Posted tagged ‘Debate’

Post Debate Punditing Without A License

October 4, 2012

I’m going to do something I very rarely wish to inflict on y’all.  Usually, I like to invoke at least a schmear of empirical evidence to drive an argument, but just this once I’m going to go all pundity…

….which means, I guess, that I gotta with a Penetrating Glimpse of the Obvious:

Last night’s debate was a poor showing for President Obama and those of us who see the prospect of a President Romney as a clear and present danger to the Republic and our kids’ future.

Which leads to the equally obvious (but true) pivot:

No campaign is a single event. Counting today there are 32 full days to go before the polls open on Tuesday, November 6.  Last night’s farrago will become part of the river of stories that flow towards that day — but it is the sum of those tales, not any single shiny moment, that will determine the outcome.

Already, some folks — partisans for now, to be sure — are trying to draw attention to what Romney actually said, and in doing so, identifying the significant vulnerabilities this debate exposed for the Republican cause.  For example, I agree with Mistermix that Romney’s signal mistake was to open himself up for a renewed assault on his Medicare position — and that link to Krugman shows it ain’t just us DFH’s paying attention.   I also think Romney’s tripling down on his tax plan will allow a lot of people, and not just wonks, to remind folks of the gap between arithmetic and all the BS Romney and Ryan have thrown out on this one.

As Josh Marshall says in that second link, this is the kind of thing that takes several news cycles to build.  But recall:  we were all enraged at the brazen embrace of easily refutable lies in the Ryan RNC Convention speech.  We didn’t have faith in either the MSM or the Obama campaign (Democrats after all!) to take on the deceit with anything like the attention needed to defuse such weaponized ruminant excrement.  But they did, and (with some help from the marathon man himself) Ryan has become at least a bit of punchline ever since.*

So:  President Obama missed many opportunities last night, perhaps most significantly in not drawing a sharp enough line between the “you’re on your own” Romney vision and the “we’re all in this together” music Obama has played to such great effect in the past (and I’m sure will again, soon).

But the real test of the Obama campaign will be what it does over the next week with the actual missteps Romney made last night.  How will they use his internal contradictions in the ads?  What will Obama and his surrogates say to local news folks?  How quickly can their operation drive the mainstream media to go to town on stories like this one? (Shorter: it took almost no time at all for a Romney aide to contradict Romney’s core claim about pre-existing conditions and Medicare.)  No guarantees exist, but I have to say I’ve been damn impressed with the side of the Obama campaign that pursues such ends.  (Note also that Fallows reminds us that (in his view) debating is the best campaign technique for Romney.  Obama’s operation has been superior to his rival’s in every other phase so far.)

To repeat the cliché — holy hell, if I’m pretending to be a pundit I’ve got to hammer those too — but campaigns are marathons, not sprints.  Romney’s performance last night was like ripping off an 15 second 100 yard dash in mile 18th on the way to the Back Bay.**  Yup, he won that stretch of road.  Now comes the time to reel him in.

Which leads me to my last thought, the one I hope y’all take home: 32 days, peeps. It’s not just Obama and the grandees of the profession, the Axelrod’s and the Plouffe’s who can’t let themselves get too much sleep between now and then.  There’s the rest of us.  There’s me.

I have to confess — I’ve been less involved in a boots-on-the-ground kind of way in this election than the last, and by a good margin too.  My wife and I have been giving money on a regular basis, but I used to be a phone bank hero, and then got into door-to-door as my preferred mode of participation.  Haven’t done that this year; pretty much all I’ve done that requires me to upgrade from a bathrobe in front of a screen in my basement*** is to show up at a couple of Warren events.  That’s not enough — if there is one true lesson to be gained from the debate it is that nothing is in the bag, not the Presidency, not the Senate, surely not the House.

I’m not Tim F.  I can’t match his gift for catalyzing action.  But action is needed, so here’s my pledge.  I’m going to do something every week from now through Monday, 5 November.  I’ve got the day job and I’ve got the kid and there’s some real life stuff happening in my extended family, so I can’t do what I did when I was a mere pup, and just take off for New Hampshire for the last two weeks of the 1992 election.  But I’ll be heading that way to canvas this weekend and everyday I can liberate from my daily round between now and the 6th; I’ll be tossing more bucks in the pot today, and no doubt on days to come; I’ll keep looking for useful tasks that I can tackle.  I really don’t want to do this — I’m becoming more misanthropic and generally grumpy with each passing year, but that’s what’s required, so I’m just going to kick my ass out the door as much as I possibly can.

You?

