What Hillary Clinton Could Learn from Charity Fundraisers

January 23, 2017 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 339

[Up front, a disclaimer: This is not a “why Hillary Clinton lost” post. I’m as sick of those as you are. This is sharing some thoughts on a lesson I think we might learn, and improve on in the future.]

In addition to my various creative endeavors, in my day job I’m a nonprofit fundraiser. I don’t talk about it much because, frankly, I don’t think most people would find it especially interesting. But I’ve been doing it for about 15 years, and I’ve learned a lot of things.

The most important lesson I’ve learned as a fundraiser, I think, is talk with the donor about the donor. A lot of people, when they want to convince someone’s support, they start listing great things about the organization. How long they’ve been around, the great staff, the many people they’ve helped, and so on. But that’s wrong.

People want to hear about themselves, not about you.

Donors don’t want to support an organization, they want to do something good for the world. When you see a hurricane or a flood, you don’t give to the Red Cross because you’re worried about the organization. You give because you want to help the victims.

In that respect, philanthropy is a selfish act. Donors want something from their donation–they want the knowledge that their gift is doing good, and the feel-good feeling that comes along with that. For that reason, a good fundraiser doesn’t talk about how great the charity is. They talk about how great the donor is. Don’t talk about “me,” “we,” or “us.” The important word is always “You.”

Credit is due here to Tom Ahern and Jeff Brooks, from whom I learned this rule. In Brooks’s book How to Turn Your Words into Money, he goes so far as to present a template for a fundraising letter that is just the word “You” over and over again. From there, says Brooks, you fill in the blanks.

What can successful politicians learn from fundraisers?

So why do I bring this up now? Because I’ve been reflecting on the 2016 Election, and how Hillary Clinton failed to follow this rule.

One of the most common complaints I heard about Hillary was that she was “too ambitious.” This was from both Trump voters who hated her, and reluctant Democrats. Now, I will not discount the role sexism plays in this assessment. It’s classic sexism to regard ambition as a negative quality in a woman.

However, I think there may have been something else at play here as well. Hillary Clinton talked about herself a lot. I wonder if this created a perception that her campaign was about her, rather than about the voters, and if this might be what some voters meant when they said she was “too ambitious.”

Obama, and even Trump, talked more about the voters

I’ve been trying to recall how often, during his first Presidential campaign, Barack Obama even mentioned the fact that he would be the first Black President. I’ve asked friends, Googled, watched some old speeches, and I don’t think he ever mentioned it once. Other people did, certainly, but I don’t think Obama himself ever addressed it.

Hillary, by contrast, mentioned her opportunity to become the first woman president quite frequently. If it came up in every speech, that would not surprise me.

I don’t fault her for that, any more than I would fault Obama for mentioning his own historic opportunity. I mention it not because of his race, or her gender, but because that focus made Hillary’s rhetoric more self-oriented than Obama’s. Even the slogan, “I’m with Her,” put the focus on the candidate herself, rather than the people she sought to serve. While it would lack the clever double-meaning, “She’s with You” may have worked better, from that perspective.

In some respect, Hillary’s experience might have worked against her. Yes, she ranked among the most qualified candidate ever to run for President. And yes, as a woman she was under an unfair obligation to state her qualifications. But every time she recited her remarkable resume, she was talking about herself instead of talking about the voters.

The remarkable thing here is, if we analyze the rhetoric of Donald Trump, narcissist though he is, he did better. When Trump took the podium at any of his rallies, he talked a lot about the voters and his promises to them. I lack the resources to count the number of times each candidate used the word “You,” but I bet Trump far outpaced Clinton.

The candidate as cipher for voters’ hopes and dreams

There’s a particular similarity some commentators have pointed out between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. I’m paraphrasing here, but the similarity is that supporters of both candidates tended to attribute views neither candidate ever actually expressed. Each was, to some extent, a policy cipher onto whom voters could map their own wants and desires. In 2016, I had a Facebook friend explain to me how Donald Trump was going to eliminate the federal deficit and pay off the debt–during the same period when Trump himself promised to build a wall across the southern border and deliver massive investments in infrastructure.

