Reporting on Politics and Policy.

March 14 2014 12:30 PM

The Week That Everybody Hated Vox

There's very little upside in me writing about Vox, the new project spearheaded by Ezra Klein, Melissa Bell, and my former colleague Matt Yglesias. I've known the editors and a lot of the hires, socially, for years, which is part of a story that occasionally enrages the Internet.* (Little-known fact: People in the same industry, with similar interests, often fraternize with each other.) It's also very much in my interest that Slate conquer the Internet and Vox doesn't. Sorry, Matt.

But boy, is there a lot of Vox-trolling going on. On March 5, the Washington Post's media blogger Erik Wemple reported that Richard Prince, an advocate for racial diversity in newsrooms, was asking (and getting answers) about Vox's apparent paucity of nonwhite hires. Since then, the Post's enterprise reporter J. Freedom du Lac (who is Asian-American)** has occasionally and pointedly been tweeting about how white Vox seems to be. 

The concern, from du Lac and others, eventually extended to Nate Silver's new 538 and Pierre Omidyar's new First Look Media after Emily Bell asked whether the hot new outlets were staffing up with bros.**

I generally endorse such concern-trolling, though let's call it what it is. If du Lac or Bell became aware of talented "diversity hires," they wouldn't pass their resumes on to Vox. They'd try to rope them into the Post or maybe the Guardian. Still, people bristle when they're accused of racialism or hiring only people who look like them. If they don't bristle, they don't think about it. But if you're not making that criticism while suggesting some hires, it looks like you're arguing in bad faith.

Conservatives had little to say about this—hooray, the MSM eating its own!—but in the last day they've gotten flak about the diversity push. Sort of. Media Matters, then AmericaBlog, then Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, then the American Prospect's Gabe Arana all criticized Vox for giving a writing fellowship to Brandon Ambrosino, a 23-year-old gay writer whose canon consisted of high-profile pieces—I'm summarizing here—telling fellow gays to get off their high horses already. Matt used to work at Slate; both Ezra and Matt used to work at TAP. I joined the "fun" on Twitter, saying that Ambrosino was what happened when editors prioritized clickbait over reporting.

But the conservative criticism has focused on what Arana and Stern wrote. "When those with whom you disagree are not just wrong but also evil they and their ideas are unworthy of debating with," wrote the Washington Free Beacon's Sonny Bunch. "Stern, and those who agree with him, seem to think Ambrosino should never work again."

That's a bit more than what Stern said. "Vox’s stated goal is to 'explain the news,' " he wrote, "yet Ambrosino’s only known explanatory talent is the ability to translate his private hang-ups into public screeds against his own community." I don't think the left is demanding that Vox hire within the family, as much as asking whether a gay writer who writes "rather than follow [Martin Luther] King’s example, some of us have decided to meet ideological violence head on with our own" should be the Secretary of Explaining Stuff.

Well, having joined the pile-on, and while agreeing that Ambrosino's "chill out, gays" columns are pretty bad, I wonder if Stern, et al. are being too harsh. Not about what he wrote already—that's fair game. They just don't know who else applied to be a writing fellow,*** or what Ambrosino said in his job interview, or what his ambitions are beyond what he said in the hiring announcement. Ambrosino is 23. I used to be 23. I wrote showy nonsense, too. When I was 21, I spoke at a rally in favor of the Iraq War. Crap like that probably helped me get noticed and allowed me to become the sort of reporter who knows what he doesn't know.

Ambrosino's longer pieces (i.e., more edited pieces) aren't my style at all—humblebrag confessionals—but they're highly readable. In "The Tyranny of Buffness," which hasn't played much into the get-Ambrosino conversation, he started with an anecdote about his own body shame and talked to social workers and scholars to figure out the role of beauty in the gay community. Didn't know anything about it before I read the piece, knew something after I did. If that's what Ambrosino wants to do with his career, he starts with more natural writing talent than most of us. The firestorm might have made him less likely to strike out with some poorly reasoned intra-gay trolling, and that's ... well, fine. Better than creating yet another writer-martyr, with no suggestions of who should be hired for jobs like this.

