BREAKING NEWS: DATA IS MORE ACCURATE THAN MAKING SHIT UP

Posted in Election 2012 on November 8th, 2012 by Ed

It's not pleasant to watch amateurs try their hand at your profession. If you're a doctor or nurse it must be difficult to watch "medical dramas" like E.R. because, well, you'd be distracted constantly by how ridiculous and inaccurate it is. The phrase "That's not how it really works!" would be at the tip of your tongue throughout. Ditto for lawyers watching procedural crime dramas, and so on. Sure, you can accept that fiction involves a good deal of artistic license but you also want everyone to know that, no, doctors don't really do things like House does.

The last six months have been excruciating for me at times because during elections a lot of people talk about polling. There are not many things I know well enough to approach the level of "expert", but public opinion data and its collection is one. A few people understand it vaguely and have some combination of knowledge and folk wisdom. Most people, to put it mildly, do not know the theory and methods of polling from their ass from a hole in the ground. The great thing about politics, though, is that everyone's an expert. Aided by college dropouts with AM Radio talk shows and ineptly designed websites, it turns out that people are more than willing to lecture us on how polling really works. I am so grateful to all the people who have tried to explain it to me this year.

And so we had a campaign season full of gems like "Unskewed Polls" that corrected an imaginary flaw in polling methodology, producing some outstanding predictions in the process.

People who could not explain the concepts of random sampling, weighting, or confidence intervals to save their souls were eagerly spreading the news that they had figured out how the Liberal Media was rigging the system to hide the latent popularity of one Willard Romney. They're stuffing the samples with Democrats to prop up the Usurper! Spread the news!

I certainly understood this narrative; when losing an election, campaigns must do something to keep the base fired up, to convince them that the odds of success are higher than they are. I get it. You don't want people to give up. "We think the election is closer than the polls indicate" is not an uncommon or inappropriate sentiment in elections. However, on Tuesday evening it became clear that this was something else. Rather than a white lie one tells to keep up appearances, the idea that all of the polls (except, curiously, Rasmussen's dreck showing Romney in the lead) are wrong is something these people internalized. They made the timeless error of believing their own bullshit.

Because the originators of the Skewed Theory were careful to decorate it with all the trappings of pseudoscience and half-assed logic, many Republicans appear to have believed it. It is precisely the kind of thing that stupid people think sounds really intelligent. This is why we saw so many Republicans crushed – positively despondent, even – on Tuesday evening in an election that every available data point predicted would unfold exactly as it did. To see the stunned, shocked, and horrified looks on the faces of the Fox News on-air personalities was legitimately surprising to me. Did all of these people, some of whom are quite highly educated, honestly believe this ludicrous ration of shit they were serving these viewers? Did they really not know that Romney was going to lose?

I am not using hyperbole here. Taking the median of the aggregated statewide polls correctly predicted the presidential election outcome in 50 out of 50 states. Not 45. Not 49. Fifty. It also nailed 31 of the 32 Senate races. The right's new favorite target for their adolescent bullying, Nate Silver, basically got every last goddamn thing about this election right.

Watching Karl Rove's complete meltdown on Fox, during which even the other Fox people openly told him he was insane and suggested (seriously) that he get psychological help, highlights the key to understanding all of this: the complete inability of Republicans and conservatives in general to accept reality. Namely the reality that A) lots of people like Barack Obama, B) most of us do not see the world as Republicans see it, and C) Obama could actually, legitimately be the President of the United States. It simply can't be true. There must be some explanation (Occam's Razor be damned) that explains it. And they will keep searching until they find it.

Republicans who were stunned on Tuesday were stunned for only one reason: they refused to believe the facts right in front of them and instead chose to believe a bunch of nonsense they made up to suit their ideological preferences. We are now on a string of five elections – 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 – that were predicted with almost pinpoint accuracy by pre-election polling. Polling is accurate. In fact it is getting almost creepily accurate. The people who conduct polls know what they're doing, and the people who interpret them do not need the insight and wisdom of Karl Rove or "QStarNews". We will go through this song and dance again in 2016, when everyone will have forgotten that the polls weren't so Skewed after all and the same nonsense will be trotted out in service of the next Republican who isn't performing as well in reality as he is in the imaginations of his supporters.

