Read her lips

The Post had a really cool feature on Friday in which experts analyzed the facial expressions and body language of the leading candidates for President, compelete with videos for you to see what they were talking about.  Without citing it by name, the analysis seemed to rely heavily on a classic political psychology experiment of about 20 years ago by Sullivan and Masters.  The experimenters showed clips of candidates giving speeches without sound and the viewers emotional response based purely on watching the candidates was much more predictive of their attitudes towards the candidate than any political factors. 

Hillary Clinton gets especially high marks in the Post analysis— perhaps partially explaning why she seems to be doing so well.  Check out the whole thing.

Negative Ads– Republican Style

In Virginia, they are gearing up for the biannual House of Delegates (the VA legislature) races.  One Northern Virginia delegate seems to have taken negative ads to a new low– using blog comments against his opponent:

RICHMOND, Sept. 21 — A Republican state legislator from Fairfax County
has launched an attack ad on cable TV against his Democratic opponent
that features unidentified, unverified quotes from a blog.

The ad by Del. Timothy D. Hugo points to a new form of negative
campaigning in which information for an attack ad is sourced to
comments posted on the Internet instead of more authoritative sources
such as news reports or public records.

Ads that quote from blogs, on which it is often difficult to identify
the author, represent a benchmark in increasingly negative political
campaigns, several political analysts said.

“This is one of the places where the old way of doing politics and
the new way is coming into conflict,” said David Weinberger, a research
fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.
“We have developed a blogosphere that is full of lively debate . . .
but at the same time we have political marketers who will use anything
they can to advance their own cause.”

In Hugo's ad, a narrator recounts what “others are saying” about
Simmons. As quotes flash across the screen, the narrator says Simmons
is “running the most cowardly campaign I have ever seen” and “has been
lying to voters the entire campaign.”

Its one thing to take things from newspapers out of context, as is traditionally done, but quoting anonymous blog comments has all the credibility of running something in an ad attributed to “my neighbor up the street.”  Alas, the weaknesses of human information processing being what they are, I suspect that this technique will be successful in getting many voters to have a negative impression of Simmons.  I suppose we can expect more of this in the future.  And yes, probably from Democrats, too, but it is worth noting that a Republican is the first to take this particularly low road. 

Why are Republicans afraid of minority voters?

Sure, because not many are going to vote Republican, but is such disrespect really necessary.  After all but McCain refused to participate in a Latino-focused debate hosted by Univision, now nearly all of them are refusing to participate in a debate at an Historically Black College.  Republicans not afraid of minorities, aren't so happy:

Key Republican leaders are encouraging the party's presidential
candidates to rethink their decision to skip presidential debates
focusing on issues important to minorities, fearing a backlash that
could further erode the party's standing with black and Latino voters.

The leading contenders for the Republican nomination have indicated
they will not attend the “All American Presidential Forum” organized by
black talk show host Tavis Smiley, scheduled for Sept. 27 at Morgan State University in Baltimore and airing on PBS. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) all cited scheduling conflicts in forgoing the debate. The top Democratic contenders attended a similar event in June at Howard University.

“We sound like we don't want immigration; we sound like we don't want black people to vote for us,” said former congressman Jack Kemp (N.Y.), who was the GOP
vice presidential nominee in 1996. “What are we going to do — meet in
a country club in the suburbs one day? If we're going to be competitive
with people of color, we've got to ask them for their vote.”

Making matters worse, some Republicans believe, is that the decision to
bypass the Morgan State forum comes after all top GOP candidates save
McCain declined invitations this month to a debate on Univision, the
most-watched Hispanic television network in the United States. The
event was eventually postponed.

“For Republicans to consistently refuse to engage in front of an
African American or Latino audience is an enormous error,” said former
House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who has not yet ruled out a White House
run himself. “I hope they will reverse their decision and change their
schedules. I see no excuse — this thing has been planned for months,
these candidates have known about it for months. It's just
fundamentally wrong. Any of them who give you that scheduling-conflict
answer are disingenuous. That's baloney.”

Not often I agree with Newt, but he's right on this one.  What strikes me as incredibly pathetic is that they obviously fear that participating in the Univision debate will make them look pro-illegal immigrant.  This would clearly seem to demonstrate the xenophobia and racism that is at the heart of so much of the anti-immigration sentiment among the Republican base. 