Update: Just to show it ain’t just my rose-colored monitor screens coloring my view, here’s a dispatch from the inner sanctum of the Village, NBC’s First Read:

*** Who wins the post-debate? If Romney won the instant reactions from last night’s debate, it is more than possible that the Obama camp can win the next 24 hours. Why? Because Romney said several things that could make life difficult for him today or in the next debate. First, Romney declared, “I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.” But in addition to supporting the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are skewed heavily to the wealthy, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says that Romney’s tax plan would give the Top 0.1% an average tax cut of more than $246,000. Next, he stated that “there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.” While he has said his plan will be paid for, he’s yet to lay out any SPECIFICS on how he’ll pay for it. Romney also said, “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.” But the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has said he’d sign into law, leads to long-term spending reductions in education. And Romney also didn’t disagree with the description that his Medicare plan would consist of “vouchers” for future retirees. Winning a “debate” is always a two-part deal — the night itself, and then the aftermath. This is now an opportunity for Team Obama and a challenge for Team Romney.

Update 2: And on cue, here’s an opening shot from Team Obama (via):

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None of this is to say all is well.

It isn’t.

This election is a month away and it really, truly ain’t in the bag yet.  So what I said above:  If the idea of waking up on November 7 to the words President-Elect Romney gives you the cold sweats, listen to the man — and don’t just vote, put mind, money and muscle behind the campaign to get your fri

*Via DeLong, a new game:  Where’s Waldo Paulie?

**Boston stuff — never mind.

***Not intended to be a factual statement.

Image:  Franz Marc, The Yellow Cow, 1911.

No One Really Needs More Debate Blather But…

October 16, 2008

Here are my only two thoughts after last night’s farrago.  It felt rather like the twelfth round of the third or fourth rematch between two heavyweights who know each other much too well.  I was tired for them by about minute fifteen.

But two things struck me.

First, Senator McCain has had what are for me many disqualifying moments in this campaign — the relatively minor, like his relentless pandering defense of his gas tax holiday; the overwhelmingly dangerous, like the selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate — but there was one moment last night that distilled the combination of policy and moral character defects that should bar John McCain from the office he seeks: this one.

Many others have picked up on McCain’s crude disdain for the health of pregnant women, but the transcript or the retelling does not capture the real shock of seeing McCain sneer the word “health” with his hands forming scare quotes around the sound.

Certainly, Americans disagree deeply on the issue of abortion — which is precisely the argument Senator Obama made about the necessity for the political system to allow that deep argument to be answered by individuals and their own families and networks of community.  McCain’s policy/philosophy of government deficit is revealed by his willingness to use the power of government to pick winners and losers in that contentious debate.  Does anyone out there, especially given the experience of the last eight years, believe that he would restrict that intrusive extension of government coercion merely to the realm of women’s autonomy?

His moral hollowness is revealed at the same moment.  McCain essentially said that it does not matter whether an actual person’s life is at risk; rather, he would treat that other human as a means to his own ends, the his own moral satisfaction or political advantage.  There is a lot of writing and thinking that has gone on around this kind of subordination of others to one’s own desires — for now, let me just refer you to the John Dewey quote I posted here, in anticipation of just this kind of moment last night.*

My other thought is true punditry without a license; ignore it as you should all those faffings of better dressed and better paid opinion mongers.  But I was struck (and pleased) by the overwhelming results of the snap polls and focus groups after the debate, all of them showing a strong victory for Obama.  I thought he did better too — but (a) I’m partisan and I would and (b) I thought the whole evening had a kind of deja vu quality, with arguments and cross claims that have been beaten into my brain over the last several weeks.  How could such a derivative event have such a striking impact on those surveyed?

Well, without any data to back me up, I wonder if the real purpose of last night’s debate for those still trying to choose their candidate was really to confirm an inclination that had not yet hardened into a commitment.

According to many polls by now, Obama has already won the argument on the economy; survey after survey has shown that the electorate by a substantial margin believe him better suited to respond to the problems we face now than his opponent.  In that context, there would seem to me to be a fair number of people who think they ought to vote for the new kid on the block…but could plausibly have felt the need to kick the tires (mixed metaphor alert!) one last time before settling into that decision.

The snap polls would thus reflect not a judgment on who won each point raised and answered in ninety minutes, but on whether or not someone who has already established the formal case for his candidacy satisfying the last big question:  should someone so relatively young and unfamiliar be trusted with the job.  If I’m right, then a substantial number of the overtly uncommitted voter pool went into the debate with a covert lean-Obama tilt, needing comfort in that conclusion, found it in Obama’s cool and calm performance, and came out much more ready to state explicitly that the senator from Illinois is ready to be President of the United States.

And that, my friends (h/t John McCain III), is analysis worth exactly what you paid for it.

