Stephanie's Political Arena

Critiques and Perspectives on National Politics and More

Reflections of an Innocent World Forever Changed

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Amid all of the news coverage and articles written over the death of Osama bin Laden, I came across this very interesting piece by Tim Padgett in TIME magazine: “The Uninterrupted Reading: The Kids with George W. Bush on 9/11.”  Most, if not all of us, have seen the image of President Bush reading to a group of school children in a Sarasota, Florida classroom when his Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, interrupted him to inform him of the attacks on the World Trade Center that morning.  Yet, rather than sprinting out of the room, President Bush remained calm, finished the story, and then left the school.  And the kids who were in that classroom are reflecting on that fateful day.

Now teenagers planning their lives post-high school, they described to TIME the impact of 9/11 on their lives despite how young they were at the time.  Lazaro Dubrocq, 17, said that he likely would not have enrolled in a challenging international baccalaureate program had it not been for the brief time he spent with President Bush at the tender age of seven on 9/11.  “Because of that,” he said, “I came to realize as I grew up that the world is a much bigger place and that there are differing opinions about us out there, not all of them good.”  

Sixteen-year-old Mariah Williams recalled seeing President Bush’s reaction and how visibly angry he became.  Yet, “I’m just glad he didn’t get up and leave, because then I would have been more scared and confused.”

A very well-written article by Padgett, it serves as a solemn reminder of how normal our lives seemed at the time before they were forever changed in an instant that no one will ever forget.  I recall the 3-hour chemistry lab I was in that morning during my sophomore year of college – completely clueless as to what was happening outside of the classroom.  Only upon arriving at the cafeteria for lunch after class did I notice the images on the television screens…

How about you?  Where were you when you heard about the horrific news on 9.11.01?


Written by Stephanie

May 10, 2011 at 3:28 am

Serving up Sweet Justice on Easter

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While deeply engrossed in reviewing public opinion datasets on immigration reform last night, my brother sent me a text message: “HOLY SH*T!  Osama bin Laden has been confirmed killed!” 

In scanning the headlines on the Fox News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Politico, and The Washington Post websites (oh, there was a speech too?), I quickly learned the details about bin Laden’s death on Easter, followed by the DNA testing to confirm his identity.  My brother’s next text message: “I’m havin jack and coke, lol!”  Cheers to that, I say!  And well-deserved given his own service and sacrifice in Iraq within the War on Terror.

So much for that post on immigration reform…

Instead, I want to offer a BIG CONGRATULATIONS to the brave men and women serving behind the front lines in the global War on Terror, particularly those responsible for permanently ending bin Laden’s reign of terror.  Without a doubt, it’s been a very long, difficult fight for our soldiers since the day they were called up to defend our nation after bin Laden’s horrific attack against the United States on September 11, 2001.  Thanks to their tireless efforts, justice has been served to the victims and their families of bin Laden’s string of terrorist attacks at home and abroad.  They’ve certainly made Easter this year a holiday to remember forever.

Photo by Eric Kundert

Written by Stephanie

May 3, 2011 at 4:59 am

Revolutionary Socializing through Social Media

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California Institute of Technology

Yikes!  Now that I’ve emerged from my Easter turkey and ham-induced coma I’ve realized I’m a bit late in writing up a new post!  For those of you who celebrate Easter, I hope you all had as enjoyable of a holiday weekend as I did, and were able to socialize with family members and good friends.

Speaking of socializing, where on earth would we be today without the incredible resourcefulness of social media?  Have you ever wondered what happened to the Homecoming King or the Prom Queen you graduated high school with 20 years ago?  You’ll likely find their life stories and recent photos on Facebook.  Do you have super-exciting and urgent news to share with all of your friends and family but can’t decide who to call first?  Just post a “tweet” on Twitter and tell everyone at the same time.

The job-hunters and serious networking professionals (or professional networkers?) among us can appreciate the value of having a LinkedIn account, writers can hone their skills (or put forth a good effort) on blog sites such as the incredibly amazing WordPress, aspiring actors and singers are taking their talents to the YouTube wireless waves, aspiring models can showcase their potential on Model Mayhem, and the list goes on.  It’s a phenomenon that has truly transformed our society and made it even easier to keep in touch and/or market yourself.

