Hillary Clinton’s Rape Culture Problem

Published: Good Men Project (July 30, 2015)

Hillary Clinton has a rape culture problem… and her supporters need to ask the right questions.

Hillary Clinton has a problematic record when it comes to the issue of rape culture in America. Any politician with a similar background – regardless of party, ideology, or gender – should be expected to answer for them.

Unfortunately, as I learned last week, there is the disturbing possibility that many of Clinton’s supporters will be content to give her a pass.

On Saturday I published an article for The Good Men Project (which was subsequently picked up by The Daily Dot) about the multiple rape allegations that have been made against Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton. Because recent history has shown that public figures with a large number of sexual assault charges are often guilty of at least some of them, I argued that liberals have a moral responsibility to ask the same hard questions of Bill Clinton that they asked of Bill Cosby. In addition, because Hillary Clinton wishes to be America’s first female president, I observed that it particularly behooves her to address the legitimate questions that exist about the possibility that her husband is a serial rapist.

Since then, two important details have come to my attention:

  1. Hillary Clinton’s problematic history on the issue of rape culture extends beyond her husband’s actions. As a 27-year-old lawyer in 1975, Clinton represented a man who was accused of raping a twelve-year-old girl. It was her first case as a criminal defense attorney, and to win Clinton accused the victim of being “emotionally unstable,” making “false accusations” against other persons in the past, and exhibiting “an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.” She even claimed that children “tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences,” which would be problematic enough… if it wasn’t for her subsequently released tapes that show Clinton acknowledging her client’s guilt (at one point even laughing about how his ability to pass a polygraph test) and bragging about getting him exonerated, particularly by finding a forensic expert who could get the physical evidence proving her client’s culpability thrown out because he was “willing to testify so that it came out the way you wanted it to come out.”
  1. Many of the self-described feminists and progressives who responded to my first article were outraged… not at the prospect of America electing its first female president without asking her to account for the personal misogyny potentially perpetrated by her husband, mind you, but at the fact that I would risk undermining Clinton’s election at all. Needless to say, that made me think very carefully about how I wanted to present the additional point I’m raising in this piece.

In response to all of this, I would like to advance the following proposition as (hopefully) self-evident:

For gender equality to be a reality, it is necessary for half of America’s future presidents to be female. It is not necessary that Hillary Clinton be one of those presidents.

The election of America’s first female president, though historically significant, will primarily be a symbolic milestone rather than a substantive one. After all, the only direct beneficiary of that event will be the woman who becomes president as a result. For that election to have symbolic importance for all women rather than only the one who becomes president, the narrative in which she becomes president must contain a message that – at the very least – doesn’t implicitly undermine the cause of women’s rights.

For gender equality to be a reality, it is necessary for half of America’s future presidents to be female. It is not necessary that Hillary Clinton be one of those presidents.

These are the questions that Clinton needs to answer:

  1. Although she cannot be faulted for doing her job as a defense attorney (Clinton has correctly pointed out that she “had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability”), her behavior toward the rape victim – both in the misogynistic arguments she used to discredit her and the callous attitude she privately displayed regarding her suffering – both contribute to the problem of how our society disempowers and stigmatizes rape victims. Does Clinton recognize this, regret her own role in perpetuating the problem, and have ideas as to how we can more effectively confront these cultural assumptions in the future?
  1. Although she cannot be faulted for her husband’s possible actions, the reality remains that if Clinton’s election depends on the voices of his potential victims being silenced, it will send the message that women with power are “more equal” (so to speak) than women without power. As such, Clinton needs to be asked what she knows about the allegations against her husband and why she believes the public should believe his story over those of the women who have come out against him (since we can take it for granted that she’ll say she doesn’t believe them herself)?

If Clinton becomes the first female president by silencing the women who may have been sexually terrorized by her husband, as well as failing to address her own past of problematic thinking and actions vis-à-vis rape culture, the story of her ascent to the White House will be that of one woman allowing others to be exploited in the name of her ambition. The “triumph” (if one can call it that) will be hers and hers alone.

Why Donald Trump doesn’t have the guts to really run for president

Published: Good Men Project (July 23, 2015), Salon (July 28, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa explains why Donald Trump isn’t really going to run for president.

—-

You’ve probably already seen the title of this article, but in case you didn’t read it carefully, allow me to reiterate:

Donald Trump isn’t going to run for president. He doesn’t have the guts to do it.

