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The ability to sell

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A guest opinion from Michael Strickland of Boise.

A mentor once told me, “No matter what you do, you're in sales.” Nurturing abilities in sales will help develop qualities that promote success in any area of life. Regardless of industry or occupation, sales is one of the few skill sets found in all successful people. If you want to get ahead in life, you have to sell yourself and what you add to the world on a regular basis. Whether you’re asking for a promotion or trying to get your family to adopt a new streaming subscription, the process is technically a sale.

The title of the text, Professional Selling, by Shane C. Hunt, Dean of the Idaho State University College of Business, indicates two things: “First, selling is a profession that requires skills that can be learned, practiced, and perfected. Second, the more that salespeople know and practice sales techniques and skills, the more effective and successful—the more “professional”—they become.” The first chapter is titled Everyone Is In Sales. Hunt continues, “Sales as a profession has great appeal for many. But whether or not you choose sales as your profession, as you move forward in your career, developing personal selling skills will benefit you in countless ways.”

My career has spanned more than three decades in education, sales, and marketing. Developing an aptitude for sales has added tremendous value to my life. It has helped me become more outgoing in social situations, and improved my entrepreneurial mindset. Over the years I’ve asked multiple business owners and CEOs to name the one skill they feel contributes the most to their success. Every one of them named sales. They all felt success in any field is almost impossible without knowing how to sell. But to many people, the word selling implies manipulating, pressuring, cajoling. They think of all the high-pressure-salesperson stereotypes. Actually, selling is explaining the logic and benefits of a decision.

Investors must be shown how a project or business will generate a return. Participants in an organization need help understanding the benefits of a new process. Individuals and families require information about the health and safety features of a product. Nonprofits need to reach donors and keep them feeling connected and concerned. Social media influencers have to draw traffic to their pages among billions on the web. A GoFundMe by a struggling family needs to be written in a way that elicits compassion and empathy, then makes people take action. Parents need to convince children to do their homework and avoid junk food. Everyone needs to be adept at sales.

Sales ranks among the best frameworks to turn yourself into an effective communicator. Every human endeavor involves negotiating. Salespeople learn to listen, evaluate variables, and identify key motivational factors. They overcome objections and find ways to reach agreement, without burning bridges. For many, asking for what you want is difficult. Persuading people to agree with you and take your direction is both an art and science, best cultivated in teams that train under seasoned mentors.

Step forward with self-assurance. Stand tall in times of crisis and duress. Build self-confidence. Learning sales is the perfect cure for shyness. It helps you create scenarios where both parties win. In every situation, you will be able to connect the mental dots between performance and reward. Leaders must be able to close deals. Salespeople constantly hear the word no. With personal growth in this arena, you will start to see “no” as a challenge instead of a rejection. You'll develop roadmaps for getting to “yes.”

Sales education will help you gain an ability to grasp and disseminate information that is essential to responding to all types of inquiries in a timely and confident manner. A sales professional needs to do more than simply follow a script. They need to engage in meaningful conversations and ask probing questions. Professional sales training ensures that people are able to conduct any conversation with the depth of knowledge they need to be effective.

Check out the Walter P. Brown Center for Sales Excellence at ISU: “Whether you are a scientist seeking a grant to continue your research; a healthcare provider offering services to new patients; a pharmaceutical company developing a vaccine; a farmer cultivating crops; or a manager of a sports team - every field requires the use of sales principles,” their website says. “The scientist must sell the viability of their research to gain the grant, healthcare providers must show why they are the safest and most caring option for practitioners in the area. All of these fields require the sale and pitching of their area to succeed.”

Our economy has evolved from one that was agrarian, then industrial, to knowledge-based. While the world has changed, the fundamentals have not. More than 2,000 years ago Aristotle produced his treatise, Rhetoric. The work outlined a formula on how to master the art of persuasion. The twenty-first century has its own currency: ideas. Mastering the ability to persuade, to change hearts and minds, is perhaps the single greatest way to gain a competitive edge today.

Learn how to sell. Your investment will pay dividends forever.

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Hating the press

johnson

It’s hardly news that the news business is in deep, deep trouble. The vast disruptive power of the Internet combined with massive declines in advertising revenue have helped hollow out or kill hundreds of newspapers, put untold numbers of reporters out of work and left an increasing number of American communities “news deserts.”

