On the Arrogance of Republican Party “Experts”

 

Several years back I worked for a state Republican Party running a Victory Center, or local campaign headquarters. I devoted more to that job than I had to any job prior and more than I have to any job since. The hours were nine to nine Monday through Friday, nine to five on Saturdays, and near election day several hours on Sundays. Initially, I was thrilled to have been given the opportunity to contribute to a cause about which I cared very much. Moreover, it didn’t hurt my ego to be interacting on a regular basis with people I had regularly seen on television and their close advisors.

During my initial state of humility, I found myself taking in every bit of knowledge the “experts” for whom I worked imparted to me. When I was told to do something, I did it, and did it as well as I could without question.

However, I couldn’t help but notice that much of what I was asked to do seemed, frankly, stupid. I asked for explanations from my direct supervisor, who was actually competent. He (eventually replaced by a “she”) informed me that “experts” had devised our strategy, our call scripts, and everything else. They knew exactly what they were doing. Anyone who questioned them was a moron.

“Do you really believe that?”

“No. You’re right. It’s stupid. I’m just told to tell you that.”

I found we were introducing ourselves as Republican during calls when we should have brought it up later in the conversation, but we weren’t announcing we were Republican when it would have made sense to say so up front. We used a push-poll format when honest opinions would have made our database more accurate. We were instructed to mark people as “pro-life” if that’s what they answered in response to our question, even when it was obvious they had no idea what that phrase actually meant. (These folks would later receive “sanctity of life” pamphlets in the mail). We could get pizza and only pizza for our volunteers; one guy who got ice cream instead (spending far less than he ever did on pizza) was chewed out. We had no flexibility about which script should be used for which type of volunteer; at one point we were forced to ask new volunteers to use a “universe” (the type of voter selected for a specific call list) full of dead people. Being told, “Why the hell are you calling here, you bastard, my mother died three years ago?” five times in an hour might not bother a hardcore volunteer, but it’s hardly the ideal way to get a new one to return.

“Just use the scripts we give you. We know what we’re doing.”

The State Party Heads in State Capitol were flummoxed about why we were having such a tough time finding and keeping volunteers. Those of us in the field who interacted with people tried to explain why: flawed political strategy, little flexibility about how to use volunteers, etc. They ignored us and instead gave us a call script with which to call ostensible Republicans to recruit them. The call script required us to ramble on for 35 seconds about the sorry condition of our state before asking any questions or giving the recipient a chance to speak. When this script was correctly followed, to my knowledge not a single volunteer or campaign worker made it through more than fifteen seconds without being hung up on.

On a conference call, one of the mid-level field directors dared to call into question the perfection of this script. He was berated in the harshest of terms, told he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, that the script’s language was perfectly crafted based on focus-group responses and expert political communications experts who were such experts at the relevant expertise that anyone who dared to question them again would be fired. My job just prior to this was in the US Army, an organization with leaders far more likely to accept criticism from its lower levels.

But we were making a lot of phone calls, more phone calls than had ever been made before, for in the prior election phone calls seemed to have made the difference. The law of diminishing returns didn’t apply.

The local Major League Baseball team made the World Series for the first time in ages. I saw articles about Democratic election efforts in both our state and that of the opposing team (another swing state) discussing how they were working extra hard early in the day so as to not bother people during the baseball games at night. Our instructions? Call. More than ever, both day and night. Interrupt people during the game, and it’s your fault if nobody wants to volunteer those nights. Also, follow the script to the letter so that the person testily answering the phone when it’s three and two with two out and two on in the bottom of the eighth knows that the person annoying the hell out of them is a Republican the instant they pick up the phone.

Still, there was a surety in the manner and behaviors of my superiors that led me to think that perhaps they were right. After all, I was no “expert” myself. I just saw one small piece of a much larger puzzle. These people had devoted their entire lives to politics. They had to know what they were doing. I got an e-mail with all sorts of charts and internal polling data stating that there was no possible way at all that we could lose this election.