I’d like to say that I was ahead of the curve in realizing this, but for the past few months I’ve been swept up in the same “Trump is running for president (totally for reals, you guys)” narrative that has consumed the rest of the media. Instead it was my friend Sean M. Davis, a PhD student in music who teaches at Temple University, who drew my attention to the indisputable facts that:

  1. For several months in 2011, Trump made a big deal about his plans on running for president;
  2. In order to garner attention for his “campaign,” he focused on an issue that played on the racist impulses of a large segment of the Republican Party’s right-wing base (more on that in a moment), and;
  3. By the time Trump would have been forced to prove that he could walk the walk as well as talk the talk – that is to say, by the time every serious GOP candidate was required to win actual votes in actual primary and caucus elections, instead of simply making a spectacle of him/herself – The Donald had already bowed out of the 2012 presidential race.

Because he is already a celebrity, Trump knows that he simply needs to make controversial statements that attract media attention in order to stay in the headlines. Similarly, because race remains a hot button topic in America, Trump understands that a surefire way to be “newsworthy” is to play on his party’s latent racist sentiments while presenting himself as a champion of anti-PC straight talk.

It’s not hard to see why a man like Trump would want to run a phony presidential campaign. Men and women who are widely discussed as possible presidential candidates tend to make a lot of money in speaking fees, book and TV deals, and other cash-ins made possible by the name recognition they acquired during their time in the political limelight. As a man who has always expanded his business empire by promoting “Donald Trump” as a brand, it makes sense that he would gravitate toward an endeavor which allows him to reinvent his image (Trump the entrepreneur becomes Trump the pundit) while simultaneously gratifying his sense of self-importance.

Because he is already a celebrity, Trump knows that he simply needs to make controversial statements that attract media attention in order to stay in the headlines. Similarly, because race remains a hot button topic in America, Trump understands that a surefire way to be “newsworthy” is to play on his party’s latent racist sentiments while presenting himself as a champion of anti-PC straight talk. In 2012, he did this by promoting the conspiracy theory that President Obama hadn’t been born in this country and was thus ineligible to be president, a tactic that studies have proved specifically appeals to those who believe that non-whites are somehow “less American” but don’t want to seem explicitly racist. This time around, Trump has chosen to exploit anti-Mexican xenophobia, drawing attention to himself by claiming that a significant percentage of illegal immigrants are rapists, drug dealers, and in general violent criminals.

Trump has a choice between an honorable humiliation in the name of truly terrible ideas or a premature exit from the political stage that will leave him devoid of honor but able to rake in a few more dollars off this new extension of his personal brand.

All of this is well and good for him… IF he is never held accountable in a real election. In fact, having voters decide his fate is a no-win proposition for him: If he is defeated in the Republican primaries, the “loser” label will taint his brand for the rest of his days; if he wins the Republican nomination but loses in the general election, he will be vilified as the man whose megalomania cost his own party its chance at reclaiming the White House; and if, by some unlikely twist of fate, he actually was elected president, he would quickly find himself mired in the same partisan gridlock that has hamstrung our last few presidents… but with the added stigma of having risen to the White House by deliberately alienating non-white Americans and exacerbating racial divisions.

This isn’t to say that Trump doesn’t want to be president on some level. The point here is that, despite his bluster to the contrary, he isn’t acting like a man who wants to win a presidential election, but rather like one who wants to make a quick buck off the process by which America elects its presidents. If he was merely doing so by spouting bland partisan talking points and empty platitudes, the only victim would be the dignity of our democratic form of government. Because he is doing so by inflaming racial hatreds, however, he isn’t simply demeaning our political culture; whether he likes it or not, he is placing his very honor on the line.

If Trump really believes the very serious things he is currently saying – if he honestly thinks that our current presidential administration is illegitimate and that illegal immigrants are by and large dangerous criminals – then he has a moral responsibility to see this race through to the end, even if that means risking being humiliated in the eyes of the world should the voters reject him. Of course, because they almost certainly will spurn his overtures, the odds are better than not that he will find some excuse to duck out of this race before a single ballot is cast. Such a move might save his reputation (Americans have notoriously short memories when it comes to politics), but it will also reveal that his racial demagoguery – which would be bad enough if it was sincere – was in fact nothing more than craven profiteering. Trump, a man who is practically the living embodiment of gender, racial, and economic privilege, will have for all intents and purposes made a nice little pile of money by politically exploiting those who are less privileged than himself.