I suspect part of the reason Trump and Obama presented this opportunity is because they talked more about the voters than about themselves. In contrast, by presenting so many concrete policy positions, Hillary won the allegiance of voters like me, but she also clearly defined herself. That stripped voters of the ability to attribute their own values.

At least I think that might be the case.

It’s possible that political strategists already embrace the same rule as fundraisers. Certainly, in 2016 fundraising is a priority role for political candidates–if not their primary responsibility. But it’s not something I’ve heard pundits comment on. I suspect it’s something to which candidates and strategists may want to pay closer attention.

 


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Continue Reading

Nate Silver swung the election. He should admit it.

January 20, 2017 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 434

It’s a simple but unfortunate fact that most humans don’t understand probability. It’s not our fault, exactly. Our primate brains are not designed for it. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy: If a coin flip comes up heads nine times in a row, you should bet on tails, right? It’s due, right? Well, no. If you’re educated you probably know the odds are still 50/50. But the multi-billion dollar gambling industry is built on how terrible our brains are at probability.

This is why it’s so infuriating to hear Nate Silver, patriarch and spokesman for data journalism, insist he didn’t swing the 2016 Presidential election.

The REAL Real story of 2016

Since Trump’s win, Silver has done innumerable interviews in which he disavows any responsibility. He’s prone to a judgmental tone about the way people treated polling data, and a blasé, even willfully obtuse response to suggestions that he had a role.

Yesterday, Nate Silver published a long analysis, titled “The Real Story of 2016,” in which he begins with a question: “Why, then, had so many people who covered the campaign been so confident of Clinton’s chances? This is the question I’ve spent the past two to three months thinking about.”

To his credit, Silver does acknowledge the role of polling data, and FiveThirtyEight specifically, but his analysis seats responsibility squarely with FiveThiryEight’s readers, and journalists who “lumped together” their model with other, differing forecasts. There is no recognition that the way Silver and his fellow data journalists represent their findings might be inherently misleading. No recognition that the winding path the election took might have been shaped by a certain hourglass-shaped graphic.

Data journalism changes how our elections work

Data journalism is young, and Silver’s model of compiling and analyzing poll data to produce a single projection has been with us for only three Presidential elections. Following his success in 2008, many (myself included) began treating Silver as some kind of wizard. Revisionist history will likely forget the absolute confidence with which many regarded FiveThirtyEight’s prediction pre-Trump.

In the months prior to the 2016 Election Hillary Clinton’s win seemed predestined. Journalists, talking heads, even candidates themselves tended to treat her as if she were already President. It is highly likely that strategic decisions were informed by that perspective, both within the Campaign and outside.

What might have been different, had people not assumed a Hillary win? Would the Obama White House have moved faster to let the nation know about Russian interference? Would FBI Director James Comey have sent his infamous letter to Congress? Would the Clinton Campaign have invested so much into states like Texas and Arizona, and so little in Michigan and Wisconsin? Would the mainstream press have focused so intensely on Clinton’s email “scandal,” or turned their attention to more intense scrutiny of Trump?

All of this is down to speculation, of course, but it stands to reason that some of the elements that shaped the outcome might have been different. In a few cases, dramatically so. Strategists live and die by polling data, and in 2016 Nate Silver was inarguably the forecast most people followed.

There is an argument that data journalism distorts our understanding of polling data. In October, following the final Presidential debate, polls showed Clinton with a four- to seven-point lead on Trump. That’s a sizable lead, but still a close race. FiveThirtyEight put Clinton’s odds at 88 percent. The Upshot said 89.

Silver’s front page projection is the core of the problem.

In interviews, Silver invariably defends himself by citing FiveThirtyEight’s disclaimers about polling errors. And that’s fair. It’s in the headline of this piece from November 4, and as a regular reader I will attest that this point was regularly included in their reporting. But direct your browser to FiveThirtyEight and you aren’t met by a nuanced analysis. You see this.

