to victory after the recently-installed Democratic incumbent, John Walsh, a former lieutenant governor under Bullock, quit amid plagiarism allegations.

Daines had been encouraging Gianforte to join him in politics. In 2016 Gianforte ran for governor, losing to Bullock in a tight race. He won the House seat once held by Daines in a special election months later.

To say the pair now represent the face of the Montana Republican Party would ignore the role of Trump, who has loomed at least as large on the state’s political scene and demands loyalty from Republicans.

Gianforte and Daines were initially lukewarm to Trump. When Trump headlined a rally in Billings as he neared victory in the 2016 primary, Gianforte skipped the event and issued a press release welcoming “another visit by a 2016 presidential candidate” without mentioning Trump. Daines told a Montana newspaper in the primary that Trump was “not my first choice, or even my second for president.”

They have since become ardent Trump loyalists. Gianforte caught the president’s attention when he body-slammed a reporter for The Guardian on the eve of his election to the House. “My kind of guy,” Trump said about Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanour assault after initially misleading investigators about what happened.

The fruits of the pair’s loyalty to Trump are now on display: The President tweeted his support for Gianforte on Wednesday and Vice-President Mike Pence headlined a rally last week near Bozeman where Gianforte and Daines spoke back-to-back and then enjoyed a lengthy shout-out from Pence.

Democrats as recently as 2014 held both Montana U.S. Senate seats, the governor’s mansion and a bevy of other statewide offices. The GOP has been in ascendance as the state has trended more conservative. The party now controls both chambers of the Legislature and every statewide post except governor and Democrat Jon Tester’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

Daines and Gianforte “fit the party like a glove right now,” University of Montana political analyst Rob Saldin said. If they sweep the November election, “that’s a real vindication of going in this much sharper, Trump-y direction for the party,” he said.


Follow Matthew Brown on twitter: @MatthewBrownAP

Matthew Brown, The Associated Press

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How Biden and Trump Pollsters See the Politics of the Supreme Court Fight – New York Magazine



Photo: Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/Getty Images

John Anzalone was having a rare evening off from the presidential race, going out to a socially distanced outdoor dinner with his wife and another couple near his home in Montgomery, Alabama. He was already enjoying his first Paloma of the evening when the phone rang, and rang, and rang. He tried to ignore it but couldn’t. When he picked up, the caller on the line told him the news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was dead at 87.

Anzalone, the chief pollster and a senior adviser for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, felt his heart sink. He was saddened by the news of a liberal lion of the court passing away and concerned that a presidential race that has seen his client maintain a consistent lead in the high single digits might suddenly be thrown into disarray.

But he also knew reporters would be calling all weekend to ask if this was going to be the earthquake that would shake up a race that had been stable since the spring — even as a pandemic killed 200,000 Americans and left segments of the economy in tatters. This supposed seismic event was coming on the heels of other seismic events: violent protests rocking Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Trump calling for “Law and Order” and tagging Democrats as allies of antifa. Anzalone’s phone burned up during those weeks, too, and the result was a presidential race that had tightened by only half a percentage point at the most.

“This doesn’t change the fundamentals of this race,” he said. “It just changes the headline.”

In my conversations with nearly a dozen pollsters and strategists for both parties working on the presidential race and on tight Senate races around the country, this was the consensus view. In the waning days of a presidential race that is already moving at a million miles an hour, the prospect of Trump seating a sixth conservative justice over Democratic objections is unlikely to hurt or help either side very much.

“I still think the country is going to be consumed by coronavirus, by the recovery, by the economy, by jobs,” said John McLaughlin, a pollster for Donald Trump. “This is on the agenda, and I think it is going to consume Washington, but I think people are a lot more interested in other things.”

