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The Green New Deal and a New Politics of Consumption – Jacobin magazine

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The Green New Deal and a New Politics of Consumption

In fighting for a Green New Deal we can’t just focus on clean power and innovative ways to decarbonize our society and world. We also need to rethink what and how much we consume — without falling prey to left arguments that amount to austerity.

(GPA Photo Archive / Flickr)

In response to the introduction of the Green New Deal resolution last year, a congressman bankrolled by oil and gas interests announced the formation of an “Anti-Socialism Caucus.” “The government will come into almost every part of everyday life, from energy to transportation to literally what you eat,” warned Republican representative Chris Stewart of Utah. The announcement may seem better suited for 1949 than 2019. But its predictable demagoguery hides an important truth: the political struggle to decarbonize the economy and move the United States onto an ecologically sane and socially just footing will be waged on the field of consumption.

As absurd as right-wing fearmongering about the demise of hamburgers lurking in the Green New Deal’s “deep, deep red communist” core is, it also raises important and difficult questions. Any Green New Deal sweeping enough to meet this moment must address what and how we consume. Rapidly phasing out fossil fuels in the energy sector, essential as that is, won’t automatically create the consumption patterns needed to remake our relationship with the planet. And without a clear policy vision that defines sustainable and egalitarian consumption, explains why it matters, and charts a democratic path to get there, a transformative Green New Deal faces long political odds.

Meaningful action against climate change and other ecological problems will require big changes in how products and services are distributed, marketed, sold, bought, used and recycled. This will affect not just billionaires and their outsize carbon footprint, but working- and middle-class people. Precisely what those shifts entail and how to manage them democratically are political questions we have to face.

Consumption is especially crucial because it is deeply entangled with the US media, communications, information, and cultural systems. In making these systems structurally dependent on advertising and commercial activity, corporate interests and their bipartisan political allies have built a powerful engine for increasingly irrational amounts and forms of consumption. It’s no coincidence that this history tracks both the growth of fossil fuel–dependent capitalism and the steady erosion of substance in mainstream political media.

Confronting consumption head-on requires appreciating its profound political relevance, grasping its historical ties to corporate-state power, and developing new policies that use public authority to channel it in sustainable, egalitarian, and democratic directions. Ultimately, a new regime of consumption can support and deepen bold visions for a post-carbon future that enhances human happiness. This moment demands a radical collective politics of consumption no less than a radical collective politics of production.

The Political Economy of Socially Irrational Consumption

The economic (and therefore, ecological) waste inherent to capitalist development has steadily increased over the last century. As Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s landmark 1966 Monopoly Capital argued, large multinational manufacturing firms operating in oligopolistic markets tend to limit competition on price and quality, the hallmarks of a conventionally understood “free market system.” Instead, the corporate giants that ascended after World War II jockeyed for market share through sales-promotion strategies like intrusive advertising, aggressive direct marketing, elaborate packaging, superficial tweaks in product design, and planned obsolescence.

Corporations could accumulate profits and keep consumers buying by offering products that failed quickly and were impractical to repair, and by introducing trivially “improved” versions of popular items. These strategies were legitimated by mass commercial messaging that encouraged us to value newer models of otherwise similar brands and products.

The Big Three automakers exemplified this system in the mid-twentieth century. As Ian Angus points out, government-enabled automobile dependency was a major catalyst for the postwar spike in global greenhouse gas emissions. But the logic that produced the vast array of new products, from televisions to dishwashers, which defined the mid-century consumption regime generated socioenvironmental impacts beyond products’ direct energy demands. As quality, durability, and resilience were sacrificed for amplified sales, shipping capacity expanded and shopping trips increased, boosting emissions and generating more ecologically damaging waste.

This system was reinforced by a burgeoning advertising industry that nurtured amenable consumer attitudes and encouraged leisure shopping. And as corporations and government became increasingly linked, intensive lobbying, campaign finance, and public relations efforts have supported this consumptive regime by blocking and undercutting commercial regulations and protecting public subsidies, like the 100 percent immediate business tax write-off for advertising.

A surprisingly radical consumer movement challenged this consumption model at its emergence. As early as the 1930s, Arthur Kallet, cofounder of the Consumers Union, which would go on to publish Consumer Reports magazine, advocated strict advertising limits and publicly mandated product evaluations that included assessment of labor conditions. By the 1950s, Kallet sought alliances with other left organizations and pushed to expand the regulatory capacities of agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to raise product quality and consumer protection standards. These bold strategies landed Kallet and the Consumers Union on the House Un-American Activities Committee subversives list.

