Clearing out the blog backlog

I have just been way too busy this past week… advising, media interviews, grading, state fair, in addition to all the usual demands, so there's lots of great stuff I just haven't blogged.  Each of these, I think, deserves their own full post.  But, rather than just let them disappear forever into the ether, I'll mention each in a bullet point:

  • John McCain has been talking a lot about how Obama wants to “spread the wealth around.”  It's called progressive taxation.  Its sensible.  And Matt Yglesias links to a nice video of John McCain defending it.
  • Newsweek this week makes the claim that we are a Right-leaning nation. Paul Waldman puts the lie to this all-too-common trope.  

Sorry, not to highlight the best parts in a full post, as I like to do, but hopefully you'll find at least some of these worth clicking through to.  I fear that I won't have a lot of time for blog posts till after the election– at which point all my best material will be used up.

Thoughts on Debate #3

I've read a lot of interesting commentary, of which I'd like to mention the best bits.  First, my own semi-original conclusion.  Matt Yglesias points out the fact that the pundits seemed to like John McCain's performance much more so than polls suggest ordinary voters did.  He points out, rightly I think, that McCain's inside baseball talk on things like sugar subsidies plays well to political junkies– of which pundits are, of course, a subset– but is right over the head of most Americans.  More importantly, though, are the visuals– that is body language, facial expression, etc.  In a great political science study that is now twenty years old, Dennis Sullivan and Roger Masters evaluated how voters responded to video clips of politicians with and without sound.  The key finding was that simply the visual cues in faces and body language were the most predictive of the subjects' attitudes.  So, in this case, I think it is pretty safe to say that Obama's calm, reassuring precense brought him the “win” over McCain's twitchy aggressiveness, regardless of what was actually said.  I think Kevin Drum has great related insight on this point:

Conventional pundit wisdom seems to accept that a vigorous attack shows
strength. But that's not true. Think of all the genuinely strong people
you've known in your life. What sets them apart is that they stay calm when other people are attacking.
McCain doesn't seem to get this, and neither do the conservatives who
were insisting that McCain needed to haul out the heavy artillery
tonight. Obama does…

Pundits really like fireworks, and they think sharp attacks show
strength and vitality. But the public, outside of the hardcore base on
both sides, mostly views them as petty and mean.

Truth is, though, there is pretty much nothing McCain could have done last night to truly change the race.  Obama could still do things to lose it, but there's nothing McCain can do to win it.

McCain is not running a bad campaign

One of the major themes of my media class is that political journalists constantly miss and overlook large, contextual factors in order to try and explain polling results, etc., with whatever the latest campaign event is.  Much like the fact that economic journalists always provide some reason the market went up or down instead of just being honest, i.e., day-to-day variations are almost entirely random (recent days withstanding, of course).  Think back, and ask yourself if you have ever heard/seen a losing candidate praised for the quality of their campaign.  Nope.  From the perspective of most political journalists, if a candidate is losing, it must be the inferior campaign.  What we can state pretty confidently from Political Science research, though, is that, for the most part, campaigns only make a difference at the margins. 

Barring some major “game-changing” event in the next couple weeks, John McCain is going to lose this election.  He is going to lose not because he needs a coherent message, has made strategic errors, is too negative, or whatever, he is going to lose because he is the nominee of the incumbent presidential party when that incumbent president has record low approval and an absolutely overwhelming majority of the public thinks the country is on the wrong track.  Throw in the fact that people are far and away most worried about the economy– an issue which tends to generically favor Democrats– and the larger political context is totally against John McCain.  He could very well run the perfect campaign and still lose. 

So, a short-hand for political journalists who get it versus those who don't.  Are they explaining John McCain's huge deficit in the polls by campaign events or the political context.  Of course, few get it any better than Ezra Klein (which is why is one of my two favorite sources for political analysis).  He had a nice Op-Ed this weekend on undecided voters that addressed a lot of this.  Some highlights:

It's a
bit odd that we give the Undecided Voter such a privileged place in
American elections. Because from a civic standpoint, few creatures are
as contemptible. This election has dominated every form of American
news media for the better part of two years. Newspapers, magazines,
networks, cable, radio, blogs, people on street corners with signs —
it's really been rather hard to miss. Further, it pits two extremely
different candidates against each other. Whether your metric is age,
ideology, temperament, race, funding sources, healthcare plans or Iraq
strategies, it would be hard to imagine two men presenting a starker
contrast.

But despite this, the Undecided Voter wakes up
each morning and says, in effect, “I dunno.” And the political system
panders to him….
In their paper, “Swing Voters? Hah!” political scientists Adam Clymer
and Ken Winneg amassed substantial data suggesting that very few
undecided voters are truly indecisive. Examining the 2004 election,
Clymer and Winneg found that even the most hard-core of undecided
voters were fairly predictable.

They asked the 4% of their
sample that claimed to be undecided to rate the two candidates in early
October. When they went back to the same people after the election,
more than 80% had in fact voted for whichever candidate they'd rated
most highly a month earlier.

But campaigns need something to do in September and October….

And here's the key Political Science point:

Campbell concludes by quoting Paul Lazarsfeld, a political scientist
from the 1940s who argued that campaigns are essentially over before
they have begun. The outcomes are structural — they are decided by
events and party identification and satisfaction with the incumbent and
other predictable indicators. Campaigns, he said, are “like the
chemical bath which develops a photograph. The chemical influence is
necessary to bring out the picture, but only the picture pre-structured
on the plate can come out.”

Acorn: “destroying the fabric of democracy”

John McCain is insane!  Is he serious?  ACORN destroying the fabric of “democracy” ?I won't say much other than to read my recent entry on the subject.  There is no voter fraud!!  There is voter registration fraud, but the difference between that and actual voter fraud is the difference between shoplifting and mass murder.

