July 31, 2006

Karl Rove Offers Hope...or not?

Marc Comtois

At first, being of a cynical mind this morning, I wondered if Karl Rove (via Dale Light) had ever been to Rhode Island when I read his recent statements at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. But upon further consideration, I think he truly hit on one truism, which I've highlighted:

"There are some in politics who hold that voters are dumb, ill informed and easily misled, that voters can be manipulated by a clever ad or a smart line," said Rove, who is credited with President Bush's victories in the 2000 and 2004 elections. "I've seen this cynicism over the years from political professionals and journalists. American people are not policy wonks, but they have great instincts and try to do the right thing."

Rove said it is "wrong to underestimate the intelligence of the American voter, but easy to overestimate their interest. Much tugs at their attention."

I'd offer that here in RI that interest in local politics is also proportional to how much the average RI thinks they can make a real difference. In other words: Not Much.

At this point, RI citizens have--for the most part--simply gotten used to putting their "attention" elsewhere than politics. Wrong or not, they seem to think that, for the most part, their everyday lives aren't affected that much by the actions of the General Assembly or local school committees and town councils. The irony, of course, is that this attitude of "They're all the same" is just about as self-perpetuating as it gets.

I guess the task for those of us who want to change the political climate in this state is to get the attention of the average Rhode Islander. Calling them ignorant certainly won't endear them to our cause, after all, and it also happens to be a cop-out. It takes hard work to change minds. The obvious fly in this ointment is that maybe, just maybe, the status quo here in Rhode Island is exactly what the average Rhode Islander wants....and if that's the case, maybe we're all just Ocean State versions of Don Quixote. But perhaps people are only satisfied with the status quo because that's all they know.

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This is the very reason Laffey has captured the hearts of supporters and opponents alike.

Supporters know and understand that Laffey is the real deal. A tough, hard nosed statesman who can change the way business is done here in RI and soon down in DC. Voters also know and understand that Laffey is a problem solver and an agent of change who fears no man (or woman). Supporters have found him to be a man on a mission who knows no obstacle too great to impede his progress, and no issue to small that needs fixin that he wont try and fix. Supporters believe the man can do it cause hes done it. They love the guy.

Opponents hate the man for all these same reasons. Hate bad, love good.

I guess you could say that if you are for Laffey you are for good government, solid financial management, blunt and direct political honesty, and a relentless work ethic that gets the job done.

If you are against Laffey then you are part of the problem, and good government is coming your way whether you like it or not.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at July 31, 2006 2:36 PM

I'm not for Laffey simply because he's a waffling jerk.

He's for illegals, then he's against illegals.

He's for lower taxes, but he raises the taxes.

Then he lowers the tax RATE the same year the state revaulates the homes so our taxes STILL go up, just not as much as they would have under the prior rate so he can claim to lower taxes while having actually accomplished NOTHING!

That doesn't make me part of the problem. It makes me a former supporter who lives by the rule "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on ME."

Posted by: Greg at July 31, 2006 3:26 PM


You sound like you have an anger management problem.

What part of Laffey's saving the city from financial ruin do you disagree with? What is your plan? Do you have a plan?

The City of Cranston is well on the way to being one of the best run cities in the country. What about that are you upset with?

Laffey did a great job. He deserves all the praise and encouragement he gets. What have you done to help save the city?

He could have left taxes where they were. He lowered taxes. Why find fault with a good policy? Why find fault with lower taxes when the rest of the state's cites and towns are raising taxes? Are you for higher taxes? I sounds like you are.

And Laffey shouldn't take credit for lowering taxes? Why not? When you do something good don't you want the credit? Of course you do.

Look in the miror and answer the questions. Get real. Laffey was good for Cranston and he's great for RI.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at July 31, 2006 4:30 PM

Simple answer for ya Joe. I'm not a politician. I don't HAVE to come up with answers to the city's problems. I also don't have to be a sycophantic butt-boy for an egomaniacal jerk-off like Laffey just because he's marginally better than the current egomaniacal jerk-off in the senate.

Posted by: Greg at July 31, 2006 4:34 PM

Greg, seems to me you just want to be angry. I agree with Joe, you don't have a constructive way to manage your emotions, so you just explode like an idiot on the blogs. Like the Mahn said, if you want good guv, you love Laffey. If you have that much pent-up hatred towards the guy, you must be part of, or associated with those who are part of, the problem!

