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Ira Madison on Liz Warren, Taylor Swift, and Midterm Mania

Ira Madison III

When it comes to going low, this erudite podcaster is in some disagreement with Michelle Obama.

Two weeks from the 2018 midterm election, it feels like the stakes have never been higher -- particularly for LGBTQ citizens, as issues like "religious freedom" and gender identity become explosive talking points for candidates fighting for control of the House and Senate. With a recent poll suggesting that only 28 percent of young voters are certain they'll turn out to vote, it's easy to feel anxious about the results.

To counter that anxiety, we're highlighting people who are doing something about it: rising stars in the queer community who are using their influence and fan followings to raise awareness, get people involved, and get out the vote on November 6.

This week, pop culture podcaster Ira Madison III talks about what Democrats are still getting wrong about President Trump, why celebrities should speak out about politics, and Crooked Media's Vote Save America project.

The Advocate: On the Keep It podcast, you recently talked about why politicians can't fight Trump by sinking to his level. How can we effectively fight back?
Ira Madison: I think what a lot of people are really missing is the fact that his popularity is not high. The people who are devoted to him are a little like a cult, and the people who support him in the government are mostly just doing so because they're trying to consolidate power. They're in control, and he's a way to hold onto that.

What we can do is focus on the issues. Focus on voting, but also focus on the problems he's not talking about -- the economy, healthcare. The only way to get positive change with voters is to talk to people, whether you're talking to your friends, your family or door-to-door, having real conversations with people. That breaks through Trump's noise, because he can't do that.

Watching Senator Elizabeth Warren's Native American DNA test controversy unfold, you can see that she was trying to get the news cycle on her side, and it somewhat backfired. What did she get wrong?
I think she underestimated how cynical the news cycle is. People who have spent months making Pocahontas jokes weren't going to suddenly stop making them. It had the effect of turning Democrats and people who actually like her to laughing at her, because the whole thing is ridiculous. A story that was a joke on an episode of Happy Endings is not something you should cling to politically.

So do you think Warren should have used Michelle Obama's "when they go low, we go high" philosophy?
No, I think when they go low, we should go lower. I am not a proponent of the whole "turn the other cheek" thing, but you also have to be speaking to voters and really focusing on what's important, while also reminding these people that [the Trump Administration] are awful. By giving in to his game, [Warren] was letting him win at being awful.

You've talked a lot about Taylor Swift announcing who she was voting for after years of staying quiet about it. Do you think celebrities have more responsibility to speak out now?
If you have young people's ear, you should be doing something with it. If you're not, what are you in this for? I wish we could live in a world where we don't know what any celebrity thinks [about politics], but that's not the reality.

I commend [Swift] for talking to her fanbase, and there's something to be said about it happening later in the game, so it wasn't drowned by the noise of everyone going "I hate Trump" and was able to be its own news cycle. But I'm not all of a sudden going to be praising her all the time.

The immediate response from Republicans was, "Here's this out-of-touch celebrity coming down from her ivory tower to tell regular Americans how to vote." Does that criticism worry you?
No. Kanye was just in the White House. That's a non-issue that they continue trying to play, but no one else is buying it. I'm not even engaging with it.

There are a lot of voting initiatives going on right now, and they're all important. What do you think is unique about Crooked Media's Vote Save America?
It allows people to look up ways they can get involved in their own communities, and it puts it in a one-stop shop. Millions of people listen to Crooked Media, and you'd be shocked to find that even some of them might not be registered to vote, which is wild. People are listening every week and counting on Pod Save America to break down the news for them, or Keep It to provide them a way to cope with all this news.

It would be useless for us to do this without using our platform to try to convince people how important this election is. It's not about preaching to the choir -- it's about telling the choir to go out and preach to the people they know.

Getting out the youth vote has been a major concern in every election in recent memory. What are people still missing?
Part of it is our country. We don't really [teach in schools] that voting is how you can be not even a good patriot, but a good citizen. We make it so difficult for people to vote, and I don't envision that changing with Republicans in power, because they don't want more people voting.

Whoever you can, you need to talk to young people -- and if you're a pop star, do that. Talk to people and remind them how important it is to vote. But don't just say "Hey, it's important to vote." Get to know why it should be important to them and how it will change their lives if they vote, with something that they can affect.

IRA MADISON III is the host of Crooked Media's pop culture podcast Keep It, and a television writer for Netflix's teen sci-fi series Daybreak. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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