Similarly, educators, unions, religious organizations, and public interest groups fought from the 1920s into the postwar years against surrendering publicly owned radio and television airwaves to corporate interests intent on using them as sales machines for oligopolies. These groups understood that communication technology’s democratic integrity and social potential would be undermined without strong oversight of media firms and robust public investment in noncommercial broadcasting. While corporate lobbying and red-baiting quashed their most radical demands, this activism sparked Federal Communications Commission policies that constrained the system’s worst excesses.

Structural critiques of irrational consumption and commercial media subsided in the Cold War chill, but reform movements were revitalized in the late 1960s. Spearheaded by Ralph Nader, consumer activists and attorneys exposed the Federal Trade Commission’s feeble regulation of commercial advertising. The FTC was empowered during the Nixon administration by adding new bureaus that clamped down on deceptive ads and exposed the links between oligopoly, product pricing, and advertising. Corporate media and commercial culture also came under renewed pressure, resulting in federally supported public broadcasting and new policies to diversify media ownership and boost community news.

Neoliberal Consumption and Digital Technology

This brief era of public interest oversight ended as neoliberalism overtook the US political economy. As the Reagan Revolution swept Washington, Congress hamstrung the FTC’s authority, and the agency dropped its major deceptive advertising and antitrust cases. Neoliberals also steadily stripped or neutralized most of the FCC’s already limited legal authority, technical capacity, and political will to check commercial media and telecommunication firms.

It was in this corporate-friendly regulatory environment that the consumption regime was reshaped through rapid advances in information, communications, and logistics technologies. These technologies leveraged neoliberal trade policies to facilitate retail supply chains linking hyper-exploited labor abroad with US consumers under pressure from stagnating wages. Advances in inventory management and consumer data analysis, while promising to sync supply and demand, have actually amplified capitalism’s environmentally destructive tendencies.

Walmart emerged as a leading driver of irrational consumption in the neoliberal era, eroding product quality by driving down production costs through squeezing suppliers. Moreover, as the giant retailer’s bargain-price, high-turnover model drove out competitors, brand-name manufacturers scrambled for its shelf space by introducing endless streams of superficially differentiated products backed up by ad campaigns. With some thirty-five million different items powered through Walmart’s supply chains, excess inventory is a chronic problem, especially in categories like fashion where short product cycles are the norm.

In Big Retail as across the economy, sales promotion has continued to grow as corporations work to separate people from their dwindling disposable incomes — or drive them deeper in debt — through a commercial propaganda blitz that reinforces carbon-intensive consumption culture. At the same time, neoliberal communication policies have made broadcasters and online services more available as sales conduits, encouraging ever-bigger media firms to cut costs by disinvesting in substantive programming and boost revenues via increasingly ubiquitous and sophisticated advertising.

In the 2000s, Amazon raised the stakes for regressive consumption by embarking on its grand strategy to dominate e-commerce. Like Walmart, Amazon has built its carbon-intensive logistics infrastructure on a high-volume, low-margin model that undercuts competitors’ pricing and swallows market share. This strategy also generates staggering levels of waste. Belying the much-touted efficiencies of its inventory management systems, Amazon systematically trashes huge volumes of surplus product, reportedly destroying as many as three million unsold items in France alone in 2018.

And the shipping traffic necessitated by this business model further stresses the climate. Convenient use of a centralized database to buy a wide range of products that can land on doorsteps in a day or two masks the ecological destruction caused by Amazon’s supply chains, while simultaneously reinforcing consumer expectations and practices that support the system.

Online communication and social media bolster irrational consumption by folding targeted advertising into everyday communications. Given the economic and political power that flows from the ability to secretly influence consciousness and behavior, it’s not surprising that consumer data now rivals oil as the world’s most valuable commodity. Horrendous as it was, the Cambridge Analytica scandal just scratches the surface of the regressive political effects from commerce in personal data.

Beyond such abuses lies the influence of commercially dependent media, which legitimizes the consumption regime by churning out low-cost, sales-friendly “disposable news” defined by cheap drama, personal immediacy, and simplicity. The substantive deliberation, inclusive debate, investigative reporting, and long-term thinking necessary to foster critical public consciousness about the climate crisis is largely stifled.

The corporate architects of this consumption regime have intensified their political activities to reinforce the system. Lobbying by the communications and electronics sector has outpaced even energy and natural resources industries since the late 1990s. Google spent nearly $22 million on lobbying, and Amazon made almost $14 million in federal campaign contributions in 2018 alone. Capital’s leverage over sociopolitical communication and cultural horizons presents big obstacles to questioning destructive consumption, let alone imagining, discussing, and planning an ecologically sane, socially just future.

