Ginx: I’m here tonight with Mike Brownstein of the blog “Politics and Pucks.” So Mike, how would you characterize your blog?
Mike Brownstein: I would say it’s a blog where I post my thoughts about hockey and politics. I generally stick to politics, but I like to think of my blog as a way to talk about political science and politics and make it accessible to everyone.
Ginx: How is West Lafayette this time of year?
Mike Brownstein: It’s pretty nice and calm. We’re actually in an interesting political season where we have a city council race that is seeing some interesting candidates. Two undergraduates in the Purdue political science department are running against each other. We also have some other familiar faces I’ve blogged about during the 2010 election who are in these races.
Ginx: What happened politically in Indiana in 2010? I used to live in Carmel, but I have really lost touch with what’s going on in the state.
Mike Brownstein: Locally in West Lafayette, we actually had all our state legislator incumbents win re-election. Overall in Indiana, it’s become highly conservative in the state Congress. Outside of that, a lot of local Democrats lost their positions. We were pretty active when it came to tea party candidates, including Donn Brown (one of the candidates that I wrote a lot about, and was interesting to say the least) that lost by 19 points locally.
Ginx: Why do you think Indiana swung Democrat for Obama in 2008?
Mike Brownstein: Having discussed this with local OFA volunteers and leaders, we all agree that the Obama Campaign was very good about reaching out to young voters. During the election, the McCain campaign was virtually non-existent on Purdue’s campus, which is surprising for how conservative it is.
Ginx: What are your thoughts on Obama?
Mike Brownstein: I think he’s in a considerably difficult position. Overall, I think he’s done a good job, considering the crises he’s had to deal with. I wasn’t someone who thought he would change the world by being POTUS [President of the United States]. My biggest issue with Obama has been his handling of media. I think the White House’s communication with the public has been poor, which is very surprising considering his campaign was built on Web 2.0 communication. Overall a strong B+.
Ginx: I don’t think I would even recognize Obama’s press secretary. I don’t understand how he’s so bad with media.
Mike Brownstein: I really liked Robert Gibbs as a Press Secretary. He gave the position more of a personality that it didn’t have in the Bush years.
Ginx: Where did you see him? What channel?
Mike Brownstein: I watch C-Span, the White House posts their press briefings to Youtube. Gibbs would also post pictures and leak information on Twitter
Ginx: So you had to go looking for it?
Mike Brownstein: Yeah, but I expect that.
Ginx: Really, because Bush and his press team were all over every channel during his presidency
Mike Brownstein: Yes and no; I think there was more attention because the press and the Bush Administration were not on the best terms
Ginx: Maybe the press should start hating Obama, because the exposure only seemed to help bush, especially early on. I feel like a B+ is awfully generous, like a high school grading scale, not college level.
Mike Brownstein: I’ve been in college for 6 years, it’s hard to remember what the standards were like (for clarification I have a bachelors).
Ginx: Going for a Master’s or PhD?
Mike Brownstein: The end goal is a PhD. I am working on a Masters right now, and I’m looking into PhD programs.
Ginx: In Poli Sci?
Mike Brownstein: It is very likely to be political science. I’m also looking into political communication.
Ginx: What do you think of the overall political discourse in America today?
Mike Brownstein: I think we’re in a position right now where there’s a lot of frustration with the economy. When that happens, it’s not uncommon for there to be distrust and cynicism towards government. I think the discourse has gotten a bit nasty, but from a completely unempirical standpoint, I think it’s a generational effect. My generation thinks radically differently from the generation in power, and they’re scared. My generation is completely okay with LGBT culture, atheists are not evil people, and we’re a little more open to social change.
Ginx: So then based on that and your assessment of Obama, you seem like an optimist. So what are you seeing that I’m not?
Mike Brownstein: I am a bit optimistic. I think the older generation is not comfortable with the changes in social structure, the era of nuclear families is over. Another example of how I think the older generation is scared is DOMA. My generation is going to have to overturn that, because we tend to accept LGBT a lot more than the older generation. There’s a lot of social damage that my generation will likely have to undo.
Ginx: DOMA also prevents polygamy. What are your thoughts on that?
Mike Brownstein: I think DOMA is mostly aimed at LGBT individuals, because polygamy seems to be an afterthought in these debates.
Ginx: Certainly, but there is a very careful wording that “marriage is between one man and one woman.” I only ask because conservatives incite the fallacy of a slippery slope, and I’m curious what your feelings are on expanding the definition of marriage.
Mike Brownstein: I think it’s mostly an issue that has to do with religion, wanting to hold on to the little influence it really has left in government. I really don’t have a strong view either way on the issue of polygamy to be completely honest.
