Browsing the blog archives for October, 2008.

“Politics Ain’t Beanbag:” Illinois Edition

Congressional Elections, Politics, US Elections, US Politics
Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Elvis)

Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Elvis)

It is common for political candidates to link their opponents with an unpopular or discredited figure from the opponents’ political party. Barack Obama, for instance, has joined John McCain so thoroughly with George W. Bush that McCain had to remind Obama in the last debate that “I am not President Bush.” In 2006, many Republican congressional candidates seemed to be running against Nancy Pelosi rather than their Democratic rivals. And so there is nothing particularly unusual about a television ad, run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), attacking Marty Ozinga, Republican candidate in IL-11, in which the voice-over intones: “Republican Marty Ozinga and his companies gave 23 grand to Rod Blagojevich.” If true, it’s a contemptible instance of bribery and corruption. The ad, however, omits one small detail: Rod Blagojevich, governor of Illinois, is a Democrat. Yes, that’s right: the DCCC, in an ad supporting Democratic congressional candidate Debbie Halvorson, is accusing Democratic governor Blagojevich of taking a payoff.

The governor wasn’t altogether pleased to be the victim of friendly fire. “Mr. Blagojevich, himself a former congressman, is said to have ‘gone ballistic’ when he first heard of the spot.”

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Obama and the Supreme Court

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

One of the talking points my friends on the right (real friends, not the McCain usage) bring up is concern over who Obama will appoint to the Supreme Court.  Obama made the following comments on his Supreme Court criteria

I would not appoint somebody who doesn’t believe in the right to privacy. But you’re right, Wolf, I taught constitutional law for 10 years, and I — when you look at what makes a great Supreme Court justice, it’s not just the particular issue and how they rule, but it’s their conception of the court. And part of the role of the court is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority, those who are vulnerable, those who don’t have a lot of clout.

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A spectre of far-right violence?

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics
Old-fashioned Clinton derangement syndrom

Old-fashioned Clinton derangement syndrom

Yesterday, I wrote (at length..) about the prevalence of abortion clinic bombings and other attacks on reproductive health workers. All in response to Sarah Palin’s remarks in her interview with Brian Williams that while Bill Ayers is obviously a terrorist, those abortion clinic bombers? “I don’t know if you’re going to use the word terrorist there”.

I ended up noting that hey, at least the number of violent attacks has gone down significantly since their peak in the early and mid-nineties. But why? Maybe because bombing just lost some of its cool even to the manic fringes of the religious right after 9/11. Maybe because, well, times change, a new generation has come to age. But at the back of my mind, I worry about a third possible explanation:

You could speculate on a more troubling correlation though, one to do with how this kind of domestic terrorism appears to have peaked in the early and mid-nineties. An era, in short, when conservatives were faced with a man being elected President who embodied, in their perception, everything they were against. When they were faced, also, with a looming sense that they were losing the culture wars against a new generation (the baby-boomers), which seemed about to wrest the cultural and political authority they had won in the Reagan years from their hands.

There’s an unnerving parallel there, but that’s for another blog post.

The parallel is, of course, with what might just happen, or what we might fear may just happen, after a likely Obama election victory. Alarmism aside, there have been some smart and thoughtful observations by digby and others about emerging conservative efforts to portray a President Obama as nothing less than an illegitimate President. The last couple of weeks have also seen troubling manifestations of a mindset in which Obama is nothing less than an anti-American heir of Hitler and Mao.

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Would you use the word terrorist there?

Politics, Presidential Elections, US culture, US Elections, US Politics

The news addicts among you will already have seen this one:

Think Progress has the transcript:

[BRIAN WILLIAMS]: Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist, under this definition, governor?

PALIN: (Sigh). There’s no question that Bill Ayers via his own admittance was one who sought to destroy our U.S. Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist. There’s no question there. Now, others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that uh, it would be unacceptable. I don’t know if you’re going to use the word terrorist there.

“Have we really reached the point at which the Republican ticket wants to parse the meaning of the word “terrorist”?,” Steve Benen asks at the Washington Monthly. He also wonders, “does John McCain, who sat silently during the exchange, agree with this?”, before answering his own question: “Actually, he might. ThinkProgress noted a couple of weeks ago that McCain has “repeatedly voted against protecting Americans from domestic terrorists carrying out violence at abortion clinics.”

