Tag: Campaign 2008 (page 2 of 4)

Vox populi?

There’s this video of McCain supporters in line at a rally in Pennsylvania that has been making the rounds on the ‘Net (tip of the hat to Janice Bially Mattern for sending it to me). Here it is now:

Figuring out what to make of this is slightly more complicated than simply having a gut reaction to it — not the a gut reaction is unimportant, or even necessarily wrong, but in this case I think it can obscure some of what’s going on in the scene. This is particularly true since the video’s author is clearly drawing a contrast between the hate-filled and factually inaccurate statements of the McCain supporters, and the progressive (even set to a hip-hop soundtrack!) presence of the Obama supporters. Now, I am not saying that the author is right or wrong about this; I am only suggesting that we have to slow down and consider the situation a little more closely.

First, it’s important to note that what we’re seeing here is not some kind of uncensored raw set of opinions. It isn’t even the relatively calm environment of a telephone survey or a set of questions asked by someone holding a clipboard in the shopping-mall parking lot. It’s people waiting in line to attend a campaign rally, a situation roughly akin to people standing in line to get into a major sporting event. Emotions run high and a certain amount of over-the-top trash-talking is more or less expected — and we shouldn’t underestimate the subtle social pressure of appearing fired up in front of one’s peers. Plus what we might call the “Real World” / “Jerry Springer” effect: turn a camera on someone and watch them slip into performance mode, and perhaps appear even more over the top than usual.

My point is that what people say in such circumstances doesn’t necessarily represent any sort of true inward conviction. Not that “calm” environments are any better at eliciting such inward convictions; calm environments have their own set of subtle social pressures and norms of appropriate behavior. Rather, my point is that what people say and do in any given situation is less a reflection of their inner state of mind and more a product of the interaction of different aspects of the situation with whatever their inner state of mind happens to be, and the result might not have much of any correspondence with their inward state of mind at all. One could easily construct several different explanations for the statements heard in that video — people “really” feel this way, people wanted to be accepted by their peers, people were caught up in emotion of the moment, people have only been exposed to a narrow ranges of messages and don’t have much other vocabulary in which to express their support of one candidate over the other — which, at least to my way of thinking, means that we are making a mistake if we jump right to the conclusion that what we see and hear in that video is some kind of a genuine and authentic expression of popular sentiment.

Second, McCain’s down by several points in the PA polls, and has been for several days. This of course exacerbates any of the social dynamics I just mentioned — think about the rabid fans of a losing team before a big game with their arch-rival (not that I would know anything about that this year, since the Yankees are . . . um . . . ). One can easily imagine an even greater emphasis on supporting the team and denigrating the opponent, as it’s easier to be charitable and generous from a position of strength than from a position of weakness. Which leads me to wonder about the counterfactual: if McCain were up in the polls, would we see this kind of vitriol from his supporters? Probably not, because we wouldn’t have seen the deliberate activation of these scripts by the campaign, and their intense circulation by a pretty well-organized propaganda machine. And since I am unwilling to jump from public performance to dispositional essence, I would not be comfortable saying that the people depicted in the video “really” feel this way about Barack Obama, and would be equally uncomfortable concluding that such sentiments would “inevitably” find expression somehow.

So, and this is my final point, because we can construct a whole bunch of plausible scenarios involving a whole bunch of subjective motivations, we should basically abstract from internal motivations (which means: we acknowledge that individual people are motivated by something, but we deliberately do not specify precisely what that motivation might be) and instead read what’s going on here as a product of observable social mechanisms and processes. In particular, we should focus on the formation of the available cultural vocabulary that is being deployed against Obama in this situation. Several things are noteworthy: the singing of “God Bless America,” the accusation that the Obama supporters need to go “get a job,” the notion that Obama is a terrorist and hangs around with terrorists, the use of Cold War-era anticommunist (and antisocialist) jabs, and my personal favorite, the charge of homosexuality that is leveled about 55 seconds into the video (and linked to “commie”). Much of this should sound familiar, and not just because of the past few weeks of Fox News “coverage” of the election; rather, these symbols and commonplaces are quite well-established parts of the American political vocabulary, and the “terrorism = Communism (= Nazism)” linkage has been a staple of the Bush Administration’s “war on terror” rhetoric since 2001. What we are seeing here is a group of people using the resources at hand to make sense of a situation, which is, I think, what people do in general.

