Tag: us elections

A Pre-Post-Mortem on Romney’s Defeat


It increasingly looks like Romney is gonna lose. Intratrade now puts that likelihood at 75%. Now it’s my understanding from the American politics subfield, in which I took exactly zero courses in grad school, that the state of the economy is supposed to be the great determiner of American elections. But somehow Romney can’t seem to win despite 8+% unemployment. So I’ll take that as a methodological opening for wild speculation – namely my own – masquerading as rigorous theory.

Given my masterful background in this field, which includes watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, still getting Fox News in my cable package even though I don’t live in the US (stop chasing me!), and having been a Congressional district slave staffer (Republican) 15 years years ago, here’s my take. And no, I have no great proof to back up these instincts, but as George W Bush’s decision-making style taught me, my gut is enough, and ‘data,’ or whatever you ‘academics’ call it, is for wusses. “We’re an empire now; we make our our reality,” and here’s mine:

1. That 47% video just killed him.

Wow. The polling after this just collapsed. The desperate ‘me too-ism’ of Fox News in response spoke volumes about how destructive that leak was. Scrounging up any dated recording of Obama also saying something dumb (or not) and then trying for 2 weeks to balloon it into an ‘affront to all Americans’ to stir indignation was just embarrassing. I wonder if O’Reilly and Hannity can say to Roger Ailes or Rupert Murdoch once in awhile, that some conspiracy-mongering is just too ridiculous even for them. If some old, vague Obama comment on ‘redistribution,’ which the government has been doing for almost a century, is now cause enough for GOP ‘outrage’ (ever noticed that Fox is always ‘outraged,’ btw?), then they’re effectively repudiating more than half the budget. Even in the GOP, I don’t think eliminating redistribution is majority opinion, and there’s no way the electorate will go for that, as it essentially re-writes the social contract on something –  a basic safety net – that most American simply assume now. Maybe Romney should apologize? I dunno; politicians do it in Asia sometimes. But doubling-down on that remark, as he has, is a sure-fire loser.

2. He can’t be who he really is, because the Tea Party holds him hostage.

I still think that the conventional wisdom that Romney is a moderate, trying to fool both himself and his party that he’s not, is correct. Even though the 47% tape looks like ‘smoking gun’ evidence that Romney is a clone of Jamie Dimon, I still don’t think so. Chait makes the strong point that Romney sounds like a ‘sneering plutocrat’ on the tape. Yeah, it’s pretty hard to get around that interpretation. But if I had to guess, I bet he was just saying what he thought they wanted to hear. Anyone who’s ever worked in an American campaign cycle knows the enormous pressure on candidates to pander to the mega-donors (as in the Romney vid) who make our campaigns possible (all the more reason for dramatic campaign finance reform, but that’s another story).

My own sense, still, is that Romney is moderate non-ideologue and probably not a wing-nut. I had affiliations with the Ohio GOP throughout the 1990s, and most of the people I knew were reasonable and sane, but under constant pressure from the right-wing to say/do outrageous stuff. It was always a battle to fend off some group insisting that the 10 Commandments be hung in member’s office, that the UN was taking over America, or called CNN the ‘Communist News Network.’ (All true stories.)
Instead, I think Bruni is right that the process of running for president has so distorted Romney that he just doesn’t know what to say anymore. He’s so desperate to win, so frustrated he can’t get traction against a weak president in a terrible economy, so flummoxed that his CV from the ‘real world’ doesn’t obviously out-stack a community organizer who somehow became president. So he’ll say almost anything anymore.

He wants to be a moderate who had a decent, centrist record as Massachusetts governor. He’s almost certainly proud that he put through ‘RomneyCare’ in Massachusetts (his signature achievement as guv), speaks French (who isn’t pleased they can speak a foreign language?), and turned around a major government project – the Olympics (that’s a huge achievement). But now he can’t say any of that, because the ideological right and its media network won’t abide it. Instead, he’s reduced to transparent, shameful phoniness like teasing Obama for worrying about global warming, when someone as educated as Romney obviously knows that science is not some liberal plot.