Ginx: I’m actually interviewing someone Friday or Saturday who is atheist and a Republican, and I’ll be talking to him about his opposition to gay marriage
Mike Brownstein: That sounds very interesting.
Ginx: Not really, it’s the same old “fear of change” argument. What is it about change that people are so afraid of?
Mike Brownstein: It’s uncomfortable.
Ginx: Well then they’re not using enough lube
Mike Brownstein: :-D
Ginx: But seriously, what is uncomfortable about it? It’s not as though gay people aren’t having sex, holding hands, pr kissing now, and letting them marry will just open the flood gate.
Mike Brownstein: Well, I think the problem is that it still makes Americans uncomfortable. As someone who considers themself to be a strong ally of the LGBT community, I think it’s hard to tell two individuals who are together in a committed relationship that they cannot enjoy the same benefits that a straight couple can.
Ginx: It makes me wonder what might be legislated against next... maybe a law banning May/November marriages, since that makes me gag. If the guy is older than the girl’s dad, maybe it shouldn’t be a marriage, it should be prosecuted as prostitution.
Mike Brownstein: Right, which is an attempt to legislate morality, which I think is a terrible way to run government because social standards change over time.
Ginx: Do you believe there are still wedge issues, or has the 24 hour news cycle killed them by introducing new issues on a constant basis?
Mike Brownstein: Absolutely wedge issues still exist...abortion, same-sex marriage, atheists, tend to still scare people.
Ginx: So you think there’s just more?
Mike Brownstein: More wedge issues?
Ginx: Yeah, it used to be that there was one or two things you were electing someone to do, but now there’s like a dozen things, and no one seems to focus on doing any of them upon election.
Mike Brownstein: It’s just the posturing that candidates do on the campaign trail. If a Republican doesn’t say they’re pro-life, they may miss out on a lot of campaign funds.
Ginx: Why is funding so important? It’s not as though votes can be literally bought, so why are the American people are easily swayed by marketing?
Mike Brownstein: Well, political science would tell us that there’s a number of ways to look at this question some people who research media politics will tell you that advertising does nothing, some will tell you that they do make a difference. Funding is vital in campaigns because it covers a lot of basic costs: transportation, staffers, etc. It doesn’t always determine the winner, but it definitely helps to have a warchest.
Ginx: It’s obviously too early to hold you to any prediction, but who do you think will be the Republican candidate in 2012?
Mike Brownstein: This gets discussed among my cohort at school a lot... every day I seem to have a different answer, but I think it will come down to three candidates: Huckabee (if he chooses to run), Romney, and Pawlenty. I think all of the candidates are fairly weak...and let’s all keep in mind that it’s very, very early to even start talking about who is the front-runner
Ginx: Do you think any current probable candidate has a shot at beating Obama, as it stands now?
Mike Brownstein: At the moment, no.
Ginx: What makes you think Obama is doing well? I have to know, as a liberal who hates the guy.
Mike Brownstein: I think he is doing well for one reason alone: the economy. We’re out of the recession, which could have been a very deep depression.
Ginx: You think the worst is behind us?
Mike Brownstein: I think so, however, I think if the Republicans take the Senate I think we will have a lot of rough economic times ahead...
Ginx: I’m not sure things are so rosy. Unemployment is still high and education spending has been cut.
Mike Brownstein: Its coming down. I’m unemployed and I’m all too familiar with the statistic that 1 in 5 in my cohort can’t find summer work. It’s rough, but I think unemployment around 7-8 percent is okay for the economy. I’d love for that number to be lower, but economic dynamics are changing globally.
Ginx: You mean like how companies go overseas so they can pay their workers a pittance?
Mike Brownstein: It’s become a very international and global economy...
Ginx: Well, that’s one way of turning it into a euphemism.
Mike Brownstein: It’s not the best thing to say, but sometimes America loses...it’s the nature of economics.
Ginx: Most countries enact protectionist policies, but this country has decided to clear any roadblocks or taxes or tariffs on operating over-seas.
Mike Brownstein: I don’t like it when that happens either. The free market can’t solve everything, but protectionist economic policy would isolate us.
Ginx: I don’t think that’s true. There are creative solutions, such as banning the import of products which would not meet legal standards had they been produced in the US. So, if the workers were payed what was essentially below minimum wage, it wouldn’t be imported. If the environmental impact would have been illegal here (assuming we still have environmental regulations anymore), it shouldn’t be imported. It’s not isolationist to prevent companies from circumventing measures meant to stop abuse here by going somewhere else, it’s simply enforcement of American law on American companies.
Mike Brownstein: I can agree with that.
Ginx: But democrats can’t, because they’ve been bought.
Mike Brownstein: Of course.
Ginx: So why are people even voting for democrats? Where is the liberal movement to actually be represented?