Violence against abortion providers, fig. 1

Violence against abortion providers, fig. 1, based on NAF data.

What kind of views does Palin’s take spring from? How widespread has the anti-abortion strand of domestic terrorism been? Are there any trends?

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Oooohh.. cockfight!

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics
Its on now! Ken Adelman vs Fred Barnes

It's on! Ken Adelman vs Fred Barnes

Tune in for the Republican backstabbin’ meltdown special: in the new Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes has penned a piece about “the Palin divide,” tellingly titled “To Know Her Is To Respect Her” (h/t The Stump). He writes:

My advice is ignore the critics who know far less about Palin than she does about foreign policy. A good example is Ken Adelman, who headed the arms control agency in the Reagan administration. Adelman recently endorsed Obama and said he “would not have hired [Palin] for even a mid-level post in the arms control agency.” Well, I know both Palin and Adelman. And Ken, I’m sorry to tell you, but I think there are an awful lot of jobs in Washington that Palin would get before you.

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Chafin’ Update

Presidential Elections, Uncategorized, US Politics

Sarah Palin’s chafin’ all right.

On Tuesday I wrote that I thought she was “frustrated that her big debut is being stepped on by the wrinkly old white-haired dude and his ineffectual group of cronies,” and asked whether Palin would “break free from her handlers in ways large and small, and try to further her own career — even if that means doing direct damage to John McCain’s chances in these last two weeks before election day?”

Look what Ben Smith of Politico is reporting today:

Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain’s camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain’s decline.

“She’s lost confidence in most of the people on the plane,” said a senior Republican who speaks to Palin, referring to her campaign jet. He said Palin had begun to “go rogue” in some of her public pronouncements and decisions.

“I think she’d like to go more rogue,” he said.

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McCain 2008 = Gore 2000? Matching the numbers from Gallup, ABC, TIPP and Zogby

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

A fair bit of attention has been paid in the blogs today to the assertion of McCain’s chief strategist Steve Schmidt that “The McCain campaign is roughly in the position where Vice President Gore was running against President Bush one week before the election of 2000.” It’s met a good dose of scepticism. The WaPo drily annotated the quote as follows:

McCain’s team dismisses the most dire polls — those showing the race nationally with a double-digit lead for Obama. Advisers believe the contest’s margin is in the five-to-seven-point range, about the same deficit, they say, that then-Vice President Al Gore faced at this time eight years ago against then-Gov. George W. Bush. (A Washington Post poll at the same point in the 2000 race showed a tie.)

NBC’s First Read similarly remarked:

[T]he NBC/WSJ poll right before the election found Bush ahead by three among likely voters (47%-44%). But our most recent poll shows Obama up [..] 11 points among likely voters (53%-42%).

In addition, Marc Ambinder points out that the margins are “way different” state-by-state: “Obama’s doing much better in 2008 than Al Gore was in 2000 in the battleground states.”

Now I had a graph up here a week or two ago charting how Obama’s current Gallup numbers compare with the lead or deficit that Kerry, Gore and Clinton faced in the previous three presidential elections. In the days since, Googlers have found this site through at least 27 permutations of searches involving some combination around Gore, Bush, polls, October, historical, 2000, elections, tracking and Gallup. So this is a good occasion to update that post and expand it, not just looking at the Gallup numbers but also those from the ABC, Zogby and TIPP daily tracking polls from 2000, 2004 and 2008.

First off, that chart from last time, based on the Gallup polling numbers from the last four elections. Here’s the update:

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If you eat the cake, you can’t have it no more…

Presidential Elections, US Politics

Today, the folks at First Read write:

*** The Colin Powell floodgates: Three semi-notable Republicans came out for Obama yesterday, including two former very-moderate Republican governors: Arne Carlson of Minnesota and Bill Weld of Massachusetts. Neither is that surprising to those that know the politics of the two ex-governors, but to a layman’s eyes, it’s not good news for McCain. What is striking here is that these endorsements underscore how McCain somehow lost his moderate identity — even among Republicans who seem to know him well. Seriously, these are the type of Republicans the McCain of 2000 would have counted on as his base. How did McCain end up being the nominee that was overly focused on wooing the base? How did he lose this middle-of-the-road mojo? Forget the Bush issue and the economy; McCain’s inability to keep his moderate identity might be the biggest mistake bungle of the campaign.