In short, he’s been running for president for so long, he’s so desperate, that he’ll say almost anything to anyone; he’s lost himself in this mess and doesn’t really know what he thinks anymore. And the voters have picked up on this and can’t figure out who he is (like Nixon in 1960). It’s sad actually, that a pubic servant with Romney’s reasonable credentials must pander so bad he loses respect for himself. It reminds me of Condoleezza Rice, a realist for 20 years, who suddenly ‘saw the light’ of neoconservatism when in power. Yeah, right – having direct access to POTUS every day had nothing to do with that.

This is yet another reason why the agonizingly long US election process is so awful. Most importantly, the horse-race element of it distracts government from governing for huge stretches of time. But it also wrecks the integrity of almost everyone who runs for high office, Romney included, sadly.

3. He comes across like Gordon Gekko just 3 years after the Great Recession.

Even if he isn’t a plutocrat at heart (maybe not) or a winger (probably not), he comes off just awful. Romney really needs lessons from the Bill Clinton ‘I-feel-your-pain’/George W Bush ‘who-would-rather-have-a-beer-with’ school of campaigning. I realize this is terribly shallow. Exactly what difference for government does it make if W comes across like ‘Dubya,’ while Kerry is a windsurfing dork? None at all. To this day, I still resent how the media read Al Gore’s earnest, over-read wonkiness as a flaw (?!!), while embracing W’s cowboy-hat-wearing folksiness. What c—!

But atmospherics count – a lot unfortunately, and Romney, a master of the universe, is a god-awful candidate – especially just 3 years after the Great Recession. As I argued earlier this month, how is it that a product of the financial services industry, like Romney right down to his perfect hair, got to be a presidential candidate just a few years after high street banking nearly wrecked the economy? That just floors me. Who wants that Jamie Dimon clone in the White House? (It’s bad enough when Dimon goes before the Senate Banking Committee and mocks the whole country.) Makes you wish Santorum had won…(*shiver*)…

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.


Wordling Away The Time

I have no idea what this tells us about anything important. But I do like it.

McCain’s concession speech Wordle is below the fold.

Of course, what I’d really like to compare to Obama’s victory speech is McCain’s victory speech, the one we’ll never hear. And I’d be interested to see how Obama’s concession speech would have looked compared to the image you see above.


Rethinking the Long “War”?

Whomever wins today, we can safely look forward, I think, to a President who will tread more carefully on the fine line between protecting national security from “global terrorism” and upholding international commitments to fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

Fortunately for that person and his advisors, Simon Fraser University’s Human Security Report Project just released its weekly bulletin. “In Focus” this week is “Terrorism.” The bulletin provides a useful round-up of the latest research on terrorism trends (from Rand Corporation: Al Qaeda and Its Affiliates: A Global Tribe Waging Segmental Warfare), counterterrorism strategies (the Center for Contemporary Conflict at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey calls for a shift from open warfare to containment), and (of most interest to me) the tradeoff between human rights and national security. Some highlights:

The Center for European Policy Studies provides an empirical, case-study-based counterpoint to moral arguments against trading civil liberties for actionable intelligence:

“Behind the screen of an elastic conception of public security, the primacy of an intelligence-based rationale over the judicial process results in tensions between the attribution of guilt and the rendering of justice that distort classical judicial procedures and the principle of a fair trial. Moreover, such tensions eventually legitimise proactive and preventive strategies that lead to condemnation through allegations of terrorism rather than proof.”

Less helpfully for those interested in evidence, but useful for those needing a primer on post-9/11 national security law, is Freedom House’s report The Civil Liberties Implications of Counterterrorism Policies.

Then there is this analysis of civil society organizations’ role in terrorism prevention and response.

