Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mandate, Shmandate (President, Shmesident): Why Hillary Clinton Lost


The bats are streaming out of the abyss, the dark legions are clicking their heels, and fresh smoke still billows over the wreckage...pick whatever expression of purple prose that you prefer to describe the debacle. For Democrats, Election Day 2016 bore an unsettling resemblance to a multi-car pileup of the kind that generates reams of shrieking headlines. 

Few saw it coming. Even as her nine-point peak in the polls continued to evaporate, Hillary Clinton's claque beamed messages of reassurance during the last week: Hey,she's got this. We've been down this road before, it always tightens this late in the game. She's been picked apart for 20-plus years, what more can they dig up? Who'd give Donald Trump the nuclear codes, anyway? 

Once more, however, Democrats found new ways to crash and burn. Although nobody saw the House of Representatives falling -- thanks to the preponderance of Republican-driven statehouses, whose fingers firmly controlled redistricting -- Democratic predictions of retaking the U.S. Senate turned into a washout. Only two Republican incumbents (Mark Kirk, IL; Kelly Ayotte, NH) failed to cross the finish line, and nobody rated their chances too highly, anyway. However, 22 GOP incumbents are returning next year, which is certainly a dismal outcome if you're hoping to gain a majority.

Of course, Clinton's popular tally -- at last count, her margin was 2.8 million votes, and counting -- only makes the disconnect more painful*, since it doesn't change the Electoral College math an iota...and she still joins fellow also-rans Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, Adlai Stevenson, and Walter Mondale in the Presidential Losers Club. So what went wrong? Well, in the spirit of our 2012 post ("Why Mitt Romney Lost: Now Let The Circular Fingerpointing Begin"), we offer 10 reasons. As in Mitt's case, pick the one that best suits your mood.

<Once more...with feeling, 'cause you won't see this image again...>

1. Big Data Doesn't Vote (People Do). As soon as the starting gun fired last fall, pundits assumed that Clinton's celebrated organizational machine would raise Obama's demographic detail mining to whole new levels: Alas, "demography was not the destiny Clinton hoped it would be, because the nation is also angrier and more fearful, in part because of dislocations and disappointments caused by the economic globalization that she and her husband have long embraced. Trump's protectionist promise that he can bring back lost working-class jobs in Ohio and Pennsylvania may have been false on its face, but that barely mattered." ("What Was Hillary Clinton's Real Downfall? Complacency," politico. com, 11/10/16)

2. Dynasty Fatigue, Anyone?:
There's a reason why voters sent Clinton's evil twin, Jeb Bush, so early to the showers after blowing through $150 million.without winning a single primary. However, not everyone got the memo, even after 30 years of a political landscape dominated by Bushes and Clintons: "Yes, it's easy to conclude that the broad disdain the public expresses toward dynasties is a major hurdle for both Jeb and Hillary. But, to my mind, people saying that political dynasties aren't a good thing for the country is kind of like people saying they think there's too much money in politics. Sure. But is it something that impacts actual votes? In both cases I would say no."("People Say They Are Tired Of The Bushes And The Clintons. They're Not, Really": The Washington Post, 3/30/15). 

3. Even Rocky Didn't Take His Victory Lap Over Apollo Creed This Early: Until the FBI's infamous email landmine blew up in late October, gurus from Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight), to the Princeton Election Consortium, never put Clinton's chances below 70 percent: "If the election were held this week, the project estimates that Clinton's odds of securing the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency at more than 95 percent, and by a margin of Electoral College votes. It is the second week in a row that the project has estimated her odds so high. The results mirror other Electoral College projections, some of which estimate Clinton's chance of winning at around 90 percent."  ("Hillary Clinton On Track For Electoral College Landslide: Poll," Newsweek, 10/15/16)

4. It's The Rationale, Stupid: "When I asked a long-serving Clinton aide this week if there was anything she could have done to keep from losing, he replied without missing a beat: 'Sure: give people a reason to vote for her.'"  ("In Memoriam: The Fall Of The House Of Clinton," 
Vanity Fair, 11/11/16)

5.Learning To Love That Slow Drip: "There's a good chance that FBI Director James Comey's vague letter about emails to congressional Republicans, which led to an extremely ill-timed media firestorm, tipped the election to Trump. But then again, she might have avoided the whole story by following the dang rules in the first place.