Toward a New Politics of Consumption

Building that future requires bringing consumption under public, democratic control. At the same time, a new vision of consumption is essential to making a post-carbon economy and society politically sustainable. Unless Big Tech, Big Telecom, Big Media, Big Retail, and the interlinked firms that control twenty-first-century advertising are confronted directly, many Green New Deal initiatives — from converting the energy grid and encouraging sustainable land use, to renewing ecosystems and nurturing small businesses and farms — will be under relentless political threat.

Imagine a Sanders (or, someday, an Ocasio-Cortez) administration backed by a progressive-socialist-majority congressional bloc. What might the FTC and FCC look like? Here, we push left policy boundaries by sketching a strategy with two principle aims: raising product quality and sustainability standards, and breaking our information and communications systems’ commercial dependency to bolster democratic alternatives.

A new politics of consumption might center on the creation of a robust product standards enforcement system with high thresholds for quality and durability, environmental impacts, and labor conditions. A revitalized FTC, FDA, and Consumer Product Safety Commission might collaborate to raise the quality of consumer goods and end destructive practices like planned obsolescence and the production of the cheap, plastic, throwaway products. Such aggressive regulatory measures draw from the 1930s consumer movement, which was able to push to the floor of Congress a bill directing the FDA to seize goods and potentially prosecute firms for violating new advertising standards that prohibited misleading consumers “by ambiguity or inference.”

This product quality standards regime could be supported by a grading and labeling system that provides clear and accessible information about the origins, makeup, and impacts of consumer goods — another key demand of New Deal and World War II-era activists. The point isn’t strictly to help us make individually rational purchasing decisions, but to foster public momentum for a new consumption regime: by deflecting manipulative advertising and providing leverage for organized groups to demand high-quality goods, a grading and labeling system could bolster popular support for publicly enforceable product quality, packaging, and promotion standards. A new product standard regime could compel retailers like Walmart and Amazon to redirect supply chains to higher-wage manufacturers using cutting-edge sustainable production systems. Public subsidies could also be channeled to democratically structured small- and medium-sized retailers to encourage a more far-reaching shift in how we get basic consumer goods.

This new system would require strong, comprehensive, accountable government action — mandating and enforcing corporate information disclosure along supply chains through legislative and executive action backed by popular pressure, re-staffing and reequipping regulatory agencies with independent expertise and enforcement capacity, and democratically empowering civil society groups and ordinary consumers to help build out and oversee the system.

A product quality system could work in tandem with vigorous new data privacy protections and tough restrictions on commercial advertising and the digital surveillance practices that feed it. But a new consumption regime also requires broader efforts to democratize communications systems to open space for public discourse and strengthen grassroots control over Green New Deal initiatives.

For example, the FCC could support democratically governed municipal media hubs, in a regionally federated structure, with significant authority to implement communications policy. Federal funding could be allocated to remake underused spaces in public schools, community colleges, libraries, and abandoned buildings into cutting-edge centers for popular media creativity and civic digital media education. These hubs might provide hardware, software, training, and technical support for citizens, civil society groups, and grassroots organizations.

Hubs could also offer subsidized communication facilities for citizen-journalists and creative workers, and incubate noncommercial, worker-owned/-operated media co-ops, such as online news organizations and documentary collectives. Substantial, accountable, and responsive state support for democratic communication could provide concrete leverage against corporate media and Big Tech, challenging (and eventually displacing) their control of news and public information. This idea for media hubs advances existing reform proposals such as Sanders’s plan to use new advertising taxes to fund noncommercial media.

Proposals like these also require an infusion of expertise into government to support and elaborate the visions of elected officials and popular groups with specialized analysis, motivated by a commitment to public interests. Rejecting the neoliberal reliance on insulated technocrats applying minor, corporate-friendly system adjustments, a new politics of consumption would put computer scientists, telecommunications specialists, supply-chain analysts, consumer attorneys, creative workers, and others in close contact with diverse publics through new democratic institutions. This kind of project presents opportunities to channel growing progressive activism among tech industry employees and gathering generational skepticism of Silicon Valley claims to improving the world. A politics of consumption for the Green New Deal would learn from the New Deal by again making public service attractive to talented and capable people who seek meaningful work tackling interesting and important problems.