UPDATE: Oh, and Ezra Klein comments on Facebook and makes this post irrelevant. Great.

Contrary to some garbled reports, before hiring Brandon I read a lot of his previous work. Brandon’s past writing was often quite pointed and personal, and not a fit for Vox — and I told him so. The writing fellowship requires a very different approach.
But something that often happens to young freelance writers on the Internet is that they end up writing reams of their most controversial opinions before they ever get a chance to do basic reporting or benefit from a routine relationship with an editor. So as part of Brandon's writing test, I asked him to do eight news articles and two explainers -- more than 5,000 words of original content, in all. He needed more editing, training and direction. But he showed himself a strong, fast writer who really wanted to learn. And that training is what the fellowship is there for. 

UPDATE II: This piece on hiring and diversity by BuzzFeed's Shani Hilton is considerably more useful than mine. Hilton lacks my habit of referring to "trolling" as a synonym for "iteratively pointing out to someone."

*When the whole Vox thing launched, I asked Ezra for an interview, but he determined, probably correctly, that our friendship was a conflict of interest. Similarly, I asked him a question for this post, but he decided not to talk on the record.

**Correction, March 14, 2014: This post originally misspelled Pierre Omidyar's last name. Also, I got J. Freedom du Lac's race wrong, which is much worse, and let's move on.

***I know one person who did and is more of a standard politics reporter. But I'm sure there were scores more.

UPDATE III: As predicted up top, there was very little upside to writing this. Some factors made it a compelling subject for a post—knowing the people at the center of a media chin-scratch contest, having endured some "how-could-they-hire-this-guy" backlash. But I don't usually cover media topics, and I committed some dumb errors that wouldn't have been made had I been on one of my usual beats.

That said, J. Freedom du Lac has been kind enough to share the email exchanges he had with Vox after he pipped them on Twitter for not having diverse hires yet. In a March 5 email to Vox's Dylan Matthews:

I'd suggest broadcasting a call-out for candidates/suggestions through AAJA, NABJ, NAHJ and NAJA. I'd also suggest adding NLGJA to that outreach list. Just go through their executive directors or presidents and ask them to help. You'll hit a massive group of people that way. Hell, ask Richard Prince for ideas/help as well. He knows everybody (and his newsletter reaches a lot of those same people). Doris Truong at The Post might be able to help, too; ex-AAJA president, current VP of UNITY. I have a list of journalists of color I could recommend, but I'm saving those candidates for The Post's diversity committee, which meets tomorrow. Sorry!

From March 10:

Another avenue for you could be to check in with the alumni from the multi-culti high school journalism camp I co-founded (mumbles number) years ago. Sounds crazy on its face, I know, but Brian Fung and WaPo's newly hired Prince George's County reporter, Arelis Hernandez, were standout students way back when. Dan Hill, who interned at The Post doing a hyrbrid dev and investigative reporting gig a couple of summers back, was also in the program; he's at the Texas Tribune now. Others: Youngest correspondent in CBS News history. One of Anderson Cooper's producers. Oscar-shortlisted documentarian. Etc. We've had some super smart kids come through that program, though many of them weren't smart enough to listen to their parents who told them to become doctors, lawyers or engineers.
Ooops! Anyway, drop in if you want to post a general query. Never know who or what it might turn up.

There was more, but that was the general tone after the initial Twitter-shaming.

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March 14 2014 11:50 AM

The Florida Democrat Who Told Off a Racist Heckler and Won Anyway

A week that began with Florida Democrats blowing yet another election ends with them mourning their first real progressive governor. Reubin Askew, who served during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter years, died at age 85 and is being remembered not for his doomed 1984 presidential run (people forget, but Reagan looked beatable) but for his daring moves on race. He appointed the state's first black Supreme Court justice and Cabinet member, and did this in an era when George Wallace could easily win the Democratic primary in Florida.

But he revealed his progressivism long before that. The better Askew obits are remembering his resoonse to a heckler in 1958, when Florida was still heavily segregated. Had Upworthy existed in the Eisenhower years, you might have seen a headline like "This Southern Politician Was Told He Had to Hate to Win. What He Did Next Will Make You Stand and Cheer."