Perhaps most strikingly – food for thought for the next US Administration? – is the Carnegie Endowment for Peace‘s analysis of Saudi Arabia’s “soft” counterterrorism approach, which is apparently working much better than the US’s shoot-first, apologize-later strategy:

The increasing use of unconventional, “soft’ measures to combat violent extremism in Saudi Arabia is bearing positive results, leading others in the region, including the United States in Iraq, to adopt a similar approach. Understanding the successes of the Saudi strategy — composed of prevention, rehabilitation, and aftercare programs — will be important in the fight against radical Islamist extremism, says Christopher Boucek in a new Carnegie Paper. Roughly 3,000 prisoners have participated in Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation campaign — which seeks to address the underlying factors that facilitate extremism and prevent further violent Islamism. Saudi authorities claim a rehabilitation success rate of 80 to 90 percent, having re-arrested only 35 individuals for security offenses. Key components of the Saudi strategy: (1) Prevention: Saudi Arabia has employed hundreds of government programs to educate the public about radical Islam and extremism, as well as provide alternatives to radicalization among young men. (2) Rehabilitation: The centerpiece of the rehabilitation strategy is a comprehensive counseling program designed to re-educate violent extremists and sympathizers and to encourage extremists to renounce terrorist ideologies. (3) Aftercare programs: The Ministry of Interior employs several initiatives to ensure that counseling and rehabilitation continue after release from state custody, including a halfway house program to ease release into society and programs to reintegrate returnees from Guantanamo Bay.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, our incoming President will start with a clean slate and some political imagination tempered by the evidence of history.


Nuk-ya-lar Two-Step

As I always tell my World Politics 101 students, the word is “nuclear,” folks. Noo-clee-ahr. No such word as “nuk-ya-lar”!

Yet here we go, Sarah Palin on the stage pontificating about nukes (HT to Moira Whelan at Democracy Arsenal):

Seems like a silly thing to bitch about, eh? But goddammit, the thought of listening to my President or Vice-President further embarrass our country and belittle the incredible threat posed by these weapons by mangling that word for the next four to eight years, well, let’s just say my botherment is probably at least as disproportionate as the utility of nukes to any conceivable military objective.

Why is that, I’m asking myself? Why do I work so hard to make sure my students don’t reiterate this simple error in job interviews, an error for which they might, after all, be forgiven after listening to Washington for the last four years? Why do I fixate on word pronunciation when the substance of Palin’s remarks was about nine zillion times as scary? (In case you didn’t notice, her answer to the question about nuclear use was an answer about non-proliferation – she clearly has no basic literacy in the nuances of nuclear policy discourse.)

So why sweat the details? Because it reflects on me when my students or my President sound uneducated in foreign affairs. Because of what it says about me as an American when I allow myself to be represented on the world stage by someone who, whether smart or not, simply doesn’t care enough about basic diplomatic protocols to do simple things like learn the vernacular. I’ve been embarrassed for four years by my President’s inability to form a sentence. Whether this is simply a strategy to make Palin look “folksy” doesn’t matter. Whether it actually reflects on her intelligence, irrelevant.

It is the image this communicates about Americans abroad that matters. The perception that we care so little about the rest of the world that we are willing to put the power to affect the entire globe into the hands of someone who seems not to care would be as damaging to our soft power abroad and our national security as any US policy. It is part of what makes [some] people abroad despise us, not just our leaders. I would be just as hesitant to vote for a Democrat who was so brazenly and callously indifferent to the basic rules and syntax of foreign affairs.

OK. Rant over for now.

Update: OK, OK, Mike Innes has definitively proven that my statement that “people abroad despise us” for electing idiots, not just the idiots we elect, was an exaggeration… only some people abroad do.


The Wrong Palin

I’m sorry, but I simply couldn’t help but post this.*

*My willingness to make fun of Sarah Palin should in no way be construed as an endorsement of some members of my party’s more appalling rhetoric toward her and her daughter, which I frankly have found an embarrassment over the past eleven days. There are many good reasons to not want her at the country’s helm; her commitment to her family and her daughter’s exercise of her choice as a woman (a responsible one, you might even say) are certainly not among them.