Cutthroat venture capitalists are buying up newspapers to gut them, bleeding them of resources and shipping what money is left out of the towns that depend on the local fishwrapper for everything from baseball scores to news about whether the local county commissioner secretly engineered paving the road to his house.

Opinion polling also tells us that many Americans – and a strong majority of conservatives – just don’t trust traditional news outlets. If I want to get an eye roll from a conservative, I quote the hated New York Times or the Washington Post. You can get a similar rise out of a liberal by mentioning Fox News, although disdain for the fourth estate is considerably stronger on the right than on the left.

It is not a coincidence, therefore, that the decline in confidence or respect for what Richard Nixon was the first to call “the media” has skyrocketed as the modern conservative movement has broadly embraced conflict entrepreneurs like Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon and Alex Jones. All have, to varying degrees, declared war on traditional journalism, while advancing conspiracies, authoritarian agendas and flat-out misinformation.

Donald Trump was hardly the first politician to making hating reporters the centerpiece of his appeal to the political right. Richard Nixon, fixated on reporters he believed were out to get him, became a press hating fanatic. “Never forget,” Nixon told Henry Kissinger, his reporter friendly foreign policy advisor, “the press is the enemy, the press is the enemy … write that on the blackboard 100 times.”

When Nixon ran for re-election in 1972, 93% of the nation’s newspapers endorsed him. But facts shouldn’t get in the way of a good bashing of people who live to ask questions of people in power.

Trump, of course, uses his absurdly self-serving “fake news” mantra to attempt to taint any story that is remotely critical of him. That, too, is a tactic as old as Gutenberg’s press and as common to the authoritarian playbook as when Nixon claimed investigation of Watergate was “a witch hunt.”

Yet, Nixon’s hatred of the press – and Joe McCarthy’s and Barry Goldwater’s before – was never as effective as Trump’s has become. “I believe that President Trump is engaged in the most direct sustained assault on freedom of the press in our history,” former Fox News reporter Chris Wallace said in 2019. “He has done everything he can to undercut the media, to try and delegitimize us, and I think his purpose is clear: to raise doubts, when we report critically about him and his administration, that we can be trusted.”

That explains Trump’s motive, but his effort to delegitimize an independent press goes farther. He’s succeeded in getting an entire political party, and the shameless straphangers who go along for the press bashing ride, to buy into yet another of his countless lies.

Truth be told, few politicians relish dealing with the press. Reporters ask pointed questions. They want to see the backup material. They are trained to harbor a certain level of skepticism. Most good reporters have a well-tuned bull s@*t detector.

But now, as reporter David Freelander wrote recently, “sitting down with the mainstream press has come to be seen by Republican primary voters as consorting with the enemy, and approval by the enemy is the political kiss of death.”

What better way of discounting every criticism than to label it “fake?” What better way to bluster out of an embarrassing exchange than to insult the questioner? What better way to tear apart democracy than to discredit the press? It’s all of a piece to trash vital pieces of a democratic system.

The Republican governor of Florida, to cite just one example, employs a $120,000 a year press secretary, a 31-year-old online troll, whose only job seems to be attacking reporters and spreading disinformation.

“Calling out this long-running, cynical, and ultimately corrosive approach to politics is long overdue,” political analysts Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Ladd wrote before the last election. “Politicians and media personalities can pursue conservative policies without undermining the public’s trust in the media, science, and government agencies. Now more than ever, they should do that.”

This undermining is precisely why shadowy state-based groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation, run by a former reporter, and cynical candidates, like the former TV reporter in Arizona who is running for governor, attack the press. It works, at least with a certain number of voters who believe reporters are biased because they have repeatedly been fed that lie by self-interested politicians and contemptible political operatives.

Wayne Hoffman, the ex-reporter pushing Idaho conservatives to the far-right edge of the earth, says it’s the reporters who have changed, not hacks like him. That too is a lie. What has changed is that guys like Hoffman discovered they can make more money than they ever would have as reporters by hurling incendiaries, vilifying the right’s demons and manufacturing controversy.

