A Debate In New York Is Not a “Stunt”

151013_dem-debate-sanders-clinton-jazzhands.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2Republicans running for president don’t seem to agree much during debates. But now the Democrats can’t agree on whether to have one or not.

After next week’s primary and caucuses in Wisconsin and Wyoming, the race for the White House shifts back east and New York is the big prize for the Democrats—291 delegates are in play and 247 will be awarded based on votes cast by registered party members.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has requested that he and Hillary Clinton go head to head in New York before the primary for one last opportunity to win hearts and votes there. Surprisingly, the Clinton campaign has yet to agree to such a debate and their reasoning is completely preposterous.

On Monday, Clinton press secretary Brian Fallon told CNN that the campaign considers the request a “stunt” by a campaign “struggling” for attention and an effort to “get back on people’s radar,” according to USA Today. Following that, Clinton’s chief strategist Joel Benenson essentially said the senator needs to change his tone before a debate in the Empire State can be considered.

“This is a man who said he’d never run a negative ad ever. He’s now running them. They’re planning to run more,” Benenson said on CNN. “Let’s see the tone of the campaign he wants to run before we get to any other questions.”

Politics aside, the two Democratic candidates’ campaigns agreed to at least one debate in March, April and May. March debates were held in Flint, Michigan and Miami. The May debate is scheduled for California. The April debate has yet to be determined. As New York is the biggest contest delegate-wise in April, it makes perfect sense to hold the debate there.

So what’s the problem? Is Clinton afraid of something? She shouldn’t be. She was elected twice to serve as a U.S. senator from the state with favorable margins both times and defeated Barack Obama in the state’s primary in 2008 by a comfortable 17 points. Indeed, she is at present leading Sanders in the latest polls by double digits.

She has also proven to perform very well in debates, especially with an abundance of loaded questions for her regarding her authenticity and email situation.

Frankly, it’s easy for voters to view the debate hesitation as an inconvenience to the Clinton campaign. Many thought she would have the nomination wrapped up by now and could begin focusing on November ambitions, but Sanders isn’t backing down and it’s clear that it’s frustrating her.

It’s interesting that after Clinton’s ever-so-narrow win in the Iowa caucuses, she urged the Sanders campaign to a debate in New Hampshire before that state’s primary, a state Sanders was leading in the polls and eventually went on to win.

Debates can be make-or-break moments for candidates. Clinton faced some harsh inquiries at the one in Miami and probably isn’t warm to the idea of more right in her own territory. She also probably doesn’t want to debate Sanders, s native New Yorker, in the backyard of Wall Street—a trademark of his argument against her. Of course, another debate is always another opportunity for her to slip up. Many partially contribute Sanders’ upset in Michigan to Clinton’s accusation that he didn’t vote for the Detroit bailout—a complicated allegation but is essentially false. Even so, the odds of a Sanders upset in New York are unlikely.

But addressing Sanders’ tone as a reason to not participate in a debate? That just sounds like whining. Like many others, I am asking “what tone?” In many negative ads, Sanders has hardly mentioned Clinton, by name that is. Indeed, the Vermonter has completely dodged Clinton’s biggest Pandora’s Box—her emails—something many other opponents would’ve milked to the end.

Furthermore, say Sanders has run negative campaign ads. This isn’t Clinton’s first rodeo. She has run for office before. She’s well aware that negative campaigning is part of the political game. The contest between Clinton and Sanders has been unquestionably calm and civilized. The “tone” Clinton’s aide talks about was much hotter eight years ago in the battle between her and Obama. That didn’t stop them from debating.

But beyond tone and advertisements is what’s really important about debates, and that’s an opportunity for voters to listen, watch and learn a candidate’s views and decide who they think is best to head their country.

Debates are one of the most important parts of our republic. There’s no teleprompter, no re-takes and little to hide. They are a series of questions asked by members of the public and the answers are heard by the public. They expose a candidate’s strengths and flaws. They reveal one’s cares and one’s character.  They are in no way and should never be considered “a stunt.”

Government is full of secrets that we can’t imagine, and the more information there is, the more there is to keep secret. Debates serve as the last defense to combating those secrets. Debates preserve some sort of transparency between our elected officials and those who elect them. There’s no viable reason why New York voters should be deprived of that.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

2016 Is Not the Dirtiest Election Year

jackson-vs-adamsDuring elections, mainstream media loves to attach itself to even the minutest topics and turn them into sensationalized stories that you’d think would stop the world from moving. No matter where you go, it seems like every election cycle we go through is “the most important election in a generation” and the candidates always seem to be “in a dead heat.”

But there’s one that stands out from all the rest—mudslinging. Even before the tumultuous talk of the last few months had taken shape, news outlets were commenting on how “this is the nastiest campaign we’ve ever had.” That’s funny. I remember that talk in 2012, and 2008 and 2004 and—well, you get the picture.

While there’s no doubt that the bickering this time around has reached levels we haven’t seen in some time, it still pales remarkably to what we’ve seen in our nation’s past.