This does not mean that people are cultural dupes, or that the media simply produces a false consciousness that overlays their “real” interests or feelings or whatever. But it does mean that people are sense-making creatures, even when the resources that they have available to make sense are both narrow and all strategically slanted in the same direction. Sure, some of the people in the video probably have completely internalized those messages, but I’ll bet that others are just (to paraphrase Nietzsche) passing around a coin that is taken to be true because it’s in such circulation among their peers and in the media outlets that they regularly turn to. What I am suggesting is that the problem here isn’t the ordinary people in the video, but the broader social context within which articulations like this make sense in the first place.

But since, certain overzealous Habermasians (and “marketplace of ideas” Millians) to the contrary, that broader social context doesn’t work according to the rules of civil rational debate, all the empirical falsification in the world of silly claims like “ACORN caused the financial crisis” is not likely to make a damn bit of difference. Instead, what is needed are alternative stories and the means to convey them into the places where people live. And that’s not likely to happen in the heat of a presidential campaign, because whatever the motives (noble or ignoble) of the candidates when it comes to producing a more civil national politics, at the moment their exclusive focus more or less has to be on turning out voters, which one does by ignoring pockets of high support or the other candidate and looking for easier targets of opportunity. I wonder if we can ever lift our eyes away from such short-term considerations to focus on the organization of the public sphere that makes the (re)circulation of scripts like that possible.


Asking the Wrong Questions

One thing that has been bothering me of late in the Presidential debate is how the press and the public are asking the wrong questions of the candidates about the economy. While part of it may be symptomatic of a general lack of understanding as to what is going on, it also betrays an intellectual laziness in those covering and discussing the campaign. Wedded to tired lines of debate, these questions rehash what we think is important and distract from the development of an understanding of the current state of affairs which has very little relationship to the ancien regime.

Two general areas of inquiry really stand out.

The first is the “How are you going to pay for this?” bit. Lehrer asked a version of this in the first debate. The set-up goes something like this: We’ve spent $300B on Fannie and Freddie, authorized $700B for the TARP bailout/rescue, have 2 wars, and you want to cut taxes. So, clearly something you are promising will have to go. What promise are you going to break?

Here’s the problem with that answer: It assumes that the government is going to have the luxury of choosing among its spending programs as this economic crisis deepens. The old-school view is that government debt is part of the problem and steps must be taken toward a balanced budget. But, in a matter of weeks, several decades of economic orthodoxy has fallen by the wayside as the Administration reaches deeper and deeper into the government’s interventionist toolbox trying to find something that works. In one day, Paulson spent as much money as the Wars cost in a year on a government take-over of AIG. Former Bush-Administration officials are calling for faster government action, picking winners and losers from among US financial institutions. As Brad DeLong points out, the pendulum has swung back toward (if not past) Keynes.

What Keynesian economics calls for is counter-cyclical government spending to mitigate the effects of an economic downturn on a society. We’re well into the crisis, but have yet to see a real move toward counter-cyclical spending. We’ve seen all kinds of other ad-hoc government intervention in the economy in the financial sector, but little for “main street.”

What this question overlooks is the fact that the government probably ought to be spending on all of the candidate’s priorities, and maybe then some. Does it drive up the deficit? Sure. But that’s the Keynesian point–increased government debt now to avoid a deeper recession later. Given the potential severity of the economic downturn, all this spending and more might be necessary. Yet, asking the question as posed–what will you cut–frames the discussion in the old and now discredited economic context. It makes it harder for the next President to spend what he’ll need to in order to help the nation as a whole.

The second question that bothers me is “What’s your plan” to solve the crisis. This question has both a flawed premise and produces a counter-productive discussion.

The flawed premise is to realistically expect these two campaigns to come up with a silver bullet before they have the full resources of the US government at their disposal. Obama and McCain have a team of very smart economic advisers working for them from their current jobs. The Treasury and Fed have full time staff who have spent a career working on issues just such as this. They have legal authority, resources, and expertise to gather information, devise plans, and map out potential consequences. They also have the ability and responsibility to consult and coordinate with allies in the G-7 and international institutions like the IMF. And, despite all these advantages, they still have not come up with anything that seems to work.