 In writing a story about how social media is revolutionizing the political arena, particularly the campaign trail, I came across Social Media Examiner through a random Google search.  “Your guide to the social media jungle,” founder and Executive Editor Michael Stelzner created Social Media Examiner as a one-stop-shop for businesses to learn more about marketing their products and services through social media.  From Facebook, to Twitter, to LinkedIn, to YouTube, businesses will have free access to valuable tools that will help generate more brand awareness and increase sales.

Businesses that have used Social Media Examiner posted positive results on the site.  One business generated $300,000 in software sales in one weekend, a horse racetrack managed to increase attendance at a race by 27,000, and – my personal, biased favorite – Cold Stone Creamery credits social media with its ability to grow to 1,459 locations in the U.S. and 16 other countries.  Sweet!

That’s just the business world.  Imagine the effects of social media on the political world…

Written by Stephanie

April 27, 2011 at 4:37 am

Happy Tax Day 2011!

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Tea Party Rally 2010 in Madison, WI

It’s that time of year again!  Time to file those tax returns and, for some of us, look forward to a nice refund from Uncle Sam (not to mention breathe a sigh of relief that the federal government didn’t shut down and potentially delay those refunds).

We celebrated Tax Day here in Madison, WI the only way we know how to celebrate up here – by having a rally.  Only this time, the rally was organized by the Tea Party as opposed to the labor unions (though members of the latter group did make an appearance).  Sadly, I was buried under homework at a coffee shop the entire day and missed out, but I did acquire quite a bit of feedback (and photos) from friends who attended the Tax Day rally, which was highlighted by an appearance by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin

Photo by David Summers

Both Tea Party members and labor union supporters braved the blowing snow and frigid temperatures in gathering at the State Capitol to listen to (or interrupt) speeches delivered by local activists and Palin.  During her keynote speech, Palin stressed her support of Governor Scott Walker, who has been in the national spotlight over collective bargaining reforms he introduced earlier this year.   

Madison is one of many cities across the nation where the Tea Party held rallies throughout the weekend.  Only within the last two to three years, the movement has gained a substantial amount of strength and influence – particularly during the 2010 election cycle – while generating an equal amount of controversy.

At about this time last year, I was working on a multimedia project for one of my classes that focused on the Tea Party, particularly its growth in Wisconsin.  I was unsuccessful in getting this published at the end of the semester, so I’ll share the final product below (I did create a slideshow to accompany this story, but for some reason it won’t upload to this site – feel free to check back later when I hope to have figured out how to post the slideshow!).

It’s Tea Time!

How the evolution of the Tea Party revolution is reshaping the American political landscape and what it could mean for the future of American politics.

By: Stephanie Kundert

MADISON – On April 15th – Tax Day – an estimated 8,000 people gathered at the Wisconsin State Capitol for a Tea Party.  But, this was not the typical English-style tea party where Earl Grey and muffins were served to the guests.  It was a rally in protest of government taxes and spending that is part of a rapidly growing movement in Wisconsin and throughout the rest of the country.

“The people of the Tea Party believe that smaller government is better government,” said Erin Decker.  A homemaker from Kenosha, Decker attended the Tea Party rally with her kindergarten-aged daughter, Eleanor.  “I think the government has gotten too big and is encroaching upon our personal liberties too much,” she added.  She also believed that the experience of attending the Tea Party rally would provide her daughter with the “best government education.  Better than any school could ever teach.”

Decker’s friend Kathy Carpenter, also from Kenosha and is unemployed, agreed with Decker.  “It is about smaller government, but it’s also about better government.  It’s about electing people who’ll listen,” she said.

The Tea Party rally featured a number of speakers such as Mark Block, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Chapter of Americans for Prosperity; Paul Kern, a radio talk show host from Racine; Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson, a potential candidate for U.S. Senate against Russ Feingold; Vicki McKenna, a conservative radio talk show host for 1310 WIBA in Madison; and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.  The primary message of nearly every speech focused on “too much government” as the speakers admonished both the Obama administration and the Doyle administration for health care reform, the banking and auto industry “bailouts,” taxes, and budget deficits.