Talk about cynical. Hoffman’s group, like many on the far right, refuses to engage with reporters. And there is nothing transparent about his support. They know they can’t actually explain what they are doing – destroying public education and spreading public health nonsense behind a cloud of secret money, for example – to questioning, informed journalists, so they attack.

As a general rule, I have found reporters to be skeptical, smart, curious and profoundly decent people. Few go into the work, especially now with future prospects so dicey, anticipating a big payday or the fame of Woodward and Bernstein. Most care deeply about the truth or getting as close to it as possible. They see through charlatans. They’d rather help expose corruption and hypocrisy than make a living off it. Sounds a little like defending democracy when you stop to think about it.

Every industry has it’s cynics, wise guys, even the occasional crank, but reporters aren’t the ones aggressively trying to discredit American democracy. They actually embody the debate that is fundamental to a democratic system. In no system, particularly ours, should people and institutions with power, influence and money be above skepticism and scrutiny.

Sure, question the motives of reporters and news organizations. Hold them to high standards. But when some joker yells “fake news” and attacks the questioner rather than attempt to answer the question, have a look at those motives, too. If you look carefully the reporters will more often than not come out looking better than the jokers.

Arkoosh and the TBI constituency

stapiluslogo1

In 2018, the Democratic nominee for Idaho attorney general was Bruce Bistline, running to unseat Republican incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Sort of. He was really a placeholder candidate for the Democratic Party, filed in case Wasden had lost his primary to someone else. Bistline didn’t actually have much problem with Wasden, and he didn’t run a hard campaign for the office. This is to say that, while Bistine was a perfectly decent candidate, the vote he got was really the base of people who would not vote for even a broadly-acceptable Wasden for AG. This was the solidly Democratic vote.

Bistline got 34.6 percent, an unsurprising result.

In this year’s Republican primary election, the placeholder scenario from last time materialized. Former Representative Raul Labrador, who would be considered much less acceptable by nearly all Democrats and some portion of independents and Republicans, took 51.6 percent of the Republican primary vote, besting Wasden’s 37.9 percent. The rest went to attorney Art McComber, whose support base overlapped with Labrador’s, so the anti-Wasden vote from the right actually was about 62 percent.

The Democratic response to this was to change out their placeholder (Steve Scanlin, an attorney and years ago a state legislator) with one intending a serious race: Attorney Tom Arkoosh.

Based on his background, Arkoosh would be a plausible AG candidate in any year. He is a prominent figure in the Boise legal community and has practiced across a wide range of legal specialties, was a prosecutor in Gem County, has deep personal background in the Magic Valley and was highly active in the Snake River Basin Adjudication, the latter a point of high interest in rural southern Idaho.

His political background is slight; he has described himself as a non-partisan independent until registering as a Republican for this year’s primary election, and since re-registering as a Democrat to run for attorney general.

He has full Democratic support, but that alone wouldn’t do the job for him: As recent election results have shown, Democrats in Idaho running against established Republicans have not fared well.

More significant might be support indicated by his campaign treasurer: Jim Jones, the former state Supreme Court chief justice and a former Republican attorney general. (Disclosure: His columns regularly appear on my group blog, and I’ve published one of his books.) He is the most visible of a group of Republicans (one central organization, of which Jones is one of the leaders, is Take Back Idaho) who thought Wasden was a good AG and who consider Labrador an unacceptable option.

Labrador’s rhetoric in the last few months of the campaign has actually been relatively muted, but his stance is clear: He seems likely to inject far right activism into an office that has been run as the state’s down-the-middle law firm. That means he is exactly what many Idaho legislators and rightist agitators want but many other mainstream Republicans (you could likely put Governor Brad Little, who worked smoothly with Wasden, into this group) would not.

Labrador as a three-term member of Congress was more ideological activist - a stirrer of the boiling pot, one of a growing contingent of politicians these days - than a traditional representative. He was completely explicit about this in 2015 during debate over a federal government shutdown, when as a House member he told the magazine the New Yorker, “If people just want to ‘govern,’ which means bringing more government, they’re always going to choose the Democrat.” Doing the work of governing wasn’t what he was about.

Arkoosh, without saying quite so explicitly (he might do well to be more explicit), seems to be campaigning to run the office generally the way Wasden has.

