Monday, October 29, 2012

The Way They Were

I have to confess, I don't know who's going to win the presidential election this year, or whether the Democrats are going to retain control of the Senate.  Fact is, most pundits don't know either. All I can tell you is that I'm cautiously optimistic about the way things are shaping up on both fronts.

But there is one group which has no doubts about the above and they have not been shy about sharing their feelings.  The far-right conservative blogosphere is practically giddy about the coming Mitt Romney landslide.  To hear them tell it, Romney will get every swing state, including Pennsylvania, and win the popular vote by 6 points.  Furthermore, the Republicans will win more than enough seats to not only retake control of the Senate, but send a serious message to all the libs out there who are destroying America.

You see, it seems all the polls are pandering to the liberal media and not accurately reflecting the true voter sentiment.  And, naturally, the conservative polls know what that true sentiment is.  The fact that all of them are delusional is beside the point.  They are nothing if defiant.

I think what's really behind this alternate reality, though, is something far deeper and more hideous than the mere desire to win. After all, who doesn't want to see their side thrash the other?  I remember when Obama was up by 4 points and was leading in all the swing states before the debates and all my progressive friends were predicting their own version of a landslide.  Funny how things even out sometimes.

But the truth of the matter here is that the Right knows that this may be the last stand for them.  A weak recovery and a vulnerable president and the best they can do is a toss up election.  The Republican Party has managed to win just one demographic decisively: white men.  If you look at every other group: women, African Americans, Hispanics, they are trailing. Yes, Mitt Romney made some inroads with women during his makeover in Denver, but he still trails Obama here.  When it comes to the last two groups, it isn't even close.

Conservatives decry many things, but tops on their list is the way the country has changed over the last several decades.  You hear an awful lot of reminiscing about the good old days when America was America and the world trembled at our mere presence.  Check out the rhetoric all throughout the Arab Spring culminating in the unfortunate attack in Libya.  The neo-cons are just chomping at the bit as they slowly witness a changing world that neither needs our presence nor wants our meddling involvement in its affairs.  The so-called "apology tour" that Obama engaged in was ostensibly an acknowledgement that the United States hasn't walked on water over its "illustrious" history.  Just ask the millions of native peoples who had their land stolen from them in the name of Manifest Destiny. 

At home, there is an undercurrent of resentment directed at those who supposedly didn't earn their way up the ladder.  The assault on entitlements and civil rights is nothing more than an attempt to stem the rising tide that is threatening to wipe out what's left of their hegemony.  The recent battle cry to "save" the Constitution from the liberal activists is ostensibly code for rolling back decades of advancements for minorities.  Minorities, mind you, that are now rapidly becoming the dominant culture in America.  The row over illegal immigration amounts to blatant racism disguised as phony border security.

The white power structure that has run this country since its inception is now in jeopardy of becoming a minority and that scares the living shit out of the Right.  Barack Obama is their worst nightmare come true. He symbolizes for them not just a strong black man in the White House - their house by the way - but a strong black man who is well liked, articulate, intelligent and who serves as a role model for millions of people who are no longer beholden to the old worn out paradigms of the past.  People who now know that the impossible is possible.  Almost overnight the world turned upside down and there's absolutely nothing they can do about it.

Mitt Romney is their last, best chance to put the genie back in the bottle - if only for a short while - and serve notice that the help should know their proper place and stay put.  If he fails, it isn't just an election that will be lost; it'll be an entire nation.  The whole birther movement is an attempt to paint this president as someone who is not one of us.  That it has failed miserably is a sign that most of the country knows better.

No matter what happens this November, the far Right is on borrowed time.  The fact of the matter is that, barring a complete change of heart, the GOP's strategy will inevitably consign it to permanent minority status in the country.  It doesn't bode well for your future prospects when you consistently alienate every major demographic that is growing in an attempt to pander to the one demographic that isn't.

You've heard of Back to the Future? Try, The Way We Were.  There's nostalgia and then there's denial. This would be amusing if it weren't so sad.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tip of the Hat / Idiot's Delight

In an effort to conserve precious time and space on what has become a pretty busy and crowded month, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and combine two of my favorite features.  Normally these two segments don't share anything in common other than this blog, but this time around they segue perfectly.  You'll understand as you read on.


Colin Powell's Endorsement of Barack Obama on CBS This Morning:

"I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012 and I'll be voting for he and for Vice President Joe Biden next month.  

"When he took over, the country was in very very difficult straits. We were in the one of the worst recessions we had seen in recent times, close to a depression. The fiscal system was collapsing. Wall Street was in chaos, we had 800,000 jobs lost in that first month of the Obama administration and unemployment peaked a few months later at 10 percent. So we were in real trouble. The auto industry was collapsing, the housing was starting to collapse and we were in very difficult straits. And I saw over the next several years, stabilization come back in the financial community, housing is now starting to pick up after four years, it's starting to pick up. Consumer confidence is rising.

"Generally we've come out of the dive and we're starting to gain altitude.  The unemployment rate is too high, people are still hurting in housing but I see that we're starting to rise up.

"I saw the President get us out of one war, start to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars. And finally I think that the actions he has taken with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very very solid. And so, I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on.

"The Governor who was saying things at the debate on Monday night ... was saying things that were quite different from what he said earlier. I'm not quite sure which Governor Romney we would be getting with respect to foreign policy.  One day he has a certain strong view about staying in Afghanistan but then on Monday night he agrees with the withdrawal, same thing in Iraq. On almost every issue that was discussed on Monday night, Governor Romney agreed with the President with some nuances. But this is quite a different set of foreign policy views than he had earlier in the campaign. And my concern ... is that sometimes I don't sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have.