What did he say? The Tampa Bay Times goes for censorship-by-dashes.

He was first elected to the state House in 1958 after a campaign in which a heckler hurled a common epithet of the times and called him a "n----- lover." He responded: "The trouble is, I don't love them enough. The difference between you and me is I'm trying to overcome my prejudices and you're not."

An earlier profile left the insult intact.

At a political rally, a heckler had called Askew a "niggerlover." The former paratrooper replied "Yes, I hope so. The trouble is that I don't love them enough. The difference between you and me is that you're satisfied with your prejudices and I'm trying to overcome mine." 

This was 1958. That same year, that same election, George Wallace was running for governor in the bordering state of Alabama. Similar Democratic electorate. Wallace was backed by the NAACP; his opponent was backed by the KKK. Wallace lost, and depending on who tells the story he either said he'd never be "out-niggered" or "out-segged" (as in segregation) again. 

March 14 2014 10:00 AM

House Republicans Vote to Make It Easier to Sue the President

On Wednesday afternoon, after doing some interviews for a story about the marijuana lobby's weeklong legislative push, I stopped to work in the House press gallery. Very audible, from the other side of the chamber's heavy wooden doors, was the voice of South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy (a one-time Slate diarist), who tends to speak as though the microphone is not working. None of the dozen-odd reporters in the room seemed to be paying heed; no one was in the press seating that overlooked the chamber.

But I see that the IJReview, the conservative BuzzFeed, quickly posted Gowdy's speech—and got an epic amount of traffic and social media shares. On other sites it's being referred to as a "Rick Santelli moment." What was Gowdy selling? The "Enforce the Law Act," introduced by Gowdy, Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, as a response to the administration's "lawlessness." (That's not a scare quote, that's the preferred term.) The meat of it:

Upon the adoption of a resolution of a House of Congress declaring that the President, the head of any department or agency of the United States, or any other officer or employee of the United States has established or implemented a formal or informal policy, practice, or procedure to refrain from enforcing, applying, following, or administering any provision of a Federal statute, rule, regulation, program, policy, or other law in violation of the requirement that the President take care that the laws be faithfully executed under Article II, section 3, clause 5, of the Constitution of the United States, that House is authorized to bring a civil action in accordance with subsection (c), and to seek relief pursuant to sections 2201 and 2202 of title 28, United States Code. A civil action brought pursuant to this subsection may be brought by a single House or both Houses of Congress jointly, if both Houses have adopted such a resolution.

Basically it's a response to a few particular administration decisions—the decision not to enforce deportations of "DREAMers," the ACA delays—intended to free up Congress to sue. "If a president can change some laws, can he change all laws?" thundered Gowdy from the floor. "Can he change election laws? Can he change discrimination laws? Are there any laws under your theory that he has to enforce?"

As long as Democrats run the Senate, this is a dead letter. But Republicans are increasingly confident of winning the Senate. Scott Brown, who's actually one of the party's less likely winners*, gave up his 11-month Hamlet act yesterday and finally entered the race for Senate in New Hampshire. Republicans need only win six Senate seats (sounds like a lot, but there are that many tough races in Romney-voting states) to take the body for two years and pass a law like this.

*I liked the way a BBC reporter described the Democratic fear of Brown that persists despite his resounding 2012 loss: "If you get bit once by a shark, you'll probably be afraid of sharks."

March 14 2014 9:14 AM

Who Wants to Work for Russia Today?

The best media story you'll read today is this deep, sad dive by Rosie Gray into RT, the Russian propaganda network with ambitions of being a trusted cable news source for disgruntled Americans. Gray asked a question that probably occurs to anyone who finds his/her TV on RT for a while. Who works for this network? What American signs up to file stories on how Russia's clearly in the right when it invades Ukraine? The answer: people who want good-paying jobs that let them cover real news instead of "snowstorms or the puppy parade." RT allows broadcast talent to make the leap from the usual Grand Forks-to-Grand Rapids-to-Chicago-to-D.C. star system and find themselves reporting on international news at age 23 or 24.