Very shortly after the election, we got another e-mail informing us that there was no possible way we could have won, for the political environment was so hostile to Republicans that victory was completely and utterly out of reach. The strategy that had been implemented was the best possible. Insurmountable headwinds. Just one of those things.

I got laid off, as did virtually every other person who worked his or her tail off in the far flung reaches of the state. As far as I know, every person who worked normal business hours in State Capitol either kept his or her job or was promoted. The guy who berated his underling for questioning the call script was snatched up by the RNC. His boss now works for a high-powered political consulting firm. My immediate supervisor, who did an extraordinary job of managing multiple impossible operations hundreds of miles away from each other, went on to manage a Target.

One of the cardinal rules of politics is that “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In the State Capital, they knew each other quite well, often in the biblical sense. Those of us hundreds of miles from the State Capital never had the chance to partake of the parties, after-work happy hours, and love triangles because we were alone in our Victory Centers, getting screamed at by hardcore leftists who somehow ended up in the fiscal conservative “universe.” For our efforts (we implemented our orders remarkably well), we received a grateful pat on the head, but we were not yet insiders and thus not in any position to expect rewards for losing. Advancement opportunities were reserved for those directly responsible for the loss.

During the “turn in your equipment” party after the election, our superiors failed to ask our opinions about how we might have done things better. After all, they were experts and we weren’t, so there would have been little point.

Entirely of their own volition, my volunteers sent letters to the Party Chairman suggesting that the party find a role for me of some sort because I was so good at working with people and was such a great face for the Party. But there were simply no positions to be had. We needed every expert in State Capitol to stay on board (save those promoted to Washington) so we could use their expertise in crafting our next campaign strategy. (You’ll be shocked to learn that this next election was equally successful.)

Some time later, the Party Chairman went on a “listening tour” around the state, and I attended when he came to a town nearby. Those who attended were angry with him; he was visibly annoyed with them. “Why didn’t we make sure people knew about the awful thing the sitting Democratic governor did?” asked a volunteer. “We sent out a press release but nobody reported on it,” answered Party Chairman. “How about that other ridiculous policy of the governor? Why didn’t we even bring that up?” asked some impertinent slob. “We can’t make the press report on what it doesn’t want to report on” said the expert. “Those call scripts were idiotic!” said another backwoods rube. “We’ll work on better scripts for the next cycle,” replied the expert, for there was not so much as a hint indicating the scripts were inadequate that could have possibly been detected until after the election.

I’m sure they did a post mortem of sorts after I was gone, but I suspect it was either done by the very people responsible for the loss or others beholden to them. I seriously doubt it contained anything equivalent to “the people who hired us to write this should be fired immediately and never work in politics again.” How’s anybody going to get to write more election post mortems if they say offensive stuff like that?

Thus I learned during my tenure as a low-level political operative that there is in fact a culturally unified Republican Establishment, certain of its own superior wisdom, expert in data collection techniques but oblivious to how calling people during the World Series might be counter-productive, impervious to viewpoints that contradict its own. It consists of people who decided in high school that they wanted to get into politics, interned in State Capital or Washington, met all the right people (with plenty of pictures to prove it), found mentors who immersed them in “how things are done,” and were socialized by their frequent proximity to powerful people to believe that they are in fact better than you.

This is perfectly natural. Imagine a mediocre public school teacher who’s taken oodles of education classes and knows the fancy name for every educational technique known to man encountering some schlub on the street who thinks he’s somehow got what it takes to teach. You think it will actually matter if he’s able to connect with the kids and inspire them to learn? Hell, no — if the kids do better under the upstart than the expert, that just means the kids are faulty. Your betters have gone to the right schools, studied the right charts, have the right friends, and know enough jargon and acronyms to make your head spin. If an untrained yokel like you somehow managed to have an idea that’s better than theirs, it would destroy their entire sense of self.

So yes, it makes perfect sense for the political class to despise both Trump and his supporters (as they have Cruz, Palin, and others before). You see, Trump does things he’s not supposed to do, he’s not a political “expert” like they are, and thus has no business gaining so much support.