Looking Ahead

The massive public investments that a transformative Green New Deal requires should reach beyond energy production and distribution to reshape government’s role in the interlinked areas of commerce, communication, and consumption. Policy and institutional reforms like these can undercut business models that feed ecological destruction, nurture political spaces to defend against corporate backlash, and create launching points for further progress. Public action to raise wages, reduce working hours, and eliminate consumer debt combined with initiatives to raise the quality and sustainability of consumer goods, strengthen privacy rights, weed out pernicious advertising, and democratize our political discourse. These moves would help foster concrete improvements in everyday life that can produce lasting popular support for the broader left political project.

While we have focused here on the United States, reimagining and reshaping consumption in the world’s most economically powerful and ecologically destructive nation has global implications. For one thing, cutting wasteful consumption in the Global North is essential to offset increases in essential consumption in the Global South demanded by social justice and human dignity. And beyond the existential menace of climate change, current consumption patterns exacerbate a host of global socioecological ravages, from the islands of plastic-choking oceans to the mountains of toxic e-waste that endanger the world’s poorest and most marginalized people. Even if every megawatt of US electricity came from zero-carbon sources and every transportation mode ran on green power, serious efforts to build a world where most people can flourish require a new politics of consumption.

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Letters, April 9: 'Skin is too thin for politics' – Calgary Sun

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SKIN TOO THIN
Note to Jeff McLean — Tyler Shandro is not suited for political life. It has become extremely apparent that the only skin he has to put in the game is a very thin skin. If not for COVID-19, this sorry excuse for a politician would have been turfed in a heartbeat. It is absolutely unconscionable to believe that this individual continues to sit at the cabinet table and has the endorsement of Jason Kenney. These are indeed strange times.
BRUCE STEWART
(And they’re gonna get stranger.)

USE THE SCHOOLS
Re: Auxiliary hospital beds. I hope we will not need any additional facilities for the COVID-19 pandemic but it seems to me that the now vacant schools could be easily pressed into service. They are public property and have excellent infrastructure already in place. They have many separate rooms, washrooms, showers etc. They could also be easily disinfected and returned to normal use when no longer needed.
FRED MAZAR
(Thanks, everything must be an option.)

NOT THE TIME
Mr. Kenney, give your head a shake! You keep stepping on the doctors and all the other health-care workers while throwing money everywhere else. While these other sectors may need all the help they can get, the health-care sector is under more stress than ever, trying to keep us alive, and don’t deserve your actions. Cancel all your ill-conceived notions about health-care cuts, and when we all get through this terrible time, negotiate with the sector in good faith. Backing off now would be like saying thanks for being there for us. Show your appreciation.
VERNE FRIESEN
(This is not the time for messing with the health system in any way that doesn’t address the COVID-19 crisis.)

DON’T NEED MONEY
Re: The letter from Dan Olenick on April 7, 2020, about help for seniors. The seniors are still receiving their CPP, OAS, GST refund, other pension and maybe even guaranteed income supplement. Most seniors have no loss of income. Therefore, most of us do not expect any financial help, but would probably appreciate a telephone call or email to check up on us to ensure we are okay or have enough food on hand. Most seniors are more worried about their younger family members and their future. We have lived through the polio, measles, and three other pandemic flus. So, Mr. Olenick please do not expect us to line up for government assistance. Leave that for those who really need it. To clarify, I am in my mid-70s.
GWEN ZEEGERS
(Stay safe, Gwen, and thanks for reminding us all to check in with the seniors in our life.)

PAY US BACK
Now that some municipalities are throwing their staff on the dole, they should return the money they save to cash-strapped taxpayers. With the federal government picking up the cost of supporting these workers, municipal taxpayers shouldn’t get dinged twice for their wages. COVID-19 layoffs shouldn’t turn into a money-making bonanza for municipalities.
S.I. PETERSEN
(This is going to be so complicated financially, all we can hope for is fairness for all.)

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On Politics: Biden’s Big Challenge – The New York Times

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Good morning and welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections based on reporting by New York Times journalists.

Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.


  • Bernie Sanders has ended his presidential campaign, acknowledging in a video address to supporters on Wednesday that “the path toward victory is virtually impossible.” Still, noting his overwhelming support from Democratic voters under 50, he argued that his movement had already won the future. “Together we have transformed American consciousness as to what kind of nation we can become, and have taken this country a major step forward in the never-ending struggle for economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice,” he said.