In short, Trump has a choice between an honorable humiliation in the name of truly terrible ideas or a premature exit from the political stage that will leave him devoid of honor but able to rake in a few more dollars off this new extension of his personal brand.

Neither option is appealing to decent people, but one at least requires some genuine conviction… a quality that, in turn, gives people the courage to see important causes through to the finish. By contrast, based on his history, there isn’t any reason to believe that Trump will have the stones to follow through with his “campaign.”

What Bill Cosby Means for Hillary Clinton

Published: Good Men Project (July 25, 2015), Daily Dot (July 27, 2015)

If the rape allegations against Bill Clinton are true, Hillary Clinton needs to get on them right now.

What if America’s first female president was married to a sex offender?

This is not a hypothetical question. A multitude of allegations against Clinton have appeared over the years. Among the most prominent:

Paula Jones, who accused Clinton of exposing himself and propositioning her in a hotel room;

Juanita Broderick, who accused Clinton of forcing himself on her in a hotel room;

Eileen Wellstone, who accused Clinton of raping her when she was a student at Oxford; and

– At least two anonymous students who met Clinton at Yale University and the University of Arkansas, respectively, and claim he sexually assaulted them there.

This is just a short list. A longer one can be found here.

Just to be clear: It is not a proven fact that Bill Clinton is guilty of rape. What is incontrovertible is that, statistically speaking, the odds that he raped or sexually violated at least some of these women is uncomfortably high. It’s the first half of the Bill Cosby lesson: The more allegations that exist, the more likely that at least some of them are accurate.

It is not a proven fact that Bill Clinton is guilty of rape. What is incontrovertible is that, statistically speaking, the odds that he raped or sexually violated at least some of these women is uncomfortably high.

The second half of the Bill Cosby lesson is particularly important here: As evidenced by how the best-selling biography of Bill Cosby is being pulled from shelves because its author refused to mention the sexual assault allegations, people who refuse to investigate these kinds of stories tend to pay a dear price for turning a blind eye.

In terms of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, this matters for two crucial reasons:

  1. Symbolism matters. This is true for every president – indeed, for every politician – but it is particularly applicable when the mere fact of a particular candidate’s election would constitute a major historic event in its own right. With only two exceptions, every American president has been a white Protestant male; consequently, any president who doesn’t fall within that specific demographic is automatically destined to be viewed as a symbol for the out-group that he or she helped bring into the halls of power. Even if one disagrees with the policies pursued by John Kennedy and Barack Obama (although, as I’ve argued in the past, they were/are both great presidents), neither openly undercut the significance of their election by being married to individuals who actively perpetrated suffering against the minority groups they represented. If Bill Clinton is a sexual criminal, he would diminish the triumph of Hillary Clinton’s election as much as Jackie Kennedy would have done if she had discriminated against Catholics or Michelle Obama would have done if she’d been a racist.
  2. It would validate rape culture. This is by far the most important point, which is why I’m closing the list with it. Although Americans have made strides in holding rapists accountable for their actions, rape victims are still disproportionately likely to not report what happened to them, often because they suspect their stories won’t be believed or will be dismissed as inconsequential. If America is willing to elevate a suspected rapist to the position of presidential spouse – the spouse, no less, of America’s first female president – it will send the clear message that the act of rape is not an automatic disqualifier for a position that commands respect. If we want to truly eradicate rape culture, it is imperative that we establish this line as one that can never, ever be crossed.

Fortunately, there is a simple three-step process for getting to the bottom of this ugly matter:

  1. Ask questions.
  2. Ask questions.
  3. Ask questions.
If he is guilty, then we need to ask these questions before Hillary Clinton has a chance to sew up a nomination that seems to be hers for the asking, only to either lose in the general election if the media picks up on the story then… or, even worse, becomes America’s first female president… only for subsequent research to forever taint the magnitude of that achievement.

It’s as simple as that. When social activists did this to Bill Cosby, more and more victims felt comfortable coming forward, eventually culminating in the release of information proving Cosby’s guilt. If Clinton is innocent, his answers to these questions will satisfy all but the most incorrigibly partisan critics, and the absence of any new credible allegations against him will allow the matter to fade away on its own. If he is guilty, then we need to ask these questions before Hillary Clinton has a chance to sew up a nomination that seems to be hers for the asking, only to either lose in the general election if the media picks up on the story then (think of what would have happened if John Edwards had been nominated in 2008) or, even worse, becomes America’s first female president… only for subsequent research to forever taint the magnitude of that achievement. Hillary Clinton would need to either divorce Bill and demand justice for his victims or, by standing by his side, condone his actions.