"I always assumed that if Clinton were nominated for president, the race would be dominated by some weird quasi-scandal that dragged on for month after month. It's not fair, but it is simply the reality of the Clintons. At some point, one simply has to take that into account."
 ("Why Clinton Lost," The Week, 11/16/16)

6. Maybe It Was Something In The Water, After All: Clinton's plaintive summary of her  fortunes ("Why aren't I ahead by 50 points?") this spring ranks with George W. Bush's battle cry of "Mission accomplished!" in the Premature Pronouncements Hall Of Fame: "She may be a skilled policymaker, but on the campaign trail she makes constant missteps and never realizes things have gone wrong until it's too late.

"Everyone knows this. Even among Democratic party operatives, she's acknowledged as 'awkward and uninspiring on the stump,' carrying 'Bill's baggage with none of Bill's warmth.'  New York magazine described her 'failing to demonstrate the most elementary political skills, much less those learned at Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie."
("Unless The Democrats Run Sanders, A Trump Nomination Means A Trump Presidency": Current Affairs, 2/23/16)

7. Slow But Steady (Sends Voters Right To Sleep): As early as May, there were ample warning signs that Clinton's creaky, cautious style wasn't convincing voters that she had anything new to offer, especially when it came to their shrinking wallets, as Democratic pollster Celinda Lake discovered:: "We're never going to win those white blue-collar voters if we're not better on the economy. And 27 policy papers and a list of positions is not a frame. We can laugh about it all we want, but Trump had one. It's something that we absolutely have to fix."  ("What Was Hillary Clinton's Real Downfall? Complacency," politico. com, 11/10/16)

8. Such A Tricky Business, This Vision Thing: From the start of her campaign, Clinton's allies and critics alike wondered when (or if) she'd ever get around to explaining just why she wanted the job so badly, an omission that provided no lack of satirical fodder: "Seriously, don't you dare even think about it. If you shitheads can just get in line, we can breeze through this whole campaign in 19 months and be done with it. Or, if you really want, we can do this the hard way. Because make no mistake, I'm not fucking around. Got it?" (Hillary Clinton To Nation: "America, Do Not Fuck This Up For Me," The Onion, 4/12/15)

9. The Glass Ceiling Didn't Even Wobble: For the briefest of times, nothing seemed impossible amid the rosy glow of Clinton's nomination as the first woman to top a national ticket: "At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, just three miles from Independence Hall where the nation was born, a sense of history is palpable -- as is Clinton's willingness to finally enjoy it.

"'What an incredible honor that you have given me, and I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,'" Clinton said via satellite after a video montage showed the faces of all 44 male presidents before shattering like glass to reveal Clinton waiting to address the convention from New York." ("
CNN: Clinton Nomination Puts 
'Biggest Crack' In Glass Ceiling," CNN, 7/27/16)

10. The Revolution (Won't Even Get To Bubble Under). Historians will have plenty of fun debating how avidly the Democratic Party establishment chose to clear the decks for Clinton, despite her many flaws. (For my money, it bears all the hallmarks of the music business's response to the rise of punk and New Wave: "Push Disco! Push Top 40! Anything but that crap!"):

"There are two different worlds. So the question is: What happens when that 18,000 marches into that room... ? Will they be welcomed? Will the door be open? Will the party hierarchy say, 'Thank you for coming in. We need your energy. We need your idealism. C'mon in!'? Or will they say, 'Hey, we've got a pretty good thing going right now. We don't need you. We don't want you'? That's the challenge that the Democratic Party faces. And I don't know what the answer is." (Bernie Sanders, on the ticklish issues that his spirited primary campaign raised, on the eve of the Democratic Convention)

The answer rang loud and clear on Election Day. Time will tell how well the Democratic Party Establishment read the memo -- or if they acknowledge it at all. But I don't see why we should hold our breath. It's time to slam the door shut, once and for all, on a) The Clinton dynasty, b) the neoliberal branding that her particular wing represented, and c) the umpteenth second chance for the Democratic National Committee to get things right. Given how bad our current situation seems likely to get, we can't afford to wait for a different world any longer. --The Reckoner

*That being said, reminding Trump and his acolytes of that number serves one politically useful purpose: it means, once the third party votes are also taken into consideration, that more than half the country voted against him, doesn't support him, and doesn't intend to give him the benefit of any of their doubts. Enough said on that one.