ELECTION 2012: PLEASE GOD JUST MAKE IT STOP

Posted in Election 2012 on November 6th, 2012 by Ed

This post will be updated throughout the evening as the election unfolds. Use the comments to discuss and share. All times are Central Time.

5:43 PM – 1% of the vote is in from rural Kentucky and it looks like a Romney landslide. Obama's finished.

7:00 PM – Obama has an early lead in Florida of over 100,000 and he's been holding it steady for about 45 minutes. If he wins Florida, you can go to bed.

7:56 PM – I truly appreciate the thought, but maybe don't host an election party if you have neither cable nor internet.

8:06 PM – Well the fantasy about Michigan being close was short-lived.

8:12 PM – Looks like this might actually come down to Ohio, where Obama appears to be performing quite well.

8:23 PM – Republican House, Democratic Senate, and possibly Obama being re-elected. A $7 billion election that changes absolutely nothing. Awesome.

9:27 PM – We're just in a great big holding pattern here. If I was conspiracy minded I would suspect that the networks are doing what they can to drag this out.

9:36 PM – NH is the first of the four key swing states with a declared winner. Romney's window is starting to shrink.

9:51 PM – Romney's margin of error continues to shrink. Florida might end up being so close that we have a meaningful recount. But in Ohio, Obama is in the catbird's seat.

10:07 PM – With Wisconsin called and Florida's uncounted votes in Dade and Broward, Romney's done. Look at the crowd at Romney HQ. Looks like a morgue. They know.

10:13 PM – Everyone turn to Fox News! Don't miss Brit Hume committing hara-kiri.

10:16 PM – This is over. Florida will recount and it won't matter.

10:25 PM – FOX News pundits now outlining series of compromises winner of second straight election must make to Republicans.

10:39 PM – This post-election commentary on CNN is fucking mind-numbing. MOVE TO CENTER! MOVE TO CENTER! GERGEN SMASH!

THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE

Posted in Election 2012 on November 5th, 2012 by Ed

The worst thing that can happen Tuesday has nothing to do with either candidate winning. It is the possibility of having no idea who won for several weeks until the Federal courts step in and tell us who will be president. Most of the electorate is old enough to recall experiencing this in 2000, and it's not unduly alarmist to ask if having two out of four elections resolved outside of the democratic process in a twelve-year span – thanks largely to state-level manipulation of the pawns pool of eligible voters by Secretaries of State – would have serious consequences for a country in which political trust and efficacy are already at historically low levels.

So, my concern is not who wins as much as, "How can we avoid having to wonder about who wins?" For reasons that will soon become apparent, the short, vague answer to that question is that one candidate (most likely Obama, based on the current aggregate polling) must cross 270 electoral votes without Ohio. Because there's a very good chance that Ohio won't figure out who won for a couple of weeks at best. Why? Well, first we need some backstory.

After the 2004 elections in which long lines at polling places were a serious problem in Ohio, the SoS at the time decided to offer no-questions-asked absentee balloting. Every registered voter got an application to request one. More than 1,300,000 absentee ballots were requested and mailed out for 2012. Over 1,100,000 have already been returned. But that means that around 200,000 haven't. Stay with me here. Anyone who requested an absentee ballot but does not use it can vote if they show up at their polling place on Tuesday, but they receive a provisional ballot. These ballots are sealed in an envelope and left uncounted until it can be proven that the person did not already vote – for example, by mailing their absentee ballot on Monday, then trying to vote in person on Tuesday. To give ample time for all absentee ballots to arrive by mail, Ohio law states that provisional ballots cannot be counted until 10 days after the election.

To summarize: there could be 100,000-200,000 provisional ballots cast and the state cannot even begin to count them until Nov. 16 at the absolute earliest. If either candidate holds a narrow lead, those provisional ballots could well determine the winner. So we will have to wait. And wait. And wait.