White working-class men

Great point from Matt Yglesias:

Matt Bai writes about
Barack Obama?s attempts ?to persuade working-class and rural white guys
that he is not the elitist, alien figure they may be inclined to think
he is.?

There?s nothing wrong with looking at that subject, of course. But
it?s curious to me that the press often seems to act as if
working-class (defined as lacking college degrees) white men get triple
votes or something. Slice the population up according to white and
non-white. According to male and female. And according to college and
non-college. Well, white people are more conservative than non-white
people. And male people are more conservative than female people. And
college graduates are less conservative than those who lack college
degrees. Thus, when you look at white men who haven?t graduated from
college, you?re looking at an extremely conservative group of
people relative to the population at large. When you add on additional
adjectives like ?gun-toting? and/or ?churchgoing? you?re looking at an
even more conservative subset of the population. At the end of the day,
it?s inevitable that a Democrat is going to lose this demographic.

It is not like we see a lot of articles about why McCain isn't doing better among urban professionals or among female minorities.  I'm half-tempted to do a Lexis search on the disproportionate focus on this demographic.

Acorn and vote fraud

I really should have a nice thorough blog post on all the ridiculous charges of vote fraud that Fox News and desperate right-wingers are throwing around these days.  I don't have time, but Josh Marshall has been all over the issue at TPM.  Here's a great post on the topic.  If you are not familiar with this, you really ought to read the whole thing.  Nonetheless, the highlights:

The Republican party is grasping on to the ACORN story as a way to
delegitimize what now looks like the probable outcome of the November
election. It is also a way to stoke the paranoia of their base, lay the
groundwork for legal challenges of close outcomes in various states and
promote new legal restrictions on legitimate voting by lower income
voters and minorities. The big picture is that these claims of 'voter
fraud' are themselves a fraud, a tool to aid in suppressing Democratic
voter turnout…

ACORN registers lots of lower income and/or minority voters. They
operate all across the country and do a lot of things beside voter
registration. What's key to understand is their method. By and large
they do not rely on volunteers to register voters. They hire people —
often people with low incomes or even the unemployed. This has the dual
effect of not only registering people but also providing some work and
income for people who are out of work. But because a lot of these
people are doing it for the money, inevitably, a few of them cut
corners or even cheat. So someone will end up filling out cards for
nonexistent names and some of those slip through ACORN's own efforts to
catch errors…

I've always had questions about whether this is a good way to do
voter registration. And Democratic campaigns usually keep their
distance. But here's the key. This is fraud against ACORN. They end up paying people for registering more people then they actually signed up. If you register me three times to vote,
the registrar will see two new registrations of an already registered
person and the ones won't count. If I successfully register Mickey
Mouse to vote, on election day, Mickey Mouse will still be a cartoon
character who cannot go to the local voting station and vote. Logically
speaking there's very little way a few phony names on the voting rolls could be used to commit actual vote fraud. And much more importantly, numerous studies and investigations have shown no evidence of anything more than a handful of isolated cases of actual instances of vote fraud.

Long story, short… “vote fraud” is Republican short-hand for voter suppression.

Maverick

You really haven't heard so much about John McCain the “Maverick” lately it seems.  I think that Ezra Klein may be right and Tina Fey's parodies of Sarah Palin may well have turned it into a complete joke.  My favorite: “gonna get mavericky” with it. 

For that matter, there's the fact that McCain really is not quite the maverick he, nor especially Palin, claims.  Rolling Stone ran a big story assessing his maverick record.  (The story actually bugged me a bit, a thought it was really unfair about his time as a POW, actually.  It seemed to suggest he was somehow weak for giving information under torture.  I don't think anybody has the right to make that claim).  Nonetheless, the article makes a compelling case for its primary theme: McCain has always been about his own ambition and putting himself first.  Not a particularly awful revelation for such a successful politician, but one that does not exactly square with the McCain image.

Actually, though, Paul Waldman's February 2008 deconstruction of McCain's claim to Maverickness is much more compelling:

But is John McCain really a maverick? A look beyond the media's
repetition of the word at McCain's actual record suggests that the
answer is no. In fact, McCain is a reliable conservative, and if not a
perfectly loyal Republican, at least a reasonably loyal one.

According to Congressional Quarterly's party unity scores, which
track how often members of Congress side with their party on key votes,
over the course of his career McCain has voted with his party 84
percent of the time?not the highest score in the Senate but hardly
evidence of a great deal of independence. Similarly, the American
Conservative Union gives McCain a lifetime rating of 82.3, making him a
solid friend of the right's. And according to the widely respected Poole-Rosenthal rankings, McCain was the eighth-most conservative senator in the 110th Senate…

Now, here's the key point, and I think it fits quite well with the Rolling Stone case:

There is one other key factor to understand in the making of the
“maverick” myth. Look at the times when McCain has differed with his
Republican colleagues, and what you find is that in almost every case,
the position held by most in the GOP was broadly unpopular with the
public. Campaign finance reform, regulation of tobacco, even the Bush
tax cuts (to which the public was indifferent and which McCain could
hardly support, having criticized them as Bush's opponent in the 2000
presidential race)?in every case, the position McCain took put him on
the right side of public opinion. So what the press calls “maverick”
stands could just as easily be interpreted as highly political efforts
to maintain McCain's strong popularity with the general public. For
someone whose goal was to gain sufficient affection among his
colleagues to rise to become his party's leader in the Senate, these
would be unwise moves. But McCain never demonstrated any interest in a
position in the Senate leadership?his sights were set higher.

So, enough of this maverick business.

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