Links To Go (Don't Forget To Wave Away
The Smoke Drifting Over The Wreckage):
CNN: Clinton Nomination Puts 

'Biggest Crack' In Glass Ceiling:

Current Affairs: Unless The Democrats Run Sanders,
A Trump Nomination Means A Trump Presidency:

Newsweek: Hillary Clinton On Track
For Electoral College Landslide: Poll What Was Hillary Clinton's Real Downfall? Complacency

The Hill: Clinton Allies Panic Over Message:

The New York Times: How Data Failed Us In Calling An Election

The Onion: Hillary Clinton To Nation: 

"Do Not Fuck This Up For Me"

Vanity Fair: In Memoriam:
The Fall Of The House Of Clinton

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Dog Eats Dogma (Disc Makers Style)

How do you do, I don't think we've met
My name's Ian, and we're Minor Threat
I count on music to be a good bet
Catch me counting after every set (yeah, yeah)
--Minor Threat ("Cashing In")

The important moments of any conversation are the unsaid ones. That certainly applies to a chat I had with a fellow musician, back in the '90s, when the alternative rock gold rush was underway. We shared the same practice space in Grand Rapids, so it was impossible not to get caught up in the fever, especially after hearing -- via another band's drummer -- that Green Day had just signed to Warner Brothers! Just then, the energy in the room audibly perked ramped up. You could feel the excitement rippling through everyone: God, I hope that's me one day! Maybe there's something to this rock 'n' roll dream after all.

My friend felt differently. Things weren't going well with his band,  the first one he was trying to lead. One weekend, the guitarist insisted on going off to see the Grateful Dead -- now well into their ugly twilight era, with Jerry Garcia crumbling from heroin addiction before the eyes of all those adoring Deadheads. Apparently, the guitarist wanted to see what the phenomenon was all about -- an odd priority for someone playing in a punk-garage band, perhaps, but human nature is often hard to fathom.

However, this burning desire to experience the decaying Dead conflicted with a gig that didn't promise to pay much, but might definitely pay something. My friend  begged, cajoled, even threatened, but the guitarist held fast. Band be damned, gig be damned; he'd bought his ticket, and that was that. To his everlasting chagrin (and outright resentment), my friend scrapped the gig.

Bigger problems loomed with the drummer, who had problems controlling a tempo. 
Instead of paying attention to his "day job" -- as in, practicing regularly, so you don't get tired, and tempos don't waver all over the place -- Drummerguy preferred to spend much of his down time playing his preferred instruments (guitar and keyboards). While that policy maintained his status as the second main songwriter, it didn't help the band gel instrumentally as a unit.

So I popped the obvious question: "Well, if those guys are giving you so much grief, why not get rid of them, and find more compatible people? If you write and sing two-thirds of the songs, it's your band, plain and simple. Make it your band."

"I know," my friend agreed. "But if I did that, I'd go right back to square one: a frustrated bass player trying to convince total strangers to fall in line with his vision. You know how that one goes." I duly conceded his point.

Not long afterwards, though, the band fizzled out, amid a flurry of ultimatums from Dummerguy. His demands included a change of the band's name, plus additional air time for his songs (that took up a third of the set, as it was). According to my friend, this final crunch came a week after an unproductive demo session that failed to yield acceptable versions of two of Drummerguy's songs. Apparently, the guy who sang so effortlessly from behind the kit couldn't nail his vocals when the red light blinked on. 
Fed up and frustrated, my friend rejected the ultimatums out of hand. These days, he mainly works solo. After seeing what he went through, I understand why.

Forget honesty, forget creativity
The dumbest buy the mostest,
That's the name of the game
But record sales are slumping,
And no one will say why...
Could be it one they've put out one too many lousy records?
--Dead Kennedys ("MTV Get Off The Air")

That's not how Disc Makers sees it, however. Typically, I discard their articles after they roll out into my inbox, but this time, the headline -- "Your Musical Talent (Isn't Enough To Make It In The Music Business") -- caught my attention. So did the telltale lead-in: "Your brilliant musical talent (imagined or otherwise) is worthless unless you understand how to stand out in the crowded marketplace. So what does what it take? You have to hate to lose."

The first sentence is factually correct, on its face. Talent alone isn't enough: to succeed in any creative field. You definitely need timing -- think of the hair bands stranded by the grunge gold rush -- plus an attention-grabbing piece of work, and, frankly, a lot of luck. The trouble starts with the next statement ("You have to hate to lose"), which introduces the author's thesis: treat music like sports heroes treat their business. If that means throwing everybody overboard as you go, so be it.

The author goes on to reference a sports podcast (of all things) run by a guy who's written 25 books and interviewed over 2,500 major sports stars in his career. (Life's been good there, I guess.) One question always popped up in every interview, without fail: "If you could name one talent or characteristic that you believe separated you from everyone else you competed against, what would that habit or characteristic be?"

To the author, the answer is simple:
 "I found it interesting that most of the sports heroes Don spoke to didn't mention their physical or athletic gifts, at all. Instead, they articulated that they all had a fear of losing that surpassed their joy at winning. At some point in their lives, they all learned to HATE losing far more than they love winning..."  