History Lesson: PA 2008

Earlier this year, Hillary was leading Barack by 25 points in Pennsylvania; by April 22, Obama closed the gap to 9.2. Interestingly, this result has been largely interpreted as a loss for Obama, even by supporters. (Partly this effect was psychological – hopes were raised early in the evening last Tuesday when the networks claimed it was “too close to call,” making a single-digit victory loss, which had always been more or less what supporters hoped for, suddenly seem like a disaster.)

Commentators are drawing different conclusions about what this means for Obama’s electability against McCain. Some fear it only confirms rumors that he can’t win states like Pennsylvania in the Fall (he remains almost certain to win the nomination.) But a look at variation of the results within districts in Pennsylvania would give a more nuanced picture and suggest that Obama can do well even in areas where he is at a disadvantage if the campaign adopts the right strategy.

Consider the 14th Ward in Pittsburgh. While Clinton won the state 54.6/45.4, Obama won the 14th ward 60/40. Why? Was this a black neighborhood? No – 85% white. Surely then it was a neighborhood full of well-educated, liberal whites? Partly – 46.5% work in education, health and social services. But it is also a neighborhood of unionized teachers and dominated heavily by Jewish families, both populations in which Hillary is supposed to have an edge.

What may have distinguished the 14th Ward from other neighborhoods in Pittsburgh – and from the Hillary campaign, accounting for its win – was effective grassroots mobilization.

Consider a simple indicator of grassroots support for Obama: yard signs. I drove around the 14th ward and the adjacent 15th ward, primarily a white working class neighborhood, the weekend before the primary. I counted approximately 45 different Obama signs, but only three Hillary signs (I didn’t count the sign some Hillary staffer had planted [illegally I think] at the ramp to Highway 376). On primary day, it became clear where the Hillary signs were: the campaign had hoarded them to place instead at polling stations throughout the city. This is a simple example of a general difference between the two campaigns and the two candidates’ leadership styles – Hillary organizes from the top down, Obama organizes from the bottom up. At least in theory.

But why did Hillary win the state anyway? And why, conversely, the great variation in results across neighborhoods in Pittsburgh? The 14th Ward didn’t stop with yard signs. The leadership used email lists, Google groups and word of mouth in such a way as to make it easy for many individuals both within the neighborhood and from nearby areas to get involved in small ways. It decentralized leadership positions to the extent that inelegant but important tasks (like securing water bottles for canvassers and voters standing in line) never fell through the cracks. It drew on grassroots knowledge and capacities to solve problems (like getting Obama’s headquarters wired in the early, chaotic days of the campaign before staff had arrived in the state) spontaneously, without direction or resources from above.

Perhaps most fundamentally, the 14th Ward opened up a satellite office in Greenfield that became the focal point of grassroots Obama activism for the 14th and three adjacent neighborhoods. It brought visibility to the Presidential race in an area that was underserved by both campaigns. Numerous volunteers were roped in to doing simple, non-time-consuming but morale-building tasks like bringing hot meals to those staffing the office. Many got into the spirit and stayed on to phonebank, run errands, or deliver messages.

None of this was funded by the Obama campaign itself: neighbors pitched in money to rent the empty office space on a busy street corner near an ice-cream shop for ten days. Volunteers phone-banked and canvassed tirelessly while enjoying the comraderie of a neighborhood office where there was plenty of beer and pizza. On election day, when Hillary’s yard-sign strategy became suddenly apparent, an army of volunteers was ready in shifts to collect signs from yards throughout the 14th and 15th wards and relocate them to polling stations.