The sacrifices of the Romneys

When asked about the sacrifices that Romney's own family was making in light of the war in Iraq, he mentioned the sacrifices his sons had made to be on the campaign trail with him.  Slate has an absolutely brilliant video satire (you'll need to wait through a brief ad).  

Evolutionary Morality

Fascinating article in this week's Science Times about the evolutionary basis for human morality.  In short, across human societies, actions that are bad for the in-group (however defined in that circumstance) are evil and behaviors that benefit the group are good.  Interestingly, in many societies respect for authority and a sense of purity are seen as moral values, but not so much in the United States.  Psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests a provocative political dimension:

They found that people who identified themselves as liberals
attached great weight to the two moral systems protective of
individuals ? those of not harming others and of doing as you would be
done by. But liberals assigned much less importance to the three moral
systems that protect the group, those of loyalty, respect for authority
and purity.

Conservatives placed value on all five moral systems
but they assigned less weight than liberals to the moralities
protective of individuals.

Dr. Haidt believes that many
political disagreements between liberals and conservatives may reflect
the different emphasis each places on the five moral categories.

attitudes to contemporary art and music. Conservatives fear that
subversive art will undermine authority, violate the in-group?s
traditions and offend canons of purity and sanctity. Liberals, on the
other hand, see contemporary art as protecting equality by assailing
the establishment, especially if the art is by oppressed groups.

Dr. Haidt, who describes himself as a moderate liberal, says that
societies need people with both types of personality. ?A liberal
morality will encourage much greater creativity but will weaken social
structure and deplete social capital,? he said. ?I am really glad we
have New York and San Francisco ? most of our creativity comes out of
cities like these. But a nation that was just New York and San
Francisco could not survive very long. Conservatives give more to
charity and tend to be more supportive of essential institutions like
the military and law enforcement.?

There are some interesting dissenting viewpoints, but if you are interested enough in them, I'll let you read the whole article

Petraeus and Moveon

Duke Political Science Professor and Bush Administration hack (and my undergraduate adviser for one meeting in 1991), had a ridiculous column last week comparing to McCarthyites.  You can read the whole thing here.  My brief response made it to today's N&O, which you can read here:

Though Peter Feaver (Point of View, Sept. 12) would surely argue that
he is addressing an important issue in the Iraq debate, his ridiculous
comparison of MoveOn to McCarthyites is little more than a distraction
to the central issues facing our country regarding Iraq.

I will admit
that MoveOn's reference to “General Betray Us” was over the line, but
unlike McCarthy, a strong case can be made that its criticisms were
based in truth. By bringing up such a loaded term (why not just call
MoveOn Nazis?) Feaver aims to distract from the very legitimate
criticisms that Petraeus has become hopelessly politicized by the White

From exclusive interviews to Fox News to adopting the
White House's demonstrably false pattern of referring to all the enemy
in Iraq as al-Qaeda, to cherry-picking statistics on violence, Petraeus
has clearly shown a willingness to adapt to the political aims of the
Bush administration.

Feaver's political science expertise would
be better put to explaining the problem of senior military officials
becoming politicized than toward overblown critiques from MoveOn.

Global Dimming

I caught the last half of a very intriguing NOVA on PBS last week.  Apparently, global warming would actually be a lot worse but for the fact that all the particulate matter pollution in the atmosphere is actually serving to dim the amount of solar energy we receive (global dimming) thereby cooling the earth and counteracting global warming to some degree.  The bad news?  We've been much better at eliminating particulate matter (which causes numerous deaths and health problems from its respiratory effects) than we are at reducing Carbon Dioxide.  In other words, we may very well have underestimated the impact of global warming due to previously unaccounted for global dimming and as particulate matter is increasingly eliminated, global warming will only become worse.  Bummer. 

That damn liberal media, part MDCXI

In reading the Times' story on Hillary Clinton's health care proposal yesterday, I was struck by the following passage:

“Republican candidates acknowledge problems in the health care system
but would rely more than Mrs. Clinton and the other Democrats on the
market, the states and tax credits to resolve them.”