“It is time, ladies and gentleman, for all of us to come together and take back our state and take back our country,” exclaimed Thompson, who delivered a rousing speech to the Tea Party attendees. 

McKenna later added during her speech, “This is an amazing time, a remarkable time in our history… You know for the first time what you want from this country and what you demand from this government.” 

The “driving force of the Tea Party movement in Wisconsin,” as described by Block, McKenna said during an interview, “This is the most extraordinary grassroots movement I’ve ever seen.”  She initially became involved with the Tea Party movement in February of 2009, when CNBC reporter Rick Santelli declared and organized a Chicago-style “Tea Party” rally with the Chicago Board of Trade to protest against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (also known as the federal economic stimulus). 

She played clips of Santelli’s remarks on her radio show, prompting listeners to call in and declare that a Tea Party rally should be organized in Wisconsin.  McKenna and Block then worked together in organizing a rally that was ultimately held at the State Capitol on April 15, 2009.

“The Tea Party on the 15th [of April, 2009] that we sponsored was beyond anybody’s wildest imagination of a turnout,” said Block.  “We had expected on the best side [that] 2,000 people would show up…8,000 showed up.”

Since that first rally in Madison, Block described the “popcorn effect” that spread throughout Wisconsin.  He said the people who had attended the rally went back to their communities and began organizing more Tea Party groups. 

“These things started happening from the bottom up across the state,” he added, crediting the internet, Facebook and Twitter for aiding in the advancement of the movement throughout Wisconsin.

Soon, Tea Party rallies were held in places like Balsam Lake (with a population of 650 and a Tea Party rally turnout of 300), Appleton (3,000 attended), Fond du Lac (2,000 attended), Sheboygan (4,000 attended) and Prairie du Chien (750 attended), according to Block. 

During the summer of 2009, the Tea Party movement gained significant momentum as “the health care debate reached its fever pitch,” Block explained.  During the Congressional Recess in August, Wisconsin Congressman Steve Kagen held a townhall meeting in Green Bay where more than 700 Tea Party activists attended and angrily demanded reasons behind his support for policies such as the stimulus and health care reform. 

The townhall meeting was replayed by nearly every national media outlet, resulting in the month-long trend of angry activists appearing at other Congressional townhall meetings across the country.  U.S. Senator Russ Feingold had similar experiences as Kagen with his townhall meetings, particularly in Pewaukee.  Other members of the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation, such as Tammy Baldwin, David Obey and Ron Kind, chose not to hold townhall meetings during the recess; rather, they arranged conference calls with their constituents.

Thus, townhall meetings for the 2nd, 3rd, and 7th Congressional Districts were arranged by Americans for Prosperity and held in places such as Madison, LaCrosse and Wausau.  According to Block, 1,700 people attended the meeting in Madison, 650 in LaCrosse, and 1,400 in Wausau.  He said the turnout in Wausau was of particular significance because it is within the Congressional District of Congressman David Obey, who wrote the stimulus bill and is Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations.

When asked why he believed the Tea Party movement has gained so much attention and growth, Block responded, “People are starting to feel threatened… [and] they are taking action.”  He added, “I don’t think this [movement] would have happened had it not been for the Obama administration and the Doyle administration trying to push through radical policies so quickly.”

“The common theme [is] to the government: just leave me alone,” said Block.

Along with the media and grassroots organizations like Americans for Prosperity, academics have also taken an interest in the Tea Party movement.  University of Wisconsin Political Science Professor Ken Goldstein recently devoted a segment of his political talk show Office Hours to the Tea Party movement.  His guests for the show included UW Political Science Professor and co-founder Charles Franklin and UW Communication Arts Professor Stephen Lucas. 

First, the three academics addressed the key difference between the Tea Party movement and a political party such as the Republican Party.  “A movement is an organized collective of people seeking social, political, or economic change, usually outside of the established structures of government,” explained Lucas.  “By most definitions of a movement, the Tea Party would fit.”

Goldstein pointed out that while Tea Party activists share the same conservative base, “they’re not afraid to lash out at Republicans.”