"As I listen to what his proposals are especially with respect to dealing with respect to our most significant issue, the economy, it's essentially let's cut taxes and compensate for that with other things but that compensation does not cover all of the cuts intended or the new expenses associated with defense.

"The major problem faced either by Governor Romney or President Obama, whoever wins the election, is going to be what to do about the fiscal cliff we're about to fly over. This is something that was put in place by Congress and while we're talking about the two candidates for president let's not forget that Congress bears a lot of responsibility for many of the problems that we have now. They're the ones that write the appropriations bills. They're the ones that pass the legislation for more spending and for the various entitlement programs that people have trouble with."


John Sununu's Reaction to Colin Powell's Endorsement of Barack Obama on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight:

Sununu: Well, I'm not sure how important that is. I do like the fact that Colin Powell's boss, George Herbert Walker Bush, has endorsed Mitt Romney all along. And frankly, when you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that's an endorsement based on issues or whether he's got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama.

What reason would that be?

Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.

Yep, there you have it: a man of conviction and a man convicted.  One man thoughtfully chose his words; the other played the race card.  One man is a patriot; the other an idiot.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Predicting the Undecided Vote

The prevailing wisdom in most presidential elections is that undecided voters tend to break away from the incumbent and towards the challenger.  If that is true, then Barack Obama is in trouble. Even if you dismiss the Gallup and Rasmussen polls, he is still polling around 48% nationally. If Mitt Romney gets, say, two thirds of the undecides, that would mean he would get somewhere between 50.5 and 51 percent of the popular vote.

Of course, the exception to that logic was the 2004 election.  George Bush was polling at about 48.5 percent with about ten days to go before the election; yet he ended up getting the majority of the undecided vote and defeated John Kerry.

How to reconcile the obvious contradiction of the Bush reelection with the accepted assumption.  Simple.  The assumption is wrong.  So says John Sides, an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.  In a piece he wrote for The Monkey Cage, Sides explains that there is "little evidence" that either side will benefit from a perceived break among this demographic:

I will assume that undecided voters will make a decision that reflects three things: their party identification, their approval of Obama (as a “referendum” model would suggest), and how favorably they feel toward Obama and Romney (the difference between how they feel about each candidate, as a “choice” model would suggest).  I estimate this model on all decided voters and then predict the choices of the undecided voters based on the model’s results.  The model predicts the choices of decided voters correctly 99% of the time, which is no surprise given the factors in the model.

The model predicts that these undecided voters will split almost exactly evenly: 50.1% for Obama and 49.9% for Romney.  There is substantial uncertainty in this estimate, naturally.  The 95% confidence interval for Obama’s predicted vote share is 44% to 56%.
Because there is no clear projected winner in national polls at this point, it is hard to say whether the no-shows would disproportionately hurt Romney or Obama.  Regardless, my analysis, plus this systematic feature of past elections, suggests that late decisions by the undecided voters may not be the, er, deciding factor in 2012.

If you're looking for silver linings that buck history and are encouraging, Sides has a very compelling argument to make.  Time will tell if he is right.

In the meantime, consider the words of Nate Silver, and I'm paraphrasing here: "You'd rather be Obama up 3 defending than Romney down 3 with the ball."



True Colors

Remember that scene in the Godfather Part III when Al Pacino says, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in?" Well Mitt Romney remembers it all too well.  Just when it looked as though the Republican nominee had gotten away with his little magic act in Denver, reality has reentered the race, courtesy of his own party.  Only in this instance, it wasn't the GOP who pulled him in; he willingly signed up for another tour of duty.

It was just a few days ago that the Mittster recorded an ad for Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. Mourdock, you may recall, was the Tea Party backed candidate who ousted long-time Republican Dick Lugar in the primaries.  Lugar's crime?  He had the temerity to work with Democrats in Congress.  That's a no no in the Tea Party.

Now there's usually nothing wrong with presidential candidates running ads for members of their own party.  Happens all the time.  Except in this case, Mr. Mourdock had some rather, shall we say, unusual views about rape and abortion that until a recent debate he had skillfully managed to keep to himself.  Remember that old saying you learned when you were a kid: "Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, then to open it and remove all doubt?"  I'm guessing Mourdock was absent when they taught that lesson, because this is what he said during his now infamous senior moment:

"The only exception I have to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." 

Richard Mourdock now joins the ranks of Todd (legitimate rape) Akin,  Paul (pit of hell) Broun, Sarah (I can see Russia from my house) Palin and all the other clowns who comprise the bulk of Republican Party; the same Republican Party that Mitt Romney has been trying so hard to run from and damn near succeeded.

You'd think, given the toxicity of the inflammatory comments and what's at stake, the former governor of Massachusetts would act swiftly to denounce Mourdock. After all, he spent the better part of his last debate with Barack Obama doing everything except dry hump the President's leg on foreign policy.  And yet, strangely, not only hasn't old Thurston Howell III failed to do so, he hasn't even pulled his ad.  Even with the remaining sane members of his party imploring him to do so, Mittens steadfastly refuses.

What that should tell you is that, despite his recent transformation into Moderate Mitt during the debates, Romney is every ounce the man we saw during the primaries and throughout most of the campaign.  And if he gets the opportunity, he will, no doubt, kowtow to the most extremist elements in the GOP as president. 