RT has been a small source of fascination and wonder to D.C. journalists for years. Julia Ioffe wrote a definitive profile of the network's coverage in 2010; in 2011 I moseyed into the studios of RT to explore its (relatively new) shows pitched to skeptical, libertarian viewers. Coming in as I was going out: Jared Bernstein, formerly Joe Biden's economic adviser. At that time, RT's frequently bizarre "news" coverage was being interrupted during the midday for a block of opinion shows.

Thom Hartmann's liberal talk show was part of that, as was Adam Kokesh's "voluntaryist" hour, as was Alyona Minkovski's dive into the news. Minkovski, who later left RT for HuffPost Live, was a naturally talented interview with a preference for guests skeptical of American power. She interviewed Julian Assange four years ago, when he was pushing out the "Collateral Murder" video, before the leaked diplomatic cables.

Minkovski's show booked quite a few of my friends in D.C., mostly libertarian pundits and scholars. Why was a network that covered the 2008 invasion of Georgia as an act of Russian liberation so interested in American libertarians? Because libertarians fit into the larger narrative that America was a decadent and declining power. RT focused a lot of attention on Ron Paul's movement; it was RT that got the first exclusive sit-down with Rand Paul after he won his May 2010 primary for U.S. Senate.

And as Gray reports, RT did quite a lot of coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Same reason why: To the international viewer, footage of angry protesters sleeping in parks portrayed America as a power nearing some long-delayed revolution or implosion.

After Minkovski left the network, I saw fewer credible pundits make the walk to RT studios. I know of at least one magazine that warned its staffers not to go on anymore. Without sitting and auditing all of RT's coverage, it seems like the network's American opinion took more cues from the fringe. This is where Abby Martin, a 9/11 truth activist and artist came in. In 2010 RT was getting exclusives with Rand Paul; in 2012 Martin was ambushing Paul to challenge his endorsement of Mitt Romney—a "Goldman Sachs, Bilderberg puppet."

It was Martin's on-air denunciation of the Ukraine incursion that woke up the media, again, to the strangeness of RT. It was anchor Liz Wahl's on-air resignation and Martin's quick back-peddling that deepened the strangeness, and brought new media attention, and will probably make it even harder for RT to book top guests. No secret here: D.C. (and New York) are in ready supply of pundits who want to go on TV shows and collect clips of themselves to show bookers for other TV shows. RT was a possible stop along the way, but some tanks in Crimea might have ended that.

March 13 2014 5:50 PM

Paul Ryan and Charles Murray

The Paul Ryan "inner cities" gaffe dominated conversation on lefty blogs and Twitter, and Josh Marshall spotlights one reason that I sort of glossed over. In the interview with Bill Bennett, Paul Ryan credited the idea that some people are trapped in cycles of poverty to Charles Murray and Robert Putnam. Marshall, like most of the people reacting negatively, ignored the Putnam name-check and asked WTF about Charles Murray.

When you start off by basing your arguments around the work of Charles Murray you just lose your credibility from the start as someone actually interested in addressing poverty or joblessness or really doing anything other than coming up with reasons to cut off what little assistance society provides for its most marginalized members or, alternatively, pumping up people with racial resentments against black people and giving them ersatz 'scholarship' to justify their racial antipathies.
That's because Murray's public career has been based on pushing the idea that black urban poverty is primarily the fault of black people and their diseased 'culture.' Relatedly, and more controversially, he has argued that black people are genetically inferior to white people and other notional races with regards to intelligence. 

The only problem is that it's not at all clear that Ryan was thinking of that research when he spoke to Bennett. The stain of The Bell Curve has stuck to Murray for all of the 20 years since he published it. As he's said, like when he defended Barack Obama's post-Jeremiah Wright "race speech," this wrecked his reputation with some people, and it won't get un-wrecked. But the conservatives of 2014 don't cite Murray for his race work. They cite Losing Ground, which still guides how they think about welfare's effects on social norms, or they cite more recent work on inequality that stayed away from the race issue.