And then eventually the courts will end up resolving the issue. Why? Because Ohio's current SoS is a partisan hack who has decided to defy a Federal court order and issue provisional balloting rules stating that the voter, not the poll worker, is responsible for recording information about the form of ID the voter used when voting in person. As one of the attorneys involved in the copious lawsuits already being filed states:

"The bottom line is that (Secretary of State Jon Husted) designed a form that violates Ohio law by improperly shifting to voters the poll workers' information-recording responsibilities regarding ID to voters, and then he wants to trash votes where there is a problem with the form on the section he misassigned to voters," said Cleveland attorney Subodh Chandra, who filed the motion

In short, Husted is trying to create a reason to discard provisional ballots. To throw them out on a technicality, assuming that some people won't fill out the forms properly. It's the 2012 version of the hanging chad, only the courts have already ruled what he is trying to do illegal.

So. How do we avoid having to care about Ohio on Tuesday night? Because if we need Ohio to determine the winner, we are in for a three-ring circus of unpleasantly long duration. The good news is that there are plausible scenarios that could make Ohio irrelevant. Here's what to watch for on Election Night.

The three key states are New Hampshire, Colorado, and Nevada. Before I launch into the explanation, let me clarify some of the assumptions. I have been as generous to Romney as possible in this scenario, giving him Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina. If Obama wins any one of those three, Romney is basically toast. But I'm going to assume for the moment that Romney wins them and we are faced with an extremely tight race to 270. Even coloring those three large states red, if Obama wins NH, CO, and NV then he cannot lose even if he loses Ohio. Consider a map with those states and Ohio omitted:

In this scenario, Obama is at 253 and Romney at 248. Nevada will almost certainly be Obama's (+6) but the polling is remarkably close in NH (+4) and CO (+9). Winning both would put Obama at 272. Game, set, match.

By winning those three, the only way Obama could lose is if Romney pulls off a surprise/miracle win someplace like Michigan or Pennsylvania. Obama can win without all three – this would require winning Ohio – but Romney cannot win without taking at least one (New Hampshire seems the most likely).

The last NH polls close at 8:00 EST. Colorado wraps things up at 9:00 EST, and Nevada at 10:00 EST. So prepare to be up late, although Obama's poll lead in Nevada is outside of the margin of error and it might be the least competitive of the three.

All other Romney victory scenarios involve the aggregate pre-election polling being wrong by a mile. In the last few elections that has not been the case. To conjure up Romney wins in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Pennsylvania requires the assumption that legions of his supporters have been hiding in those states for months, untouched by the polling process. In fact the exact opposite is more likely to be true since older, whiter people tend to be oversampled (and right-leaning). Regardless, I think one of the best outcomes we can have on Tuesday is to have an outcome; not to have another election decided by corrupt, incompetent local election officials and unelected judges.

DEBATE 2: THE RE-DEBATENING

Posted in Election 2012, Quick Hits on October 17th, 2012 by Ed

A couple of rapid reactions:

1. If the last 20 minutes were not a shitshow, they'll do until the shitshow gets here. They have got to find some way to effectively moderate these things if they are to be anything other than entertainment. That AK-47 question was an immediate and obvious shark-jumping point.

2. Romney is so stiff and robotic and prone to saying ridiculous things when he is not in a structured environment. And Obama's the one who needs a teleprompter? He manages not to tell half the country to suck it or say things like "binders full of women" when he's improvising.

3. Mittens did alright for someone whose primary strategy is to lie and hope it goes unchallenged, but he had two absolute shit-the-bed moments: the Libya question and the "How are you different than George Bush" thing. On Libya he ended up standing there with an "Um…" look on his face after he tried to press a "what he said and when he said it" point that he was wrong about. Bad preparation. On the Bush thing, Romney's response was not bad but Obama's rejoinder was an uppercut:

There are some areas where Gov. Romney is different than George Bush. George Bush didn't support turning Medicare into a voucher program. George Bush supported comprehensive immigration reform. George Bush didn't oppose contraception.

I believe Ice Cube said it best: No Vaseline, just a match and a little bit of gasoline.