There isn’t much time left. If we don’t do this now, it may be too late to do it at all.

Why Huckabee’s ‘oven’ remarks won’t win Jewish votes

Published: MSNBC (July 27, 2015)

When Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee claimed last weekend that President Obama would ultimately “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,” the former Arkansas governor wasn’t being simply hyperbolic about the merits of the Iranian nuclear deal. He was banking on the idea that there is a rift between the Democratic president and the American Jewish community – an opening presumably ripe for political exploitation.

The attempt to drive a wedge between Obama and American Jews has long been part of the Republican playbook. But a closer look at the history of Jewish voting patterns shows why, exactly, the GOP gambit continues to fail.

It is a widely-recognized fact that American Jews tend to be liberal, despite falling into an affluent socioeconomic bracket that normally leans conservative. In the 1920 presidential election, when Americans backed Republican Warren Harding over Democrat James Cox by an unprecedented 60-to-34 margin, 38% of American Jews cast their ballots for the Socialist candidate, Eugene Debs. Debs, who made his final presidential run from prison after being arrested in 1918 for speaking out against America’s involvement in World War I, received only 3% of the general popular vote.

American Jews became solidly Democratic voters in the 1930s, as Franklin Roosevelt’s bold liberalism moved the party decisively to the left, guaranteeing 80-90% of the Jewish vote to every Democratic presidential candidate in nearly every election from 1932 to 1968. Jewish voters broke from that trend on only three occasions: Twice in the 1950s, when personal admiration for Republican Dwight Eisenhower overcame other ideological considerations (as happened for many other normally Democratic groups), and in 1948, when 15% of American Jews abandoned President Harry Truman – despite his instrumental role in recognizing the State of Israel only six months earlier – to support former Vice President Henry Wallace, the standard-bearer for the socialist Progressive Party. (Truman still received 75% percent of the Jewish vote that year.)

MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts, 7/27/15, 1:01 PM ET

Huckabee under fire for Holocaust comment

American Jews’ overwhelming support for Democrats began to weaken in the early 1970s. Despite playing a disproportionate role in the rise of the New Left, the intra-party movement that pushed Democrats toward even more liberal positions, many Jews had grown more conservative as they had assimilated into the American mainstream. Although this was partially due to the New Left’s increased willingness to criticize Israel, it can also be traced to the waning of systematic anti-Semitism and the growing pattern of Jews moving out of cities and into the suburbs.

As a result, Jewish support for Democratic presidential candidates dropped to a range of 64-to-71% in the five presidential elections after the Democratic Party became widely associated with the New Left (even though its presidential candidates didn’t always subscribe to New Leftist ideals). The one exception was the election of 1980, in which Jimmy Carter won just 45% of the Jewish vote. Carter still won more Jewish votes than Ronald Reagan (who scored 39%), but his stance on Israel, perceived ideological flip-flopping, and general unpopularity hurt him at the ballot box.

Fortunately for Democrats, Jewish voters began to return to the fold after the nomination of Bill Clinton in 1992, who pushed the party brand toward a more left-of-center ideology and reestablished American Jews as a reliably 70-to-80% Democratic voting bloc. In years when the Democratic presidential candidate won by a landslide – such as Clinton in 1992 and 1996 or Obama in 2008 – Jewish support was on the higher end of that spectrum. When the Democrat either lost or won by a smaller margin, Jewish support trended lower, with Obama garnering the weakest showing in 2012 with 69%.

Rather than indicating softening support, however, Obama’s shakier showing with Jewish voters in 2012 suggests the limited effectiveness of Republican attempts to drive a wedge between American Jews and the Democratic president. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Republican allies did all they could to undermine Obama’s outreach to the Jewish community during the election, playing up his well-known personal friendship with the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney. The effect was not inconsequential – Jewish support for Obama dropped nine points from 2008 to 2012 – but seven in 10 Jewish voters still punched their ticket for Obama.

“Being an American Jew means more than just supporting Israel.”

Of course, Huckabee isn’t alone in mistaking this drop in support for deeper hostility. “You know, I think I am the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office,” the president reportedly told David Axelrod, then one of his senior advisers. “For people to say that I am anti-Israel, or, even worse, anti-Semitic, it hurts.”