If one wants to talk about a brutal campaign, you have to look back nearly 200 years to the election of 1828—a contest that many historians label as the nation’s harshest, and as Lynn Hudson Parsons describes in his book, The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828, it is the election that really laid the foundation for the dirty ones that we’ve seen since.

The 1828 contest was an 1824 rematch between incumbent John Quincy Adams and challenger Andrew Jackson. While running against each other in 1824, Jackson won the popular vote of the people, but not a needed majority in the Electoral College. So, as stated in the Constitution, the House of Representatives decided the president—and selected Adams on the first ballot. The Jackson supporters screamed bloody murder and swore revenge.

In the act of throwing the gloves off, political issues went almost completely off the table and the candidates focused on personal attacks on the characters of the other. Jackson called Adams “The Pimp,” claiming he arranged an American hooker for Russian Czar Alexander I. Adams called Jackson “a barbarian, drunkard, duelist and murderer.” Adams called Jackson’s mother a prostitute. Jackson called Adams a “lordly, purse-proud aristocrat.”

Jackson’s wife was essentially called a whore repeatedly because she had married Jackson before the divorce of her previous marriage was finalized. She was also attacked constantly for her weight.

The best way to imagine this sort of contest in modern times is to picture Al Gore re-challenging George W. Bush in 2004. Like in 1824, the candidate who had received most of the popular vote had lost—and the process of deciding the president was highly controversial. Had Gore run again in 2004, I think we would’ve seen a similar anger, not necessarily from Gore himself, but from those of his supporters who thought he had been robbed of the presidency in 2000. Still, it’s extremely hard to imagine it escalating to the level of Jackson vs. Adams.

Though 1828 stands in its own category, mudslinging has become an undisputed trademark of our elections—and they don’t all come from loud, boisterous men like Jackson. They come from important supporters and from the men who many consider our dearest of leaders.

In 1844, Democrats backing James K. Polk claimed that Henry Clay had sex with whores and broke all 10 of the commandments.

Before the turning point of 1828, there was 1800, when the Yale University president publicly suggested that if Thomas Jefferson became the president, “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution.”

In the heated election of 1912, William Howard Taft called Theodore Roosevelt a “dangerous egotist” and a “demagogue.” The popular Roosevelt, in turn, referred to Taft as a “fathead” and a “puzzlewit.” The rhetoric between those two former best friends became so ugly, Taft actually burst into tears on the campaign trail.

Even our often-ranked best president, Abraham Lincoln, known as “Honest Abe,” is guilty of below-the-belt punches at his opponents. Referring to Stephen Douglas, Lincoln said he was “about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter the other way.”

Quite a far cry from saying someone’s face is orange, wouldn’t you say?

Here’s the simple truth. Relentless mudslinging is a casualty of our First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press. It has always been a part of politics and always will be. There’s no getting around that. It has been done by our best and our worst. And it seems unfair that every four years we see the media try to paint that election as the worst we’ve ever seen.

As ridiculous that the size of one’s hands became the biggest campaign issue for a week straight and as heated as the line “an artful smear” has become, there’s one thing about modern political defamation that is clear. We’re still better than what we used to be.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88




It’s People That Define the State of the Economy

Construction-Workers-Original-permitIn the days leading up to the March 8 primaries, I was watching CNN when anchor Ashleigh Banfield asked a financial expert why so many people are aren’t happy or frightened by the current state of the U.S. economy.

A few days later on the day of the primaries, the same station’s poll reported that with Mississippi Republicans who voted that day, a whopping 81 percent of them were “very worried” about the economy. When asked the same question to Michigan GOP voters, 63 percent were very worried. A week later, the poll said 81 percent of Democratic voters in Missouri were somewhat or very worried and 75 percent of Democrats thought the same in Ohio.

But Banfield seemed a little baffled by these results and asked this expert why so many people, on both sides of the political spectrum, aren’t happy with the economy when it appears it is growing.

We hear this from a lot of different news organizations and political groups. They like to throw out these numbers as a defense to their argument. According to a Feb. 7 article by The Washington Post, the economy has added 14 million jobs over a record 71 consecutive months, the unemployment rate has dropped from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 to less than 5 percent, and average household wages have picked up, growing 2.5 percent last year.

To add icing on the cake, Americans are enjoying the lowest gas prices in over a decade and consumer spending, though still not very high, is at comfortable level for now. Indeed, the Federal Reserve viewed the economy so positively that interest rates rose in December for the first time since the beginning of the Great Recession.

Alright, so all of that sounds pretty good, right? If the economy is going so well, then why do these polls say many people still unhappy about it? It’s easy to point to a bunch of numbers—some with so many different variables involved in getting them—and write off the financial world as good as fixed. But numbers do not tell the whole story.

During the race for the aforementioned Ohio primaries, we heard a lot from the state’s governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich on how he picked up the Buckeye State when it was in trouble and put it back together. And while the numbers and his high approval rating can speak for themselves, “you can’t just cherry pick numbers and call it a comeback,” Gavin DeVore Leonard, state director for One Ohio Now, told Politico.

Like Ohio, the U.S. looks like it’s improving on paper, but does that really mean it’s doing better? All you have to do is ask the very ones that define the U.S. economy—the people.