Franklin agreed, stating that the demographic profile of a Tea Party activist does match with that of a Republican.  “But, if you put the movement in a bit of context, rewind the tape to early 2009.  Barack Obama is President.  All of the headlines are about a Republican Party in disarray: that it lost its brand [and] that it has no leadership.  In that vacuum, the Tea Party movement started to form and started to represent the anger at taxes, anger at government growth and deficits, pro-gun, pro-tax cuts, pro-shrinking-the-government.  All of those things emerged as a movement from the grassroots up.”

The key focus of the Tea Party movement, according to Lucas, is centered on economic issues.  “It emerged because of the bailout package and because of the stimulus package,” while the name Tea Party stuck because of the Chicago rally organized by Santelli.

While the movement has gained momentum and has resonated with a lot of Americans, Franklin is quick to point out that it is still in its early stages and is unknown to most people.  Through the most recent polling data, he has found that only a “miniscule” number of people actually participate in Tea Party rallies, yet a large number of those surveyed sympathize with the movement.  He found that on average, 16 percent of Americans know “a lot or a little about the Tea Party” and 9 percent identify themselves as participants in the movement.  Fifty-two percent know “little to nothing” about the movement, yet Franklin said 48 percent say they are sympathetic to the movement.  Those who sympathize with the movement will be the people to watch for, he explained.

In the meantime, even someone as active in the Tea Party movement as Block admits there is a mystery behind it.

“Those of us that are a part of the movement still don’t understand how deep this is,” said Block.  “But, for the first time in my political career – and I’ve been doing this for [more than] 30 years, there are people showing up and participating that never have in their life.”

Written by Stephanie

April 17, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Steering Through Turbulent Airwaves

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I received a number of interesting comments in response to my previous post about Belizean Grove (thanks everyone), including one from a fellow student in the graduate program in which I am enrolled.  For The Badger Herald, one of the student newspapers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Joe, my classmate, wrote about the decline in the number of women serving in the Wisconsin Legislature. 

Without getting into any conflicts of interest since I work for one of those women, what caught my attention in Joe’s article were the reasons provided that have deterred women from running for office in Wisconsin.  Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Middleton) – not my boss, for the record – is quoted in the article as saying, “Campaigns are nastier and more expensive… This acts as a deterrent to women and young people.”

I’ll focus on the money aspect of campaigns in a separate post and focus on the “nasty” side of running for office at this time.

For one of my classes this semester, I read In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns by John Geer.  Basically, Geer defends negative campaigning and argues that this practice is beneficial for democracy.  He claims that “negativity can advance and improve the prospects for democracy” because it allows a forum in which candidates are vetted by their opponents (Geer, 2006).  As long as issues are the focus of negative attacks, opposing candidates differentiate themselves from one another, both educating voters and giving them clear choices on Election Day.

Photo located at

In reading Geer’s book, I’d also like to point out that compared to today’s negative campaign tactics, those practiced in the early days of American politics were even “nastier.”  As Geer cites in his book, during the Jackson-Adams presidential election of 1828, Jackson had been branded a “murderer and a cannibal” and his wife was accused of “being a whore.”  And before that, there was the infamous Burr-Hamilton duel during the 1804 New York gubernatorial election in which Burr shot and mortally wounded Hamilton following continuous personal attacks against each other (Geer, 2006).

“Campaigns are not feel-good exercises; they are pitched battles for control of the government” (Geer, 2006).  And, unfortunately, they will remain “nasty” for a long time.  Thus, my advice to women who want to run but are deterred by the negativity in campaigning: toughen up.  If you’re a former high school and/or college athlete especially, think of the attacks your opponent will launch at you as “defenders” you need to get past in order to score that tie-breaking basket or goal.  Stay classy, rise above those attacks, and win that election.

Written by Stephanie

April 10, 2011 at 10:29 pm

From the Old Boys Club to the Old Girls Club

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Within various sectors of American society – government in particular – there still exists the notion that they are dominated by “the old boys club.”  For instance, according to the Women’s Campaign Forum , only 17 percent of Congress is made up of women.  Additionally, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that of those serving in state legislatures across the country, 23.4 percent are women.  And, the New York Times reports that 97 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 84 percent of corporate board memberships are held by men.