I agree that this is a central problem with the McCain campaign. McCain got the nomination in part because he was able to convince two very different groups — the religious conservatives and the moderates — that he was their guy. The moderates had loved him since 2000, and were happy to finally have a chance to brush past the Bush machine and get McCain elected. The religious conservatives were skeptical but they didn’t have that many options — there was a deep distrust of the Mormon Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee didn’t seem to be a serious contender (though I think it’s significant that he received as many votes as he did). Divorced, cross-dressing, gay-friendly Rudolph Giuliani of New York City was an even worse choice for this group than McCain.

So they were brought along, grudgingly. And the grudge showed.

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Notes From a Battleground State: On the Ground

Presidential Elections, US Politics
Volunteers outside of the OSU Obama campaign office

Volunteers outside of the OSU Obama campaign office

I volunteer for the Obama campaign here in Columbus, Ohio. I have been for a while and have watched the ranks of volunteers swell and swell. These days the mood is probably best summarized as “nose to the grindstone” — people are optimistic and somewhat hopeful, but everyone I’ve come in contact with seems allergic to taking anything for granted. And everyone is working their butts off.

I’m deaf so I don’t do the two biggest volunteer jobs — phone banks and canvassing. That works out well because while I’m more than happy to answer questions or debate someone who’s being obnoxious, I really dislike any sort of salesmanship, getting into people’s private space (whether knocking on doors or making calls) to convince them of something. I know this is the bedrock of a successful campaign operation, though, so I thank and admire the people who do this with sensitivity and aplomb — and I’ve met a lot of those people.

Inside of OSU Obama office

Inside of OSU Obama office

What I do instead is various odds and ends. I took my (cheap, digital, low-quality) camera with me on Tuesday and snapped some photos as I made my rounds.

First, I bought a bunch of supplies that had been requested by the campus Obama office and dropped them off. These ranged from chalk and cheap hairspray (a major “chalking” operation was taking place on campus that day as various artists drew on streets and sidewalks encouraging people to vote for Obama) to handsoap and dishsoap.

The OSU office was a cheerful, chaotic place. I received much gratitude for the bags of goodies I’d brought. There were posters and stickers and fliers everywhere on the walls, and food and drink and stacks of paper everywhere on the tables, but the overall sense was of pleasant industry.

Prominently displayed were the office’s goals:

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History as farce

European Politics, Politics

Budapest riot police, 2007I’ve given up on chasing after the riots like I used to (texts, photos), but the national holidays and commemorations which they unvariably adorn here in Hungary still have an eerie quality. Living downtown, you have the sound of the choppers hovering overhead all day and night long — and when you venture out in the evening, the boulevard is cordoned off and a convoy of cop cars and vans filled with riot police sirens past.

A quick glance at the usual breathless minute-by-minute reporting by the right-wing Magyar Nemzet newspaper suggests that an overpowering police presence this time stifled the would-be rioters – a generation yearning to emulate the heroic fights of its grandparents, doomed to imitate them as farce. At what cost they are succeeding is another question.

Update: Police did find “three petrol-fuelled explosive devices with timers attached” in the boot of a passenger car by Budapest’s Western Railway Station.

On the other hand, there was a rare occasion of, let’s say, civic intervention:

A group of 200, most of whom were wearing ski masks covering their faces, moved on to join a World Federation of Hungarians gathering in another part of the city when residents of a nearby building doused them with an unidentified liquid probably water. They responded by throwing rocks at the offending apartments.

That’s a first, I think.

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English-Only the Wedge Issue du Jour?