(FWIW — Greg Sargent makes an overlapping, and certainly complementary argument here.)

*My wife points out that one of the most troubling aspects of McCain’s dismissing of the mother’s  health in this instance is the disdain it shows not just for her, but for any children she might  have.  McCain’s view advances the case of the gestating fetus over that of both the mother and the rest of her family.  You can pretty quickly render a wide range of moral/ethical arguments against this view, and in any event, it seems like a choice of this import and intimacy would hardly be one that most people would want to leave to that stranger to their daily lives, John McCain (or any other person, sitting far away, passing judgment).

Image (a repeat, I’m afraid):  William Hogarth, “The Polling” from The Humours of an Election series, 1754-1755.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Nod’s As Good As A Wink To A Blind Bat, Guv’nor: Sarah Palin Edition

October 3, 2008

Just to add one data point to Hilzoy’s argument about Palin as flirt.

Several in the blogosphere — Sullivan and Benen, for two who shared Hilzoy’s disgust — have noted with disbelief Rich Lowry’s transports of delight at the virtual pole dance he seems to have witnessed while watching Governor Palin debate.

Hilzoy went one step deeper into the morass and did a little dissection of the electoral implications of Palin’s tease technique:

I’m sure I’m not the only female in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, rolled her eyes and thought: oh, dear God. We have all seen just that wink deployed at guys like Rich Lowry. We have all watched in amazement as it actually works, despite its transparent manipulativeness. What, we all wonder, could those guys possibly be thinking?

I’m sure she’s right — though absent some real research, “sure” only to a certain value of certitude.  But there is this:  each time Palin winked, at least three in all, my wife howled in disbelief and rage.

So now we’ve doubled our sample.  If we can now just get the exponent on this sample size to ten, we might know something.

I will say this on my gender’s behalf:  one of the few good things of making it into the neighborhood of 50 is that it gets easier even for those of us down one X to see through this kind of thing.

So, just as a working hypothesis,  Palin’s numbers continue to tank with women, this may one big reason why.

As a bonus…here’s the Monty Python sketch that inspired the title of this post.  Remember, when asked, say that “She’s from Purley”…from whence I am sure she could see Russia….

Image:  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Moulin Rouge:  La Goulue,” 1891.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

I Have Seen The Light: A Revelation on Reading David Brooks This Morning

October 3, 2008

David Brooks is Sarah Palin.

You can see what I mean in five minutes with today’s Times op-ed page.  On the one hand, this, from Brooks.  On the other, this from Paul Krugman.

I have to admit to a certain weariness of spirit everytime I pick up Brooks’ “work” (sic — ed.) these days.  How often must one say the same thing in a slightly different context:  that Brooks is a glib hack, too lazy to do even the minimal work required to flesh out his preconceptions with even the most fragile of veneers of fact or experience?  I complained here that he wasn’t even trying anymore, and nothing in today’s effort suggests otherwise.

Of course, given the reach of the pulpit he possesses from which to bully the rest of us, he needs to be stomped as often as he rises on his hind legs. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance (as Sarah Palin reminded us last night explaining why she wants to kill Medicare).*

So here goes.  Today, Brooks argues (a) that because Palin spoke in complete sentences, she met the “survival” test; (b) she was just folks, and though such casual style won’t wash in the elevated circles in which Brooks travels, it could do very well out there in flyover country.

By the way:  I’m not kidding about the disdain for his alledged fellow GOP supporters Brooks displays these days.  Here’s the same notion in his words:

To many ears, her accent, her colloquialisms and her constant invocations of the accoutrements of everyday life will seem cloying. But in the casual parts of the country, I suspect, it went down fine.

Memo to all those casual parts of the country.  Now y’all know what Serious ™ conservatives think of you.

Last, Brooks alleged that Palin had reached debate parity with Biden; that she was a radical alternative to Washington insiders; and that, while no game-changer, her performance was an unexpected, “vibrant and tactically clever” tour de force.

There are of course, problems with this interpretation.  Two big ones.  The first is that the column as a whole is a list of nicely constructed platitudes presented with no clear connection to what actually happened.

In fact, much — really most — of the piece could have and may well have been written before 9 p.m. last night.  Except for the fact of Palin’s black suit, and the fact that she can pronounce the name of the president of Iran, more than half is Brooks waffling on about terrified GOPers hiding behind sofas and the grand significance of casual Fridays to the great scheme of things.

Such airy generalization is the trick that bored college students use to flesh out the last three hundred words of an eight hundred word assignment.  As I’ve said before, if I were surnamed Ochs or Sulzberger, I’d want a refund.