  • The challenge now for Joe Biden is clear: Yes, he’ll need to win the support of moderates and swing voters in key battleground states to beat President Trump in November. But he will also need to earn the trust of liberal voters and those feeling left behind by a political establishment that Sanders has loudly criticized — and that Biden proudly embodies. Biden, the former vice president, must work to energize young people and progressive voters who largely rejected his center-left candidacy during the Democratic primary race. He and Sanders spoke by phone on Wednesday, and the Biden campaign is planning to release digital content arguing that he has moved in Sanders’s direction in policy areas like health care. With the presidential race scrambled by the coronavirus, even if Sanders offers an endorsement to Biden soon, it will probably have to happen in cyberspace — without the opportunity for a joint rally or physical appearances together.

  • Trump appears eager to dive into a showdown with Biden. At his daily news conference, he spread innuendo about his presumptive rival, wondering aloud why Barack Obama hadn’t endorsed his former deputy. (Obama made it clear early in the 2020 race that he did not plan to endorse a Democratic candidate during the primary.) “It amazes me that President Obama hasn’t supported Sleepy Joe,” Trump said. “When is it going to happen? Why is it? He knows something that you don’t know. I think I know, but you don’t know.” Of course, at this point in the 2016 presidential race, Trump himself had been endorsed by hardly any major establishment Republicans.

  • Trump and congressional Republicans are pushing for the speedy passage of a $250 billion bill to expand the small-business loan program that was set up under last month’s $2 trillion stimulus bill. But Democrats are saying: not so fast. “The bill that they put forth will not get unanimous support in the House — it just won’t,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told NPR on Wednesday. Both Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said they supported the $250 billion expansion, but wanted to see half of that money reserved for businesses owned by farmers, women, people of color and veterans. And they pushed for doubling the bill’s total price tag by adding $100 billion for hospitals and health centers; $150 billion for state and local governments; and a 15 percent increase in food assistance benefits.


A lawn sign for Bernie Sanders was left in a yard after he ended his campaign in Burlington, Vt., on Wednesday.


The partisan sparring before Wisconsin’s mid-pandemic primary on Tuesday was not just another example of Democrats and Republicans failing to get along.

It was a preview of many similar showdowns that are likely to play out in the weeks and months ahead, as the coronavirus renders in-person voting hazardous and governments grapple with how to adjust.

In Wisconsin, the Democratic governor, Tony Evers, had sought to have in-person voting delayed, but the Republican-controlled State Legislature and the conservative-led Wisconsin Supreme Court insisted on going ahead with it. And in a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines, the federal Supreme Court shot down Democratic efforts to extend the absentee voting deadline — despite concerns about public health and reports that many voters had not received their requested mail ballots.

Republicans have long sought to enact voting restrictions that disproportionately affect racial minorities, poor people and younger voters, pointing to the threat of voter fraud despite the fact that it is very rare. And both parties have long acknowledged that making voting easier helps Democrats.

But the coronavirus has turbocharged this debate, with Democrats and some state Republicans encouraging vote-by-mail measures to make it safer to cast ballots.

Congressional Democrats now say they are committed to inserting voting-access provisions into a coronavirus relief bill. Such a national law could help to prevent Republican officials in key swing states like Wisconsin from restricting access to things like vote-by-mail.

Another proposed regulation would force states to allow at least 20 days for early, in-person voting.

“When you look at what is happening in Wisconsin and what’s going on around the country, we can’t let this happen in the fall,” said Amy Klobuchar, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee.

But Trump and his Republican allies have vowed to fight such measures. “Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. He has recently been more willing than Republicans have been in the past to say outright that he worries making voting easier can help Democrats.

Last month, when Democrats first proposed inserting voting rules into a stimulus bill, Trump objected. “If you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said.

On Politics is also available as a newsletter. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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How coronavirus may finally end the handshake in politics – CNN

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“As a society, just forget about shaking hands, we don’t need to shake hands,” the director of the National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Disease said. “We’ve gotta break that custom, because as a matter of fact that is really one of the major ways you can transmit a respiratory-borne illness.”