Make no mistake about it.  The only reason Mitt Romney closed the gap against Barack Obama is because he managed to convince a lot of low information voters that he wasn't one of the lunatics at the asylum.  This episode threatens that canard, because it exposes Romney for what he has been most of his political life: nothing more than a snake oil salesman who will say and do anything to get elected.  He's been running a con for the last three weeks, hoping the public wouldn't catch on.

That's the problem with playing Houdini. No matter how hard you work at keeping your slight of hand a secret, eventually the audience figures it out.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Could Early Voting Decide the Election?

If Barack Obama manages to win reelection this year, he can thank the hundreds of thousands of voters who have decided not to wait until November 6th to cast their ballots.  A recent poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos shows him leading Mitt Romney 59 to 31 percent among early voters.

Why is that significant?  Early voting played a crucial role in the 2008 election and, with the national polls now showing the race a dead heat and the President clinging to a slim lead in the crucial swing states he needs to carry him home, every vote is critical.  It is quite conceivable that Obama could lose the popular vote but still win the electoral college.  And a 28 percent advantage in early voting could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Forty states now allow early voting and, by all accounts, the turnout is exceeding '08 levels.  Mitt Romney may have transformed himself from the Dark Lord to Luke Skywalker, but in the end it may not be enough to get him the White House.   


Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Nate Silver believes that Ohio has a 50-50 chance of deciding the presidential election.  With all due respect to Mr. Silver, based on the polling numbers out of the swing states and how each candidate now stands, I'd say that chance has just gone up considerably.  At this point, I would be surprised if Ohio didn't decide the election.  In fact, the only way that Ohio wouldn't factor in is if either candidate won in a landslide.  And that scenario is highly improbable.

If Obama holds Ohio, he will win the election if he can also hold Wisconsin and either Nevada or Iowa; however, if Romney can take it, all he needs is Virginia and either Wisconsin or Colorado. Ironically, Romney can still lose Ohio and win the election by picking up Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia and New Hampshire.  Given that he is currently slightly ahead in the last three, that isn't as much of a stretch as you might think.

Bottom line: expect both campaigns to spend the bulk of their remaining days in the Buckeye state.  The whole election could come down to a few thousand voters.

How did we get here?  Simple.  Mitt Romney reinvented himself in front of 65 million viewers at that first debate in Denver and Barack Obama has spent the better part of the last two attempting to deconstruct him.  With last Monday's foreign policy debate now in the books, two things have become abundantly clear. 1. After a horrific performance in his first debate, Obama clearly won his last two; 2. that still might not be enough to save him.

In politics, perception is everything.  For well over a year and a half, Mitt Romney courted the extreme right flank of his Party looking to capture the nomination.  He succeeded.  But his campaign was unable or unwilling to pivot to the center in order to attract the more moderate voters that often decide general elections.  The Obama campaign, for its part, ostensibly stood by and watched Romney implode.  It never bothered to craft a message of its own which laid out a vision for the next four years.

When Romney did his etch-a-sketch in Denver, he basically hit the reset button on his whole campaign.  Mitt 2.0 was born.  It was a brilliant move and it left the Obama campaign both without a compelling narrative and a convincing attack line.  In 90 minutes, Gordon Gekko killed two birds with one stone.

Obama has tried to put the genie back in the bottle; to no avail.  Romney's positives now are higher than his negatives.  In less than a month's time he has gone from Thurston Howell III to Richie Rich. Prior to the debates, Obama had tied Romney on who could best deal with the economy.  It was the only issue where Romney was even close.  Now Romney is considerably ahead.  The huge lead Obama enjoyed with women voters has dwindled to single digits.  Ohio, once a firewall, is now a picket fence.  It is practically a toss-up.

All this could've been prevented.  If Obama had just stood his ground and called Romney out that night, the election might well have been over.  That's the tragedy here. Poll after poll has indicated that while Romney's fortunes have risen considerably, that success has NOT "trickled" down ticket to his fellow compadres.  David Frum was right; it was the message.  If you take a close look at the Senate races, it's looking more and more like the Democrats are going to hold the Senate.  In the House, several far-right Republicans are in danger of losing their seats, including Steve King of Iowa and fan favorite and perennial bat-shit crazy lady Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Translation: the extremism of the GOP is being soundly rejected by the voters.  At the eleventh hour, Mitt Romney finally figured that out.  Give credit where credit is due.  As I said, brilliant.

With less than two weeks to go, the President is in for the fight of his political life and, if he loses, he will have no one else to blame but himself.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

"PROGRESS"ive Gains

There is one fundamental rule that all successful attorneys adhere to: Never ask a question that you don't already know the answer to. It almost always backfires on you.  Apparently the Romney campaign has never heard of this rule, because they've been ignoring it now for some time.

One of the inherent problems of running a campaign that keeps asking voters if they are better off now than they were four years ago is that, for many, the answer is yes.  No matter how hard they try to paint a picture of doom and gloom, the simple truth is that in every measurable way, the economy is in much better shape now than it was four years ago.  And most voters know this.  While many may be frustrated at the slow progress of the recover, most of them acknowledge that things are at least moving in the right direction.

The right direction / wrong track numbers have been slowly improving for the Obama campaign, though they are still not where they want them to be. That's why they have been harping on the gains made over the last two plus years.  It's a message that is slowly starting to resonate within the electorate and, in the process, taking some of the air out of the Romney campaign balloon.  And no one is more surprised, pleasantly so, than James Carville, who was once Bill Clinton's chief strategist and, as such, knows a thing or two about running a successful campaign.

"Our fear was that the progress message would sound out of touch and fail to give those voters who are on the edge financially hope that life would be better in a second term, particularly when Mitt Romney was on the air with his plans to create 12 million jobs," Carville wrote in a memo with his partner Stanley Greenberg, who together run Democracy Corps, a public opinion polling and strategic advice group.