This question also produces a counter-productive discussion. This crisis is moving with such velocity that any plan seems outdated days later. The $700 Billion TARP that just had to pass? Already obsolete, as Paulson has moved on to directly injecting capital into banks–something that wasn’t even in his original plan. Does anyone think that either a McCain or Obama plan would still be relevant by Election Day, let alone Inauguration Day? Neither candidate can do anything now–what we want is what they will do once they get into office–but no one has any idea what the financial markets will look like in mid-January.

Asking the wrong questions generates tremendous amounts of heat with little light to illuminate any useful understanding of the issue.


Hello, hoist. Meet petard. Oh, you already know each other?

David Brooks always styled himself as a member of the conservative intellectual vanguard. He would much rather be an observer of “real people” than to actually dirty his hands at playing milkmaid in his own Hameau de la reine.

But David Brooks has recently come to a stunning realization: To borrow a line from Jeff Foxworthy, “you might be a member of the East Coast elite if… you have a column in The New York Times, are a regular commentator on the NEWSHOUR, and like to drop names like Edmund Burke and Russel Kirk.”

Now, fearing that he might be among the first against the wall when the revolution comes, Brooks fearlessly condemns the tenor of a McCain-Palin campaign likely to go down in flames.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

Republicans developed their own leadership style. If Democratic leaders prized deliberation and self-examination, then Republicans would govern from the gut.

Poor David. He thought only his friends would be led to the guillotine. So he did his best to fan the flames of the culture war–but always in a soothing tone befitting a “conservative intellectual.”

Brooks assumed that the rabble was both virtuous and stupid. After all, he wagered, how could anyone smart actually believe the steady stream of transparent propaganda his team puts out on Fox News and Talk Radio? But Brooks was wrong. The Christian soldiers aren’t stupid. They may not know the difference between Russel Kirk and John Rawls–which Brooks should have recognized might be a problem for his ilk–but they have more than enough sense to recognize that anyone who teaches a course at Yale and “pals around” with Ivory Tower socialists is definitely not one of them (unless covered by the “Supreme Court Exception”).

Now Brooks can sense it all slipping away. He has to choose between two nightmares: the triumph of Obama, himself a liberal intellectual, or of McCain, who might not be able (or live long enough) to hold back the anti-intellectual tide.

But, despite the facts staring him in the face, Brooks still imagines this is all some sort of mistake, and that it will all be sorted out soon. “We just got a little too caught up in our attacks on Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry,” he thinks to himself. “When the adults take back control of the Republican party, I can return to business as usual and attack liberal intellectuals and East Coast elites with impunity.”

That’s why he can’t admit the whole truth: Sarah Palin is “smart [and] politically skilled,” but her debate performance was not “impressive” and, more to the point, she doesn’t write those speeches that “relentlessly [divide] the world between the ‘normal Joe Sixpack American’ and the coastal elite.”

Coastal elites, whether native or naturalized, do.

Brooks has met the enemy, and the enemy is David Brooks.


Stick a fork in it?

Yesterday I wrote in an email to a conservative blogger that I thought that McCain still had a fighting chance. I don’t think so any more.

I suppose enough slime might make this thing close. An al Qaeda intervention, or some other exogenous shock, might even salvage McCain’s position.

But I’ll be very surprised if Obama doesn’t win this thing, and win it convincingly.


Guilt by association: the other side of the coin

My side of the blogsphere seems to think the video of a McCain supporter mouthing off about socialists and hoodlums is an indictment of McCain himself.

When I watch the video, I see McCain affirming the man’s anger but trying hard not to endorse his views. McCain, in fact, says he will work with “anyone” to solve the current crisis.

Although I find the accusation that the contemporary Democratic party and its Presidential nominee are “socialists” bizarre, particularly in light of recent events, this is pretty weak tea when it comes to the rants of everyday partisans.

So why is it getting so much attention? Because it comes on a day of (1) reports of genuinely scary stuff at McCain-Palin rallies and (2) the decision of the Republicans to slime Obama. But this video just isn’t evidence of a McCain descent into demagoguery, nor of anything worthy of indignation.


The anatomy of a mimetic smear

I’ve been curious about the accusation–which can be found in almost any comment thread on a media website–that Obama wrote a “foreword” for the William Ayer’s book, A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of the Criminal Court. The rumor is obviously false, as the book doesn’t even have a foreword (but does have two five-star reviews. I wonder how long that’s going to last).

So where did the rumor come from?