But this same laziness – or worse — caused Brooks to miss the key story he thought he was covering.  The question the post-debate polls asked was simple and obvious:  Did Palin do what was necessary in the debate?  Did the debate persuade the uncertain that Palin was ready for the job she seeks?

Brooks can’t answer that question.  He couldn’t even ask it, because unlike musings on politics as performance, this one could be answered in ways he still does not wish to accept.

And it was:  within the statistical limits of the polls, the answer was no; her numbers on this question were effectively unchanged, at least as a first reaction to the debate.

That fact leads to the conclusion that Brooks is struggling to avoid: The fact that Americans by a notable majority in the context of such a divided electorate see her as unqualified reflects not on her, but on the man with whom those polled disagree:  John McCain.

This blog exists as a defense of empiricism and the use of the analytical methods of science to interpret the raw data of experience.  There are, of course, lots of pundit/hacks who daily commit sins as bad as those of Brooks — willed ignorance, cherrypicking of data, ignoring contrary facts, howling intellectual solecisms and all the duplicitous arsenal of the ideologically blinded right.

But I have to confess that Brooks gets my goat more than most precisely because of his pretention to scientific respectability — his musings on neuroscience, his assertion of soft-science knowledge and authority.  It’s BS — a facade and a fraud.  Today’s offering is the latest of a “what I thought while seated in the smallest room of the  house” tossed off little number.

We deserve better from the New York Times.  Hell — the Right deserves better from somone supposedly representing the view from that side of the debate in the most visible of positions.

And of that David as Sarah reference:  Compare Brooks’ offering today with Krugman’s.  Now, whatever you think of Krugman, he is, like Biden, expert in his area, aware of the ground of experience, deeply knowlegable.  His column today, not about the debate, focuses instead on the financial crisis and its broader economic implications.

It’s not a particularly data-dense column — but it makes reference to facts, it suggests reasonable inferences from those facts; it provides a framework for pursuing some of the top level claims more deeply (and Krugman does, in fact, get you the latest awful numbers for you in his first blog post of today) and so on.

Again — while I’m a Krugman fan, others surely disagree.  But when they do they are forced to engage him on the ground of the data and his argument.

Brooks exerts no such compulsion.  He has his talking points; he is glib and plausible.  Pushed even a little, it becomes painfully obvious that there is no there there.

Isn’t in time the Times had mercy on this out-of-his-depth man and sent him back to the Weekly Standard wading pool in which he can’t hurt himself so easily?

Image:  Artist unknown, “The Swaddled Twins” dated 7 April 1617. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Domestic Dialogue: Palin Commentary Edition (All Words 100% Truly Uttered Or Your Money Back).

October 2, 2008

Spouse:  “She looks ditzy.”

Me:  “You’re a committed partisan.”

Spouse:  “I just don’t like stupid women.”

For the record:  IMHO, Palin is not stupid, not even close.  Other adjectives come to mind — but the Alaskan political tundra is littered with folks who made that mistake.

A Bold Prediction

October 2, 2008

That confab they’re having right now in Missouri?

My guess at this point is that it is shaping up to be a much-hyped non-event.  Those that think Palin is a competent, engaging, just-like-them valid candidate for the job of waiting for the guy with his hands on the codes to die will continue to think so.  She does not display the lost waif in the woods look of her Couric interviews, she is composed, and for some that will be enough.

The rest of us, living in Realistan, will see her as a perfectlly artful dodger, (I’m not here to answer your questions, just to say what I’ve memorized)  and get back to the main act:  where we get to decide whether we want the man who would put such a person so close to the nuclear trigger — or the guy who actually seems to think before he speaks and acts.

Sound and fury, in other words, signifying a whole lot of nothing.

Then again — I thought the Patriots would take the Giants by two TDs +.

The Great Debate and the Death of Science (in the USA)

September 27, 2008

OK — so that’s hyperbole, by a wide margin.

But the one thing that last night’s debate between the irrecoverably mendacious McCain, and the amazingly calm Obama confirmed for me is that the large subset of basic scientific research conducted in the US funded by the government is in deep trouble.  It’s fate is likely worse, by a wide margin under a McCain presidency than under the administration of President Obama, but hard times are coming, folks; start your canning and get to splitting your cord wood.

How did I learn this?  There was actually one piece of policy news made last night, that makes something I’ve argued to be true for a while now blindingly obvious.

As the situationally astute Marc Ambinder pointed out, that bit of news was McCain’s call for a spending freeze in the non-defense, non-entitlement, non veterans affairs rump of government departments.  Ygelsias has already highlighted the economic and budgetary nonesense of the proposal.