This is an incredibly disingenuous passage.  To say that the Republicans acknowledge problems in the health care system is to say that a driver has acknowledged he may need a tune-up and oil change when his engine has fallen out in the road.  Republican politicians largely gloss over our problems and to the extent they admit them, they simply do not offer serious policy proposals to fix them.  To suggest that in any way, Republican plans to rely on “the market, the states, and tax credits” to resolve problems with out health care system is at all analogous to Democrats' proposed health care reforms is to egregiously misrepresent the issue to readers.  Does the Times have a liberal bias?  Of course, not.  Rather its bias is towards a false pretense of objectivity that serves to actively misinform its readers just so nobody reading the article can claim they have a liberal bias.  The losers?  The American public. 

If you can take subtitles

Its been a while since I've been moved to share my thoughts on any particular movie.  I realize that subtitles aren't for everyone, but if you don't mind them, the German film, “The Lives of Others,” is surely the best movie I have seen this year.  It is set in East Berlin in 1984 and tells of the surveillance by the Stasi– East Germany's notorious secret police– of a playwright and his girlfriend.  All the characters struggle with difficult moral choices in a tense story that increasingly pulls the viewer in.  Great stuff. 

Lion, tigers, and socialized medicine, Oh My!

Hillary Clinton released her health care plan today and by all accounts of those who understand the need for universal health care, the plan make sense both policy-wise and politically.  What really amused me was seeing Mitt Romney's response on the news tonight.  As governor of Massachusetts, Romney actually enacted a universal plan for his state not all that dissimilar from Clinton's plan.  Of course, as Romney saw it, there was nothing in common, and “Hillarycare” represented “socialized medicine.”  For years now, Republicans have been throwing around this “socialized medicine” trope every time Democrats bring up the fact that universal coverage is actually much more sensible and efficient policy.  I am really curious as to just how effective this attack is.  That is, of course, an empirical question to which I don't know the answer, but I just might do a database search and see if anybody's addressed it.  I am truly curious as to all the people who run screaming from “socialized medicine.”  Are they hard core conservatives who would never vote Democratic anyone, or is this an effective appeal for Independents and weak Democrats?  Of course, I would remiss if I failed to mention that none of the Democrats' plans are socialized medicine.  That is where the government actually owns and operates the health care industry– e.g., Great Britain where doctors are employees of the state.  No one here is proposing anything remotely similar to that.  But hey, if it scares voters, why not confuse the issue.  

Al Qaeda in Iraq

If there is any doubt of the degree to which Petraeus has politicized himself, one need look no further than his adoption of the White House's rhetoric on Al Qaeda (video from TPM here).  The simple truth, to those of us paying attention, is that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) 1) had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, they've just borrowed the brand name, and; 2) AQI represents quite a small portion of the enemy our troops are facing in Iraq.  Andrew Tighman has a great cover story in Washington Monthly that demonstrates how even the 15% estimate by the government is quite overblown– and if it is only 15%, why is Petraeus talking about “Al Qaeda” so disproportionately, if not just to scare ignorant Americans?.

Borrowed thoughts on 9/11

Ezra Klein had a terrific post today on 9/11.  Its brief and spot-on, so I'm just going to borrow it in its entirety:

You know, I felt a bit conflicted about writing this post. What you
want to do is remember an awful crime. What you end up doing is
invoking a Republican talking point. As Gary Kamiya wrote,
“President Bush used the attacks to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq.
And he has been using 9/11 ever since to scare Americans into
supporting his 'war on terror.' He has incessantly linked the words
'al-Qaida' and 'Iraq,' a Pavlovian device to make us whimper with fear
at the mere idea of withdrawing. In a recent speech about Iraq, he
mentioned al-Qaida 95 times. No matter that jihadists in Iraq are not
the same group that attacked the U.S., or that their numbers and
effectiveness have been greatly exaggerated. It's no surprise that Gen.
David Petraeus' 'anxiously awaited' evaluation of the war is to be
given on the 10th and 11th of September.”

9/11 has been robbed of its significance. It no longer lights
up the neurons recalling an American tragedy, but those that understand
political strategy. I hate them for that. So this isn't a 9/11
remembrance. We've never been allowed to forget 9/11. Not for an
instant. What we have been allowed to forget is 2,974 individuals who
perished in that attack,who didn't die because they wanted to invade
Iraq, or because they thought Republicans were insufficiently
competitive in elections, but because they were murdered. Remember

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