The best I can tell is that Obama reportedly read the book; Ayers does mention “writer Barack Obama” as one of his neighbors in its pages, which at least one enterprising anti-Obama site claims, unpersuasively, provides evidence of their deep and abiding friendship.

A number of commentators have noted something significant about this last-ditch attempt by the McCain campaign to snatch victory from the jaws of a crushing defeat. In essence, we’re watching the content of anti-Obama viral emails making the leap to the mainstream, courtesy of not just the McCain campaign, but also a Fox News Channel which has decided to drop all pretense of being anything other than a Republican propaganda outlet.

This is a deeply dispiriting moment in American politics, particularly as it unfolds in the midst of an increasingly unsettled economic and security environment. From the financial meltdown to the deteriorating war in Afghanistan, from North Korea’s saber-rattling to worsening US-Russian relations, we live in very serious times. They deserve a serious campaign.

Image source: wikipeda


Alternate realities

When Obama’s participation in an anti-redlining lawsuit is characterized as a “smoking gun” for his culpability in the current crisis, I know that we’re through the looking glass.

The bizarreness of attempts to blame the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and ACORN for the current subprime crisis is so totally bizarre that it raises an important question: is the point of all of this to (1) simply find some way, no matter how warped, to blame Obama for the crisis or (2) also to plant the seeds for a campaign to bring back discriminatory lending practices?


Statistical noise alert

When a polling organization conducts a mere 300 interviews each day for a national tracking poll, this is what you get: the potential for one day of outlier polling to produce phony movement.

Or, to quote Brad DeLong (who we really should be linking to more):

…the Diageo/Hotline Tracking Poll [is] an undersampled daily poll designed to produce a whole bunch of spurious three-day climbs in one candidate’s relative vote share followed by a three-day decline so that reporters can trick readers into thinking that there are important pieces of news and trends in there.

Anyone want to bet on how long it takes for someone to declare, based on the Diego/Hotline poll, that the second debate swung support back behind Obama?


McCain’s “American Homeowner Resurgence Plan”

Brad DeLong finds… uh… fault with McCain’s “game changer.”

His conclusion?

There’s a big difference here: Democrats want to prevent depression and support the financial markets by investing taxpayer money in banks with troubled assets. Republicans want to give taxpayers money away to the shareholders and managers of banks with troubled assets.

I would say that this is unbelievable, but I do believe it.

My guess, however, is that most Republicans don’t want to do this. Those “reaction meters” took a nosedive among Republicans when McCain proposed the plan at last night’s debate.

Anyway, I get the sense that a great many of the People Who Know What They’re Talking AboutTM think the United States should be doing something along the lines of what the Labour government in the UK has proposed. And there’s even some indication Treasury may be heading in that direction. So why can’t we just explicitly adopt such a policy?

I think there’s a good argument to be made here for the importance of norms and discourse in understanding political economy. “Material incentives” can’t easily explain the way that most people “just assume” explicit and comprehensive nationalization “isn’t politically viable.” Those hurdles have everything to do with current cultural constraints.

Image source: Damn Interesting


Intervening to stop the Holocaust

Erik Erickson at RedState thinks he’s found an Obama gaffe:

Barack Obama suggests we need to consider moral issues in intervening with combat forces. He mentions intervening in the Holocaust and how we should have done that.

Um Senator, we did intervene in the Holocaust. It was called World War II.

I guess you hadn’t heard of that, kind of like you hadn’t heard of Bill Ayers.

I hate to say it, but Mr. Erickson just had a moment of profound ignorance.

The Holocaust had squat to do with the US intervention in Europe. Hitler declared war on the United States out of solidarity with Japan. In fact, US inaction in the face of genocide against European Jewry is a well-known historical fact:

During World War II, rescue of Jews and other victims of the Nazis was not a priority for the United States government. Nor was it always clear to Allied policy makers how they could pursue large-scale rescue actions behind German lines. Due in part to antisemitism (prejudice against or hatred of Jews), isolationism, the economic Depression, and xenophobia (prejudice against or fear of foreigners), the refugee policy of the U.S. State Department (led by Secretary of State Cordell Hull) made it difficult for refugees to obtain entry visas to the United States.

The U.S. State Department also delayed publicizing reports of genocide. In August 1942, the State Department received a cable confirming Nazi plans for the total destruction of Europe’s Jews. The report, sent by Gerhart Riegner (the representative in Geneva of the World Jewish Congress), was not passed on to other government officials. The State Department asked American Rabbi Stephen Wise, who also received the report, to refrain from announcing it.