4. The internet is getting to be a terrifying place with respect to its ability to create memes in near real time. The mad rush to register "bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com" must have been goddamn epic, an electronic version of the chariot race in Ben-Hur. The Facebook page had 100,000 "likes" in about five minutes after he said it. Also, "I have binders full of women" isn't a very good phrase to use when fighting the misconception that Mormons are polygamous. See #2.

5. Romney really hates birds. And poor people.

6. He sounds like a total moron talking about China. All the sudden he's what, Mitt Romney the Protectionist? Bitch, please.

7. I didn't realize until last night that Mitt was a small businessman.

8. Remember, it probably doesn't matter.

YOUR MOVE

Posted in Election 2012 on October 11th, 2012 by Ed

The most surprising thing about Mitt Romney since he began laying the groundwork for his 2012 campaign way back in 2009 is just how poor his political skills have been. You'd expect a guy who managed to win a major statewide election in a liberal state to have, if not master-level political skills, at least basic competence. You would not expect to see a guy whose campaign has been a comedy of errors, who so regularly shoots himself in the foot with his own words, or who seems so unable to articulate some kind of coherent message. You might not care for his politics, but you would at least expect Mitt Romney to be a good politician.

Until recently, we've seen nothing of the sort. But I really have to tip my hat to him as a lifelong fan of politics for his performance in the first debate. He and his advisors clearly prepared him thoroughly, went in with a tactical strategy (jump on every question like a coked-up squirrel before Obama can run with it), and executed a political strategy. That political strategy is more long term and forward thinking than anything we've seen from the Romney campaign since…ever, really. It's an amoral, cynical strategy, of course, but they finally came up with one and pulled it off.

The strategy I'm referring to, of course, is to lie copiously. I'm being serious and not giving him a backhanded compliment here. As a campaign and candidate trying to win the election, they made a rational choice that is working out perfectly for them thus far. It may not be enough, but no one can say he didn't make Obama sweat even in victory.

Fact-checkers went at Romney like a pack of starving dogs would greet a man wearing a suit made of ham. Romney's people calculated, of course, that A) most Americans don't give a shit about fact checkers, thanks to a heavy dose of confirmation bias, and B) far more people will read or hear what he said in the debate than any corrections, responses, or fact-checks that come in its wake. There is a clear first mover advantage in a campaign and they took advantage of it.

Here is an example. Romney stated that Obama doubled the deficit upon taking office. This is, by any possible interpretation of the facts, false. It's just not true. Not even close. The most basic advantage is that he moved first – what did Twain say about a lie traveling around the world twice while the truth is still tying its shoes? – but it gets even better. In the wake of the debate, the Obama people have (justifiably) accused Romney of lying copiously about their candidate.

This is actually exactly what Romney was aiming for. It has two benefits for him. First, it makes Obama spend a week trying to refute things that he didn't adequately respond to during the debate. Second, it has made the Obama campaign repeatedly accuse him of lying. And that kind of accusation, the Beltway media are quick to remind us, is not what the American people want to hear. Can't Obama do anything but say "You're lying" to Romney? How uncivil. He must be ashamed of his own record. He's going negative. Etcetera. Can't you just picture the Davids (Brooks or Gergen) saying that as a panel of comatose "contributors" solemnly nod in agreement? Tsk tsk, Mr. President.

Maybe I'm giving him too much credit and this was all just an accident. Even blind squirrels find the occasional acorn. However, if this was intentional it was brilliant. I don't want to imply that Obama naively waltzed into a trap – certainly the campaign has to say "They claimed this about us, and it was a lie." You can't just sit there and take it. But the post-debate response played right into Romney's hands, because he and his campaign understand the bias toward mushy centrism and being Nice in our political journalism. Nothing sounds less civil than saying "You're a liar", so they figured out a simple way to make Obama say it a hundred times in a week.

Well played, Willard.