A recent Obama campaign ad featuring Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, spoke to "the President's economic achievements." When compared with a Romney ad that was far more critical of the President, the Freeman ad was viewed more favorably.

"The hardest thing to do in all of political communications is how do you deal with a bad but somewhat improving economy," Carville said in an interview on Good Morning America last June. "And the skill, or the way to thread the needle in saying things are getting better when people don't feel like they are getting better.  We fought with it and didn't do that great a job in the early years of the Clinton Administration. It is not like someone has the holy grail of how to do this."

Well, don't look know, but the Obama campaign may have just acquired one and, if they can manage to hold onto it for another two and a half weeks, they may well end up rewriting presidential history.

Actually, the nagging issue for both campaigns is that the current state of the economy seems to be primarily responsible for the current deadlock in the race.  On the one hand, things are not as bad as they were four years ago.  If they were, the Romney campaign would be substantially ahead in the polls.  On the other hand, while the economy has improved, it isn't improving fast enough for a lot of people.  And that's why the Obama campaign isn't significantly ahead in the polls.

Bottom line: Whoever wins the campaign ad war will win the White House.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Weathering the Storm

It's looking more and more like Barack Obama may have dodged a bullet.  National polls taken in the days after his second debate with Mitt Romney seem to indicate a 2 point bump for the President.  Polls in the swing states also point towards a slight, but definitive, move upward.  As things stand right now, he has leads in Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nevada of anywhere from 2 to 4 points.  Furthermore, at no time did he relinquish those leads, even in the days after the Denver debate.

What so many progressives feared might happen after that dreadful debate performance has apparently worked its way through the electorate.  Obama suffered some damage and, in the process, his opponent gained some badly needed momentum after several horrendous months of consistent missteps.  But the net result of all the back and forth is that we are right back where we were prior to the conventions.  If the election were held today, Obama would have 277 electoral votes.  Far from a landslide, but 7 more than he needs for victory.

Barack Obama, the luckiest candidate in over a generation, has apparently weathered the Denver storm and is now in an excellent position to build on his lead as he heads into the last two weeks of the campaign.  Virginia and Colorado are still tossups and could wind up in the blue column, as is New Hampshire.

The only exception to the seemingly good news is a Gallup poll which shows Romney ahead nationally by 6 points.  It is the only poll taken in the last couple of days which shows the former governor of Massachusetts with a lead.  Even Rasmussen, a right-leaning pollster, has the race tied.

Of course the logical question that begs to be asked is what would've happened had Obama actually showed up that night in Denver.  Would he have a commanding lead instead of a slight one at this juncture?  Perhaps. Unfortunately we will never know, but this much is certain: an awful lot of Democrats are breathing a whole lot easier now then they were a week ago.

Sometimes you get the bear; sometimes the bear gets you.  For the time being, Barack Obama seems to have gotten the bear.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Somebody Throw Me A Bar Rag

So now it's Candy Crowley's fault that Mitt Romney didn't win his second debate with Barack Obama because she had the nerve to fact-check him during his now infamous meltdown over Benghazi.  Last week it was Martha Raddatz who was to blame for Paul Ryan not winning his debate over Joe Biden because she thought the role of a moderator was to actually moderate and not to impersonate a home room teacher the way Jim Lehrer did in Denver two weeks ago.

It's getting sadly predictable listening to the Right whine about the vast - and nonexistent - main-stream media conspiracy to ostensibly steal the election away from Mitt Romney and deliver it into the waiting hands of President Obama. Hint, they must be doing a pretty lousy job of ensuring an Obama victory, because the race for all intents and purposes is a statistical dead heat.  So much for conspiracy theories.

There's a clinical term for people who consistently believe that the world is somehow out to get them and that only they have the truth on their side.  It's called paranoia.

When Obama lost the first presidential debate in Denver you didn't here the Left blame Jim Lehrer.  True Lehrer's style left something to be desired, but the reason Romney won that debate was because of two factors: he did a 180 on virtually every policy position he had coming into the debate and the President was basically AWOL.

Mitt Romney lost the second debate at Hofstra because Obama was simply the better man that night and because Romney, when challenged, isn't nearly as effective a debater.  We saw him get flustered during the primaries and this time Obama decided to show up and get in his comfort zone. He also fell into a trap of his own making over a timeline involving the attack on Benghazi.  Here's another hint.  When you're opponent tells you to please proceed during what you think is a gotcha moment, it's probably not a good idea to proceed.  Okay, I stole that last one from Jon Stewart!

Listen, this isn't rocket science.  There are winners and losers in debates.  Obama lost one debate badly, Romney lost one narrowly.  With less than three weeks to go it's anybody's guess as to who will prevail.  Nobody is stealing the election, least of all the main-stream media, who seem to have a hard enough time being journalists, let alone robbers.

So, memo to Fox News, the A.M. radio dial and all the other space cadets in Captain Video land, please, dry up and stop your bitching.  You're embarrassing yourselves.

Come Get Some: Bam Swats Back at Mittens

If you were scoring this as a prize fight – the football analogy just wasn’t working anymore – Barack Obama went toe to toe with the guy who cleaned his clock two weeks ago and, in the process, not only managed to get in some good shots, but just might well have saved his campaign. Score it a split decision for the incumbent.

Let’s be honest, if anybody was expecting either one of these two men to lay an egg and get knocked out that was wishful thinking.  What I was looking for from the President was a spine.  Could he successfully rebut Mitt Romney and, at the same time, stand up for himself and take back some of those undecided voters who had jumped overboard after the Denver debacle?