Posted by: Stretch Cunningham at July 31, 2006 5:43 PM

It will surprise no one that I'm with Greg, and against Joe. The problem with Laffey isn't what he did, or didn't do. It's how he did it. Everything he did was done with an eye to how it would look in the media.

Remember taking the videotape of the sleeping street cleaners to the media? Those people are still on the payroll.

Remember the bullhorn with the Cranston East students? He was opposed to raising the school budget, when the students complained, he was suddenly on their side because of the media opportunity.

Mr Laffey may have a technically correct point about "lowering" taxes, but when my tax bill goes up, forgive me if I'm reluctant to say that he lowered my taxes.

And any nincompoop could have figured out that the way to solve the immediate crisis in 2002/03 was to raise taxes. Fiscal crisis? Increase revenue or decrease spending. The first is easier. Raising taxes. My fault with Mr Laffey is that he showed absolutely zero intelligence when it came to increasing revenue by some other means. As a Harvard MBA, I expected something better.

And, he didn't do anyone any favors by referring to people as pigs or dupes. This is a democracy; you have to negotiate. You don't make much progress in negotiations by insulting the opposition. It's plain childish, and, again, done for the media attention it will bring.

Worse, it's counterproductive. It arguably makes reform HARDER, because your opponents are now dug in. You get more flies with honey than vinegar. So it seems that the whole act is just that. And that's the charitable interpretation.

Now for the real bombshell. Like a lot of you, I've wondered why the political situation doesn't change in RI. My conclusion? People don't want it to change. The only change they want is that they want to be on the inside, the ones making the sweetheart deals. Nothing else will explain it.

RI is almost small enough to be a direct democracy. If enough people were really hacked off and really wanted change, things would. They don't so the conclusion seems to be that they don't want things to change.

Here's the logic: If Annoyed, then Change.

No Change.

Therefore, no Annoyed.

It's a classic syllogism.

Posted by: klaus at July 31, 2006 9:37 PM

Listening to you suggests Rove is wrong, and indeed "There are some in politics who hold that voters are dumb, ill informed"
For one, Laffey did not side with the students as you erroneously assert. He was merely pointing out to them who was responsible for cutting school sports - and that was next door at the school department headquarters.

Further, while you have sympathy for those lying, cheating street-sleepers that are stealing my money, I have none. Nonetheless, you chastise Laffey for keeping them on the job, and then continue your emotion ridden rant with "you have to negotiate."

Doesn't make lot of sense klaus. You are very contradictory. Not that I'd listen to you anyway. I prefer to listen to experts, like S&P, Moody's and Fitch rating agencies. You just get the facts without the emotion ridden drivel.

Posted by: Jim at July 31, 2006 10:10 PM

Klaus said:

"You don't make much progress in negotiations by insulting the opposition. It's plain childish..."

Check the bottom of your shoes. You just stepped in your own sh#@ ...

Sorry klaus, but your argument just plain stinks. (NPI) We all have multiple motives that transcend the simple actions we take every day. Laffey should be crowing as often as he can that he actually turned Cranston around, and a historic turn around at that. Keep bringing this point up. It just gives us supporters another opportunity to say it all again.

Your suggestion that compromise is the right path is nave at best. The entrenched unions in Cranston needed an ice breaker not a peace maker. In fact weak kneed compromise is the very reason Cranston and RI on the whole is in the sorry state it is in. Carcieri tried to work with the legislature and the unions and look what he got, a looming $200 million dollar deficit.

Last but not least is the leadership issue. When the people in Cranston saw the opportunity to continue the reform process and empower a leader to keep up the good work they put Laffey back in office by a landslide (75/25 in the primary and 65/35 in the general). When real people see a leader who promises and delivers real reform, then and only then will they believe in the possibility of change. Laffey is an agent of change. That is why he will win in September and again in November.

You can get on the love train, or let your bitterness grind you to dust.

J Mahn

PS. Your syllogism isn't classic, in fact it isn't even a syllogism.

