Thoughts on the Debate

Last night the Tennessee candidates for the US Senate, Phil Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn, held their first debate in Lebanon, TN. And from the beginning it was a marked contrast in styles. Bredesen arrived early and spoke to supporters gathered outside on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Blackburn arrived 45 minutes later and headed directly into the building offering only a wave to the supporters that had gathered for her.

I have to be honest though, once the debate started I felt that Blackburn’s presentation was a bit more polished than Bredesen’s. That is to say her mannerisms, body language, what have you. Blackburn’s style may have been more polished, but the substance of Bredesen’s message was much more appealing to me.

If you had to boil this debate down to its essence, Blackburn’s message was less about solutions and more about trying to associate Bredesen with others in the Democratic party. Apart from a pledge by Bredesen at the beginning of the debate that he would not support Chuck Schumer as senate leader he mostly ignored these jabs. You see this tactic all the time. Perhaps because the typical politician today is expected to put party over country and do as they’re told. But Bredesen repeatedly demonstrated a history and willingness to work across the aisle to solve problems and not get bogged down in the mud slinging that’s come to dominate the political landscape of today. It was downright refreshing.

Blackburn may have actually made the best argument in favor of Bredesen last night when she said “he could have run as a Republican or independent.” To me this perfectly illustrates that he’s an independent thinker not beholden to any particular party line. A welcome change.

And looking back I couldn’t help but draw parallels between their messages and the way that they arrived at the debate. Bredesen arrived early and spoke to the people he hopes to represent while Blackburn showed up later and mostly ignored them.

In the Dark

Let me preface this by saying that I feel like I complain a lot about my candidates, but then if the worst criticism I have is pointing out missteps when it comes to digital outreach then that’s pretty good. Hopefully this is received in the spirit of which it is intended.

This morning I went through my usual routine. Drinking a cup of coffee and catching up on the news, reddit, Twitter, etc., while trying to wake up. I even decided to hop on Facebook and see what’s going on there before turning my attention to something more constructive. I was about to wrap up when it occurred to me that I’ve not seen any news from the candidates that I’m following in the upcoming election. Of course, Facebook famously decides how to organize your news feed. There is no rhyme or reason, that I can tell, to which posts will be displayed and in what order, or at all. If I had to guess it would be to find any posts with the phrase “copy and paste this if you agree” and make sure those are displayed front and center. I generally lose interest pretty quickly. For whatever reason I decided to visit the candidate pages directly and what do you know, there have been several posts I didn’t see.

The first post I saw was a video from Chris Mayor talking about a meet and greet with the candidates that was going on yesterday. I try to keep myself reasonably well informed but I hadn’t heard a word about it. Actually it took a bit of digging to find out exactly what the event was. None of the candidates had this event listed, though Mariah Phillips did list an event that appeared to take place just before which was advertised as an event for those that are a “current or former educator”.

I’m really frustrated and baffled by the almost exclusive reliance on Facebook to spread campaign information. For me, Facebook is where I check in from time to time on friends and family whereas Twitter is where I go for news and current events. Last night is a great example of the difference between Facebook and Twitter with the real time reaction to the Emmy’s scrolling by. It wouldn’t occur to me to use Facebook for that sort of engagement.

Perhaps I’m in the minority but I’m certainly not alone in how I use those social media services. But I’m just not seeing as much activity from any of the candidates, or for that matter the county and state parties, on Twitter. Particularly when it comes to events. It feels like a missed opportunity. I looked at the Twitter feed of each candidate as well as the Rutherford County Democratic Party and The Tennessee Democratic Party. Nothing. The RCDP even has this nice calendar but there was no mention of it there.

Consider, for example, Chris Mayor has 394 people following his page on Facebook, but he has 745 followers on Twitter. Not only is this a missed opportunity to inform almost double your followers, but he’s followed by the people like @bimmerella and @StormResist with 37,900 and 80,000 followers respectively. That’s a potentially huge opportunity to amplify your message.

I don’t mean to pick on anyone. I’ve met some of the candidates and I know they are trying very hard and resources are stretched thin but please, if you could, when you’re posting something on Facebook take a moment and just copy/paste that over to Twitter to help the rest of us stay informed.

Tidying Up

I remember when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and demonstrated Safari rendering a web site, the New York Times I believe, and was very proud of the fact that web sites could be rendered on a mobile phone exactly as they appear on the desktop. It didn’t need to reformat it to fit your device, you could just pinch or double tap to zoom and it was awesome. For the longest time I’ve kept that presentation in the back of my mind when it comes to the design of my web sites. There was no need to do anything special because Steve said it would just work. Well, in the 10 years or so since that presentation we’ve moved on a bit.

Sure, I don’t have to make any changes to my site to make it easier to use on mobile. It does work just like Steve said. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better. So I’m in the midst of a slight design refresh to make SGnTN more responsive. Another factor pushing more towards this change is Google’s decision to deemphasize sites that aren’t “mobile-friendly” in its search results. My Mobile Safari version history page is pretty popular and so I figured I’d better get with the program if to maintain the visibility of that resource.

The redesign is mostly done and I have to admit, it is so much nicer to use on a mobile device now. At this point I’m just addressing overlooked issues as they arise. If you happen come across anything that looks wonky, please leave a comment or hit me up @somegeekintn, whatever, and I’ll see if I can’t make it better. Hope you like the new look!

Disillusioned

I didn’t really pay attention at the time, but my grandfather was apparently very active in politics during his lifetime. My understanding is that he was a lifelong Republican and worked in some capacity to rally support in and around Grundy County. I have on my wall a plaque he received as a token of appreciation. It’s a reproduction of a map of Tennessee as it was in 1818. On it is says Season’s Greetings 1979, Governor and Mrs. Lamar Alexander.