Reports of Nazi atrocities often were not publicized in full by the American press. In 1943, Polish courier Jan Karski informed President Franklin D. Roosevelt of reports of mass murder received from Jewish leaders in the Warsaw ghetto. No immediate executive action was taken. The U.S Congress twice rejected legislation that would have allowed entry to the United States for 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children seeking refuge.

On April 19, 1943, U.S. and British representatives met in Bermuda to find solutions to wartime refugee problems. No significant proposals emerged from the Bermuda Conference. In January 1944 Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board (within the Treasury Department) to facilitate the rescue of imperiled refugees. Fort Ontario, in New York, began to serve as an ostensibly free port for refugees. Refugees brought to Fort Ontario, however, were not from Nazi-occupied areas, but rather from liberated zones.

By the spring of 1944, the Allies knew of the killing operations using poison gas at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Jewish leaders pleaded unsuccessfully with the U.S. government to bomb the gas chambers and railways leading to the camp. From August 20 to September 13, 1944, the U.S. Air Force bombed the Auschwitz-Monowitz industrial complex, less than five miles from the gas chambers in Birkenau. However, the U.S. maintained its policy of non-involvement in rescue, and bombed neither the gas chambers nor the railways used to transport prisoners.


Initial thoughts

The conventional wisdom was that McCain needed to “take it to Obama.” McCain even signaled that he’d take the gloves off. But Obama swung first and was, in many ways, the more aggressive of the two. I’m not sure what to make of that.

1) I’m hearing a lot of people saying that McCain was more aggressive. I don’t think that’s true. I think his demeanor was more aggressive, and his attacks (with one exception) more personal, and that’s an important difference. It hurt McCain last time.

2) The McCain campaign’s attempt at a “game changer” was clearly the proposal to have the government refinance mortgages. Stop and think about that for a moment, and what it says about the “Republican Revolution.”

3) I thought that McCain narrowly won the last debate, and I turned out to be in the minority. My sense this time is that Obama did better than McCain, and that this is how the public at large will react as well. I’m a former debater and debate coach, but I can’t really put my finger on why I think this debate may turn out to be very bad for McCain. Obviously, comments like “that one” are going to hurt him. But something about the whole tenor of the debate played into the existing narratives about the two: that Obama is steady and articulate, and that McCain is struggling and, well, losing.

…. On further reflection, I’m still stuck on the second point. So, let me get this straight: the candidate of the Republican party just tried to “change the game” by proposing to socialize mortgages?

The Republican Revolution might not be dead, but it’s definitely on life support.

Image source: KDRV



9:35 — ….. zzzzzzz ………. zzzzzzzzz …… huh! wazaht? Oh, yeah.

Isn’t it amazing how each year the campaigns come up with an even worse format than they used the last time?

9:40 — Obama gets animated… on tax policy.

9:41 — My big question is whether McCain’s constant references to the 1980s make him seem Mavericky, or just really old.

9:42 — Oh, Peter’s already doing this. I guess I’ll stop now.

9:44 — The candidates fiddle while Iceland melts.

9:45 — Given that they both want the same things, it all boils down to the details of their proposals….

9:46 — Got you at 9:45, didn’t I? It probably boils down, sadly enough, to who radiates more empathy or something.

9:47 — Go Brokaw! Who needs a more detailed discussion if it’s against the rules?

9:48 — McCain: “That one.” Hmmmm.

9:49 — If the markets react to the possibility of more oil years in 5-10 years, then they’re even more hair trigger than I thought.

9:50 — Why is McCain wandering around in the background? And why is Obama not answering the “is health care a commodity” question? It’s a gimme for discussing McCain’s attempt to push everyone into the market as individual purchasers…

9:52 — Okay, Obama’s sorta doing it now.

9:53 — Does the Obama plan have an employer mandate? Gotta check.

9:54 — It looks like it does. Well, you need either an individual mandate or an employer mandate.

9:59 — That was actually a pretty good health care debate. Color me surprised. Of course, on this issue I side with Obama, and I’m saddened that McCain’s proposed a plan that’s actually worse than the status quo.

10:01 — I hate to sound like just about everyone else with a keyboard and push-publication capability, but the problem for McCain on the Iraq issue is that most people don’t agree with him. I think he needs to stop framing this as a judgment question–“Obama opposed the surge”–and instead frame the issue as “Obama wants to leave before the mission is done.”

