NPF: OLYMPIC-SIZED CONSPIRACIES

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 5th, 2008 by Ed

I have a theory. Usain Bolt, who became a global celebrity by shattering the 100m sprint record without even really trying, sandbagged his Olympic sprint. He spent the last 20m celebrating rather than running hard, most likely so that his time would be just "slow" enough that he could easily break it in subsequent races. Subsequent races with huge paychecks offered by promoters who think that "Come out and see Usain Bolt break the world record – again!" is the most attention-grabbing marketing line in the sport.

From his perspective it makes sense. Why go balls-out if going at 90% is enough to win gold and break a record? Save going 100% for the big payday.

ALEA JACTA EST**

Posted in Election 2008 on September 5th, 2008 by Ed

(NPF is likely to be cancelled occasionally until Nov. 4 – I'll try to make up for it with weekends)

Let's say we have a pitcher, Joe, who owns a great fastball. In a big game he takes the mound and fires fastballs at the first batter, who swings wildly and misses everything. Confident, Joe sticks with the fastball to the second and third batters, who weakly pop up. Wow! That fastball rules, thinks Joe. The next inning, Batter #4 walks up, waits on the fastball, and smacks it into the bleachers for a home run. Joe hangs his head as the manager comes out for a chat. "I bet you're mad that I threw fastballs to four straight guys" he says. The manager, being a wise fellow, says "Of course not, but I will be if there's a fifth."

It doesn't make someone a fool to try a proven strategy and get beaten. Refusing to realize when the gig is up does.

Wednesday night made it perfectly clear that the GOP and McCain team are 100% invested in Rovian politics. Sarah Palin – a creationist, book-banning, anti-gay, abstinence-only (it works!), scandal-ridden, virulently anti-abortion nobody – is not, as initially suggested, on the ticket to appeal to moderates and disaffected Hillaryites. She is a big piece of red meat to hard-right social conservatives whose choice is not Obama vs. McCain, but McCain vs. Staying Home. As the Dobsons and Hagees of the world were decidedly lukewarm on McCain, Palin is on the ticket to let them rationalize supporting the GOP ticket (given McCain's ambivalence to outright liberalism on "important" social issues).

If they were interested in moderates, they'd have gone with McCain (already appealing to that segment) and Romney, or Pawlenty, or any other predictable choice. Palin is the Rove strategy in action: screw independents, just turn out the Evangelicals and everything will be fine. That was a great strategy in 2000, and it worked again in 2002 and 2004 (see the Frontline episode "The Jesus Factor"), right? So why not try it again? Well, it didn't work so well in 2006. And Rove et al, in their hubris, wildly overestimated the effect and future prospects of Evangelical pandering. What put Bush over the top in 2000 and 2004 were suburban Republicans who like tax cuts and aggressive foreign policy. And "independents" who were drawn to the GOP based on security/terrorism concerns. Well, the party lost the high ground on foreign policy expertise in Iraq and the failing economy has a lot of voters wondering if McCain's admitted ignorance on that subject is what we need.

So with Palin the die is cast. McCain has gambled everything on the Rove Plan yet again – get the social far right really excited and turned out in large numbers. They persist in the belief that this is enough to win elections. Getting throttled in 2006 apparently did little to shake their faith. Good. I subscribe to the theory that, when one's opponent is engaged in self-destructive behavior, it is unwise to interrupt. As David Frum notes, maybe the gamble will work and maybe it won't; if it does,

"When someone takes the rent money and puts it on black at the roulette table, and it comes up black, we don’t say “Wow! What a terrific piece of judgment.”

**(This relatively well-known Latin expression is frequently misinterpreted. "The die is cast" is the correct translation, but it does not refer to a die of the type used to cast metal objects. It refers to casting die in games of chance, i.e. when a gambler casts the die in a game of craps, the point of no return has been passed.)