Episode 157, with guests Sam Hall, Ashley Parker and Jay Barth

Sam Hall, Ashley Parker and Jay Barth are our guests this week.
Show hosted by Jeff Smith, New School professor and former Missouri State Senator
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: June 28, 2014 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
PoliOptics airs on POTUS on Saturdays at 8 am & 6 pm, Sundays at 4 am & 5 pm and Mondays at 2 am.
Follow us on Twitter @Polioptics.
Listen to the show by clicking on the bar above.
Show also available for download on Apple iTunes and other streaming services.

I’m Jeff Smith, urban policy professor at The New School and former Missouri state senator, sitting in for Josh King. This week, we dissect Mississippi politics, which stood at the epicenter of American politics last week as Senator Thad Cochran came back from a political near-death experience and clung to his seat.

We dig deep into what happened on the ground – and why it all matters for the rest of the nation. I’d like to thank my fantastic guests, all three of whom spent election day in Jackson, the state capital: Sam Hall of the Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger, Ashley Parker of the New York Times, and Professor Jay Barth, chairman of the Hendrix College political science department, and member of the Arkansas State Board of Education.

***

In his 1949 landmark book “Southern Politics,” the famed political scientist V.O. Key concluded that the politics of the South “revolves around the position of the Negro … Whatever phase of the Southern political process one seeks to understand, sooner or later the trail of inquiry leads to the Negro.”

Since the Civil War, wealthy and struggling whites clashed over wages, the right to organize unions, and the role of government. About the only thing they agreed upon was the myth of black inferiority that helped unify the South in national political battles to lock in iron-clad segregation and ban black voting.

Throughout the 20th century, the Mississippi Democratic Party housed these two factions. Mississippi politics was a battle between the Delta planters and the poor white “peckerwoods,” as Key called them. The planters wanted low taxes and limited public services; the peckerwoods favored the New Deal and the electricity and jobs it brought to the rural South. The affluent Delta produced politicians such as Sen. James Eastland, while the poorer piney woods region produced pols like KKK member Sen. Theodore Bilbo, a fire-breathing race baiter whose vile rhetoric embarrassed the genteel Delta planters.

These divisions persist in Mississippi politics – except now they exist within the Republican Party. As the Mississippi Republican Party’s elder statesman, Thad Cochran is a modern-day Eastland, embodying the measured tone of the planter class. Conversely, the fiery McDaniel was born and raised in an impoverished rural county, and McDaniel’s retrograde rhetoric on race and sex bore uncomfortable resemblances to the hateful Bilbo speeches of yesteryear.

***

But after much strife and bloodshed, civil rights finally came to Mississippi, giving politicians a new voting bloc with which to contend. And yet even after black residents began registering in droves, it was often considered taboo for politicians to actually court their votes.

But that all changed three weeks ago. After McDaniel’s near-upset in the primary, Cochran tried an unusual strategy during the runoff election: he tried to persuade black Democrats to cross over and vote in the Republican primary. And instead of doing this via under-the-table vote buying, as had once been typical in the Delta, Cochran strategists even boasted about their strategy.

***

Though the rise of Southern Republicanism in the 1950s did not begin because of race – indeed, Nixon was seen as more
progressive than Kennedy on civil rights until word spread about Kennedy’s phone call to Coretta Scott King while her husband sat in a Birmingham jail – Southern Republican success mushroomed in the 1960s and 1970s due to the Republican Party’s increasingly conservative positioning on civil rights and other issues linked to race.

For 150 years, Mississippi politicians of both parties succeeded by vehemently oppose policies that benefited black residents. Indeed, it was only last year that Mississippi finally ratified the 13th Amendment freeing slaves. And yet Cochran’s very prominent African-American outreach – even as he courted a Republican primary electorate that has been bred on decades of racially-laden appeals – somehow succeeded.

Native Mississippian Sam Hall describes the political undercurrents of the election barely, if at all, visible to the national media who swarmed the state in the closing weeks. Ashley Parker analyzes the national political and policy implications of Cochran’s stunning come-from-behind win. And Jay Barth goes deep twice – first, offering an historical lens through which to understand the politics of the Deep South, and second, describing the tactics and techniques of the Cochran ground war that eluded most of the media. It’s a show no political junkie will want to miss.

