Blow and Nocera

In “Poison Pill Politics” Mr. Blow says our political system is broken beyond anything even remotely resembling a functional government.  Mr. Nocera, in “Changing Minds After Newtown,” says a budding campaign aims to encourage a cultural shift on guns after Newtown.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The deadline has passed. The sequester is in effect. And Congress is not in session.

We now know that our political system is broken beyond anything even remotely resembling a functional government.

The ridiculous bill was designed as a poison pill, but Republicans popped it like a Pez. Now the body politic — weak with battle fatigue, jerked from crisis to crisis and struggling to recover from a recession — has to wait to see how severe the damage will be.

(The director of the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the sequester could cost 750,000 jobs in 2013 alone.)

This is all because Republicans have refused to even consider new revenue as part of a deal. That includes revenue from closing tax loopholes, a move they supposedly support.

As Speaker John Boehner said after his Congressional leaders met with President Obama on Friday:

“Let’s make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1. This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over.”

Boehner’s intransigence during the talks drew “cheers,” according to a report in The New York Times, from his chronically intransigent colleagues. But their position is a twist of the truth that is coming dangerously close to becoming accepted wisdom by sheer volume of repetition. It must be battled back every time it is uttered.

Let’s make this clear: it is wrong to characterize the American Taxpayer Relief Act as a “tax hike.” In reality, much of what it did was allow 18 percent of the Bush tax cuts — mostly those affecting the wealthiest Americans — to expire while permanently locking in a whopping 82 percent of them.

But of course, that misrepresentation fit with the tired trope of Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals. It also completely ignores that it was Bush-era spending that dug the ditch we’re in.

Republicans have defined their position, regardless of how reckless: austerity or bust. However, as economists have warned, austerity generally precedes — and, in fact, can cause — bust. Just look at Europe.

But Republicans are so dizzy over the deficits and delighted to lick the boots of billionaires that they cannot — or will not — see it. They are still trying to sell cut-to-grow snake oil: cut spending and cut taxes, and the economy will grow because rich people will be happy, and when rich people are happy they hire poor people, and then everyone’s happy.

This is the vacuous talk of politicians trying to placate people with vacation homes, not a sensible solution for people trying to purchase, or simply retain, their first homes.

Now the president is trying to make the best of a bad situation and bring expectations in line with what is likely to happen.

When Gallup this week asked Americans to use one word to describe the sequester, negative words outnumbered good words four to one. The top three negative words or phrases were “bad,” “disaster” and “God help us.”

At a news conference after Friday’s meeting with Congressional leaders, the president tried to tamp down some of the most dire predictions about the sequester’s impact. He said:

“What’s important to understand is that not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away. The pain, though, will be real.”

The president knows well that if the sequester’s effects are so diffused that the public — whose attention span is as narrow as a cat’s hair — doesn’t connect them to their source, people might think the administration cried wolf.

That’s why he said, and will most likely continue to say for months, “So every time that we get a piece of economic news over the next month, next two months, next six months, as long as the sequester’s in place we’ll know that that economic news could have been better if Congress had not failed to act.”

He must yoke this pain to the people who invited it. It’s not as though most Americans don’t already think poorly of Republicans anyway.

A Pew Research Center report released this week found that most Americans think the Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, is out of touch with the American people and too extreme. And most Americans did not see Republicans as open to change or looking out for the country’s future as much as Democrats.

The president said Friday that “there is a caucus of common sense up on Capitol Hill” that includes Congressional Republicans who “privately at least” were willing to close loopholes to prevent the sequester.

Those privately reasonable Republicans might want to be more public before their party goes over another cliff and takes the country with them.

Not gonna happen.  They’d be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail by the rabid Teatards.  Here’s Mr. Nocera, writing from Minneapolis:

In the two months since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., there are a lot of people who still can’t shake it — who don’t want to shake it, really. They keep replaying in their minds what it must have been like in Sandy Hook Elementary School that awful December morning when Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at the school before taking his own life. They think about their own children. They wonder how America can stop such senseless, random, murderous spectacles.

Rebecca and Jon Bond are two such people. They have three children, ranging in ages from 4 to 8. (Jon has two older children as well.) They live in a townhouse in Greenwich Village. Previous mass shootings had spurred the usual “when will this stop?” thoughts, but like most of us, they soon moved on. The Bonds knew so little about guns that “I thought a magazine was, you know, a magazine,” says Rebecca, a contributing editor at Architectural Digest.

Newtown changed them. Jon, 55, is a well-known advertising executive (he co-founded the hip firm Kirshenbaum & Bond in 1987); Rebecca, 46, is a branding expert. As they found themselves obsessively thinking and talking about Newtown, they decided to use their considerable talents and contacts to try to do something about it. On Thursday, I went to Minneapolis to get a glimpse of the earliest, tentative fruits of their labors.

Here is Jon and Rebecca’s big idea: They want to create an anti-violence organization — a “brand,” they call it — that will appeal to gun owners and nongun owners alike. “When you talk to gun owners, if your purpose is to make them feel bad, they will push back,” said Jon, “and you will lose them.”

“But,” chimed in Rebecca, “when you reframe the issue as ‘how can we save lives?’ the conversation shifts. Responsible gun owners and nongun owners both want to save lives. They have that in common. The end goal is to save lives.”

As advertisers and marketers, they had both worked with the liquor industry, and they had seen how outside pressure — from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for instance — could change the larger culture so that once-acceptable behaviors became unacceptable. They had also seen how the industry had ultimately participated in safe drinking campaigns.

Whatever happens in Washington is not likely to change the behavior of gun owners. New laws, for instance, are unlikely to force gun owners to keep their guns under lock and key, so that children can’t have access to them. The only thing that can really change such behavior is a cultural shift. The Bonds want to help bring about such a shift.

As they explained all this to me, Jon and Rebecca were joined by their friends Bob Barrie and Stuart D’Rozario, co-founders of the Minneapolis advertising agency Barrie D’Rozario Murphy, whose conference room they were all using. Another friend in the business, Claudine Cheever of Saatchi & Saatchi, was participating by phone.

Bob and Stuart were among those Jon and Rebecca had contacted early on. Stuart had flown to New York, where, over a long breakfast, they had devised a name for the brand: Evolve. If you put an “R” before and after the word “evolve” — which, indeed, they did when they designed the logo, in the lightest of type — it spells “Revolver.”

In the subsequent weeks, Stuart and Bob had been working on an ad campaign, one that they hoped would capture the right “voice,” as they put it — a tone that would vividly illustrate the importance of changing gun behavior without being polarizing.

Stuart laid out on the conference table some of the mock-ups he had done of potential print ads. One headline read: “Is the issue illegal guns or legal guns? Yes.” A second one: “A gun in the house is 22 times more likely to cause an accident than protect you.” Stuart liked that one, but Jon feared that it might be too hectoring, and thus too alienating. They let the question hang, and moved to another ad.

“Friends don’t let friends with children keep guns unlocked in the house,” read a third headline. Rebecca instantly reacted. “This one welcomes people,” she said. “We want this brand to be welcoming, and inclusive. This one does it.” Jon and the others nodded in agreement. As I left for the airport, they were still in the conference room, talking, thinking, looking, planning.

Even after they settle on the right voice, of course, there will be so much to do: a television campaign, social media, a Web site. Evolve has to become a living, breathing entity. And, of course, money has to be raised — money that will allow the ads to air and the organization to grow.

“Maybe I’ll turn out to be naïve, but I’m optimistic,” said Rebecca.

Me, too.

Forgive me, but I no more believe that line about a woman not knowing what “a magazine” was than I believe that I’ll be elected the next pope.


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