Obama is absolutely right about one thing: He may very well be the closest equivalent to a Jewish president that America has had. Jews in the United States have long identified with African-Americans and the civil rights movement due to their own historical experience facing widespread prejudice. It’s hardly a coincidence that the campaign which elected Obama as America’s first black president was run by two Jews (David Axelrod and David Plouffe), or that he has surrounded himself with Jewish advisers throughout his presidency. The president’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – openly opposed by several GOP candidates – was backed by 80% of American Jews as of last year (the same poll found his support among Jews to be at 57%, compared to 43% of the general population).

In short, the president’s reputation with the Jewish community is just fine. If Republican politicians want to win Jewish votes, they’ll have to do better than rhetorical bomb throwing and aligning themselves with Israel’s current right-wing government. They’ll need to recognize that being an American Jew means more than just supporting Israel; it means embracing the values of pluralism, religious tolerance, and humanitarianism that has made America such a welcoming home for minorities like Jews in the first place.

It’s never, ever okay to release someone’s personal information

Published: Daily Dot (July 23, 2015)

Donald Trump has played many roles in his life: business mogul, author, reality TV star, and politician. But when he publicly released the private phone number of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), he wasn’t simply engaging in a run-of-the-mill political dirty trick. By violating Graham’s privacy, he assumed a new title common to the Internet era—that of the common, and increasingly dangerous, troll. In so doing, Trump further normalized a behavior that has a history of being incredibly destructive.

In case you were lucky enough to have forgotten it, the story behind The Donald’s foray into trolling is pretty straightforward. First, Trump insisted that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his party’s presidential nominee in 2008, doesn’t deserve his reputation as a war hero because he had “only” been a prisoner of war; McCain was tortured in a Vietnamese prison for more than five years because he refused to be released before the soldiers who had been captured before him.

Graham, who is a close friend of McCain’s, responded by calling Trump “the world’s biggest jackass.” In retaliation, Trump claimed that Graham had begged him for personal favors, reciting his private phone number on national television for the ostensible purpose of proving his point.

Of course, Trump knew perfectly well that by doing this he was inviting his supporters to harass the Senator; indeed, he actually encouraged his audience to “give [calling Graham] a shot.” In the process, Trump engaged in a form of bullying that has become disturbingly ubiquitous online over the last few years—i.e., the practice of encouraging an angry online mob to harass a perceived opponent by releasing that individual’s private contact information, also known as “doxing.”

Perhaps the most infamous instances of doxing (before Trump, that is) occurred last year, when gamers used the tactic as part of a larger campaign to harass prominent women in the video gaming community. On one occasion, actress Felicia Day was doxed within hours of writing a public statement discussing her experiences with sexism as a female gamer; in another, a video game developer and journalist named Zoe Quinn was doxed so often that she eventually felt compelled to create an “anti-harassment task force” to protect the personal information of individuals targeted by online mobs.

Trump knew perfectly well that by doing this he was inviting his supporters to harass the Senator.

As feminist pundit Anita Sarkeesian (who was eventually driven from her home by death threats) reported, “the harassers launched DDoS attacks on my site, attempted to hack into my email and other social media accounts and reported by Twitter and YouTube accounts as ‘terrorism,’ ‘hate speech,’ or ‘spam.’ They also attempted to ‘dox’ and distribute my personal contact info including address and phone number on various websites and forums (including hate sites).”

This isn’t to say that doxing is solely the problem of conservatives and sexist trolls. In the weeks following the controversial shooting of Trayvon Martin, director Spike Lee tweeted the address of an elderly couple he believed to be the parents of Martin’s shooter George Zimmerman, explicitly encouraging his followers to harass them.

After it was revealed that the address he sent out belonged to David and Elaine McClain, neither of whom had any relationship with Zimmerman, Lee apologized for the “mistake” of picking the wrong family, although he stopped short of acknowledging that he had been wrong to incite mob activity in the first place.

Nevertheless, the McClains were ultimately forced to move out of their house as a result of the harassment that Lee’s tweet triggered, eventually suing the director for the psychological damage he had caused as well as the decrease in their property value.

That said, sometimes doxing isn’t political at all. Rapper Maya Arulpragasm, better known as M.I.A., doxed Lynn Hirschberg of the New York Times for publishing an in-depth article criticizing her work. On that occasion, Hirschberg was relatively lucky; M.I.A.’s tweet had intentionally tricked her followers into thinking that the phone number being posted belonged to the rapper herself, so as Hirschberg herself put it, “the messages have mostly been from people trying to hook up with M.I.A.”