Not being able to read Ryan's mind, I assumed he was thinking of Murray for his Losing Ground/Coming Apart work, and not for Chapter 14 of his book about how some races just ain't got what it takes. I assumed that because Ryan wasn't saying anything about race—not explicitly, though I understand the people who argue he was dog-whistling. Could Ryan have been so clueless as to have not realized that citing Murray would make him sound racist? Honestly, probably—it's called epistemic closure, and there is no known cure.

I'm not trying to apologize for Ryan as much as I'm explaining why he might have said this. For the better part of a decade, I've covered the national conservative movement. Before that, in college, I shacked up with the college conservative movement. When explosive (even accidentally explosive) rhetoric comes over the transom, I'm more interested in where it came from than in how fast I can sharpen my pitchfork. Felt the same way during that brief moment in 2012 when Derrick Bell became an Emmanuel Goldstein figure who turned Barack Obama into a time-released socialist dictator. I'm not saying that you can't be racist without being obviously cartoonishly racist. Just explaining why Ryan might have said this, and what he might have meant, based on years of covering such things.

March 13 2014 4:45 PM

Texas Republicans Swing to the Right, Somehow

Via Sean Sullivan, this poll from Texas suggests that poor (not literally) Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is destined for history's ash-heap of discarded candidates. He's fading faster than a Polaroid of Marty McFly, down 21 points to state Sen. Dan Patrick, down by 27 among voters certain to stick around for the runoff. There's even a burgeoning social media campaign in Texas asking Dewhurst to bow out. Oh—and there's a campaign asking Rep. Dan Branch, the establishment choice in the race for attorney general, to just concede to conservative state Sen. Ken Paxton.

This worries Texas' Republican establishment. It was one thing when Sen. Ted Cruz beat Dewhurst for an open Senate seat. It's another when the attorney general of Texas, recently an office that belonged to a strategically minded conservative, is running his campaign on how much Ted Cruz likes him.

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The possible, maybe even likely result of this: Greg Abbott, already the GOP nominee for governor, will share a ticket with the two most far-right candidates who could have possibly been nominated. Hasn't been a problem for him yet, but remember how the candidate responded when he stumped with Ted Nugent and Democrats demanded he answer for Nugent's worst quotes. Abbott was flat-footed, at best. Now, remember how it weakened Virginia gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli when a convention saddled him with frequent candidate/grifter E.W. Jackson as his LG nominee.

Texas is—obviously!—far more Republican than Virginia. Maybe even E.W. Jackson could have won a race there. But the Democrats-versus-Nugent kerfuffle felt like a field test, a way for Democrats to see whether they could surgically attach derp to Abbott from the people he surrounded himself with. Wendy Davis starts the general election deep in the hole against Abbott. If Patrick and Paxton get the nods, if they are as bad as the establishment fields, she gets to play the Nugent game again.

March 13 2014 3:32 PM

Sarah Palin Endorses Three Guys Who Might Be Senators Soon

It's been eight years since she won an election, but the media must pay heed to Sarah Palin's candidate endorsements. For starters, candidates desparately want them. Why? The media will cover them. It's a sort of Möbius strip, but it's what we have to work with. So many narratives are served by this process—the "Tea Party is costing Republicans the majority" narrative, the "Tea Party not dead" narrative, to name just two tropes.

Today, on Facebook, Palin announced her backing of Chris McDaniel in Misssissippi's Senate primary, T.W. Shannon in Oklahoma's Senate primary, and Ben Sasse in Nebraska's Senate primary. These represent a sort of evolution in the Palin Endorsement, the power of which depends on picking the right time to jump in and take credit.

Palin's 2012 endorsement of Ted Cruz for Senate used to be our best example. From the start of the race to the time Palin endorsed, Cruz had already surged from 11 percent to 26 percent in polling. He'd already been backed by Jim DeMint and the Club for Growth, the latter spending $4.8 million on the underfunded challenger. But it's the Palin endorsement that is popularly credited with Cruzmentum, something Cruz himself has helped by appearing at CPAC to thank Palin for her work. (I'm not saying she didn't help, only that thanking Republican populist Sarah Palin plays better than thanking the donors to the Club for Growth.)