The 71 percent forecast comes from just before the election. By that point, it was too late for strategic shifts. A month earlier, Clinton’s odds were near 90 percent.The Upshot employs a similar presentation. Ignore the yellow bar here, that showed up only on Election Day.

“Who will win the Presidency?” asks FiveThirtyEight. “Who will be President?” says the Upshot. Then a simple percentage. No mention of polling errors, no disclaimer about margins. Not unless you click through to more detailed analysis. I can’t access internal traffic reports for either site, but I’m willing a small percentage did so. And that sets aside the way those numbers are reported across other outlets–though in fairness to Silver, that plays to his point about other journalists misrepresenting his work.

Nate Silver understands probability. He doesn’t understand people.

The fact is, the projection model pioneered by Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight shaped the way Americans, including election strategists and the candidates themselves, understood the Election. Arguably, it was the single most influential factor. Yes, there are many other polls to take apart, and in past decades that’s what analysts did. But having a single projection is much neater, and easier for our primate brains to understand.

85 percent. Good. So Hillary will win.

Statisticians like Silver, who are better than most of us with probability, don’t see it that way. On Twitter, I’ve personally been chastised by people who say people should never have regarded Silver’s projection as “deterministic.” Which, again, is true, but it shows a failure on the part of data journalists to understand how bad most humans are with odds.

Personally, I still like Nate Silver, and I like data journalism. I don’t believe such projections should not exist. In the wake of what happened in 2016, however, I do think serious consideration should go toward how it’s presented. I do think a single projection, presented as a thermometer at the top of the front page, is harmful. It distorts the way people view the election and its likely outcome, and in doing so it shapes the election itself.

I’d like to see that change, but even more, I’d like Nate Silver to acknowledge his responsibility. It’s pretty obvious that when it comes to statistics, Nate Silver’s brain works better than most. The same does not appear to be true when it comes to human nature.

Continue Reading

Cartoon: Our Newest American Cryptid

November 29, 2016 Artwork, Comics, Politics / Religion Comments (1) 494

This is really more of a sketch than a proper cartoon. Like many people I’m sad that Hillary has to live in the woods now–but I’m hoping to one day have my own Hillary sighting.

Continue Reading

New York City’s Naked Hillary Statue is a Misogynist Political Cartoon

October 18, 2016 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (2) 874

This morning, an artist named Anthony Scioli staged a political protest in downtown Manhattan by erecting a mostly-naked statue of Hillary Clinton near Bowling Green park. The move appears to be a reaction to the naked Donald Trump statue displayed in Union Square in August by an anarchist collective called INDECLINE.

Note: I could find no photos of either the Hillary or Trump statue that I could use without violating the photographer’s copyright; click the links above to see the statues for yourself.

Politically, Scioli has every right to stage his protest. New York City requires a permit for such a display, and counter-terrorism(!) police reportedly told him he had to remove his statue less than three hours after it went up, but not before morning commuters tore it down and engaged in a street-brawl about whether it belonged.

As an artistic and political statement, Scioli’s statue is troubling and speaks to much of what’s wrong with the way Hillary’s critics approach her, especially in contrast with the artistic choices around “Naked Trump.”

Let’s begin with the most obvious and attention-getting aspect of Naked Hillary: Her swollen, naked belly and exposed breasts. The artist who created Naked Trump crafted a very realistic human form that, while overweight, closely approximated Donald Trump’s actual physique. The one (likely) exaggeration was the statue’s obvious micropenis.

Naked Hillary, in contrast, has a body resembling a fertility goddess or R. Crumb cartoon, a grotesque parody of the female form. It bears almost no resemblance to Hillary Clinton’s actual figure. Instead, it is a commentary on the female form itself. The statue’s shape reflects the way Hillary’s critics view her: Burdened and disfigured by her femininity. Were this the artist’s primary statement, one could almost see this as a commentary on the way our society regards women; in combination with the statue’s other aesthetic and symbolic choices, however, such a reading is impossible.