Volunteers in the 14th ward fought, often against defensive paid campaign staffers, to get resources and attention from campaign headquarters in Pittsburgh and for ‘permission’ to disseminate lessons learned to organizers in other neighborhoods. The lesson of PA ’08 for both campaigns is that if they want to take grassroots organizing seriously (which Obama claims to want to do and Clinton should consider while she remains in the race), staffers must be encouraged to overcome their suspicion of the common folk and embrace a decentralized organizational style such as the satellite office model that worked so well in the 14th Ward. Had the Obama campaign actively encouraged this model, it might have materialized in many other Pittsburgh neighborhoods and made all the difference.

Not that any of this will matter much in the nonmination. Obama is still leading; Clinton lacks any real chance to catch up; and prediction markets, which predict election outcomes better than polls, see Obama as the nominee.


From the Mouths of Junior Citizens

Peter recently urged me to report from the Pittsburgh grassroots on the Pennsylvania primary. Well, word from Frick International Studies Academy in Pittsburgh is that middle-schoolers are split on who they hope will win tomorrow, and the divisions cut across grade-level.

According to my twelve-year old daughter, lunchroom polls at Frick last week reported a majority of 6th-graders support Obama; a majority of 7th-graders support Clinton. The big issue in the lunchroom: neither race nor gender but which candidate will do most to reverse President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which is generally thought to “suck.”

If accurate, what can we conclude from this?

A) That it’s a close race in both age groups and the variation is simply chance.

B) That parents who tend to send their kids to an International Studies Magnet school care about foreign policy and multiculturalism, and are therefore likelier to be Obama supporters; 6th graders ally with their parents, but 7th graders, slightly older and sassier, use politics to rebel against them.

C) That citizens over the age of 12 are at least as qualified to vote in our Presidential elections as certain adults. At least my daughter’s classmates are talking about the issues, rather than making a big deal over fashion choices, what someone’s neighbor said, or who’s the bigger “copycat.”


Twitterpated by Bittergate

An unusually empirical op-ed in the New York Times today tests Obama’s hypothesis that “wedge issues take prominence” when voters are frustrated by “difficult times.” Larry Bartels uses polling data to demonstrate that in fact, more small-town working class voters believe the government can be trusted than urban voters making more that $60,000 a year, and the small town working class is also least likely to vote on social issues. David Park articulates a similar finding over at The Monkey Cage.

To be fair, Obama’s remarks were aimed at describing variation over time within a demographic, not variation across demographics. And if the analysis is true, it would seem to confirm his general observation, though it would mean he got the demographic wrong. Either way, we now have an opportunity to see whether Obama, on the face of new evidence not previously at his disposal, will “cling” to his former intuition, or revise his understanding in light of the facts.

Not that it matters. Only the media (and Obama’s opponents) are obsessed with his remarks – and judging by last night’s debate, with equally petty concerns such as flag lapels or politically incorrect comments by people he knows. (“Does your pastor love America as much as you do?” What conceivable bearing does such a question have on a Presidential race?) Obama himself would rather focus on more substantive issues, and not just when it serves him: he passed up several chances to attack Hillary over similar gaffes like the sniper fire at the Tuzla airport:

““Clinton deserves the right to make some errors one in a while. What’s important is to make sure we don’t get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history.”

Judging by comments on ABCNews’ website after the first half of the debate, most viewers agree with Obama. Some excerpts:

“Last night’s “debate” was a disgusting, mind-numbing display of unprofessional, tabloid style journalism. Clearly, ABC looks down on voters if it thinks we want to listen to this garbage.”

“ABC should be ashamed. What about the great issues that Americans (according to all the polls) are really concerned about? Truly sad.”

“Everyone associated with that debate last night from ABC should be severely reprimanded and/or fired immediately – and a full public apology issued to the candidates and the american public as a whole.”

Perhaps this explains why the “bittergate” controversy has not affected Obama’s poll numbers for the worse. Americans are sick of mudslinging and of having their intelligence insulted. My hunch: voters this time ’round want a candidate who can be trusted and will speak to the issues rather than a cowboy(girl?) President capable of throwing punches incessantly but unable to get his/her story straight.


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