Yes, it’s ridiculous that a political neophyte who’s supported Hillary Clinton and single-payer healthcare, has called Bush “evil,” and believes God-only-knows-what about dozens of issues he hasn’t even addressed is leading in the Republican primary.

A competent political class would see this as evidence that they’re doing something wrong. Ours sees it as a defect among the voters, for there’s no conceivable way it could possibly be the fault of those in charge. They’re experts. They know what they’re doing. GOP voters need to grow the hell up and accept that.

Keep this in mind the next time they call Trump, or anybody else for that matter, arrogant.

Members have made 61 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    What a terribly depressing story. Thank you for sharing it.

    Every time I think about getting more involved in politics, I remember the Republican party… Our local party head is no one I would like to know better, and the state Republicans can barely find candidates here in NY.

    Even though the NYY TIMES for goodness sake was reporting on our governor’s corruption and malfeasance, there was barely a squeak from the GOP… and the governor handily won re-election…

    • #1
    • July 27, 2015 at 2:44 am
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  2. Profile photo of iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Thank you. This is excellent, and deserves widespread dissemination.

    Republicans often run things as if top-down command-and-control socialism was ideal. In other words, they say conservative things, but are instinctively liberals. Which is why it is no surprise that, once they achieve power, they rarely resist the siren song of deciding to “fix” America rather than sticking to campaign promises, and just leave us alone.

    • #2
    • July 27, 2015 at 2:48 am
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  3. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    iWe:Thank you. This is excellent, and deserves widespread dissemination.

    Republicans often run things as if top-down command-and-control socialism was ideal. In other words, they say conservative things, but are instinctively liberals. Which is why it is no surprise that, once they achieve power, they rarely resist the siren song of deciding to “fix” America rather than sticking to campaign promises, and just leave us alone.

    A great example of what you describe was the “My GOP” initiative of a few years back. The idea was for Republicans of all walks of life to have their own “pages” on a site that explained why they were Republican.

    Unfortunately, too many of them advocated “private” social security accounts instead of the focus-group approved “personal” accounts, thus allowing for the possibility that we might look bad. They shut it down.

    I knew a Democratic equivalent of what I was in 2008. She had innumerable resources within a very de-centralized “whatever works in your area, do it” structure. We know how that election went.

    In terms of policy, Democrats are terrified of what people might do if left to their own devices. That’s how the GOP is when it comes to politics.

    • #3
    • July 27, 2015 at 3:27 am
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  4. Profile photo of cbc Member
    cbc

    I too volunteered for a Republican call center. They wouldn’t even let me make a single call. They had me data entering on the masterpiece and never to be functional data base. I am at an age when I had to take my glasses on and off to enter data.

    This post was spot on. The campaigns are being run by people who are certain they know what they are doing.

    The state party is disfunctional, the national party backs candidates who don’t understand anything about the state, and requires those candidates to follow a script which cannot win in our state. It is a MESS.

    I am comforted that Republicans in some other states seem to know what they are doing. Some of them like Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker get elected and do the job they promised to do.

    My state hasn’t seen a Republican in a state wide position in the state government for twenty years.

    • #4
    • July 27, 2015 at 3:29 am
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  5. Profile photo of Pencilvania Inactive

    Now that is telling. What an indictment. You don’t want to say which state you worked in? Really, just as a favor to anyone contemplating helping out in the future.

    I read a few articles last night about McConnell’s treatment of Ted Cruz, and thought, maybe I’m done calling myself a Republican.

    • #5
    • July 27, 2015 at 3:44 am
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  6. Profile photo of Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    This is one of the most stunning posts I’ve seen on the Member Feed. It really helped me to understand what’s going on.

    I hope it will be widely read.

    • #6
    • July 27, 2015 at 3:55 am
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  7. Profile photo of Pencilvania Inactive

    And they wonder why Trump has appeal.

    He fires people who don’t perform in their jobs.