Proving themselves to their male counterparts and trying to compete with them can be a daunting task, which is why a number of women have banded together in an exclusive international group called Belizean Grove.  According to the New York Times, this secretive club was founded 12 years ago and its members include highly successful women in their 50s and 60s.  There is a Canadian senator, the former deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), the head of global human resources for IKEA, a number of business executives, and directors of companies such as Xerox, Procter & Gamble, Nasdaq, and NYSE Euronext.

At their annual winter retreat, Belizean Grove members – “Grovers” – spend four days in seclusion in either Central or South America networking, mentoring one another, and discussing a variety of issues relating to politics and business, and how those issues impact their businesses.  During this time, members are “learning from each other, enriching our minds, developing true friendships.  There’s a real generosity of spirit,” according to Catherine Allen, a member and C.E.O. of the Santa Fe Group.  Additionally, she says, “We leave our egos and business cards at the door.”

Another important topic of discussion for some of these women is electing a woman President of the United States.  In an effort to achieve this goal one day, these women created The White House Project , an initiative intended to help recruit and develop women who will succeed in government and, ultimately, the White House.

Written by Stephanie

April 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm

The Non-War Whatchamacallit in Libya

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Earlier this week, President Barack Obama delivered a prime time address to the nation to talk about the war… I mean, the conflict… I mean, the intervention…, I mean the… ummmm… okay, the “whatchamacallit” with which U.S. forces are involved in Libya.  I’ll let my favorite late-night commentators explain what I mean…

So… what are we doing in Libya?  Do the ever-rising gas prices have anything to do with getting our military involved with the chaos submerging that country?  Did our intelligence community produce information indicating that Moammar Gaddafi was withholding weapons of mass destruction?  Why wasn’t Congress included in on Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. military?  Why did he not deliver a prime time address to the nation before authorizing the military intervention (if that’s what it is)?  And, last but not least, where are the protesters in all of this? 

Why am I hearing crickets all of a sudden?

In a column he wrote for Politico this week, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe provides a brief historical overview of the last decade of America’s involvement in wars abroad.  “For a decade now, we have been told of George W. Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s moral failings,” Scarborough wrote.  “Bush had to be condemned as an immoral beast who killed women and children to get his bloody hands on Iraq oil.”

Yet, I do recall President Bush seeking approval from Congress before sending our troops into Iraq.  I recall watching the Congressional hearings as well as the hearings before the United Nations in which Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice provided satellite images that our intelligence community had provided that indicated where Saddam Hussein was believed to have been hiding weapons of mass destruction.  I recall reading numerous articles and watching clips of press conferences in which Bush warned Hussein to stand down or we were going in.  Last, but not least, I watched Bush’s prime time address with my younger brother (who was soon on his way to Iraq) in which he told the American people that he gave the orders for our military to advance into Iraq and disarm Saddam Hussein.

I won’t get into whether that was the right or wrong decision at the time.  Regardless, Bush went through an open and fairly lengthy process in determining if and how the U.S. military should enter Iraq.  To this day, he’s still mocked and criticized for his decision.

Obama, on the other hand, did not follow his predecessor’s step-by-step model in deciding whether or not to become militarily engaged in Libya – especially when we still have troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I woke up last Saturday morning and learned that our forces were dropping bombs on Libya.  Interestingly, the traditionally liberal-leaning Huffington Post went so far as to say Obama had signed an order in support of Libyan rebels in secrecy.  

Even the New York Times seems a bit uncertain as to what exactly the U.S. mission is in Libya at this time.  Helen Cooper writes, “The president said he was willing to act unilaterally to defend the nation and its core interests.  But in other cases, he said, when the safety of Americans is not directly threatened but where action can be justified – in the case of genocide, humanitarian relief, regional security or economic interests – the United States should not act alone.”  So, if he intends to take on Libya unilaterally, what exactly are the core interests in doing so?  In what way does our intelligence indicate that Americans are directly threatened by Qaddafi?

Hmmmm… I’m still hearing those crickets…

Written by Stephanie

March 31, 2011 at 4:10 am