Still, in a tight race — and despite Biden’s national polling lead, several pathways remain for Trump to eke out a win in the Electoral College — even small advantages can matter in big ways. Back in 2018, after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retired and Brett Kavanaugh was named to be his replacement, more than 20 million Americans tuned in as Kavanaugh tried to fend off allegations of sexual assault. Trump and the Republicans turned the confirmation hearings into a rallying cry about how unfair the news media and the Democrats were. The blowback, many Democrats believe, helped them flip suburban House districts around the country en route to a 41-seat House majority, but it also, they say, helped Republicans flip Senate seats held by Democrats in conservative states like South Dakota, Indiana, and Missouri by convincing GOP-leaning voters to come home.

This has been the Republicans’ play for most of the Trump era: finding a culture-war wedge that can excite the base. It’s a difficult maneuver to pull off with a center-left electorate, but in 2016 it was enough for Trump to win an Electoral College victory despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million, and enough to flip three Senate seats in 2018 despite a Democratic-wave election.

And Trump is making the same play, his advisers and other unaffiliated Republicans say, hoping that naming another conservative to the bench will ignite both Democratic and Republican backlashes.

“Trump needs a unified base. He has understood that since day one, and everything you see him doing now [by quickly moving to name a Ginsburg replacement] is in service to that,” said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican pollster. “You look in a lot of states where Republican [Senate candidates] are performing below their fundamentals — Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina — and they need these Trump voters to come out for them.”
National polls show most voters would prefer that the Senate wait to confirm the next Supreme Court justice until after the election. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday found that 62 percent held this view, while just 23 percent thought the seat should be filled by the current president and Senate. And the prospect of Trump naming Ginsburg’s successor has brought a torrent of money into Democratic coffers. ActBlue, the Democrats’ online fundraising arm, received more than $91 million in little more than the first day after Ginsburg’s death and looks set to double that amount by the beginning of next week.

Still, Republicans say that any time the conversation can be dominated by a Supreme Court fight, they benefit. Polls that show Trump naming Ginsburg’s successor as unpopular are that way because, for many voters, this means replacing Trump with Ginsburg; once a new justice is named, especially if she’s a camera-ready woman like the leading candidates, Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa, voters will have another figure to latch on to, one they don’t want to see dragged by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee or by the media, according to Brad Todd, a Republican strategist working on Senate races in North Carolina, Texas, and Arizona.

“It is going to be about the issues; it is going to be about the judge,” Todd said. “You take suburban Republican women who don’t like Trump and didn’t want to vote for him, and when the media attacks Amy Coney Barrett over her faith or over the fact that she has seven children, they are going to see it as an attack on them.”

Democratic strategists say that is nonsense and not borne out by the data. Trump’s numbers have hardly moved in four years, and even in states where Trump is popular, Republican Senate candidates are often running behind him. Over the next six weeks, Democrats intend to show that the willingness of GOP senators to abandon previous pledges not to vote on a Supreme Court nominee in a president’s final year in office is exactly what people don’t like about Republican senators: that they are craven politicians and Trump toadies who don’t stand up for their states’ interests.

“Look at South Carolina,” said Jef Pollock, a Democratic pollster working on nine competitive Senate races across the country. “You have a guy in Lindsey Graham, who has been consistently underperforming in the polls relative to Trump. And why is that? It’s because that guy is full of shit, and the voters know it. Voters — and I’m talking even Republican voters that are going to vote for Trump — say they aren’t voting for Graham because they see him as phony. I don’t see how watching him lick Donald Trump’s boots over the next 40 days is really going to help his cause.”

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Shifting norms on gender and leadership: are ambitious women punished in politics? – British Politics and Policy at LSE



Sparsha Saha and Ana Weeks show that while ambitious women are not penalised by voters overall, the aggregate results hide differences in taste for ambitious women across parties. They find that in the US, left-wing voters are more likely to support women with progressive ambition than right-wing ones, while in the UK parties are not as divided.