Scratching your head at this point? I don't blame you. How many interviews have we all read with musicians who said they hated sports, kept getting into run-ins with the jocks at their high school, or picked up a guitar because the competitive angle didn't appeal to them? Tons and tons, I suspect. (There are exceptions, of course: Johnny Thunders, the late New York Dolls' guitarist, was equally adept at baseball, and good enough to get scouted for it, until he refused to cut his hair. But I digress.) 

The worst part of the article, however, comes under the final heading ("This Is Show Business, Not Show-Friendship"): "Surround yourself with the right people. This means your band. If everyone isn't on board, get rid of them. It can also include your significant other. If he or she is not adding to your success, they're detracting from it."  Ironically, the author proceeds to recount a problem with his drummer ("We went out into the parking lot and found him in his crappy-ass, rusted-out, shit-box of a pickup truck -- surrounded by a literal sea of empty beer cans").

Now, ponder that image for just a minute. Are you picturing a healthy, well-adjusted individual? Hardly! I'd say, somebody with a serious substance abuse problem that -- at the least -- needs referral to a clinic, even an intervention. But that's not how the author tackled the problem, as he proudly declares: "We did the show, he sucked, and then he was gone. No questions asked."  Remember, it's not about your ability or creativity. It's who you step on.  (For further reference, see my previous article on this subject, "The 10 Commandments Of Hipsterdom.")

I'm taking a walk on the yellow brick road
I only walk where the bricks are made of gold
My mind and body are the only things I've sold
I need a little money, 'cause I'm getting old, right?
Minor Threat ("Cashing In")

I'm not going to belabor the rest of this article, which you can read for yourself below. What's interesting is the mentality on display. It's one thing to giggle aloud at the lead-footed cluelessness that characterizes so many music industry missives; quite another, though, to see it spelled out so nakedly in print.

That being said, much of this advice reads like counsel for an '80s- or '90s-era music industry, before the Internet blew up the infrastructure. If you want a snapshot of the aftermath, check out the latest episode of "Payday" that I caught this week on VICE. The show followed four people working unconventional jobs in Reno, NV  -- including one Feeki, a self-styled "redneck rapper" who spends much of his time crafting gimmicky videos and tracks along those lines.

On one level, it's superficially impressive. As of February 2016, Feeki's Facebook page stood at 89,000 "likes," and counting, plus 2,000 Twitter followers, the Nevada Sagebrush reported. How's all that self-promotion impacted the box office? According to "Payday," Feeki's efforts have netted him $9,000, though he was about to spend $4,500 on props for his latest video -- and he's still working as a parking valet, one of many McJobs that pays minimum wage (or barely above it).

So goes life in today's musical technocracy, where fans can "like" and "share" and pat you virtually on the back forever -- but whether it inspires them to plunk down some money for your product, and escape the valet parking McJob for good, is an entirely different proposition. I felt likewise about another "Payday" subject, a young girl who focuses on producing webcam porn-- a time-intensive gig that pays just $400 per month. She's also working a McJob (naturally, she didn't say what kind) that pays the same. How her boyfriend copes, God only knows.

As these examples suggest, the reality of selling out is far more complicated and messy than the images commonly associated with it. As my friend discovered, playing with your buddies only goes so far if they don't share your sense of commitment. But I don't think the Discmakers oracle's advice would have helped him, either. As an out-of-towner, he wasn't plugged into the local music scene, so he'd have found replacements hard to come by, anyway.And that's before we drop the obvious statement here. The ease of recording and uploading original content means that barriers to entry have never been lower, even though the path to success -- as in, shedding the McJob forever -- has only gotten narrower. Most will never earn more than a part-time income, if that. 

Still, I doubt that Disc Makers' management cares one way or the other, since these types of articles are often cranked out by consultants, doing what they do best: selling a dream. It's the same mentality that fuels those never-ending audition lines for shows like "American Idol," or "The Voice," because every hopeful chants the same mantra under their breath: I can't miss. I won't fail, because I'm special. I'm the exception. Wait till you get a load of me! 

Now, if you still want in, after reading these articles, fair enough, because no power on Earth will dissuade you. Just keep one question in mind along the way, though: "What the hell's the point of selling out if you can't even reap the benefits?" --The Reckoner


Links To Go (There's No Place Like Home, So Where Am I?): Your Musical Talent Isn't Enough
(To Make It In The Music Business):

(Paste into browsesr: link's not working, for some reason)

Minor Threat: Cashing In:

Nevada Sagebrush: Reno's Redneck Rapper
Is Making Moves To Success