    • #7
    • July 27, 2015 at 4:05 am
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  8. Profile photo of Son of Spengler Contributor

    I still wonder how much the 2012 consultants got paid for ORCA.

    • #8
    • July 27, 2015 at 4:05 am
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  9. Profile photo of Dave_L Coolidge

    Son of Spengler:I still wonder how much the 2012 consultants got paid for ORCA.

    I was an ORCA volunteer in our local polling location. It stopped working 15 minutes after the polls opened. Maddening!

    Lest anyone forget…Ace of Spades “The Unmitigated Disaster Known as ORCA” http://minx.cc:1080/?post=334783

    • #9
    • July 27, 2015 at 4:24 am
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  10. Profile photo of Basil Fawlty Inactive

    Why are you trying to get Hillary elected?

    • #10
    • July 27, 2015 at 4:27 am
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  11. Profile photo of I Walton Member

    Good insight into a dirty little secret. there is no such thing as an expert in things broadly human. There are experts on Rubin or Dali, et al as all their paintings are already painted, they all exist in the past so it is possible to know the universe of Dali paintings. Economics, politics, sociology take place in the future and the future isn’t knowable. There are specialists and some of them have been around long enough, read widely enough and experienced enough to also bring wisdom to their specialty. The political experts I see seem to be pollsters, bag carriers from the last election and young and all of them are human.

    • #11
    • July 27, 2015 at 4:33 am
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  12. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Pencilvania:Now that is telling. What an indictment. You don’t want to say which state you worked in? Really, just as a favor to anyone contemplating helping out in the future.

    I read a few articles last night about McConnell’s treatment of Ted Cruz, and thought, maybe I’m done calling myself a Republican.

    If you really want to know, send me a message and I’ll tell you.

    • #12
    • July 27, 2015 at 4:38 am
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  13. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:This is one of the most stunning posts I’ve seen on the Member Feed. It really helped me to understand what’s going on.

    I hope it will be widely read.

    Thank you very kindly. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that anyone who reads it that might actually be able to change things would probably just consider me disgruntled and therefore unreliable.

    I’ll cop to being disgruntled, but I am telling the truth.

    • #13
    • July 27, 2015 at 4:41 am
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  14. Profile photo of iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Basil, pretending that Republicans can do no wrong does not help the party or our country. If posts like these identify the problem, then we can try to fix it going forward.

    • #14
    • July 27, 2015 at 4:45 am
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  15. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    John Penfold:Good insight into a dirty little secret. there is no such thing as an expert in things broadly human. There are experts on Rubin or Dali, et al as all their paintings are already painted, they all exist in the past so it is possible to know the universe of Dali paintings. Economics, politics, sociology take place in the future and the future isn’t knowable. There are specialists and some of them have been around long enough, read widely enough and experienced enough to also bring wisdom to their specialty. The political experts I see seem to be pollsters, bag carriers from the last election and young and all of them are human.

    Actual expertise in “things broadly human” requires a degree of humility, for people have freewill and all sorts of quirks that will throw you for loops. If you accept you can’t ever really understand people, you’ve a much better chance of becoming an “expert” on them than one who thinks he’s got us all figured out.

    The mindset I encountered in State GOP was the opposite of that.

    • #15
    • July 27, 2015 at 4:45 am
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  16. Profile photo of FightinInPhilly Thatcher

    Ugh. Thank you for sharing. My only hope is that there is a range of competency in different state operations, and maybe, hopefully, please please please…you just happened to work at the worst. But this explains SO much. Including why the left has such an easy time stereotyping us.

    • #16
    • July 27, 2015 at 5:10 am
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  17. Profile photo of The Dowager Jojo Inactive

    iWe:Basil, pretending that Republicans can do no wrong does not help the party or our country. If posts like these identify the problem, then we can try to fix it going forward.

    I am 96.5% sure that Basil was being sarcastic.

    • #17
    • July 27, 2015 at 5:21 am
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  18. Profile photo of Jonah's Pants Leak Inactive

    Son of Spengler:I still wonder how much the 2012 consultants got paid for ORCA.