Mike Brownstein: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they’re less crazy than Republicans, and I think liberals are identifying less with the party, but don’t see a viable alternative party.
Ginx: Are there any politicians at the federal level that you can point to and say they represent you?
Mike Brownstein: I do feel represented by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH, Toledo area).
Ginx: Are those local for where you’re from?
Mike Brownstein: I used to live in Toledo growing up. Brown is someone I generally agree with.
Ginx: Is there anything about the Democrats from 2008 until now that disappointed you?
Mike Brownstein: Yes, I think they could be stronger on social issues. They’re doing well with issues of church and state, LGBT...but they can be doing a lot better.
Ginx: I don’t get the impression atheism and religion are something discussed all that much in politics, at least from a perspective I would find constructive. It mostly seems to be about Muslims and attacking them.
Mike Brownstein: Actually atheists get targeted a lot, too.
Ginx: What are the big atheist issues in politics at the moment?
Mike Brownstein: I think one that is being discussed a lot within the atheist community is religious influence in the military. There was an event that was going to occur at Fort Bragg a few weeks ago, and it was cancelled due to a lack of funding.
Ginx: So atheists want to join the military and shoot people without all that preaching?
Mike Brownstein: Or be allowed to be exempt from religious obligation. There’s a test that is given that tests “spiritual fitness,” and atheist military members have reported chaplains using this as a bully pulpit.
Ginx: I bet if they institute a draft, a lot of atheists will be glad to be found spiritually unfit.
Mike Brownstein: I think so, but I think that there are soldiers who are atheists, are proud to serve their country, but would rather not have religion dictate their standing with the military. If we’re allowing LGBT, we should also be allowing atheists. It’s absolutely wrong to tell someone they can’t serve because they are attracted to their same sex, just as it’s wrong to tell someone they can’t serve because they don’t want to pray and read a holy text.
Ginx: But if we let atheists into the military, there will be atheists in foxholes. We can’t have that...
Mike Brownstein: But they’re already there.
Ginx: At least they’re in the closet, where we belong.
Mike Brownstein: I don’t like being in the closet.
Ginx: Maybe yours isn’t as big as mine, mine is a huge walk-in.
Mike Brownstein: Mine’s kind of small and uninhabitable.
Ginx: I just wonder why the military is often the first to get liberalized. It was accepting women before a lot of businesses. It is more accepting of gays now than the national marriage policy, and they enjoy socialized medical care. I want to know how this is the case and yet the military is considered conservative.
Mike Brownstein: I really don’t know either, it’s a strange phenomenon that maybe a social scientist should look into.
Ginx: Do you feel liberalism is even represented in the national debate? Because i feel like liberalism is dead in America.
Mike Brownstein: It’ll come back. The same thing was said about conservatism in the 1970s.
Ginx: 1970’s conservatism did die, though. Modern conservatives don’t even remotely resemble Republicans of the 70’s, or even democrats of the 60’s (which I think they’re closer to).
Mike Brownstein: I’d say so... the Republicans are a lot like the Dems were in the 60s or the fringe-y GOP in the 1950s.
Ginx: Do you see the tea party as a real movement?
Mike Brownstein: In what sense?
Ginx: Well, I see it as an attempt to rebrand Republicanism post-Bush, like Philip Morris changing its name to the Altria group. New name, same bullshit.
Mike Brownstein: Right. I see them as a function of Neo-con rebranding...but I also see it as a reaction by conservative whites to changing demographics.
Ginx: You think there’s a racial component?
Mike Brownstein: Yes...if you look at census projections...whites will be a minority within 15 years. I’m perfectly comfortable with that, as I think many of my generation are.
Ginx: But it’s not like tea partiers know statistics. If they believed in scientific observation, they wouldn’t be tea partiers.
Mike Brownstein: Of course not...
Ginx: Do you think there is any liberal counter to Fox News?
Mike Brownstein: MSNBC...but I’m not the biggest fan
Ginx: you really think MSNBC is as liberally biased as Fox News is right-wing biased?
Mike Brownstein: No, MSNBC is biased left, but not as far right as Fox is.
Ginx: Okay, final question: if you could change any 5 policies, what would they be?
Mike Brownstein: Wow… liberalize abortion similar to Scandinavia, remove complete tax amnesty from churches, work on transitioning away from gasoline by investing in alternative energy resources… 2 more.
Ginx: And no making policies for more policies!
Mike Brownstein: Increase the standards for background checks for gun ownership, and make birth control more widely available. There’s five.
Ginx: Excellent. Alright Mike, thanks for taking the time.
Mike Brownstein: Not a problem, thanks for having me.
Ginx: Have a good night, and good luck with those boiler makers.
Mike Brownstein: Will do.