Posted by: Joe Mahn at July 31, 2006 10:52 PM

I don't think I've ever agreed with Klaus before, but on at least one of his points above, I do. Specifically, I think his explanation for the slow pace of change in RI politics is painfully close to the truth. Granted, it doesn't describe everyone. But it probably describes more than anybody on this blog would like to admit. Of course, Klaus' view is also consistent with Governor Carcieri's complaints about the "culture of corruption" that multiple outsiders have long asserted permeates Rhode Island. Why make the sacrifices it takes to be competitive in today's global economy when you can just "get a deal" via your friendship with "someone on the inside" right here in the Ocean State?

Unfortunately, the hidden flaw in this logic is only now becoming visible. This system worked as long as the private sector economy was strong enough to support it. But that isn't true anymore. And that will eventually cause "the system" to implode. The signs of that happening are all around us today. For example, personal income tax collections are way off in RI, while they rise nationally, even as house prices here go through the roof. What explains it? More housese being purchases as second homes and by people who work (and pay most of their income tax) in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Ditto for where our sales tax revenues are going. But at the same time, we have some of the (in percentage terms) biggest unfunded public sector retirement (pension and healthcare) liabilities in the nation, and our social welfare spending is growing much faster than inflation, while our state revenue is not. The days of "I've got a deal" are numbered, and with them, the cosy Rhode Island political system that refuses to change...

Posted by: John at August 1, 2006 6:36 AM

I think your post is very insightful and the responses to it answer many of the questions you raised, although maybe not how the authors of the responses probably intended.

Here my are observations based on the previous comments-

1. Klaus is right, RI is small enough to be a direct democracy. Given the size of the state, our state government should be more responsive to the voters than any other state in the union. Maybe it is, I don't know.

2. People think short-term and are more concerned about parochial interests than long-term interests. Look at how this post turned into a discussion on the US SENATE race, when it has to do with STATE government. Why? Steve Laffey and Lincoln Chafee are running for an office that has little to do with state government. But I can assure you that many (maybe not all) of the people who turn this into a Senate race discussion have some personal interest in seeing their "guy" win that supercedes improving RI. So we go from discussing state-related problem to discussing a divisive federal primary.

NOTE to Joe Mahn: If Laffey wanted to tackle state issues, he could have run for statewide office, but he didn't. For whatever reason, he chose to run for a federal seat. That's his call to make, but suggesting that either Chafee or Laffey will somehow transform RI is ridiculous.

3. As the comments show, Rhode Island Republicans are more polarized now than they've ever been. "Converting" voters requires a party to be open to accepting new voters, not engaging in a purge of its existing voter base.

I think RI will have to hit rock bottom before it gets better and the Laffey camp should know this better than anyone. How did Laffey get elected? Cranston hit rock bottom before they would elect a conservative. It's all in the timing and last opportunity was the RISDIC crisis, which the Republican Party blew.

Posted by: Anthony at August 1, 2006 9:05 AM

So many points, so little time. I may have to take these one at a time.

Jim. I absolutely have no sympathy for the job-sleepers. That's why I'm so hacked. Bottom line is that Mr Laffey bungled the situation, going to the media instead of taking appropriate actions. End result: they're still on the payroll, by the courtesy of Mr Laffey.

As for the student thing: he took the
bullhorn, walked over to the council chamber (or wherever) with the students, and then protested the council's decision to cut sports programs. Yup, sure sounds like he was on the OTHER side from the students.

Joe: My argument isn't a syllogism. Well, technically it's one of the Rules of Inference, on which Formal Logic is built. The particular form I used is called Modus Tollens. So, syllogisms are based on this form of argument. Hence, it's very valid.

And don't even try to pin "naive" on me. You're the one who thinks that cramming a solution down peoples' throats is a good idea. If you ever studied any history, you would realize that rigid ideologies work: until they're actually put into practice. Compromise is the only way to craft a solution that actually works. Cramming a solution on a resisting minority leads to resentment and discontent. And it's called autocracy.

I totally agree that there is a culture of corruption in this state. I totally agree that the one-party rule is a huge cause. However, if I recall, the Dems came along in the 60s and swept away the Rep machine that existed before it. This is not a partisan issue. The best thing that could happen to the Dem party in RI is to have a viable Rep alternative. However, I don't think you will achieve that alternative by using Mr Laffey's tactics. That simply hardens the differences. People of good will from both parties have to come up with a solution that works.

Naive? You tell me.

Posted by: klaus at August 1, 2006 6:20 PM

Well said, Klaus.

Posted by: Anthony at August 1, 2006 6:35 PM