    The number of candidates running is the legacy of ORCA – a bloated, corrupt Republistocracy creates the environment for various electorally transmitted diseases.

    • #18
    • July 27, 2015 at 5:26 am
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  19. Profile photo of Nick Stuart Inactive

    OMG! You are so right about the call scripts. I always just figured they were written by people who had no [bad word] idea what they were doing and had never made a [another very bad word] phone call themselves.

    I always ignore them (the call scripts). Nobody ever says anything because they’re afraid I’ll tell them to [physically impossible lurid act involving the telephone] and walk off the job.

    I don’t even know why politicians think phone calls do anything other than irritate the voters. I suspect it’s because a pol running for office just wants everything he/she can get. I would think spending the time and money on additional flights of direct mail would be more effective. Laugh if you want, but while direct mail may be old school, old tech, like a Model 1911A it’s still deadly in the hands of someone who knows what he or she is doing. Like getting the message out directly in the hands of the voter instead of relying on a press release.

    Phone calls are so useless in fact I decided in 2014 I was done phone banking. That leaves walking precincts which I’m not enthusiastic about because nobody’s ever home anyway. Although I do need the exercise.

    The candidate I was working for was, alas, very mediocre (Darlene Senger, Illinois 11, vs. Bill Foster in case you wondered). I attended a forum and while a Carly Fiornia would have had him pinned to the mat and dissected, Senger let him get away with saying the most stupid things (including his support for the Iran Deal which was in the process of being hatched).

    “The Stupid Party” is a well-deserved epithet.

    And the pizza is always the cheapest they can find.

    • #19
    • July 27, 2015 at 5:35 am
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  20. Profile photo of liberal jim Inactive

    The people you are complaining about are the Republican party. The question is when are you going to wake up and either stop complaining or leave the party. People have been self identifying as non-Republican in increasing numbers and the GOP approval rating has been dropping like a rock. Perhaps it is time to join with true conservatives.

    • #20
    • July 27, 2015 at 5:42 am
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  21. Profile photo of Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    liberal jim:The people you are complaining about are the Republican party. The question is when are you going to wake up and either stop complaining or leave the party. People have been self identifying as non-Republican in increasing numbers and the GOP approval rating has been dropping like a rock. Perhaps it is time to join with true conservatives.

    Can you convince me that this won’t result in America becoming a permanent, one-party (Democrat) state?

    • #21
    • July 27, 2015 at 5:45 am
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  22. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    Thankfully my volunteer work with the county party was nothing more than manning the sign closet for an afternoon. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time chatting with the other volunteers and the folks who came in for yard signs, but I don’t know that my efforts had even the smallest blip. My letter to the editor writing (and debating in the comments) for a particular candidate probably bore more fruit.

    You are absolutely correct that the party machinery is archaic and unsuited to the task at hand.

    • #22
    • July 27, 2015 at 6:00 am
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  23. Profile photo of Z in MT Member

    This was excellent, hopefully people like Rick Wilson read it and take it to heart.

    • #23
    • July 27, 2015 at 6:11 am
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  24. Profile photo of Jonah's Pants Leak Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    liberal jim:The people you are complaining about are the Republican party. The question is when are you going to wake up and either stop complaining or leave the party. People have been self identifying as non-Republican in increasing numbers and the GOP approval rating has been dropping like a rock. Perhaps it is time to join with true conservatives.

    Can you convince me that this won’t result in America becoming a permanent, one-party (Democrat) state?

    The point of Angelo Codevilla’s book is that it will be regardless of who ends up running the machine.

    • #24
    • July 27, 2015 at 6:21 am
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  25. Profile photo of Old Bathos Member

    Obama may have helped kill off the kind of “expert” you describe.

    I was once a lobbyist. (I am in recovery, thank you.) In pre-Gingrich days, the House GOP wanted a modest share of pork, the occasional futile principled stand and a lot of congratulations for being bi-partisan (i.e., capitulation). They were mostly genuinely nice people who sucked at hardball politics, eloi to the ruling Democratic morlocks. Many senior GOP “experts” are from that culture.