Based on what happened in this debate – and from the initial polls taken of independents immediately after – the answer to both is yes.  Less than a week after his Veep stood up to Paul Ryan, Obama followed up with a performance equally impressive, energized and passionate. Romney was not able to spin his web of deceit with impunity the way he did the last time around.  Obama called him out on it and, on several occasions, Romney appeared to be on the defensive. The exchange over the attack on Benghazi was the low point for the former governor of Massachusetts.  The President read him out like a wayward child.  Quite frankly, I was embarrassed for Romney.

The real question is what impact will this debate have on the polls in the all-important swing states?  As of now, Obama holds a precarious lead in enough of them to carry him over the 270 electoral vote threshold.  While Joe Biden may have stopped the hemorrhaging last week, the painful fact is that the Denver debate caused a lot of damage.  The greatest harm done was allowing Mitt Romney to look presidential in front of millions of viewers.  Was Obama’s performance a game changer on the same order as Denver?

My gut tells me probably not.  Once Lex Luthor came off looking like Clark Kent, let’s face it, it was going to be very difficult to walk that puppy back. You don’t get do-overs in debates, no matter how hard you try.

But this was significant nonetheless in the sense that Obama was able to heal many of the self-inflicted wounds he sustained two weeks ago and successfully erase an image that was beginning to fester in the minds of a lot of voters that he somehow either a) didn’t want the job or b) deserve it.  In that respect, some of the wind that Romney had behind his sails is now gone and the President now looks more, well, presidential.  Don’t kid yourself; looking the part goes a long way, especially to the still undecided.

Bottom line, I don’t think Obama is out of the woods just yet.  He will, no doubt, get a bump out of this debate performance, and deservedly so.  I expect his lead in most of the swing states will increase somewhat; how much we will have to wait and see.  But, overall, I don’t expect any major change to the political landscape.

It’ll all come down to the final debate next week, which will be entirely on foreign policy.  It’s a debate the Obama campaign should win, even with the unfortunate tragedy in Libya. 

Translation: this is now Barack Obama’s race to lose. Again!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Obama’s Electoral College Gamble

Now that the polls in the swing states have finally stabilized and stopped their downward trajectory, it looks as though the President is still ahead – albeit barely – in enough states to put him over the top in November.  According to RCP, Obama is ahead by 1 point in New Hampshire, 2 points in Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada, 3 points in Iowa and 4 points in Michigan.  Assuming the leads hold, that would give him 281 electoral votes.

Of course there’s just one tiny problem: the only state that isn’t within the margin of error is Michigan.  All the other states could conceivably wind up in the Romney column on November 6th.

And that’s why it’s rather puzzling to learn that the Obama campaign has apparently decided to continue running ads in states like North Carolina, which is now clearly trending towards Mitt Romney, rather than pull its resources and concentrate its efforts in states that are far more likely to go blue come election day.  

The reason, according to the campaign, is that it wants to have as many avenues as possible to get to 270 electoral votes.  By spreading the playing field, it forces Romney to defend states where he holds a lead; however, it also means that states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa will be vulnerable to Romney’s super PACs over the next three weeks.  While the Obama campaign raised more money than Romney’s last month - $181 to $170 million – Romney’s super PACs hold a commanding lead over Obama’s.  In a firefight they can outspend Obama by a wide margin in the Rust-belt states and still have enough left over to defend North Carolina and Florida. 

This is a huge gamble.  As Nate Silver correctly pointed out the other day, Obama's swing-state "firewall" is brittle.  Why Obama would risk losing the whole election just to prove a point is beyond belief.  The days of the 50-state strategy are long gone.  If I were Obama, I would hole up in a two-story brownstone in Akron and shuttle between Madison and Des Moines for the next three weeks.  Forget ’08; the objective here should be anything north of 269, pure and simple.

But then again, if I were Obama, I probably wouldn’t have phoned it in in Denver the other night.


Saturday, October 13, 2012


These last few days have been tumultuous times for Democrats and progressives.  Ever since that debate in Denver, there appear to be two camps forming: one sees Obama's lackluster performance as merely the result of a failed strategy, while the other sees it as both a failed strategy and an innate inability to define and sell a narrative to an audience.

I've made no secret of where I stand.  I watched the debate and I am definitely in the latter camp.  True, the strategy going into the debate was flawed because it did not adequately anticipate the possibility that Mitt Romney would turn to the center.  As improbable as that scenario seemed at the time - remember we were only a couple weeks removed from the 47% video - a campaign must prepare its candidate for all contingencies.  It was a monumental blunder that has permitted "Moderate Mitt," as Bill Clinton coined him, to emerge as the centrist.  Who, a couple of weeks ago, would've seen that coming?

But, while strategy played a major role in the results that night, the overriding concern that many progressives have had with the President, continues to rear its ugly head time and again.  Barack Obama, for whatever reason, is simply incapable of relating to an audience. It's as though the very thought of having to explain himself is beneath him.  You saw it clearly that night.  The President, several times, looked irritated and agitated as he spoke.  That was when he wasn't being dismissive.

And that's why I'm not entirely sure that the reprieve that Joe Biden granted him on Thursday won't be in vain.  Fact is, I'm not at all convinced that this president clearly understands what his mission is in these debates.  Listening to some on the Left, I begin to understand what the dilemma is.