Episode 156 with guests Gene Sperling, Peter Carlin and Kevin Morris

Gene Sperling, Peter Carline and Kevin Morris are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: June 21, 2014 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
PoliOptics airs on POTUS on Saturdays at 8 am & 6 pm, Sundays at 4 am & 5 pm and Mondays at 2 am.
Follow us on Twitter @Polioptics.
Listen to the show by clicking on the bar above.
Show also available for download on Apple iTunes and other streaming services.

For much of the last 25 years, Gene Sperling has been in and around the corridors of power or advising people trying to populate those very corridors. Now, he’s taking a breather after leaving the Obama Administration earlier this year, where he served as Chair of President Obama’s National Economic Council. Gene offers his perspective on message discipline, job creation, the challenges of being a second term President and the joy of being a doting dad. Gene  knows more about the intersection of policy, politics, communications and image then most anyone you can find.

Author Peter Carlin has written about rock icons Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney and most recently Bruce Springsteen, in “Bruce” . He talks about the power of the messages in Bruce’s songs from Darkness on the Edge of Town to The River, Atlantic City, The Rising and Land of Hope and Dreams.  He explains Bruce’s coming to terms with his own politics at first focusing on the every day dreams of working people to broader issues of the day to being drawn into the 1984 Presidential campaign after the appropriation of his song “Born in the U.S.A.” by Ronald Reagan to jumping into the 2008 Presidential race full throttle. Carlin tips us off that he’s working on a Paul Simon biography, which of course brings to mind then Senator Al Gore’s 1992 campaign anthem, “You Can Call Me Al.”

Hollywood power broker Kevin Morris represents some of the biggest names in Hollywood even though (and maybe because) he is decidedly un-Hollywood. His clients, including Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, as well as Mathew McConaughy and other luminaries swear by him. But in the midst of putting together the landmark South Park digital rights deal and other high profile deal making, Kevin has crafted what Krikus Reviews called, “A clear-eyed, finely wrought and mordantly funny take on a modern predicament by a new writer with loads of talent.” Kevin explains how he came to “White Man’s Problems” a collection of nine short stories addressing the preoccupations of white males at various stages of life. Kevin takes us through his working class boyhood in SE Pennsylvania through his awakening at Cornell through his befriending and representing Hollywood heavyweights to how he was inspired to write this collection.

Episode 155, with guests Mo Elleithee and Ralph Alswang

Mo Elleithee and Ralph Alswang are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: June 14, 2014 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs on POTUS on Saturdays at 8 am & 6 pm, Sundays at 4 am & 5 pm and Mondays at 2 a
m.
Follow us on Twitter 
@Polioptics.
Listen to the show by clicking on the bar above.
Show also available for download on Apple iTunes and other streaming services.

Eric Cantor’s primary loss shocked political Washington this week, and it left Democrats in a quandary – do they celebrate the embarrassing loss by a Majority Leader who had helped to scuttle some of President Obama’s most important proposals, or should they fear the implications of the Tea Party taking its biggest scalp yet?

Well we went right to the source to find out. Mo Elleithee is Communications Director of the Democratic National Committee and a veteran of 17 years in the partisan political trenches. He was traveling press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 bid, and—most importantly, in my view—worked as the New Hampshire Press Secretary of Wes Clark’s campaign when I was the Clark Communications Director. Mo provides a fresh and insightful take on the Cantor news and its implications, as well as on the Republican efforts to rebrand their Party and the prospects of another Hillary for President campaign.

***

Also on the show today is Ralph Alswang. Ralph worked as a photographer for Newsweek and Reuters for many years, and then he crossed to the other side of the rope-line to serve for eight years at the Clinton White House as the President and First Lady’s official documentary photographer. That job took him to every state in the Union and to more than 60 countries. He also served as official photographer on the Hillary Clinton 2008 campaign, though he’s making no promises about a repeat performance in either capacity.

Ralph was an eye-witness to history in truly extraordinary ways. He offers us a fascinating insider’s take on the issues at the very heart of Polioptics.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/sh/6b74hcrlfzqrevt/AAAWQFKvk7u4rV8-SGCJMlaKa/Alswang%20Photo%200023.jpg?token_hash=AAFlonelA0hGMhp8y5_hP7jizhOXk_ZomSRj9bqHQIAN5A&expiry=1402618475

Photo by Ralph Alswang

Episode 154, with guests Michael Waldman and Geoff Dyer