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Which, at first glance, might not seem like that big a deal. After all, we’ve spent the better part of the last month staying at home and not getting within six feet of anyone we’re not directly related to! What’s a handshake after all that?
But at least in the realm of politics, shaking hands is seen as fundamental to how elected officials signal their connection to the average Joe.”What the handshake is saying is, `I’m really with you and here for you. You can trust me,”‘ handshake expert Robert E. Brown told the Chicago Tribune in 2005.
“I love the people of this country, and you can’t be a politician and not shake hands,” President Donald Trump said at a Fox town hall in early March. “And I’ll be shaking hands with people — and they want to say hello and hug you and kiss you — I don’t care.”
(That’s a flip-flop from Trump’s past views on handshaking. “I am not a big fan of the handshake,” he said in 1999. “I think it’s barbaric. … Shaking hands, you catch colds, you catch the flu, you catch it, you catch all sorts of things. Who knows what you don’t catch?”)
Vice President Mike Pence echoed Trump’s newfound pro-handshake sentiment. “As the President has said, in our line of work, you shake hands when someone wants to shake your hand, and I expect the President will continue to do that, I’ll continue to do it,” he said at a coronavirus task force briefing on March 10.
(Both men have since stopped shaking hands at the recommendation of doctors and infectious disease experts.)
The presidential handshake has a long tradition in American politics. Images of presidents — and presidential candidates — wading into crowds to shake as many hands as possible in the shortest amount of time are de rigeur throughout history. There’s a whole opening scene in the movie “Primary Colors” that analyzes how a politician shakes hands. Heck, Teddy Roosevelt holds the record for most handshakes by a head of state on a single day; on January 1, 1907, Roosevelt shook the hands of 8,513 people! Afterward, according to Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris, the President “went upstairs and privately, disgustedly, scrubbed himself clean.” (The Roosevelts held an open house for the public at the White House that day.)
So, to imagine a political campaign, which we will have this fall, without handshakes is, well, weird. And it got me thinking about other established traditions of the campaign trail that the coronavirus may stop — or radically alter — forever.
* Kissing babies: Honestly, this one was always dumb. It apparently goes all the way back to the 1830s when President Andrew Jackson, while campaigning in New Jersey, kissed a baby in the crowd and pronounced the baby “a fine specimen of young American childhood. … Note the brightness of that eye, the great strength of those limbs, and the sweetness of those lips.”
It’s been a thing ever since although Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee, had it right when she told The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd this in October 1984:
“As a mother, my instinctive reaction is how do you give your baby to someone who’s a total stranger to kiss, especially with so many colds going around? And especially when the woman is wearing lipstick? I mean, I find that amazing that someone would do that?”
Can you imagine — in the age of coronavirus — a mother or father handing their kid over to a politician for a smooch? Or the politician obliging? I can’t.
* Big campaign rallies: One of the hallmarks of alleged excitement in a campaign is the size of a candidate’s crowds. While this is — obviously — a purely anecdotal measurement, lots and lots of politicians put a lot of stock in how many people turn out to hear them speak.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, GOP strategist Ed Rollins predicted to Politico that Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama because of crowd size. “Crowd sizes are a vital part of any close campaign,” said Rollins. “They come out because the campaign is better organized and puts the resources into getting out supporters,” he said. “Crowds also grow as the enthusiasm for the candidate grows. Romney is now in a position to win. His supporters want to be a part of that victory.” (Swing and a miss on that one, Ed!)
And the current occupant of the White House is uniquely focused on crowd size. “No matter where we go, we have these massive crowds,” Trump said at a rally in the fall of 2016. “We just left one that was 11,000. … It’s been amazing, the receptivity. There’s never been anything like this in this country.” At virtually every campaign speech he has given since — and there have been many of them — Trump remarks at the size of the crowd — it is, in his imagining, always record breaking and the biggest ever — and declares it as an indicator of how real people love him and what he is doing in the White House.
Given the federal guidelines about the dangers posed by big — or even smallish — crowds, will people be willing to risk the possibility of getting sick to attend a rally this summer or fall?
* National party conventions: At one point in history, the quadrennial conventions were absolutely essential. A nominee would often not be chosen until all of the delegates gathered in a chosen city to be cajoled, wrangled and, in some cases, paid off to line up behind a certain candidate. Nowadays? Not so much.
It’s early April and we already know that Trump will be the Republican nominee and Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee. Why then would either national party take the risk of gathering tens of thousands of people together for an event that, when you get right down to it, isn’t necessary? (Biden and Trump could easily be nominated by acclamation or by some sort of virtual vote.)
Biden, for his part, has already floated the idea of a virtual convention. “We may have to do a virtual convention,” the former VP said in an interview on ABC over the weekend. “I think we should be thinking about that right now. The idea of holding the convention is going to be necessary. We may not be able to put 10, 20, 30,000 people in one place.”
Trump continues to insist it’s all systems go for the GOP convention in late August. “ “We’re not going to cancel,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News late last month. “I think we’re going to be in great shape long before then.”
Maybe! But will people flock to the national conventions — even if they are held — given the coronavirus cloud still looming in some way, shape or form?

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