NEXT NARRATIVE

Posted in Election 2012 on October 1st, 2012 by Ed

It's hard to fault the Romney campaign for their attempts at spin and damage control, which are right in line with what we would expect from a campaign fighting the perception that it is circling the drain. We hear these same narratives in every election except for the very closest: it's closer than you think, the media is biased, Mitt's gonna turn it around at the debates, there's plenty of time left, etc etc. They've spent the last week running wild with the conspiracy theory that every poll is biased (including those at Fox News, apparently, in which Obama's numbers are higher than in polls from rival Lamestream media outlets) without thinking much, if at all, about how desperate that sounds. As much as it makes my skin crawl to listen to people who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground talk about polling methodology – really, I think I need a Xanax prescription if I have to listen to Newt Gingrich talk about "oversampling" any more – this is a predictable part of the election when one campaign has its lips clamped around the tailpipe.

Wednesday night after the debate we will hear both campaigns declare an overwhelming victory and Team Mittens declaring that the race is "tightening". Of course every bit of available evidence tells us that the debates are essentially meaningless, with low ratings, low comprehension, and an audience that has largely made up its mind already. Barring a spectacular foul-up by one of the candidates – Obama waving a Koran around while beheading Michael Phelps, for example, or Mitt Romney opening his mouth and talking – they simply aren't going to change anything. Conveniently, this leads us to the next really irritating and nonsensical narrative: Why can't Obama "put Romney away"? Isn't Romney proving his mettle by "hanging in there" despite everything working against it?

This will be lapped up enthusiastically by the media, as this is first and foremost a ratings play and they have a vested interest in convincing viewers that the election is extremely close. That it is profoundly stupid will not deter anyone. It is never explained how it is feasible for one candidate to "finish" the other given the reality that it's impossible to win before the election happens, nor is it explained how the leading candidate is supposed to poll like 60% given the current composition of the electorate. It is accurate to say anything can happen – True, but not everything that can happen is plausible or likely – but quite silly to claim that because Mittens is trailing consistently rather than by a growing margin over time he is somehow achieving something or building positive momentum.

That won't stop anyone from making such claims, of course, because the narrative has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with a floundering campaign searching for positives and unafraid to grasp at straws. Any bets on the first campaign surrogate or right-wing pundit to use some variant of "Why can't Obama put Romney away?" or "Romney's hangin' in there"? Smart money's on Chris Christie, since the campaign appears to be turning to him whenever they need someone who lacks shame to mouth the company line of the day.

CONFIDENCE INTERVAL

Posted in Election 2012 on September 19th, 2012 by Ed

Over the years I have been and continue to be averse to making predictions. There simply are too many variables in play to accurately predict the outcome of close races (the uncompetitive ones are another story, obviously). We're unsure of turnout, the accuracy of polls, and the motivations of what few voters remain undecided in an election like the current presidential race. As a point of ego, I'm also hesitant about making predictions that will turn out to be wrong and make me look foolish. That said, every election I end up taking a stab at it. With or against my better judgment.

On the heels of the Mitt Romney Realtalk secret video hitting the news cycle on Monday evening, it is time to ask the obvious question: Is there any way that Mitt Romney can win this election? His ineptness as a candidate is almost difficult to believe, and every week he says or does something to prove that he is exactly what his critics say he is – a wildly out of touch multimillionaire pandering to whatever audience is put before him. He is a real-life Richie Rich, a guileless man of great privilege with zero charisma and to whom non-wealthy Americans (and a lot of the wealthy ones, for that matter) cannot relate in the slightest.

When the McCain campaign threw in the towel on Election Night 2008, I clearly recall their spokesperson telling reporters that the campaign was looking at the electoral map and "could no longer see a path to victory." I am beginning to feel the same way about Romney. There are scenarios in which he wins, of course, but they are looking more and more like they lie outside of the 95% confidence interval. We have a campaign that, in all honesty, has probably been a good bet to lose for the last few months and the only thing they are accomplishing as time passes is to make more mistakes and fall farther behind. If Romney was looking like toast last week, what's he going to look like after the latest "Whoops!" in his comedy of errors?