10:06 — Okay, he did… but not in a very effective way.

10:08 — The Cambodia analogy is actually a pretty good one to put in a question about crossing Pakistan’s border. Bet Obama ignores it.

10:10 — What would Teddy Roosevelt do?

10:14 — Ouch. Will Obama get under McCain’s skin with that dig at his stability? Alienate undecideds? McCain’s response depends on the strength of his brand, which isn’t in the best shape ever right now.

But this is pretty much a distinction without a difference.

When McCain says he’ll get Bin Laden, but he won’t “announce” he’s going to do it, he “telegraphed” that he would.

10:20 — We are all Georgians now. Misha Saakashvili won by losing.

10:22 — Doesn’t Obama know we already gave Georgia a billion dollars with no strings attached? And what does Misha do? Crack down on the press.

10:25a — I suppose it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the best moments of the debate came when they ignored the rules.

10:25b — McCain’s patting of that guy on the back probably helped him more than anything he said tonight.

10:28 — They both go out looking strong.

10:33 — The known unknowns or the unknown unknowns? … Now we get the biographies. Obama kind of stumbled on his. McCain definitely has a better swan song.

10:34 — I’ll bet that McCain blocking the script becomes the most replayed part of the debate.


Ducking the Issues: The Candidates “Debate”

Why, o why do I subject myself to this exciting town hall styled ‘debate’? Is boring, and my prediction is that it stays boring, and in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t do all that much. And yet, I feel compelled to watch and blog. I guess it gives me something to do while my brisket is in the oven. Mmmmmmmmm brisket!

McCain is good in this format, its his strength. He’s hitting many of the same themes of the last debate. Obama is decent as well–he’s better at speaking directly to the questioner, whereas McCain is on campaign message a bit more. He told these same stories in the last debate for those of you who might have missed it.

I don’t really think that Warren Buffett would want to be Treasury Secretary…

That Obama knew the price of gas in Nashville is a good thing, obviously someone will instantly fact check this, but assuming he’s right, its a nice I’m in touch with your needs moment.


McCain has the zinger of the night– Nailing Jello to the wall. Of course, invoking Herbert Hoover is never good, as Hoover was the Republican. I like how McCain talks about taxes as if the tax code alone can solve economic problems.

Of course, the “Straight talk Express has lost a wheel” on the tax issue.

Keep ’em coming!

A commission! Did he say a Blue Ribbon Commission? Well, you can’t do any better than that!

Finally, McCain throws Bush and Cheney under the bus by name. Should I time stamp these little missives? Eh, too much work.

McCain likes the Kitchen Sink approach to solve problems. On health care–lets do lots of things. Here’s where he has a fundamental message problem, he’s saying government is the problem, the private sector is the solution. Has not read the financial pages lately? The unregulated market, the unregulated financial companies just got us into a mess. Everyone is looking to the government to bail us out.
(no one is getting his little do the math project, as my wife just asked, what’s he even talking about, do you understand his plan? no).

Hurray for foreign policy (we at the Duck should be excited about this, no?). I was just about to type “There you go again” on the Sen. Obama doesn’t understand, and Obama basically does that. Nice flip to McCain doesn’t understand.

This is such a status quo debate, so Obama wins in the grand scheme of things. No game changers here.

Brokaw, why must everyone have a doctrine? This question seems….. so Clinton Administration, so 1990’s.

Pakistan is the new Cambodia. Why must we re-fight the Vietnam war? Trudeau nailed this one this past Sunday.

Here’s what bothers me about this Israel / UN question from the Navy vet. He frames the UN as an impediment to US interest, as standing in the way of help to an ally. No one challenges the frame, that the UN could be a tool to help the US reply to just such a threat to world peace. This throws the UN under the bus, and in the long run, undermines the organization’s effectiveness as a tool of US diplomacy. McCain has no problem doing this, I had hoped for a bit more from Obama.

I like this last question, its perhaps one of the most important aspects of qualification for Presidential leadership. Obama pivots straight into his closing remarks. So does McCain. In part the question is vague enough to allow this, but I would have liked a more honest, reflective answer.

Ok, not as bad as I had thought it would be. Nate and Sean think that Obama won, and say that the focus group dials tilt toward Obama. Again, no game changer, Obama retains his lead. McCain makes no inroads.