Sasse's in a similar position to where Cruz was. He's running for an open seat in a state where the Democrats can't find a serious challenger. He started at the back—he'd never run for office before—and has surged to, at worst, a rising second place in a three-candidate field. The Club for Growth has started swinging for him. Now he's Palin's candidate, too.

McDaniel's a slightly riskier pick. He's challenging Sen. Thad Cochran, so Palin's putting herself against the Senate Republicans, insofar as anyone cares about that. He got into the race after the Club for Growth spent money on ads against the incumbent, in the hope (at first) that the guy would just retire. Polling's been sparse and hard to read, but in the best Cochran poll the guy was up 23 points.

T.W. Shannon's not surging yet—Palin's an early adopter in that race. But the Oklahoma contest, so far, pits a congressman who generally gets along with House leadership (Rep. James Lankford) against T.W. Shannon, the African-American speaker of the House. This is an easy choice—a 36-year old African-American in the Senate, someone from a safe red state who can serve for years or ascend to executive office. The Club for Growth hasn't endorsed yet, but is expected to, and would be tasked with cutting away at a huge Lankford lead over a three-month campaign.

That's the field. Palin has chosen wisely, avoiding races where there's no real infrastructure in place to create an upset win. Her only loser pick, so far this year, was of Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson in her congressional bid against Rep. Pete Sessions. But that felt like a box-checking exercise. If an insurgent is going to win, he needs the Club, Palin, and a few other groups in his cosmos.

March 13 2014 12:58 PM

Koch-Washing: The Hot New Campaign Finance Trend

The banner story at the Washington Free Beacon is, as usual, cheeky as all hell: "Mary Landrieu's Koch Problem." The gist: A super PAC is aiding Landrieu with ads that say "out of state billionaires spending millions to rig the system and elect” her opponent, meaning the Kochs (they're pictured), but "Sen. Landrieu has received $27,000 in campaign contributions since 2000 from Koch Industries and its subsidiaries and employees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics."

Wow! Twenty-seven thousand dollars! How much have they spent against Landrieu in 2014, though? Lachlan Markay doesn't say, only acknowledging that the "millions" figure from the ad is a reference to "Americans for Prosperity, to which the Koch brothers have donated."

"Donated." Look, I'm as cynical about the bash-the-Kochs Democratic campaign tactic as anybody, but the word "donated" is asked to do quite a lot of work there. David Koch is the chairman of the board of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. He and his brother co-founded the group's predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, 30 years ago. AFP doesn't have to disclose its finances, often misdirecting questions by saying it has "2.1 million members," but it's no secret that Koch money fuels the tank and money from allies pays for the paint job.

Anyway. How much has Americans for Prosperity spent against Landrieu recently? According to Rebecca Shabad, its last ad buy against Landrieu was $750,000. A previous ad buy, a month earlier, cost $600,000.

That's $1.35 million from the main Koch political group in three months against Landrieu, compared with $27,000 for Landrieu in the last 14 years combined. It's almost like donors with billions of dollars to spend can afford to hedge their bets.

(DISCLOSURE: I worked for a few years at Reason magazine, part of a foundation that takes donations from David Koch. The Center for American Freedom, which publishes the Free Beacon, has not disclosed its donors, sadly even after the Center for American Progress did and I asked whether CAF would follow suit.)

March 13 2014 9:46 AM

Paul Ryan Accused of Racism for Suggesting That There’s Endemic Poverty in Inner Cities

In conservative rhetoric, in talk radio especially, it's easy to find tone-deaf talking-down about race. Democrats want to do to America what they did to Detroit. Black voters don't seem to understand that unemployment's higher than ever for them. And so on. It can get a little patronizing.

But was that what Paul Ryan was doing in a radio interview with Bill Bennett? ThinkProgress, in an item that's been shared more than 20,000 times on Facebook, informs us that Ryan, in a preview of the poverty legislation he's been hinting at for a few months, "blam[ed] poverty on lazy 'inner city' men."

"House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) previewed his upcoming legislative proposals for reforming America’s poverty programs during an appearance on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America Wednesday," writes Igor Volsky, "hinting that he would focus on creating work requirements for men 'in our inner cities' and dealing with the 'real culture problem' in these communities."