The winning scenarios for Romney at this point rely on leaps of faith and downright implausible conditions. To conclude that he's in good shape or primed to win requires assuming that:

1. The polls are flat out wrong, even though in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010 the pre-election polls were damn near perfect.
2. Some improbable turnout event will take place, i.e. that millions of Democrats will suddenly decide not to vote for some reason.
3. Romney will make up substantial ground in the debates, which very few people even watch and which research shows quite conclusively rarely change any viewers' minds unless one of the candidates has a colossal meltdown.
4. Obama is far more unpopular than the data suggest. Certainly his approval rating is not high, but neither is it in the 20% range like a certain former president's was during the 2008 race.
5. Romney has enough charisma and political skills to win over any potential voters beyond the people who categorically loathe Obama and would vote for literally anyone who the GOP nominated to oppose him.

When coming up with victory scenarios for a candidate requires this kind of magical thinking and this many "I mean, I suppose it could happen!" moments, we've gone beyond playing devil's advocate; we're working overtime trying to convince ourselves that the election is competitive. Yes, there are six weeks remaining and something could happen to tilt the race in Romney's favor. But for his sake it better happen soon and it better be Earth-shattering.

Basically this is the long way of saying: Under any set of reasonable, normal assumptions about voter turnout and other moving parts in the election, it looks extremely unlikely at this point that Mitt Romney can cobble together 270 Electoral Votes. Right now your odds at a slot machine are better than his odds of winning. I want to be conservative but I just don't see it. Whatever hope he may have had earlier this year appears to have been dashed under the sheer weight of his campaign's ineptitude.

MORE ROPE, PLEASE!

Posted in Election 2012 on September 16th, 2012 by Ed

In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain tells a terrific anecdote about being elected union steward for the enormous restaurant at the Rockefeller Center as a young man in the 1970s. If "New York" and "1970s" was not a big enough hint, it turns out that the organization appeared to be mob-run. Bourdain is young, idealistic, and eager to raise some hell in the union, but meeting the union rep leads to his disillusionment as he realizes that his new job is of the do-nothing variety:

(The Union President) was oddly unenthusiastic. He looked up sleepily at me from behind the desk, as if I were a delivery boy bringing him a sandwich. When I asked him if I could, as shop steward, familiarize myself with The Contract, so that I might better serve our members, the president fiddled with his cufflinks and said, "I seem to have…temporarily…misplaced it." It was clear from his inflection and posture that he didn't give a fuck whether I believed him or not.

I've always loved that final line and I think of this anecdote, apocryphal or not, every time I find myself in this frustrating situation. This tone is frequently encountered when dealing with bureaucracies or one's superiors in the workplace. They don't care if you believe them because they don't have to.

This came to mind when I read Saturday's unusually frank New York Times editorial ("Mitt Romney's Confession") on the fact that the Romney/Ryan economic plan (or "plan") simply doesn't add up.

There are a couple of pitfalls here. The first is that while closing loopholes sounds good — Make those oil companies pay! — the costliest ones are cherished by most Americans. These are tax provisions that promote home ownership, charitable giving, and employer-provided health care and that allow taxpayers to deduct their state and local income taxes. Limiting or eliminating these popular "loopholes" would be extremely difficult.

The second obstacle, as shown by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, is that Mr. Romney's plan is mathematically impossible, even if it were politically feasible. Take away every deduction from every wealthy household, the center calculated, and you still couldn’t make up the revenue the government would lose by reducing rates without raising taxes on middle-class households.

Not so, Mr. Romney protested recently, and cited an analysis by Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, a Romney campaign adviser. Mr. Feldstein said the math could work — if you took away every deduction from every household earning $100,000 or more.

In other words, the math might work out (although this isn't even touching the effects of the proposed Estate Tax repeal) under a set of hypothetical circumstances that is totally unrealistic and not even what the campaign is proposing. No one, least of all Mitt Romney, has proposed eliminating every single tax deduction, including the home mortgage interest deduction. But maybe if that happened his tax cuts would begin to pay for themselves. Probably not, though. It's like they're giving us the rope and begging us to hang him.

This is not, as the Times suggests with its title, a "confession" by the Romney campaign. It is evidence that the GOP has moved far beyond giving two shits whether you believe their silly supply side economics or not. They simply do not care and they're not going to waste their time trying to provide some kind of evidence that supports their theory. Neither they nor the voters they attract are interested in even pretending like tax cuts pay for themselves – excepting a few rubes here and there who make $8/hr and think the Job Creators' wealth is going to trickle down. They just want the tax cuts, period.