The last three election cycles have been wave elections, insofar as the party in power got routed.  In '06, the Republicans lost both houses of Congress.  They followed that up by losing the White House in '08.  But in 2010, it was the Democrats' turn to eat some humble pie as they ceded majorities in both chambers.  It's my belief that both parties have, for obvious reasons, misinterpreted the results of those elections.  It has become painfully obvious that the driving force behind all three elections has been a growing dissatisfaction within the electorate with the power structure in Washington. Voter frustration - far more than ideology - has been motivating voters over the last few years.

So how does this tie in with the debates and the recent turn in the poll numbers?  Simple.  Voters are looking for someone who they feel can fix Washington and get things moving again.  For one night, Mitt Romney gave them a glimpse of what they had been looking for the last few years.  Moderate Mitt made his debut to a national audience and received the political equivalent of a standing ovation.

I have long felt that the Democratic strategy over the last few months of demonizing Mitt Romney, while initially successful - had one potential inherent risk: the etch-a-sketch moment.  Without exception, every single pundit who covered Romney, from his years as governor of Massachusetts to even his failed senate bid years earlier, all knew he was at heart a chameleon.  He could contort himself into any position necessary to get the results he was after, whether in his business career or his political one.

Think about it: a former governor from one of the most liberal states in the country, running to the right of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich during the Republican primaries, and prevailing.  How's that for being a contortionist?

Throughout the early stages of what has become the most bizarre general election in over a generation, the Obama campaign didn't exactly break a sweat making Romney look like the second coming of Thurston Howell III.  His campaign pretty much took care of that.  And when they needed a helping hand, the negative ads were quite successful.  Even before the conventions, Romney's overall likability was considerably lower than Obama's.

And it wasn't just Romney who was getting raked over the coals.  His whole Party was being exposed as the extremists that they are.  The antics of Todd Akin, underscored just how far removed from the mainstream the GOP is.  It is the primary reason why Democrats now have an excellent chance of retaining control of the Senate.

But getting back to Romney, the piling on, as it were, had one negative drawback.  It didn't permit Obama to develop his own personal argument for why he should be reelected.  For the last few months, his campaign has been busy taking advantage of one Romney gaffe after another.  The result was a substantial lead in most of the swing states and talk of another electoral rout in November.

And then it happened.  What had been anticipated for months finally came to fruition.  Mitt Romney took to the stage and basically disavowed almost his entire campaign platform.  In 90 minutes he not only managed to take away the only concrete advantage the Obama campaign had on him, he gave the remaining undecided voters in the audience a reason to reconsider him for president.

Small wonder Obama looked dazed and confused.  I saw it and I still can't believe it.  Neither did most progressives, who are now understandably concerned.  Some pundits are openly questioning whether the election is already lost.  In just over a weak, the sentiment among many of them has gone from cautiously optimistic to practically panic stricken.

Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast was simply beside himself:

"I've never seen a candidate self-destruct for no external reason this late in a campaign before... I'm trying to see a silver lining. But when a president self-immolates on live TV, and his opponent shines with lies and smiles, and a record number of people watch, it's hard to see how a president and his party recover. I'm not giving up. If the lies and propaganda of the last four years work even after Obama had managed to fight back solidly against them to get a clear and solid lead in critical states, then reality-based government is over in this country again. We're back to Bush-Cheney, but more extreme. We have to find a way to avoid that. Much, much more than Obama's vanity is at stake."

Wow, that was pretty brutal, and I agree. Denver was a game changer.

And now the man who basically saved the country from another Great Depression, as well as saved the auto industry, not to mention killed bin Laden, has to go up on that stage next Tuesday and do two things: he has to expose Romney's deception in a way that doesn't diminish who he is and he has to speak to his list of accomplishments without appearing to be boastful.  The former should be easy; the latter will be far more problematic.  That's because Obama's biggest problem all along has been communicating who he is and where he's going. He admitted as much in an interview he did earlier in the year on 60 Minutes. And now that Mitt Romney has peddled himself off as the next Great Communicator, that job just became far more challenging.  It's hard enough climbing Everest once, but twice?

And yet that is precisely what Barack Obama must do next week in Hempstead, New York. He must kill two birds with one stone and he has to do it under the most difficult of circumstances: a town-hall meeting format.

He's no Bill Clinton - we know that all too well.  The real question is can he be Barack Obama and will that be enough?

We'll find out Tuesday.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Smokin’ Joe

Okay, let’s wrap it up.  Round two in "The Battle for the Country" is in the books.  To paraphrase a well-known commercial, you are now free to exhale.

And that’s because Joe Biden did his job last night.  With the whole election perhaps hanging in the balance, the Vice President delivered a feisty, often confrontational, debate performance against his rival, Paul Ryan. 

Ryan, for his part, held his own, bending, but never cracking.  Several times he almost let the true Ryan out, but bit his tongue just in time.  You can tell he’d been well prepped for the debate.

Neither man scored a knockout, but that didn’t stop both campaigns from claiming a resounding victory. Nothing like living in a bubble to twist what was by far the liveliest debate I’ve seen in quite some time.  I have to admit it, seeing Biden and Ryan on the same stage going at it made me wonder whether the wrong guys were at the head of these respective tickets.

On points, I’d give the decision to Biden, and for two reasons.  One, the stakes were considerably higher and the pressure far greater.  After his boss laid an egg in Denver last week, Biden had to stop the hemorrhaging.  In less than a week, Obama had gone from a four point lead in the polls to a two point deficit.  Six points in under a week isn’t a bump, it’s a free fall.  Another loss and it could’ve been lights out. 