That said, Hirschberg still described the experience as “infuriating” and was adamant that doxing should be viewed as “a fairly unethical thing to do.”

There is an important common thread that links all of these stories. Regardless of the doxers’ motives for violating the privacy of their targets, the victims have always been confronted with very real danger as a result. In the best case scenarios (like that of Hirschberg), the threat was merely getting a call from a horny superfan. In the worst case scenarios (like those of Sarkeesian and the McClains), the actual harassment that ensued as a result of the doxing forced them to uproot their lives and face the prospect of being physically harmed.

M.I.A.’s tweet had intentionally tricked her followers into thinking that the phone number being posted belonged to the rapper herself.

Because the doxers have no way of knowing or controlling who will see the information they post and what they will choose to do with it, the very act of doxing is intrinsically dangerous.

To his credit, Graham has decided to take Trump’s doxing in stride, releasing a video of himself destroying his old cell phone (a famously antiquated flip-phone) in various over-the-top ways while dramatic music plays in the background. Yet while Graham may be in a position to brush off the harassment caused by being doxed (Yahoo News reported that his voice mailbox became full shortly after Trumps publicized his phone number), the same is not true for everyone.

Rightly or wrongly, the fact that Trump is a celebrity and presidential candidate means that his actions set examples that his followers could very easily try to emulate. Regardless of what one thinks of his political views, there is something objectively irresponsible about Trump using his platform to promote a form of bullying that has already left so much destruction in its wake.

Doxing is not just an etiquette issue—it’s a public safety concern.

The Importance of Vacations

Published: Good Men Project (July 21, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa explains why it’s so important to go on completely non-productive vacations.

“The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.”

– Mark Twain

When Twain penned those words, he was talking about finding a career that you enjoy so much it feels like play. In fact, Twain even wrote a line in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the same basic gist:

“If he [Tom Sawyer] had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

While I have the utmost respect for Twain’s philosophy, I recently discovered a contradiction between the two aforementioned statements. Even though I consider myself to be incredibly lucky in my careers as a writer and academic – to put it in Twainian terms, I have indeed made my vocation into my vacation – the reality remains that I’m still obliged to play… and, as such, the play has become work.

This can be a major health issue.

“Your nervous system. Your body. Your spirit. They are screaming for vacation,” writes Judith Fein of Psychology Today. It doesn’t have to be expensive, luxurious or even exotic. But it has to be the thing most people long for and fear: prolonged down time, where renewal and regeneration can take place.”

In other words, you can’t be productive… even if you enjoy productivity. You can’t force yourself to expend energy or work in any way. The imperative is to allow your mind and body to relax. If you don’t respect and ultimately abide by this imperative, you will suffer a very real physical and psychological toll.

That’s why I’m particularly grateful that my mother convinced me to take a few days off with the family in Ocean City, NJ (that goofy picture you see in the headline contains me and my twin sister, Melissa… she was born first). Before I left for the Jersey Shore, I thought that I was doing fine. Every morning I woke up, read a book on interesting historical topics (currently labor history for my comprehensive exams), wrote an article or two on subjects I found compelling for publications with thousands of readers, occasionally spent time dating or socializing with close friends, and then went back to bed. Rinse and repeat.

I was happy… but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need a break. And now that I’ve had even the briefest of respites, I feel rejuvenated in a way that I could not have imagined only a few weeks earlier.

In other words: Thanks Mom. Sorry Mark Twain, but you weren’t entirely right about this one.

Hillary Clinton will never be as progressive as the Internet wants her to be

Published: Daily Dot (July 20, 2015)

In becoming our nation’s first female president, a Hillary Clinton presidency would be a milestone in American history. However, Clinton’s moment in the sun may never come: Hillary Clinton will never become the progressive that many of her supporters would like her to be, and this fact may create serious problems for her candidacy.

During Netroots Nation, a yearly convention of online grassroots activists held in Phoenix, Arizona, 2016 presidential candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-MD) made appearances—but Clinton herself skipped the event, a decision she has made repeatedly since 2007.

“As the most dedicated of the party’s activists, participants here are highly unlikely to support a Republican over Clinton, should she wind up the nominee,” observed S.V. Dáte of National Journal. “Yet her absence, and the hard feelings it is causing, once more point to Clinton’s difficult relationship with her party’s base.”