Ask the man who was just laid off after 25 years of good labor because his business is moving abroad if he thinks the economy is doing better. I doubt “but gas prices are low” will really convince him otherwise.

Ask the single mother who works four jobs that all pay $10 an hour or less just to be able to feed her children if she’s satisfied with the way things are going.

Ask the middle-aged couple that worked hard and played by the rules their whole lives and are five years from the retiring age but know they will have to work another five years after that to be able to afford retirement if they are better off than they were years ago.

Ask the recent college graduate who did what they were told and got an education, but cannot find a job and are starting their adult lives $50,000 in debt if they are happy about the employment rate.

Ask the 30-year-old couple who are having children and would like to move into a house but can barely afford the tiny apartment that takes away more than a whole paycheck every month if they think consumer spending is up.

Ask the small-town entrepreneur who sees businesses closing all around him and stays awake at night wondering if he or she will be next.

We all know people like this.

Not too long from now, another jobs report will come out and it will flood the headlines and airwaves and will probably bring some good news with percentage signs tagged along with it.

But will that change the life of the people mentioned above, and millions more just like them from coast to coast and border to border?

These people are experiencing pain, stress, worry, heartbreak, disappointment, doubt and despair. These people see their child being born and worry if the youngster will have a better life than they did. These people see their elder relatives get sick and wonder if they can afford the hospital bills.

These people are just trying to make it by, day to day.

Those are just some of the things that numbers don’t show.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Social Media is Threatening the Truth

Social-MediaAbraham Lincoln once said “don’t believe everything you read on the Internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it.”

Just kidding. He didn’t actually say that. Obviously. But the so-credited 16th U.S. president has a solid point.

Probably if asked what the greatest thing about the Internet is, many people would say something along the lines of “there’s an endless amount of information.” That sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

Say it again. “There’s an endless amount of information.” As exciting as it sounds, it also can sound outright frightening. And it is. Along with the wonderful things we can find online, we can also find a whole lot of nonsense—and it’s getting out of control.

Some might argue it’s no different than what we’ve been told according to the popular medium of the time—”don’t believe everything you read” or “don’t believe everything you see on TV.” And in many ways, that argument is correct. The only difference is that a book eventually ends and a television show or movie can only run for so many minutes. That picture with quotes that Lincoln was talking about can be seen over and over again at any hour of the day and by a much larger audience.

The presidential election of 2008 has often been called “the Facebook election.” It was the first in which all candidates—presidential and congressional—attempted to connect directly with American voters via online social networking sites. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 46 percent of Americans used the Web, email or text messaging for news about the presidential campaign, to contribute to the debate, or to mobilize others. Some 35 percent of Americans said they’d watched online political videos—three times as many as during the 2004 presidential election. And roughly 10 percent said they’d logged on to social networking sites to engage in the election.

Keep in mind that was eight years ago. Social media is not just a part of this year’s election—it is in many ways directing the election—and in a dangerous way.

Just recently, the site Clone Zone made headlines. Clone Zone is a fairly new website which lets users “clone” and edit pages from most major news outlets, convincingly passing their work off as the genuine thing. One of these clonings was a fake article dressed up as The New York Times with the headline saying “Warren Endorses Sanders, Breaking With Colleagues.”

“Warren” is referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, an icon among progressives that many Bernie Sanders supporters hope will eventually endorse the Vermont senator—a move that would no doubt add some leverage over Hillary Clinton’s dominance. Warren has yet to endorse either candidate.

This opened up an entirely new door of online deceit. Though many people are fooled, many are not by the bombardment of odd-looking websites or posts our friends make about how Hillary was arrested or “the secret bombshell that they don’t want you to know about”—or something along those lines. It’s the oldest and greatest trick in the book—advertise what people want to hear. But when people hear what they want to hear, it becomes difficult to determine what is true and what is false or extremely misleading.

But now we have something different. This is much different than the ridiculous Internet memes with exaggerated or outright fictitious content. Now we have a fake New York Times article—a more than reputable news source that millions of people rely on—that went viral all over the Internet. It’s shocking at all that something like that is allowed. But what’s not shocking is that many people saw it and probably thought it was true.

The truth is being hijacked by an invisible force. It’s an age-old form of propaganda and deception that, when mixed with 21st century technology, creates an explosive combination. And I believe it is greatly underestimated how much a factor it is playing in this year’s heated election.

Unfortunately, there’s no entity to police our perceptions of truth and lies for us so it is completely on us to determine them. Does an article claiming climate change’s absolute sincerity come from http://www.climatechangeisreal.com? (This is not a real website by the way). Does a collection of statistics arguing that gun control isn’t the answer in America say “Courtesy of Gun Rights Advocates” in the bottom corner? If it does, that’s cause for some serious speculation. Ask yourself, “Does this really make sense?”

All it takes is peeking past one’s own personal biases. I believe everyone has the ability to do so. And I’m not the only one that thinks so either.

Abraham Lincoln once said “if given the truth, people can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

And yes—he really said that.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88