To take that idea at face value, a spending freeze would leave intact the budget priorities established over eight years of Bush administration benign and malign neglect of science.  See this post for a brief review of the numbers behind that bleak assessment.

In the linked post, I also argued that McCain’s budget priorities, as laid out in his own words on the stump and on his website required that there would be no new money for science — nothing to reverse the flat or real-dollar drop in federal support for science under Bush (i.e. — the Bush administration has supported funding just keeping up with inflation for most of its tenure, and called for a real-dollar drop in the most recent budget).

In fact, the implications of McCain’s stated fiscal* intentions are worse than that:  to achieve his tax and cost-cutting goals, along with his pursuit of increased military spending, most or all non-defense discretionary spending would have to go, including federal support for science.  That was all before the mortgage-backed-securities (note — not sub-prime, please) mess came along.

As Jim Lehrer noted last night, cleaning up that mess is going to have an knock on impact on the budget.  McCain’s response was an earmark crusade, pursuit of all those government agencies wasting money, and his promise of level funding, barring those increases still promised for defense and veterans affairs — which is, again, a cut when inflation is factored in.

It’s not hard to see, given McCain’s disdain for sequencing bear DNA — a snark repeated last night–that science agencies have reason to fear being deemed wasteful. (It’s true that he does not seem to mind investigating the genetic code of the seal, for what possible reason, I wonder?)

So, should McCain win, the upcoming budget crater will be navigated by a person and a member of a party that together has a history of taking whacks at science.  Given that, I see no reason to doubt that federal science under McCain would suffer not just a freeze, but an dollar number as well as an inflationary hit.

Obama promises better.  In the economic portion of the debate he said

The third thing we have to do is we’ve got to make sure that we’re competing in education. We’ve got to invest in science and technology. China had a space launch and a space walk. We’ve got to make sure that our children are keeping pace in math and in science.

But at the same time he acknowledged the reality:

There’s no doubt it will affect our budgets. There is no doubt about it. Not only — Even if we get all $700 billion back, let’s assume the markets recover, we’ holding assets long enough that eventually taxpayers get it back and that happened during the Great Depression when Roosevelt purchased a whole bunch of homes, over time, home values went back up and in fact government made a profit. If we’re lucky and do it right, that could potentially happen but in the short term there’s an outlay and we may not see that money for a while.

And because of the economy’s slowing down, I think we can also expect less tax revenue so there’s no doubt that as president I’m go doing have to make some tough decisions.

He’ll try, that is; he understands the importance of not eating your seed corn.  But the last eight years of ordinary Bush/GOP (McCain supported) budget profligacy has just been turbocharged, and the blunt reality is that it will be a struggle for any part of the federal discretionary budget to hold its own.

Obama’s point about tax revenues holds for the states as well, of course, so there is not much real hope of any cushioning of the blow, even for public universities, at that level of government.

It gets worse:

Last Thursday or so, I ran into a senior member of the MIT adminstration this week, someone deeply involved in funding and running the research side of the Institute, and he pointed out the obvious:  when the financial system caves and the stock market trembles, private philanthropy suffers too.  So that’s another leg of the science – funding stool getting sawn through as we go.

The net take-home:  hard times are about to get harder for major science research institutions in this country.  That promises, as Sen. Obama acknowledges, to threaten future economic prospects and to undermine our national strength and the ability to project hard and soft power internationally.

And as for what this means for those who value science as a voting issue this November?

Vote Obama, for specific and systemic reasons.

The specific:  even though I think it unlikely science will get an enormous boost, at least in his first couple of budgets, he clearly understands the significance of the enterprise.

The general:  (a) Obama’s economic policies are better than McCain’s, and are more likely to produce more wealth, and hence tax revenue that can be used for federal support for science than those of the opposition.

(b) “a” is no accident:  Democrats have a much, much better record than Republicans as economic stewards by just about any measure of economic performance, from growth, to stock market return, to compressing income inequality.  (Thanks to Brad DeLong for acting as such a prolific one-stop shop for these kinds of data.)

So:  if you like science and want the US to continue looking in to it, just remember:  friends (of science) don’t let friends vote for McCain this November.

*For McCain’s confusion of the terms “fiscal” and “financial” as modifiers for the word “crisis” — and the implications of that error — see this.  It’s important:  while beyond the scope of this post, and probably of this blog’s competence (not that that will stop you — ed.) the mistake reaffirms the suspicion that McCain  has no idea what is happening with the debt/derivative/liquidity crisis and hence would leave the federal response to the problem to some subset of the eighty or so financial sector lobbyists now staffing his campaign.

Images:  Julian Falat, “Snow,” 1907.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Meteor Crater, Arizona. Image by USGS.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.