The election is likely to turn on how many of those pro-Wasden voters from the primary (and other general election-only voters who agreed with them) actually might be willing to switch over and vote for a candidate whose background and appeal is independent but is running under the Democratic label.

Important as the office of attorney general is, the implications of the result will run wider.

(image/Idaho Capital Sun)
 

Socialism

schmidt

I guess there’s little the fractured Idaho Republican Party can agree on, except maybe that both factions embrace conservative values and oppose socialism. Let’s see about that.

Can we define socialism? There’s probably no agreement on that either, even in the general public. The internet tells me it’s a government or economic system where the means of production are owned or regulated by the government.

This is happening right now in deep Red Idaho. I’ll bet we can, most of us, agree it’s a good thing. We’ll see.

In the last couple years, bitcoin miners got their eye on Idaho. Bitcoin is a digital currency. People trade bitcoins and their value is determined by that marketplace. But mining bitcoins, finding them in the digital domain is a very computer and energy expensive process. If they have a high value, the costs of the mining are worth it. Sounds like pure capitalism, doesn’t it?

Since the computers needed to find bitcoins can be mobile, and the electricity needed to run the computer farms varies in its cost, miners look around for the cheapest rates. The electricity needed isn’t small. The bitcoin mining and transaction verification computing as a whole burned more electricity last winter than many European countries.

Idaho has some of the lowest electricity rates in the US. Thanks to the highly regulated Snake River Dam complex, Idaho Power offers cheap rates to us consumers, including Monsanto and Simplot.

Idaho Power knew the miners would be coming and they watched what happened in other markets. Miners have set up shop in abandoned aluminum factories where the big wires were already in place. Then, when they found a cheaper rate in the next state, they loaded their computers into a small U-Haul and moved down the road. Sometimes they didn’t pay their disconnect fee. Some didn’t even pay their bills at all, declaring bankruptcy.

Can you see how such behavior might dim your lights or shut off your air conditioner?
So, Idaho Power asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to establish a different rate structure and regulations for these players. The PUC took their request under consideration and asked for public input. The bitcoin miners griped. The PUC granted Idaho Power’s request.

I’m going to argue that this is socialism working you, me, and everybody. Don’t think I have any illusions about Idaho Power being a socialist entity. It’s not. Shareholders own the company, and they are the boss. But they recognize the value in the stability of their marketplace, the price of their product.

The socialism occurs because Idaho Power’s actions are regulated by a government entity, the PUC. Our governors appoint the three PUC commissioners, and they rule on these decisions. Now you may consider this “socialism light”, but I would still argue it is a regulatory process that serves the general public good.

There weren’t regulations when miners flocked to Idaho in the 1800’s looking for gold. The dredged rivers and streams, the hydraulic eroded hills, the displaced tribes are a testament to that. Ghost towns are not just history. Idaho has been a boom-and-bust state for a long time. It’s time we moved into the 21st century.

Maybe you want to go back to those good old days. Maybe you believe the digital bitcoins are just as real as the flecks of gold in the sluice box. Maybe you think the disruption to our power supply would be worth a small lower cost for your digital currency.

I don’t.

I value the stability, the predictability of my power bill and the juice in the wires. And I’m willing to tolerate a bit of socialism to make that happen. I don’t think it’s evil. Indeed, such structures “promote the general welfare” as our Constitutional framers allowed. And they couldn’t have envisioned a computer looking for an imaginary coin. But they could imagine “domestic tranquility”. Do we share that value?

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A school budget, and agenda

malloy

With Idaho bursting at the seams with money – a whopping $1.3 billion surplus – you know there will be a long list of people lining up for the windfall cash.

Terry Gilbert of Boise, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, plans to elbow his way to the front of the line if elected. He’s already making his pitch.

“The state of Idaho is cheating its children and their families by amassing a $1.3 billion surplus while underfunding education and pushing the cost onto homeowners through constant school bonds and levies,” he said in a recent news release. “Idaho needs a school-funding trigger law that will devote at least 50 percent of any state surplus to education, including paying off school bonds to lower property taxes.”

Good luck with getting anything like that through the Legislature. And don’t expect the House State Affairs Committee to take up Gilbert’s thoughts about raising the age limit to 21 for buying assault weapons. Being a Democrat in a sea of Republicans, Gilbert won’t make much headway on proposals that stray from the beaten path. But those factors won’t stop him from speaking out.