Second, Biden had to rile up the Democratic base, which was becoming despondent after Obama’s woeful performance.  Showing a spine and, yes, balls, was the perfect tonic for what ailed them.  Also, I thought Biden did a much better job of connecting on a visceral level with the viewers.  Even David Frum grudgingly admitted as much.

And while the night would’ve been far more enjoyable had Biden laid out Ryan, that wasn’t necessary.  The point was to right the good ship Obama and keep it from taking on any more water.  Mission accomplished.  Though it will probably be at least a few days before we know the full extent of what transpired in this debate reflected in the polls, I predict the race will likely reset with both presidential candidates in a dead heat and Obama ahead, but barely, in enough swing states to ensure a narrow electoral win.  In other words, it will be his election to lose once more.

Which brings us to round three next Tuesday.  Obama has no more excuses.  He must put Denver behind him and bring his “A” game.  His VP just saved his bacon.  Now it’s his turn to repay the debt and save America from the likes of Gordon Gekko. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Second Hand News

So it's come to this. The entire campaign, and perhaps the whole election, rests squarely on the shoulders of Joe Biden.  After the now infamous phone-in last week in Denver, the Vice President will get the chance to do what his boss couldn't: expose the Romney / Ryan ticket to the light of day in front of a national audience.

Normally vice presidential debates aren't all that important.  This one promises to be for two reasons: The first is that Paul Ryan is the VP nominee for the Republicans.  Not since John F. Kennedy tabbed Lyndon Johnson in 1960, has a running mate meant so much to a ticket.  Johnson delivered Texas, along with most of the South.  Without him, Richard Nixon would've won the election hands down.

But the second and most important reason this debate will be crucial is due to the positions Paul Ryan and his reluctant running mate espouse.  Unlike Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan is a true believer, a disciple of the highest order.  While Romney conned his way through 90 minutes of etch-a-sketch magic, basically running away from every position he's taken over the last twelve months, Ryan will do everything in his power to run toward them.

Like Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men, he wants to have that conversation that Romney avoided like the plague in Denver.  Ryan wouldn't know an etch-a-sketch if it hit him in the face.  Joe Biden's job on Thursday is not to stop him but to encourage him to speak his mind.  And, when the Wisconsin representative begins to show any hesitancy, egg him on.

Ironically, the one character trait that Joe Biden seems to have in abundance - the ability to fearlessly speak his mind even when it doesn't always come out right - may be just the perfect tonic for what is currently ailing the campaign.  He's had much more experience debating than either his rival or his boss.  Flying without a net comes naturally for him. In short, he's the run and shoot to Obama's ball control offense.

Normally the strategy going into a VP debate would be to play it safe.  Do no harm, as they say.  Obama's performance last week took that option off the table. Romney has ostensibly erased his deficit and has drawn even in the polls.  Hence, Biden not only has to "move the chains" he has to put some points up on the board.

Put simply, Joe Biden has two objectives in this debate: 1. Effectively rebut the lies that Ryan will no doubt attempt to peddle, just like Romney did with impunity in Denver; and 2. Let Ryan hang himself with his own budget.  If he manages to pull off both, then the hemorrhaging will finally stop and the polls will start to go back to where they had been prior to the first debate.  If he fails, then it could be game, set, match.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

For the Birds

When Mitt Romney said he would cut funding for PBS last Wednesday, President Obama had an opportunity to land one of the great zingers in debate history, right up there with, "There you go again."

"Mitt, you've done it.  You've solved our debt problem.  Who knew all we had to do was kill Big Bird and we'd be debt free!"

But he didn't.  He left that opportunity, along with all the others, in the garbage heap.  Why? We'll never know.

So now, the Obama campaign, ever Johnny on the spot, has decided to run an ad featuring Big Bird mocking Romney's proposal.

It's bad enough that Obama muffed the Big Bird moment live in front of 60 million viewers, but the overreach here smacks of desperation.  Sort of like laughing at the punchline of a joke twenty minutes after it's told. If the President seriously thinks that funding to PBS will be an issue for voters this election, then maybe there was something to that altitude problem after all.

Not only is the ad lame, Sesame Street has officially asked that the ad be pulled.  It issued a statement on its blog - yes, Sesame Street has a blog - that read, “We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down.”

Yep, it's been a rough week.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Pew Research: Romney and Obama Seen as Equal in Helping Middle Class

Not to beat a dead horse, but this is the first poll that isn't Republican leaning and the news couldn't be worse for the Administration.

Gordon Gekko is now on equal footing with the President as being able to help the middle class.  Yes you heard right.  The candidate who has more money in the Cayman Islands than PBS gets in funding, whose economic plan, if implemented, would devastate the middle class, is now considered even with the incumbent.  Not even a week has elapsed since the Denver debate and the one advantage Obama had over Romney regarding the economy has gone out the window.

Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast was on point here:

The problem with the debate is that if you simply default on rebutting those lies, low-information voters who can see a smart president incapable of responding or rebutting draw the obvious conclusion: Romney must be right. And when that is the first impression of the two debating, it's devastating.

And that's why I think the entire election has been recast on Romney's centrist terms, terms which Obama allowed to get away from him a while back, and which suddenly makes Romney - once again - the favorite. 

Not because the economy sucks - but because Romney provided a much clearer, if utterly dishonest, plan for the next four years, while Obama offered nothing. His closing statement was nothing.

Time to wake up people.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

It's Elementary

The other night my wife and I went out to dinner and the couple next to us was engaged in a lengthy diatribe regarding Obama and the economy.  I'll spare you the boring details.  Suffice to say the reason for the sluggish recovery comes down to two things: the debt and healthcare.  Yep, everything would be just peachy if we just balanced a budget that's been out of whack for over a decade and eliminated a law that still hasn't been fully enacted.