    The only threat to those people were the crazy Goldwater-Reagan types who threatened to take their party away. They fought them more fiercely than they did Democrats.

    JFK reached out to Ev Dirkson and Charlie Halleck even though he had the numbers to ignore them . In contrast Obama refused to offer even figleaf concessions to the GOP minority and now that they are in the majority he just pretends they don’t exist. He is making it almost impossible to gracefully capitulate in time-honored GOP fashion because he is so utterly graceless. He is forcing choices to which GOP “experts” are congenitally hostile.

    Post-Obama, post-Trump GOP politics may be characterized by a new candor and a willingness to confront issues in a manner foreign to GOP “experts” and create a new political ecosystem in which they will die out. We can hope.

    • #25
    • July 27, 2015 at 6:22 am
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  26. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    Z in MT:This was excellent, hopefully people like Rick Wilson read it and take it to heart.

    From what I gather reading his stuff, Rick works for campaigns, not the party organization. My experience was that the individual campaigns (though certainly not all) are somewhat better organized and functional, but their Achilles heel is having to rely on the party for certain resources.

    My own experience at the county level leads me to believe that a big issue is that the party is staffed, at all levels, with older people who are set in their ways and completely out of touch with culture and technology. It may not even be the script writers who are all screwed up but rather those who request and approve of the scripts.

    On the whole, I think we look at the party in the wrong way. It is a tool we should be using to disseminate conservative ideas and elect conservative politicians. Sadly, however, the party has become the ends rather than the means to desired ends in many locations.

    • #26
    • July 27, 2015 at 6:27 am
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  27. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    And let’s not forget the priority of money in all this. Want to play, you gotta pay. Join the county party, pay the dues. Join the state party, pay the dues. Join the national party, pay the dues. Be a delegate at the state convention, buy your plate and pay your way there. Become a delegate to Cleveland next year, that’ll cost you. The only people with the money to be this active are either retired and thus old, or too busy making their way to retirement to have time for it. I’d get more involved, but I can’t afford it.

    • #27
    • July 27, 2015 at 6:34 am
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  28. Profile photo of Songwriter Member

    Jojo:

    iWe:Basil, pretending that Republicans can do no wrong does not help the party or our country. If posts like these identify the problem, then we can try to fix it going forward.

    I am 96.5% sure that Basil was being sarcastic.

    I am 97.2% with you on that.

    • #28
    • July 27, 2015 at 6:38 am
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  29. Profile photo of Songwriter Member

    John Penfold:Good insight into a dirty little secret. there is no such thing as an expert in things broadly human. There are experts on Rubin or Dali, et al as all their paintings are already painted, they all exist in the past so it is possible to know the universe of Dali paintings. Economics, politics, sociology take place in the future and the future isn’t knowable. There are specialists and some of them have been around long enough, read widely enough and experienced enough to also bring wisdom to their specialty. The political experts I see seem to be pollsters, bag carriers from the last election and young and all of them are human.

    Agree. Famed screenwriter, William Goldman, says about Hollywood: “Nobody really knows anything.” His point being that if anybody really knew how to make a hit movie, they would only make hit movies. And nobody only makes hit movies. It’s all just educated guesswork.

    I think that wisdom applies to JP’s point above. Like movie-making, politics is a broad subject with a whole lotta moving parts. And despite what the “experts” claim to “know,” I suspect they are guessing just like the rest of us.

    • #29
    • July 27, 2015 at 6:43 am
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  30. Profile photo of iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Songwriter:

    Jojo:

    iWe:Basil, pretending that Republicans can do no wrong does not help the party or our country. If posts like these identify the problem, then we can try to fix it going forward.

    I am 96.5% sure that Basil was being sarcastic.

    I am 97.2% with you on that.

    Maybe. And then Ricochetti criticize Cruz for criticizing McConnell – and it does not seem sarcastic at all.

    • #30
    • July 27, 2015 at 6:53 am
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