Gilbert is a 76-year-old retired teacher and former president of the Idaho Education Association, so he is accustomed to the political fray. Shyness is not part of his DNA.
He asks, “Why does Idaho have $1.3 billion in the bank while forcing patrons to pay for education by forcing school districts to constantly raise their property taxes?”

Good question … and there’s more. Why does Idaho have a teacher shortage? Why does the Gem State rank last in per-pupil funding? Why does classroom-aid funding rank dead last in the nation? Why does Idaho have the sixth highest ratio of students to teachers?

None of those things should occur with a $1.3 billion surplus.

“Finally, why does the Idaho Legislature continue to ignore the Idaho Supreme Court, which ruled in 2005 that Idaho’s funding of education facilities was wholly inadequate to meet its constitutional requirement? A recent study revealed it would take $874 million to bring our public-school facilities up to good condition,” he says.

That’s small change, with a $1.3 billion surplus.

One question I have is why does a guy who is 76 years old – with a teaching career long behind him – want to take on the worst job in state government. Bashing the state superintendent is a way of life for politicians and educators; it’s been that way for decades.

And what does Gilbert know about managing a department that looks more like a two-headed monster? Not much, actually.

But let’s not get hung up with age. “I am 76 … as old as a former president, and much different mentally than that man,” he said with a smile.

“I have great passion for a couple of things in life, and one is public education,” he said. “Secondly, our democracy depends on public education. If we do away with public education, in whatever form the Idaho Freedom Foundation advocates, we will lose our democracy – and we’re on the cusp of losing that anyway in my estimation.”

Gilbert began his teaching career in 1967, two years before I graduated from high school (that’s old, folks) and retired from full-time teaching in 2007. He’s a former president of the Idaho Education Association – that was back in 1977, when the IEA had some lobbying clout. But he says that he is well versed on the changes and trends in education and has opinions galore about the shortfalls in Idaho’s education system. He has endorsed the education initiative spearheaded by Reclaim Idaho.

And he’s running for an office where Democrats have a fighting chance. Democrats received 49 percent of the vote in the last three elections. Gilbert is going against a stronger opponent this year in Republican Debbie Critchfield of Oakley, and Gilbert concedes that he is facing an uphill battle. But he says that some diverse thinking might be helpful for Idaho schools.

He describes the Republican platform for education as something that “could have been enthusiastically adopted by the southern segregationists of the 1950s. It would be equally popular with the anti-public-school libertarians and fat-cat privateers of today.”

Say one thing about Gilbert … he’s not lacking for spirit.

ctmalloy@outlook. Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com
 

What could go wrong?

rainey

Something happened to me last week that shouldn’t have. I got a driver’s license. No testing. No behind-the-wheel exam. Nothing.

Just gave ‘em my old Arizona ticket, paid $90.00 for an eight-year Oregon replacement and “Down the road, Jack.”

Hundreds of Oregonians have the same experience each week. But, for me, it shouldn’t have happened.

This month, I’m 86-years-old. When my new license expires - if I’m still around - I’ll be 94. In the intervening years, no checking to see if my eyes are holding up. No checking my vision or response times. No contact with the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. Nothing.

Oh, by the way, issued with my new license was a disabled motorist card to hang from my rearview mirror. It, too, runs until I’m 94.

Now, if I’m a “disabled” motorist in my mid-eighties who - under the law - qualifies to be treated as such, what business does the State of Oregon have turning me loose on the highways? Statistics show my age bunch is responsible for more road accidents than any driver group except teenagers.

I’m at a time in my life when I should think seriously of handing my car keys to my somewhat younger wife. If things go along O.K., she’ll be “in the same boat” in a few years. Then what? How will we get around? How will we get the weekly groceries? How will we get to doctors’ appointments and other necessary errands?

We’re fortunate that our little community has had a pretty good public transportation system. Many of our neighbors have relied heavily on it to take care of their “getting around” needs.

But - that excellent system is being threatened by an absence of qualified drivers and has begun cutting back routes and appointment availabilities. Seniors are starting to feel the pinch.