Time to tend to my brisket, its been cooking for a nice 4 hours.

(and if anyone is interested, we can do the food chat and recipe share in a future post)


A cliché….

it is bad enough that our professional pundits feel compelled to tell us what “average Americans” think, but do bloggers really have to imitate this particularly insipid form of analysis?

The polls give it to Biden. As dubious as these “snap” surveys are, I think they’re a better indicator of what your average (undecided) American thinks.

I don’t have any profound insights about this debate. I thought McCain won on points last week, and I think Biden won on points tonight, but by a slightly larger margin than McCain did against Obama.

I already posted my favorite line of the debate below.

… But I have to admit that I’m a bit flummoxed by the notion that all those greedy bastards on Wall Street deserve to be regulated by a government that should get out of the way of business and reduce their taxes.

This is hardly Palin’s fault, though, as she has to walk the fine line between class-war populism and pro-private enterprise conservatism. In the old days, politicians resolved this tension by blaming the Jews. I, for one, am sure glad that’s off the table.


“America is a nation of exceptionalism”

Biden my time, Im-Palin myself

I’m watching the debate. Not even 10 minutes in and its anti-climatic.

Palin: I’m not going to answer the questions the way you or the moderator want to hear, I’m going to talk straight to the American people.

I’m not sure what that means.
I can’t wait until a student shows up in class and says I’m not going to answer the question on the test the way the professor or the students want, I’m going to write my blue book straight to the American people.
What do you say to that?

Sarah Palin: Middle Class, where todd and I have been all our lives. Middle class equals worth over a million dollars. That’s not my middle class.

Updates as I watch:

H/T to Drezner, this is priceless: 9:21 PM: God bless Megan McArdle: “Sarah Palin winks at the camera. I didn’t believe it the first time I saw it; thank god for TiVo. I think all three million viewers are supposed to come up to her hotel room with a bottle of champagne after the debate.”

What I hate about this type of debate format: Let me go back and respond to some previous thing you said so I can get in my talking points. There’s no flow. Really, I’ve lost track as to what they’re talking about. What was the question again, Gwen?

Here’s why this debate is impossible–the two debaters aren’t actually debating each other, they are debating people not in the room. Biden is talking past Palin, at McCain and Bush. Palin is talking past Biden at Obama. Neither can respond for themselves, they have to respond for their principle. Biden, being more familiar with the positions of both sides (he’s been at this for a while now), is, clearly, more able to do this. Palin, who by her own admission has been at this, what 5 weeks, doesn’t have the same command of McCain’s positions, so she’s not as fluid in her answers. Regardless, it leads to a very scattered debate.

This debate has been unwatchable. I have no idea what Palin is talking about most times. Biden is Biden–at times fantastic, at times all over the place. My wife is asleep on the couch next to me, I think she got the better end of this past 90 minutes.



In an interview from a few months ago, Palin discusses the Supreme Court’s decision to limit the damages payed by Exxon for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. While she’s not saying anything that requires an advanced degree, she’s articulate, poised and confident.

But in the CBS News footage last night, she’s incapable of naming a Supreme Court decision, other than Roe v. Wade, that she disagrees with.

The contrast is simply remarkable. Is the McCain campaign playing some high-level head fake to make what will likely be a decent performance by Palin in the debate seem like the work of a superhero? This I doubt. But the contrast does lends credence to other possible explanations for why Palin’s performance has gotten worse over time.

In particular: that she’s being overly coached by the McCain team and that she’s “lost her voice” by being put in the position of making and defending claims she knows aren’t entirely true, such as those involving her role in the “Bridge to Nowhere” fiasco.

I also suspect that she’s still trying to master the plethora of McCain’s platform; she is, after all, expected to agree with and defend a range of policies that she had little knowledge about only a matter of weeks ago. She’s got to be under enormous pressure not to say anything (else) that contradicts McCain’s positions, his lines of attack on Obama, or that might offend Republican interest groups. Indeed, she probably knows full well that bashing the Supreme Court for limiting punitive damages isn’t something that will play well with many Republican voters in the “lower forty eight.” No wonder she played dumb on the Supreme Court question.