Apart from occasionally complaining about the state of affairs at a national level I’ve never really made an effort to be deeply involved in politics until recently. I was looking at the plaque and wondering if the current state of affairs had activated a dormant hereditary trait. Given that I’ve kept my distance I wasn’t sure exactly where to begin so I mostly tried to educate myself by visiting candidate and party websites and following some of the candidates on social media.

For most of my life I felt like my beliefs were more closely aligned with libertarians than any other party and I tended to vote as such. Broadly speaking, a smaller government that keeps its nose out of the people’s personal affairs and is disciplined when it comes to spending. Those beliefs have modified somewhat as the years have rolled by. Well, the first hasn’t changed and I disagree with both parties on different issues with regards to personal freedom. As for the fiscal policy I’ve come to realize that I’m not opposed to government spending in general, rather, I’m opposed to reckless government spending. The Republicans talk a big game but, while in power, have they ever tried managed to produce something close to a balanced budget?

Anyway, I don’t want to get into every little detail, but my thinking is that a “blue wave” this November would be a good thing in that it would hopefully force us back towards the middle and act as a check on some of the president’s more extreme positions. And if I allow some optimism to creep in perhaps there’s a chance that the parties will attempt to reach across the aisle and work to dismantle the tribalism that is responsible for so much division. Not a very realistic scenario, but a fella can dream.

So, while I’m leaning blue, my attempts to engage with Democratic candidates and the Democratic party have fallen flat and so it’s hard to get particularly excited about either. My hope was to make a connection and discover how and where I could contribute but that hasn’t happened so far. Granted these attempts have been confined to social media and perhaps they are focused on more traditional channels of communication. I’ve seen candidates mention things like “they may outspend us, but they won’t outwork us” which I imagine refers to going door to door and working the phones which is all well and good but I’d be more impressed if there was also an effort to work smarter. That’s not to say that the candidates aren’t using social media, they are. But they are using it to talk at us, not to us. I don’t need or deserve a plaque like my grandfather received nearly 40 years ago. To begin, I’d just like someone to say: I hear you.

They’re Not Making This Easy

I’ve been trying to do a better job of learning and keeping myself informed about the political process and the candidatess running for office. So it was that a day or two ago I saw that Tennessee 7th district candidate Justin Kanew tweeted out something about him, the 4th district candidate Mariah Phillips, and some other candidates having appeared in Maury county. I likely wouldn’t have gone, but it made me wonder how I might have learned of this appearance before it happened. I started by looking at Mariah’s pages since she’s a candidate in my district, but I couldn’t find any mention of it. Odd, but okay maybe they don’t have the resources to create and maintain a calendar. Next I tried the Rutherford County Democratic Party web site. This thing is a mess. There are these big scrolling title banners which are clipped and obscured by content that sits on top of them. Basically unreadable and useless. Unless you have a ginormous monitor I suppose. One reads “Bee with Democrat” another “Coffee Dem with the Second Wednesday Every Mo”. And don’t even bother viewing this site on mobile. One banner which appears to be showing information about voting only shows the letter “V” on my phone. Lovely.

But they did have a link to a calendar of events. Nice! I followed that link which has a nice calendar with various meetings listed clearly. So far so good. There were things like “Coffee with the Dems” and “Beer with the Dems”. The latter sounds great. If I don’t like what I hear I can drink enough to forget all about it. I clicked on that one to find out more info and… nothing. From what I can gather, Beer with the Dems happens on the second Thursday of each month. Where it happens is a complete mystery. I went through some of the other events and it’s the same for each. The RCDP is okay at telling you what events there are, but not where they are. Sigh.

Besides the regularly scheduled mystery meetings, there is nothing about any candidate meetings. It does mention that August 2nd was an election day, but nothing listed for November 6th. I seem to recall that being a fairly significant date. The Rutherford County GOP web site is actually worse somehow, but they do at least mention that there’s an election on November 6th. That’s nice I guess.

Alright, these are little county web sites created by volunteers so maybe I should cut them some slack. I don’t really want to, given all the talk I hear about how much trouble there is getting the message out, but fine. Surely the state level web sites are better.

The first thing I click on the TNDP web site is the Events link and… nothing. Zero events. Is there even an election coming up? Who can say!? The next thing I click on is Our Candidates which claims there are “more than 100 Democrats running” but under “Who’s Running?” there are only two people listed. Two. (insert facepalm here). Okay. Fine. Whatever. I also went to the state site to get links to all the county sites to compare to Rutherford. Clicking on County Parties takes you to a page which lists all 33 counties up to Hamilton. Wait, 33? There are apparently no county parties after Hamilton. Sweet Jesus. And by the way none of these have links to the county web sites, just their Facebook, Twitter, and email.

The TNGOP website isn’t much better. Although I don’t think it looks quite as nice, under Events, lo and behold, there are actual events listed! It has a map and everything. It only goes through September and doesn’t seem terribly comprehensive but at least it’s something. Also all 95 counties appear to be listed in the County Parties section. There are no links to any of their web sites and some appear to have no contact info, but they do at least acknowledge that each exists. While the Republican party site does list all the counties, there is no mention of candidates anywhere as near as I can tell.

So if I were to rely on the TNDP and TNGOP web sites as my sole source of information I might get an idea that there is an election coming up at some point and that it will be between more than 100 or possibly just 2 Democrats and no Republicans. It doesn’t really inspire confidence in your ability to govern if you can’t even put together a halfway decent web site. It’s exasperating, but then that seems to be the case with anything related to politics or government so maybe it’s by design just to get you comfortable with the whole experience. If I had to come up with a slogan for the TNDP web site it would be “Why even try?”. And for the TNGOP maybe “We don’t have to”.