This is one of those rare public issue cases where money is not the problem. The aging population is. And, that aging process is going to be felt a lot more in other instances like housing and employment in the coming years.

Sadly, the our current local issue of faltering senior transportation is one not a lot of people pay much attention to because it doesn’t directly involve them unless they have a parent or other close relative affected.

But, if you’re 91, and need to make regular visits to a doctor or to pick up a badly needed prescription, it can get deadly serious.

Now, for our little transportation problem, there would seem to be a ready solution. Like me. I’m in excellent health for my age. So are a lot of other guys around here. The small, 12-passenger busses aren’t hard to drive. Many of us drove far larger motor homes or dragged a 40-foot fifth wheel after we retired. Most of us have good, accident-free driving records. And we have plenty of time on our hands. We could fill the gap and could use the extra income of some 20-dollars-an-hour.

But, who’s going to give the bus keys to some guy who’s in his 80's? Excellent health can change in a moment. Deteriorating health is a certainty. What happens if one of us is behind the wheel when the “big one” strikes? What about the elderly passengers?

No, sadly, guys my age aren’t the answer. Much as we’d like to take on the task, we’re not going to be seriously considered.

And, probably, rightfully so.

But, hell, if you live in a state that gives you a blank check behind the wheel in the form of an eight-year driver’s license renewal while in your eighties, why not?

What could go wrong?
 

Is a Moon waxing?

jones

The present-day Republican Party has revealed who it really is and it ain’t pretty. Many of us thought that Tom Luna was way too far to the right, but the newly-elected GOP chair, Dorothy Moon, eclipses Luna by a country mile. Moon’s political beliefs verge on lunacy.

Moon has given aid and comfort to the ravings of a pillow merchant who claims the Idaho presidential vote was rigged. She told us during her ill-fated campaign for Secretary of State that Canadians had voted in the Idaho elections. To prove it, she said somebody had told her so. Wonder if it was the pillow peddler.

There is a darker side of Moon, as she has been quite chummy with any number of militias and anti-government extremists, including the Panhandle Patriots, the Real 3%ers of Idaho and the Ammon Bundy crowd.

The new GOP chief was apparently moon-struck by a former legislator from Lewiston who was convicted of raping a legislative intern. During his trial, she testified that he was “a perfect gentleman.” The victim and trauma witnesses did not seem to think so.

The antics of Moon and her John Birch Society husband, Darr, have brought national and world attention to the Gem State on occasion, such as a mask burning event at the Idaho Capitol in March of 2021. The publicity has doubtlessly caused decent out-of-state people and businesses to have second thoughts about relocating to Idaho.

So, this person will henceforth be the face of the Republican Party in Idaho: The person who will preside over events that invoke the name of the founder of the Party, Abraham Lincoln. I’m sure Honest Abe would be quite proud of the present white nationalist phase of Moon’s party.

After her lop-sided election (434-287), Moon got the crowd riled up, saying that “with the Democrats coming at us with full force” we must “have our barriers up, our guns loaded.” Even dripping wet, the Idaho Democrats do not have the forces or guns to take the battle to the locked and loaded GOP forces. These are extremely dangerous words, given the weaponry of Moon’s militia pals and the incessant claims that Democrats are true enemies of all that is good and holy. Authoritarians characterize their opponents in that fashion and it can have horrendous consequences.

The GOP delegates got to work on personal freedom issues, like voting to keep anyone but real Republicans from exercising their right to vote in the Republican primary, where most officials are elected in this one-party state. That will be revisited in January but the GOP is likely to try once again to disenfranchise the over 300,000 independent voters in Idaho. That will make it necessary to run a citizen initiative to ensure that every Idahoan has the right to vote in our elections.

The convention heard from a representative of the Family Policy Center, a soul mate of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, that the state should sponsor Christian education at taxpayer expense. Who cares about that pesky language in the U.S. Constitution prohibiting state establishment of religion? Or, the Idaho Constitution’s flat prohibition of spending State money on any kind of religious teaching?

So, a different Moon now hovers over the Idaho Republican Party, as the old Luna wanes from the stage. Methinks it is a waning crescent moon–a dark Moon. Watch out for the werewolves, vampires, torch-wielding crowds and things that go bump in the night. I predict that Idaho voters will not be enamored by the Moon that is now the face of the Idaho Republican Party.
 