Politics, US Elections, US Politics

The skilled practitioner of “up-close” magic knows that the secret of success is misdirection.  “Observe that there is nothing in the top hat,” the illusionist will announce while he grabs the rabbit hidden under the table.  When done well, the audience member not only doesn’t notice the misdirection, he doesn’t even know he was the victim of the sleight of hand.

St. Louis Cardinals fan defending the English language

St. Louis Cardinals fan doing his bit to defend the English language

The Republican Party has learned this lesson well, and, in recent years, it has perfected the art of electoral misdirection.  This involves utilizing state initiative and referendum laws to place controversial social issues on the ballot.  The advantage is twofold: it drives social-values voters to the polls who might otherwise not be motivated enough to vote, and it forces the particular issue into the forefront of the other campaigns, which often places liberal or progressive candidates into the uncomfortable position of having to take a stand on a contentious and potentially divisive issue.

Paradoxically, the perfect issue for this kind of ballot initiative is one that, because it involves a constitutional right, can’t be changed by a ballot initiative.  That way, win or lose, the issue is thrust into the center of the political discourse while the party backing the initiative isn’t responsible for actually doing anything about it.  Abortion is, in this respect, the perfect social values ballot measure, and three states have abortion initiatives on the ballot for the 2008 election, including South Dakota, where conservatives were left crying “do over!” after suffering a surprising defeat in 2006.

When it comes to the mother of all misdirections, the GOP hit the jackpot in 2004 when it backed eleven statewide referenda to ban gay marriage.  All eleven passed.

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Too. Many. Daily tracking polls. Update, 22 October.

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

The last daily tracking polls update I posted was on 8 October. That’s a lot of daily tracking poll results ago. Yet the bottom line is that nothing much has changed since.

On 8 October, the three-day running average of the daily tracking polls had Obama in the lead by 7%. Today, it has him in the lead by 7.1%. And in the meantime the clock is ticking on, and the window of opportunity for McCain to still close the gap is rapidly closing (or has it already closed?).

One major thing has changed though: there are ever more of the damn things. Daily tracking polls I mean. It seems like no self-respecting pollster can do without one this year (and to think that Gallup didn’t even have one in 2004!).

In early October you already had the long-running Gallup and Rasmussen ones, the Research 2000 one (sponsored by the Daily Kos) and the poll sponsored by Hotline and the alcoholic drinks business Diageo, conducted by FD. Zogby and Reuters started their own on 7 October; Investors Business Daily and the pollster TIPP followed on 13 October, and as of last Monday, ABC and the Washington Post present one as well.

daily tracking polls

Chart 1: All daily tracking polls

If you’re keeping a graph and you were basing any kind of trendline on the average of all daily tracking polls, this – well – sucks. Because every new poll comes with its own house effect, deviating from the others in its own ways. Zogby, for example, started off showing a 2-point lead for Obama when Rasmussen, Gallup and R2000 had it at 8-11 points. Then, just as the Zogby poll had settled nearer to the average, the IBD/TIPP poll came on the market showing Obama in the lead by just 2 points, when the other pollsters had it at 4, 5, 6, 10 and 12 points, respectively. And just when Rasmussen, Zogby, IBD/TIPP and Hotline agreed on a 4-5 point Obama lead last Monday, the ABC/WaPo jumped in with its own tracking poll showing a 9-point lead.

Finally, there was Gallup, on 12 October, providing no longer just data for registered voters, but separate numbers for not just one, but two distinct “likely voter” samples as well, one encompassing a larger universe of voters than the other.

Seriously, you would be put off posting new graphs too.

Which of the three sets of Gallup numbers do you feature? How do you deal with how the ups and downs in your average reflect some new poll having been added into the mix as much as any genuine shift in the numbers? And how meaningful do any of the numbers still seem anyway, when on almost any given day the five-to-nine sets of numbers you’re looking at have Obama’s lead anywhere between 3 and 11 points? (And that’s just the daily tracking polls!)

Chart 1 above, if you click it to enlarge, shows how messy and, by implication, uncertain it all is. The pollsters are all over the map in pinpointing Obama’s lead. But saying that is also identifying the obvious commonality. Every one of the daily tracking polls has Obama in the lead, and that’s been true since 17 September, over a month ago.

How big is that lead though?

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