ThinkProgress provides the clip, which is—shock—less definitive than the headline. Ryan says there's a problem "in our inner cities in particular," of "generations of men not even thinking about working."

"In particular" is a useful qualifier, isn't it?  Not to David Sirota, who pulls data on usage of the term "inner city" and hints that it's a racialist code. "The term basically only started being used in the lead up to and immediate aftermath of the civil rights movement’s legislative successes," writes Sirota. "That is to say, the term only became a part of the vernacular at precisely the moment the conservative political backlash to the civil rights movement came into vogue."

That's interesting, although, well, Paul Ryan was born in 1970. The chart cited by Sirota finds usage of "inner city" plunging when Ryan came of age. Sirota himself says the term isn't "always" used in a bigoted way, but "the term’s history does seem to at least buttress assertions that it comes with racial connotations." (It also syncs up with a trend of surging crime rates and flight from the inner city, but best to move on.)

Ryan's problem, it seems, is that he's talking about inner cities while being 1) a Republican who is 2) about to unleash poverty legislation heavy on work requirements. If you're a Democrat, you can talk about the inner city in the same way Ryan does.

"There are communities where for too many young people it feels like their future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town," said President Obama in his speech to announce new "promise zones" in poor (some rural) areas. "Too many communities where no matter how hard you work, your destiny feels like it’s already been determined for you before you took that first step. I’m not just talking about pockets of poverty in our inner cities. That's the stereotype."

He acknowledged that it was a stereotype; Ryan just assumed it was a sterotype. In the world of hate-clicking, there's no allowance for Ryan framing this in familiar terms to a skeptical conservative audience. He said there's endemic poverty in the inner cities, and it's not up to him to say it.

March 13 2014 8:56 AM

David Jolly and Obamacare, One More Time

Jake Sherman and Burgess Everett are out with a fun post-mortem on FL-13, a children's treasury of Democratic squirming. (Note to politicians: If you dodge an interview and pledge to call back later, then don't, the reporter can write that.) The only problem I see with it is a reference to "Jolly’s nearly singular focus on the health care law."

By no means should Democrats deny that Obamacare hurt them in this race—it was a test, and the Republicans won it. But Jolly's particular focus on the law was not total. He did not mention it in his November announcement speech, at a moment when the cancellation of health plans was the major national political story. In his debate appearances and campaign ads, Jolly reached for Obamacare like a special sauce, to be used to complement everything else on the plate. The ads aren't embeddable, but they can be seen at these links.

In "Where I Stand," Jolly stood before a backdrop of Florida scenery and, sort of strangely, faded in and out as he said he supported a "balanced budget" and "supporting our veterans" and, yes, repealing Obamacare.

In "The Difference," Jolly sat reading the paper as one of the infamous clips of President Obama saying "if you like your health care plan ... " played. "Now my opponent is saying things she knows aren't true." He promised to "repeal Obamacare, period."

In "Jessica's Law," Jolly received an on-camera endorsement from Mark Lunsford, the father of a disappeared girl and, for a while, the face for the campaign for the eponymous law. No mention of Obamacare there, just credit for Jolly (then a staffer) for "fully funding" the law.

In "Two Reasons," Jolly introduced voters to his mother and aunt and promised he would not touch their Social Security payments. They were really in danger, he said (in sort of a non sequitur), because Obamacare had cut Medicare and forced "many to lose their insurance and their doctors."

Jolly didn't just run around the district pledging to repeal Obamacare. He told a whiter, older electorate than had voted in 2012 that Obamacare was the reason they might lose coverage—oh, also that he learned his craft under Bill Young, that he was from Pinellas County, that he helped fund Jessica's law, and that he was a reliable conservative. It's wrong to say he ran on Obamacare alone, and impossible to say that Obamacare helped Alex Sink. And that's what Democrats need to figure out. They did not expect, in 2014, for the law to be anything but popular. They did not expect half of the states—most of the ones with competitive Senate races—to have said "nah, no thanks" to Medicaid expansion. But they haven't figured out how to sell what people might like about the law or talk to the people who feel they've been wounded by it.

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