In a major milestone for women, the US Democratic party recently nominated Kamala Harris as the first Black and Asian-American woman for vice president, making her the party’s second female VP pick in nearly 200 years of history. But the run-up to her nomination was fraught with claims that she was disloyal and somehow `too ambitious’ for the role. It’s a story we’ve heard before. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was criticised for her `unbridled ambition’. Way back in 1975, Margaret Thatcher faced similar claims that she was `ruthlessly ambitious’. All politicians must be ambitious in order to run for office, so why do we see, again and again, women criticised for a quality that seems to be prized in men?

In our recent study, we investigate the notion that ambitious female political candidates are punished by voters in a way that similarly ambitious male political candidates are not. Building on role congruity theory and studies from negotiation and dominance, we hypothesized that “ambitious” women might be punished for transgressing gender stereotypes. We conducted five survey experiments over the course of three years in both the US and the UK, asking almost 4000 people to vote in hypothetical elections involving made-up resumes of male and female candidates with varying levels of ambition. We were surprised to find that, overall, voters are just as likely to vote for an ambitious female candidate as they are an ambitious male candidate. We looked at several types of ambition – from ambitious personality traits like “determined” and “assertive” to ambitious political agendas and ambitious office-seeking – and combinations of these traits. Across all the surveys, we did not find evidence that ambitious women are any less preferred than ambitious men.

While, overall, ambitious women aren’t punished, we found differences in preferences for ambitious women across parties. In the US, Democrats are more supportive of women candidates with presidential aspirations than Republicans are (a difference of 7 percentage points). Democrats are particularly enthusiastic about women with office-seeking ambition, but Republicans are not. This finding is in line with previous work, which finds that bias against a potential woman president is concentrated among Republicans, and that women candidates on the right face greater challenges in the political pipeline and during elections. In the UK, however, it is Conservative voters who appear most favourable towards ambitious female candidates (although differences across parties were not statistically significant). Our interpretation of these cross-national differences is that context – the history of women in leadership – matters. The UK has had two female Prime Ministers, both of them Conservatives. Even far right voters (respondents who said they had voted for UKIP) did not penalise ambitious women, although they especially favoured “assertive” men. UKIP and the newer Brexit party have also both had women leaders.

The findings reflect shifting norms on women and leadership. This is good news. Our work is one of many recent studies which suggest that explicit voter discrimination is not the cause of women’s underrepresentation in politics. In fact, voters actually prefer women by about 2 percentage points, on average. So then, what can explain the persistent narrative that ambition is bad for women candidates? One of the reasons could be that women perceive that they will face additional discrimination. Another reason may be that political gatekeepers (who tend to be older male politicians) are oversensitive to the idea that women candidates might not do as well. For example, in the case of Kamala Harris, it was reportedly Chris Dodd who was concerned that Harris was “too ambitious”. Likewise, Elizabeth Warren shared that Bernie Sanders told her in a private meeting that he didn’t think the US was ready for a female president. Finally, by reporting on stories about women’s ambition, the media itself perpetuates stereotypes.

There are some important caveats to our work. First, we need more research on the role of race. Minority candidates themselves have noted the potential role of race, and it is possible that voters are more accepting of ambitious white female candidates since we did not include race as a factor in our experiments. Second, our study provides experimental evidence. It is possible that in real life, when voters are exposed to high-profile “ambitious” women over weeks and months, attitudes might be different. If women are portrayed as having overtly negative “power-hungry” or unethical types of ambition, we might be particularly likely to see gender-based discrimination emerge. Interviewing candidates themselves, to see if their experiences and perceptions of voter bias match what we find, would be a great next step. Still, the findings reflect a great deal of “real world” data that when women run, they win. The finding that ambitious women are not punished is important for both men and women to know so that women are not discouraged from running, and male gatekeepers are not afraid to let them in.


About the Authors

Sparsha Saha is Preceptor in Expository Writing at Harvard University.

Ana Weeks is Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of Bath.

Photo by DK Dykstra-Lathrop on Unsplash.

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