Naked Hillary is posed mid-gesticulation, her arms spread wide as her mouth and eyes expand in wild-eyed frenzy. Once again, the choice contrasts with that to depict Naked Trump at rest, a placid if somewhat self-satisfied expression on his face. Especially when one considers that Trump is by far the more bombastic of the two, this choice again says more about the artist than about Hillary herself. Hillary Clinton is many things, but frenzied is not one of them. Instead, the wild expression and contorted open mouth reflect a primary objection from her critics: She is an outspoken woman.

From behind her belly and beneath her open shirt emerges the glib face and hand of her husband Bill; because god forbid any woman, even the likely first female President, be regarded as an individual human being apart from the man who defines her. It’s not entirely clear what purpose Bill serves; his expression and reaching hand likely hint at his well-known reputation, but in a surprisingly subtle move (considering the other symbolic choices) he is sans-cigar.

[EDIT, 12:30PM: From the photos available earlier this morning I took this to be Bill Clinton, but from later photos, it’s clearly not. It appears to be a banker fondling her and kissing her breast, adding another layer of troubling symbolism to the piece (why must alleged corruption be portrayed via sexual symbology? Because she’s a woman??) but doesn’t much alter the overall thesis as I’ve laid it out here. Just note that it is definitely not Bill.]

Below Bill’s hand, Hillary’s nether-regions are clad in a simple pair of white panties, because even in retaliating for Naked Trump, the artists regard female genitalia as too vulgar and offensive to be exposed in public. From there down, Hillary is transformed into a literal devil, her human legs replaced by hairy goat legs and hooves. Beneath her left hoof is a pile of papers; it’s hard to say with certainty from the photos online, but they would appear to be a mountain of emails. Her right hoof crushes a Google-style marker denoting a location on the map she stands upon, soaking it in blood that spills into the ocean.

Though the map is distorted, it’s almost certain that the marker denotes… wait for it… BENGHAZI.

The Naked Trump statue that made headlines in August was a simple artistic statement: It stripped The Donald of his glamor, of his character, of his bluster and his dignity and depicted him as nothing more than a man. Yes, the representation was distorted in some subtle ways to embarrass him: the tiny penis, the saggy skin and hanging jowl. But the artistic statement was to emphasize his humanity.

Naked Hillary, in contrast, is anything but human. She is a cartoon, so burdened by the symbols of right-wing knocks against her that no actual person remains. The statue’s artistic choices illustrate more about her critics than the candidate herself. Hillary’s attackers see her female-ness, they see the manufactured scandals they’ve associated with her, they see her refusal to sit down and keep quiet, and they see her husband as an intrinsic part of her personhood. The thing they are incapable of seeing is her humanity.

In the end, the Naked Hillary statue shares much with the right-wing movement against Hillary. It is wholly unoriginal and reactionary, exaggerated until it has little resemblance to reality, and based more on an imaginary character named Hillary Clinton than on the actual human politician by that name. It is fundamentally misogynist, and so burdened by decades of talking points and fake scandals that it can’t make an original statement of criticism. It’s less a “protest” than a political cartoon, one that repeats the same tired message Republicans have been reciting for the better part of 30 years.

Continue Reading

You Don’t Have to Like Hillary Clinton to Vote for Hillary Clinton

October 17, 2016 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 318

As the election draws nearer, and evidence mounts that Donald Trump really is the worst candidate ever to have a real shot at President of the United States, one common refrain from those who still support Trump (and those who intend to vote third-party or stay home) is that they just don’t like Hillary Clinton.

I am not one of those people who thinks it’s unreasonable to dislike Hillary. And we’ll tease that apart in a moment to consider the factors, fair and unfair, that make Hillary unlikable, but first I want to make this clear: Hillary Clinton is arguably the most qualified and competent person ever to run for President. She has dedicated her entire life to public service, and part of the reason she fails to connect on a human level is that she’s just so damn caught up in policy details. Oh, and her opponent is a priapic sex-monster who is either virulently racist or willing to embrace virulently racist voters to win, an irrelevant distinction.

The point is, you don’t need to like Hillary Clinton to think she’s the right choice in this election, or to cast your ballot for her. Continue Reading

Continue Reading