It may seem like more of the same policy proposals from the GOP – more tax cuts, more magical faith that the economy will suddenly start growing faster than expected to make their lazy projections balance out – but Romney/Ryan marks an important change. This is 2012, the Year They Stopped Trying. The effort to make the math work is so feeble and so pitifully unconvincing that the jig is up. The candidates aren't even pretending that this works, and the supporters aren't even pretending that they believe it does. Just give us more money. Who cares what it costs the rest of you.

In my mind the whole "This pays for itself!" argument was never more than a weak conscience balm for wealthy beneficiaries of Republican fiscal policy. This is typical, and I think symptomatic, of the problems with the Romney campaign that their effort to sell their economic policy (during an election, during a recession) is so superficial, so half-assed, and so clearly a case of going through the motions. It's nice to see an admission, albeit a tacit, indirect one, that Reaganomics can finally be recognized for what it is: an ideology. A belief. An article of faith. And above all, it is a placeholder. They need some way to pass off massive upper class tax cuts as "fiscally responsible" and this fairy tale does about as well as any other.

This is a guy who spends every weekend at his vacation home in an election he's losing with 7 weeks to go. No one should be surprised that he barely put any effort into maintaining his party's Grand Illusion.

DIVERSITY: AN ANCIENT WOODEN SHIP

Posted in Election 2012 on September 11th, 2012 by Ed

You're already aware that Bill Bennett is a stupid person, but he nonetheless manages to write things on a regular basis that make one step back and think, "Wow, Bill Bennett, you are a very stupid person." During the GOP Convention he wrote what I can only describe as a piece of blatant FJM bait, but it was too repetitive and silly to earn the honor. You see, Bill Bennett watched the Convention and walked away impressed at the diversity of the Republican Party.

I'll give you a second to collect yourselves. Then I'll be cruel and destroy your fragile equilibrium by subjecting you to his words:

When the Republican National Convention kicks off this week in Tampa, Florida, the nation will notice one thing before anything else: This is not your father's or grandfather's Republican Party. Rather, it's a party with leaders as diverse as the country it intends to represent.

Do you need another moment? Raise your hand if you did not think the phrase "not your father's Republican Party" was going to appear in the first paragraph.

Bennett listlessly rattles off some of the non-white convention speakers totally unaware of how much it makes him sound like an old white guy saying, "Look! We found a black!" With zero self awareness, Bennett does not appear to grasp how sad it is that the party had to drag out the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah because that is the highest position held by a black woman in the party. As for black men, well, they're not stupid enough to let Allen West go out there. In hindsight, I'm shocked that he didn't volunteer to sit in the chair for Eastwood. Might have helped Romney's numbers with African-Americans, currently hovering at statistical zero.

Despite the fact that Romney is doing terribly among women, Latinos, and basically anything that isn't White Guys and old people, the GOP has a some members from those demographics to bring out at convention time – a few female governors and some Teabagger-friendly Hispanic elected officials (or candidates like Ted Cruz). So yes, Bill Bennett is technically correct. The GOP speaker lineup featured more diversity than one might expect.

This is impressive only if you are someone (not unlike Bill Bennett) who doesn't understand the difference between diversity and tokenism, between a fairly representative cross-section of the party and a veneer painted on the outside of the box for the TV cameras. He correctly notes that there were more Hispanic speakers than usual, but how influential are they in the party? Are these Republican leaders who happen to be Hispanic or are they just whatever Hispanics the GOP could find? With an immigration policy to the right of the average drunken border militia, it's not like the party is actually doing anything to appeal to Hispanic voters. The same could be said of the female speakers. There are no women in leadership roles within the party or among Republicans in Congress. There are four female Republican Governors, one of whom (Jan Brewer) appears to normal people to be quite mentally ill. Again, the distinction between tokenism and diversity appears lost on Bennett.