Debate reaction – a few more thoughts

1. McCain did make one major strategic mistake in the debate. Although he may have thought that he was pushing his “change” theme by invoking his status as a “Maverick,” distancing himself from Bush, and talking about earmarks, he dropped it as a framing theme in favor of “experience.” He needs to at least stay competitive as a “change agent” if he wants to win the election. I assume that he’ll return to this frame in later debates, but he needed to do more of it last night.

2. If the polls are still at Obama +5-6 by the next debate, I expect there’s a good likelihood that the current differences in Obama’s and McCain’s tone and presentation will become more acute. Although Democratic partisans want Obama to go more offense, at that point he’s likely to be focused on running out the clock, i.e., reprising his themes and avoiding making any negative news.

3. I’m not convinced that the debates will matter very much this year. If we do see movement in the polls away from Obama by the middle of next week, don’t assume that it had anything to do with the debate. Likewise if his lead continues to expand.


Is McCain about to lose the post-debate?

It sure looks like it.

The good (unreliable) instant polls for Obama are already framing the narrative in an interesting way: given how many pundits called the debate for McCain, the question is why undecided voters saw things differently.

This, in conjunction with the absence of “defining moments,” seems to be driving a growing focus on issues of demeanor and body language.

And here we find some real problems for McCain: his almost total lack of eye contact with Obama and his facial expressions while Obama was talking. Such behavior fits, unfortunately for McCain, into preexisting frames about his temper and his lack of respect for Obama. It also supplies the most obviously material for satire.

Now, I’m not convinced we’re looking at a repeat of the first Bush-Gore debate. Gore trounced Bush but got destroyed by his sighs and eyerolling–which, at the time, I barely noticed but my wife squirmed at and predicted would be used against him. I did, however, comment during McCain-Obama debate that some of McCain’s expressions could get him into trouble, and now I’m starting to think that they will.

And now stories are cropping up concerning audio of McCain apparently swearing during Obama’s reference to McCain’s supposed “Spain gaffe.”

If I were in the McCain campaign, I’d be very worried right now, despite my prior analysis.


Debate reaction – Nexon

Peter’s already made some good points about the debate, but I thought I would weigh in as well.

I should start out with a confession. I’m a politics junkie and an international affairs geek. But I was bored stiff by this debate. And if even I was bored stiff, I imagine a lot of people out there tuned out of the debate before it ended.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me turn to some quick impressions.

Worst Moments

Obama: “Well, let me just make a closing point. You know, my father came from Kenya. That’s where I get my name….” And so began a weak, weird, and incongruous statement that, as best I can tell, was a flubbed attempt to say something about American soft power.

McCain: “And I — and I honestly don’t believe that Senator Obama has the knowledge or experience and has made the wrong judgments in a number of areas, including his initial reaction to Russian invasion — aggression in Georgia, to his — you know…” Not only did McCain trip over a tacit admission that Georgia started the conflict, but his attack on Obama’s experience fell flat insofar as he delivered them after a long and serious debate between the two men. In trumpeting his own experience, McCain made the point much more effectively than when he accused Obama of being a young whippersnapper.

Collective: is Georgia joining Israel in the pantheon of allies that all politicians have to pledge their fealty to? As much as I want the best for the country and its people, Georgia is not Israel. And the infighting amongst the one-time Orange Coalition, for that matter, is a reason not to rush them into NATO.

Best Moments

McCain: “So let me get this right. We sit down with Ahmadinejad, and he says, “We’re going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,” and we say, “No, you’re not”? Oh, please.” Nice line on a dispute that, to be frank, amounts to more sound than fury. Neither an Obama nor a McCain Administration is is likely to differ radically from one another when it comes to meeting with, or not meeting with, our adversaries.

Obama: “Now here’s what we need to do. We do need tougher sanctions. I do not agree with Senator McCain that we’re going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some cooperation with some countries like Russia and China that are, I think Senator McCain would agree, not democracies, but have extensive trade with Iran but potentially have an interest in making sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon.” And herein lies one of the key problems with the League of Justice Democracies proposal.

Collective: the features that made this debate boring also, in many ways, reflected well on the two candidates. It isn’t surprising that they both maintain high favorability ratings at this point in the campaign.

Who won?

McCain, by a hair. He was smoother, spoke with more authority, and dominated the debate once it turned to foreign policy. But this was a narrow victory on points, and I suspect that the McCain campaign would’ve liked more than that.

Who lost?

The pundits, who may have to actually discuss substance for once (but don’t hold your breath).

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