As Time’s Sam Frizell (who also reported from Netroots Nation) further explains, Clinton has been diligent in trying to attract progressives to her campaign, even though many of them believe she is too closely connected to Wall Street and corporate interests, following in the tradition of her centrist husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Those beliefs are not without merit. Although she has recently hired advisers like Gary Gensler—a former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Undersecretary of the Treasury for domestic finance, whose left-wing views trouble her Wall Street backers—she is still viewed by corporate America as a politician they can trust.

Hillary Clinton will never become the progressive that many of her supporters would like her to be, and this fact may create serious problems for her candidacy.

“The big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they badly want her to be president,” reported William D. Cohan of Politico. Clinton’s fans on Wall Street include include Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman Sachs), James Gorman (CEO of Morgan Stanley), Tom Nides (a vice chairman at Morgan Stanley), and the heads of JPMorganChase and Bank of America.

As Cohan explains, when confronted with Clinton’s recent forays into economic populist rhetoric, these men tend to dismiss her leftist statements as nothing more than “political maneuvers.” Even Clinton’s recent expression of solidarity for advocates of raising the minimum wage comes with a major caveat: She hasn’t openly supported the national movement for $15 per hour, one that is widely supported by progressive sectors of the Internet.

Yet Clinton’s problems transcend her uncomfortable coziness with Wall Street and rather opaque economic policy (both Wall Street insiders and economic reformers widely dismissed her big economic speech last week as underwhelming). She is also widely viewed as a foreign policy interventionist who would have little hesitation in embroiling America in intractable and unpopular wars.

Referring to her as “the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes,” New York Times reporter Jason Horowitz has discussed how neoconservative intellectuals like Robert Kagan—who have criticized President Obama’s foreign policy—believe Hillary is secretly one of their own. Not only did she vote for President Bush’s resolution to invade Iraq, but she said nothing in opposition to torturing inmates at Guantanamo Bay, increasing military spending, or expanding the security state through measures like the Patriot Act.

At a time when the Latino vote has become increasingly important in winning elections, Clinton’s record on immigration reform could also present a problem for her. During the 2008 presidential election, Clinton spent weeks vacillating on whether undocumented immigrants in New York should be allowed to obtain driver’s licenses before finally coming out against that policy.

Similarly, instead of supporting the path to citizenship championed by leftists on immigration issues, Clinton has supported “legalization” and “earned legal status,” which would protect illegal immigrants from imminent deportation and other threats to their security while denying them the privileges of citizenship that so many of them desperately crave.

This is in stark contrast to the stances of even prominent Republicans like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has called for a path to citizenship that would allow illegal immigrants who abide by the law, learn English, and seek to become economically self-supporting to eventually become full-fledged citizens.

Even Clinton’s recent expression of solidarity for advocates of raising the minimum wage comes with a major caveat: She hasn’t openly supported the national movement for $15 per hour.

Of course, there is a reason why Clinton has ideas on economic, foreign, and immigration policy that her party’s base often considers too conservative: She cut her teeth in national politics as an avowed centrist.

Before her husband was elected to the presidency in 1992, the Democratic Party had lost three national contests in a row due to being perceived as too liberal. As a result of these defeats, a group of centrist policy wonks and strategists formed the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which was created to form a “middle way” between the staunch conservatism that had taken over the Republican Party after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 and the far-left policies that were believed to have sunk Jimmy Carter in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, and Michael Dukakis in 1988.

When the DLC finally got one of their own nominated by the Democratic Party, the candidate was Bill Clinton. With his wife, Hillary, by his side, the two transformed the Democratic brand into one that advocated pragmatic, middle-of-the-road solutions rather than the ideological extremes presented by either the left or the right.

It was an approach perhaps best epitomized by President Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union address, in which he declared:

We know big government does not have all the answers. We know there’s not a program for every problem. We have worked to give the American people a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington. And we have to give the American people one that lives within its means. The era of big government is over.

Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, this model has already proven to be outdated. During the 2008 presidential election, Clinton’s conservative stances on the Patriot Act and Iraq War played a significant role in turning the grassroots online activist community against her campaign and toward that of her chief rival, then-Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Eight years later, the fact that she hasn’t fully purged her image of its centrist aura is hurting her yet again: As Frizell reported, “the Netroots Nation conference was much more excited about Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist and populist firebrand.”