The insurrection next door

johnson

“It was going to be an armed revolution. People died that day … There was a gallows that was set up … This could have been the spark that started a new civil war.”

So said Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers, who testified under oath recently before the January 6 committee.

The Oath Keepers, for those keeping a domestic terrorist scorecard, claims tens of thousands of members, most of whom seem to be former military or law enforcement personnel. The group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, has been charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in allegedly attempting to stop the peaceful transfer of power during the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Rhodes is in jail awaiting trial later this year.

A new civil war. Crazy, right?

Not so fast. Researchers at the University of California-Davis recently gathered opinions about political violence from a representative sample of 8,620 Americans. A top line result: one in five Americans believe, at least some of the time, that political violence is justified. Half of those surveyed believe an American civil war is coming and 40% admitted to believing that a strongman leader may be necessary to replace our clunky democracy.

“This is not a study that’s meant to shock,” Rachel Kleinfeld, a political violence expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told Science magazine. “But it should be shocking.”

It should be shocking, and we must not ignore the conflict agitators festering in plain sight, some clearly hoping to ignite – and benefit by – the war they desire.

Gun violence has undergone a dramatic increase, with homicide rates in American cities rising 44% between 2019 and 2021. Every day – every hour – brings a new outrage fixed squarely on the ridiculously widespread availability of guns. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that angry people with a grievance see a gun as an answer.

Unhinged political characters are everywhere fanning flames. Dan Cox, an election denying, Trump-endorsed crackpot, was nominated by Maryland Republicans to be their gubernatorial candidate this week. The party previously supported moderately conservative Larry Hogan. Hogan, twice elected in a strong Democratic state, has called the Republican who wants to replace him a “conspiracy-theory-believing QAnon whack-job.”

All the major Republican candidates for governor in Wisconsin have, as writer Bill Lueders noted recently, “staked out fervently regressive, delusional, and extreme positions.”

Blake Masters, the likely Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona, has had to refute an anti-Semitic essay he wrote several years ago in which he both distorted American history and used a “particularly representative and poignant quotation” – his words – from, of all people, Hermann Goering, the second most powerful Nazi who committed suicide rather than face execution for his World War II crimes.

“People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders,” Masters quoted Goering as saying, perhaps not realizing that even nitwits can stumble on a telling quote. “That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

And, of course, the 35-year-old venture capitalist has already said if he loses the Republican primary in August voter fraud will be the cause.

In Idaho, the most extreme Republicans, as the Idaho Statesman noted, engaged during their recent convention in a political orgy of “fear, control and cruelty.” The party elected a radical rightwing chair who openly espouses the lunatic theory that Donald Trump won the last election. Dorothy Moon, the new chair, meets the Republican definition of diversity. She’s an election denier, a John Bircher, a defender of anti-government extremists like Ammon Bundy and served as a character witness for a fellow Republican convicted of raping a legislative staffer.

Moon, being unhinged is her default position, told the Republican convention, after easily dispatching an old-line party functionary, “We have to make sure with the Democrats coming at us with full force that we have our barriers up, our guns loaded and ready to keep this state free.”

She will, of course, say she was speaking metaphorically, but she wasn’t. The gun imagery pointed at a political opponent and tied to “freedom” is part and parcel of the wingnut playbook. Moon’s defenders will say the meaning of her threats have been distorted. She didn’t really mean anything by “our guns are loaded.” Just like her party’s Dear Leader didn’t really egg on his supporters to hang Mike Pence.

Welcome to the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan.

The writer and former Naval War College instructor Tom Nichols says he remains a conservative, but no longer considers himself a Republican because the GOP has fallen “to a bunch of kooks, opportunists, racists, and aspiring fascists.” Nichols suggests a critical question.

Where are the conservative adults who possess the character and guts to stand athwart this degradation of decency and reality? No senior elected Idaho Republican, for example, has uttered a word about their party going over a cliff into la la land with a crank at the wheel.

The party elite stir themselves to go after Joe Biden on inflation or “the crisis at the border,” but they can’t bear to look into their own garbage strewn back yard.

What are they waiting for? The civil war?