The speaker list can be touted from here until kingdom come, but the pure, blinding Christian Whiteness of the convention audience says everything about a party that has shot itself in the foot with Hispanics by repeatedly appealing to anti-immigrant and nativist sentiments, done more to alienate women than the entire world supply of Tapout t-shirts, and has all the diversity of a modern soft drink commercial. That is, its "diversity" is superficial, heavily staged, and ultimately unconvincing. Any organization can comb its ranks from top to bottom and find an African-American woman or a few Hispanic people somewhere. Are they actually representative of the population within the group? Are they persons of legitimate influence and importance or were they trotted out by the old, white, male-dominated party leadership specifically so that the party did not look like the old, white sausagefest that it is? Rather than being pleased with its Potemkin Village of Diversity, the Party might want to worry that Romney's 25% support among Hispanics is the lowest for a Republican in 20 years, Obama's 20 point lead among women in key swing states, and the party's continued inability to appeal to any demographic that isn't shrinking rapidly with each passing year.

SCALING MOUNT AMBIVALENCE

Posted in Election 2012 on September 5th, 2012 by Ed

It is strange to think back to this time in 2008. I was at a political science convention in Boston just prior to the Republican convention, and it's difficult to describe how much the conference of 7,000 political scientists (normally a shockingly apolitical crowd – something about mixing business and pleasure) was buzzing about the election. It makes sense, as Labor Day and the conventions are the official kickoff of the general election phase of the campaigns. As reflected in the high (for Americans) rate of voter turnout, the level of interest in the 2008 election was both measurably and qualitatively high. People were interested in it. It was exciting.

It is an understatement to point out that the same dynamic is not present in 2012. This presidential election is shaping up as a re-do of 1996: two candidates no one really likes fighting not only to win your vote but also to make you feel like voting at all. The bloom is entirely off the Obama rose – too many broken promises, too much pandering to the right and "moderates", not enough firm resolve until re-election season grew near – and we could spend hours cataloging Romney's problems winning the interest and enthusiasm of his fellow Republicans. Turnout will almost certainly fall, and all of the signs of a pair of candidates desperate to get you to give one or more shits about this election are plain to see.

By now you have probably seen the smug news item about how "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" beat the GOP convention in TV ratings last Wednesday. That might be amusing, but the much more important statistic is that overall viewership of the convention was down a staggering 30-40% from 2008 – and remember that Republican enthusiasm for the nominee was not exactly in the stratosphere back then either. I'd caution everyone not to spend too much time guffawing at the poor ratings received by Romney and Friends; this week's convention may not do much better. How many people could honestly expect to hear anything new from Obama at this point? What audience the conventions do attract at this point is most likely drawn from the Preaching to the Converted pile.

It is possible that I am projecting my own considerable ambivalence and malaise toward this election, although I'm fairly certain that it has some basis in reality. An incumbent with a 45% approval rating is being challenged by a Massachusetts Mormon with no definable position on any major issues. This feels like an election to be tolerated, endured, or trudged through. Even the most zealous partisans appear to be drawing their enthusiasm mostly from hatred of The Other Guy rather than genuine fondness for their own candidate.

There are many problems with the idea that Obama won in 2008 because of a surge of new young and/or minority voters, principally the fact that Obama won every single demographic except white males over 40. While participation among young, black, or Latino voters did rise, he succeeded because he convinced a lot of the people who always vote to vote for him. You don't win Indiana as a Democrat simply by turning out a few more college kids. This is relevant because lower turnout won't necessarily imply bad news for Obama. Instead his problem is that the white lower-class voters that he managed to win in 2008 appear to have gone Full Teabag since then and they're unlikely to support him again.

Attempts at analysis aside, the most outstanding feature of this election so far seems to be how little attention we are paying to it as an electorate. My personal feelings are much closer to "Let's just get this goddamn thing over with" than any genuine curiosity or excitement about the outcome. The faithful of the respective parties are already decided. Undecideds are few and uncertain to the extent that they dislike both candidates. Sprinkle this whole mess with millions (billions?) pf SuperPac dollars that will be blown on annoying, sub-moronic advertising and you've got yourself a fine recipe for a campaign we will all be doing our damnedest to ignore while the candidates and media go through the motions.

(PS: Surely I have matured beyond recognition; I changed the original title, "Scaling Mount Who-Gives-a-Shit")