None of this means that Clinton’s presidential ambitions are doomed. The latest polls still have her far ahead of her nearest rivals (59 percent for Clinton to 19 percent for Sanders). While Clinton’s centrism may fail to excite the Democratic Party base, it could make her more electable next November by blunting the charges of extremism that have dogged President Obama since day one. After all, the contrast between her views and those of Sen. Sanders definitely helps her appear like an electable moderate.

At the same time, it would be foolish for her to ignore the growing discontent with her candidacy, as evidenced by the lackluster response to her prospects displayed by Netroots Nation—or, for that matter, by the digitally engaged progressives who chose Obama over her in 2008.

If Clinton wants to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling and become America’s first female president, she will need to perform a delicate balancing act, pleasing her party’s progressive idealists on the one hand, while remaining middle-of-the-road enough to be electable on the other. Her advantage is that she has a history of doing the latter. Her disadvantage is that… well, that she has a history of doing the latter.

 

How to Maintain a Happy Workforce: An Interview with TINYpulse

Published: Good Men Project (July 16, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa’s interview with the CEO of TINYpulse, a company that is revolutionizing how employers and employees interact with each other.

If there’s one thing that sends a chill up the spine of any boss, it’s the thought of one of their best employees walking into their office and quitting unexpectedly.

Now there’s a new approach to that problem. The app TINYpulse has helped over 500 companies in 36 countries worldwide improve employee happiness. It works by sending workers a one-question survey every week; bosses use that feedback to keep workers happy and engaged – and prevent them from quitting.

After reading an earlier article I wrote about the importance of paid vacation time, TINYpulse CEO David Niu reached out to me to discuss progressive workplace trends and his innovative service.

I really believe there is a new class of business leaders who genuinely care about how happy or burnt out their employees are. – David Niu

  1. What is TINYpulse?

“We take the annual survey that has fifty questions and flip it on its head. We drip out one question at a time and then we provide that information to the managers so they’ll know how their employees feel.”

  1. What inspired you to develop these practices?

“During my careercation [https://www.tinypulse.com/careercation], I interviewed CEOs about management best practices. I would ask one question at the end of every interview, ‘What is your one pain point that if I took it away, you’d pay for it?’ What I found was that, despite geography or company size or industry, one of the most haunting feelings for any executive is when an employee comes up to them out of the blue and says, ‘Here is my two weeks’ notice.’ It makes me wonder about whether I’ve created a good work environment.

“That became the inspiration of TINYPulse. I really believe there is a new class of business leaders who genuinely care about how happy or burnt out their employees are.”

  1. What specific practices would you recommend for employers who want their employees to be happy?

“There are a lot of easy and inexpensive things that companies can do to better engage their employees to improve retention and keep them happier, but the No. 1 thing is to get their feedback from workers – the old “open-door” policy is obsolete.

Volunteering: Every quarter we take one day to serve a local nonprofit. TINYpulse’s data indicates that 61 percent of millennials worry about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference; 79 percent want to work for a company that has a positive impact on society.

Unlimited PTO: If you treat your employees like adults, they’ll treat you like an adult. The policy works well for us because it is rooted in accountability. I expect my employees to balance this freedom with their work duties.

Recognition. It’s free, and it has an enormous impact. People don’t quit their job they quit their boss. TINYpulse found that 70 percent of employees say peers are the main driver of fun at the workplace.

Transparency. We did a regression analysis in which we asked, “On a scale from 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?” What we found is that the number one predictor of your happiness was how transparent you felt your management was. Not only did TINYpulse find an “extremely strong correlation between employee happiness and management transparency,” but other research has determined that companies with transparent cultures beat the S&P 500 by 11.3 percent.

Flexibility. Our research shows that 81 percent of millennials really value their ability to have flexibility about their hours, and roughly half of them would trade compensation for flexibility in their hours and work environment.”

Talking to David Niu reminded me of a humorous Robert Frost quote that I saw plastered on a cubicle wall many years ago:

“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”

While it didn’t occur to me to mention this aphorism during my conversation with Niu, I suspect he would agree that people who live like this are victims of a bad workplace culture. We live in a world where millions (if not billions) of people hate 5/7ths of their lives because their employers simply don’t care enough about whether their work is making them happy… or, for that matter, on how their employee happiness impacts their bottom line.

Hopefully, as companies like TINYpulse become increasingly popular, that will begin to change.