The modern Republican Party – “kooks, opportunists, racists, and aspiring fascists” – doesn’t really advocate public policy positions, it enables extremists, while making the party a clear and present danger to American democracy.

The investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol has revealed how close the violent events of that day were to ushering in our civil war moment. Sadly, the violent impulses of so-called “Christian nationalists” were barely tweaked by the real time reality of America turning on itself. If anything, the impulses have grown over the last year and a half. Many Americans believe the worst is yet to come.

It has never been more incumbent on any American who truly loves the country, values the Constitution and the rule of law and abhors violence to drop what they are doing and become urgently engaged in the work of saving our democracy from the radicals who aim to destroy it. Push back against this nonsense in your circle of friends and family. Defend the teachers, librarians, police officers and health care workers who are under assault. Preach the gospel that holds that while our democracy is far from perfect it is demonstrably better than a demagogue in a blue suit.

There are more people of good faith and common sense than there are wannabe insurrectionists. Don’t be complacent. Don’t give in. Celebrate democratic values. Vote the crackpots out. The country you save will be your own.
 

A political fork?

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A state political party convention is useful - from the standpoint of participants and close watchers - for networking and, for the party, building unity, along with creating the case for why that party should be entrusted with political office in the upcoming general elections.

There’s a traditional script. A platform and statements about the issues consistent with both the party and broader public opinion usually are offered. The winners in the primary election are celebrated: They were the choices of the party’s voters, right? And they will in any event be the party’s standard bearers in the approaching campaign. Primary losers will be consoled, given a little outreach to keep them in the fold, but generally placed on the back bench. Party leaders, as long as the party seems to be functioning well (within its capabilities) and barring anything scandalous, usually are kept in place, at least while the cameras are rolling.

This applies to national conventions as well as state. There are reasons: Mainly, this approach works. It links the party’s voters and their choices to a program intended to appeal to the larger electorate. Nearly all of the political conventions of both parties I’ve observed have held to the plan, or tried to.

This month’s Idaho Republican Party convention was a massive exception to the rule.

The upshot of the convention is that primary winners were in effect trashed and the losers feted - on grounds that the winners of the primary got there with the votes of non-Republicans. The whole party leadership slate was thrown out, in decisive votes, though there was no indication those leaders (Tom Luna and the others in the group) had done less than a capable job of managing the party and its activities; certainly there were no scandals or any egregious issues of the kind that usually would lead to an overthrow.

This was a startling disconnect between the Idaho Republican Party’s organization and its large voting constituency. The two have become decoupled.

The hard evidence of this is the primary election. There are no sensible arguments that crossover voting from Democrats and others, or anything else out of norm, threw the elections: Relatively few Idaho Democrats actually re-registered to switch over, and in nearly all cases, the results were decisive enough that they clearly represented the views of people who think of themselves as Republicans. Self-identified Idaho Republicans were the nominators of Brad Little for governor, Mike Simpson for representative, and most of the rest.

But the convention was a festival for those who contended this election (like the presidential in 2020) was somehow rigged.

It was also a contest to see how much more extreme the party’s policy positions could be. For example: Until recently, an anti-abortion policy allowing for absolutely no exceptions - not even saving the immediately-at-risk life of the mother - would have been a non-starter at an Idaho Republican convention. Anti-abortion, yes, but not this absolutist. At this convention, the vote to toss mothers’ lives overboard wasn’t even close. And so it went down the policy line.

Not to mention the effort to try to exclude from Republican primaries anyone who is considered insufficiently Republican - according to the standards set by the governing clique. (Whether that proposal, aiming to exclude even anyone who has recently contributed financially to a Democrat, could stand legal challenge is another issue.)

Nor is that likely to be all. Steven Thayne, a long-time Republican state legislator who not so many years ago reasonably could have been described as on the Republican right fringe, now warns things are going too far: “My concern is a purge has begun … What you see here is basically wanting to achieve unity through purity.”

That sounds accurate, and once such a process has started - as we’ve seen for some years now - the purity tests become ever finer.

The extremism of 2022 was almost unimaginable only a few years ago. So on reflection, the next question - assuming actual Idaho voters continue to fail to choose party leaders who more accurately represent them - will be: What will the Idaho Republican convention two years from now look like?