I can't tell you how many times I have come across people like this over the last few years.  The stimulus was a waste of money, the recession was caused by poor people who bought homes they couldn't afford and there are entirely way too many people dependent on the government.  Just the word entitlement sends some of them over the edge.

There's nothing like an economic crisis to turn people into simpletons.  Complex issues suddenly become simple.  And if the answers aren't quite supported by the evidence, then the evidence gets thrown out.

Sometimes it's hard to know who's driving the bus: the dim bulbs who hold such outlandish opinions or the talking heads who spew it non stop on Fox News and the AM radio dial. Truth often comes in a distant second to the convenient lie.

And that's why Barack Obama's dreadful performance last week was so damaging.  Expecting the average person to parse through complex data and arrive at rational conclusions is akin to playing Russian Roulette with half the chambers packing.

Every four years, approximately 5 to 6 percent of the voting electorate decides the winner of the presidency.  Prior to Wednesday night, most of that crowd seemed to be leaning toward Obama; now they are either up for grabs or leaning toward Mitt Romney.  You needn't have seen the movie Wag the Dog to realize that the attention span of some people is measured in seconds. It was crucial for the President to challenge the distortions and flat out lies of his opponent.  The etch-a-sketch moment would never have gotten off the ground had it been effectively rebuked when it counted and while it was still fresh, not a day late and a dollar short.

Gordon Gekko is now less than four weeks away from winning an election that looked, at best, like a long shot only a few days ago.  Polls in most of the swing states have already begun turning.  Romney is now tied in several and ahead in a couple more.  By Tuesday or Wednesday we should have a better handle on the political landscape. 

History is replete with examples of pride preceding a fall. This much is certain: those who don't take the time to protect their leads almost always suffer the bitter taste of defeat.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Etch-A-Sketch Romney?

David Frum shares a letter in a recent posting on The Daily Beast in which the writer asks now that we've seen a clear pivot to the center who would a Mitt Romney be beholden to, assuming he wins the election?  The voters who voted for him believing he would govern as he did in Massachusetts or the GOP-lead Congress?

Frum responds, "I'm hoping a President Romney will see the House GOP as labor.  Then they're really f***ed."

Cute.  Actually I kind of feel bad for people like Frum.  I can't imagine what it must be like to be a sane conservative these days and have to sit back and watch my party be kidnapped by a bunch of lunatics.  Kind of like a parent watching his or her kid get abducted.  Even during the '80s, when the Democrats were about as far removed from the political mainstream as Mars is from the Sun, I at least took some solace from the fact that my party wasn't nuts.

But if I may be so bold as to answer that "liberal" writer, I'm afraid your hopes that "moderate" Mitt will suddenly appear and build a bridge back to the days of Eisenhower are wishful thinking in the extreme.  Even if Mittens were capable of such an epiphany, the very plain and undeniable fact is the current GOP would never permit it.

Make no mistake about it, people like Grover Norquist, Eric Cantor and even Paul Ryan are not interested in a strong leader who can transform Washington.  What they want is someone who will look good in a suit and sign the legislation that gets placed on his desk dutifully. The Tea Party has made its intentions painfully clear and no matter how hard old Mitt shakes that etch-a-sketch, he can no more escape that reality than I can grow wings and fly.

The only hope the Republican Party has of having its Walter Mondale moment is for them to lose this November and lose big.  Even then, it is highly doubtful that any clarity will seep into their collective consciousness. Unlike the Democrats in '84 and '88, the forces that currently control the GOP are too deeply entrenched in the leadership positions.  It would take a complete housecleaning of the kind not witnessed in the history of the Republic.

Sorry, my friend.  There is no plan B here.


Christmas in October

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Barack Obama is the luckiest president running for reelection in over a generation.  Two days after Lex Luthor stole his lunch money in Denver, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its September Jobs’ Report.  As expected, the economy added 114,000 jobs.  However, what was NOT expected, and came as a huge shock, was that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent, the lowest it’s been in almost four years.

Why the sudden drop in unemployment with only a modest uptick in jobs?  Because the number of people who said they were employed increased by 873,000.  In addition, wages rose in September as more people entered the work force.  Normally that would drive the unemployment rate up because of an increase in participation rate.  But with the increase of 873,000 workers, plus an upward revision of 67,000 jobs going back to July, the actual jobless rate fell.  The economy has now netted 325,000 jobs since Obama became president, an incredible statistic given that it was losing over 750,000 jobs per month when he took office.

As you would expect not everyone was ecstatic over the good news, especially since it came a month before the presidential election.  Suffice to say there were more than just a few, shall we say, skeptics, virtually all of them Republican.  Given that no president since FDR has been reelected with unemployment above 8 percent, the obvious assumption was that the Administration somehow cooked the books. The Right was simply beside itself.

The most amusing rant came from Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who tweeted: “Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers.”  You’d expect that kind of drivel from a Rush Limbaugh or a Marc Levin or a Donald Trump, but not from a former head of the one of the largest corporations in the world and one of the ten most respected businessmen in the country.  CNBC’s Rick Santelli, likewise, added his own two cents.  “I told you they'd get it under 8 percent -- they did! You can let America decide how they got there!”

This isn’t the first time this idiotic claim has surfaced.  Back in February, after a unexpectedly robust January job’s report dropped the unemployment rate all the way down to a still lousy 8.3 percent, the conspiracy nuts were all up in arms about how the BLS and the Administration were in cahoots with each other trying to get Obama reelected.  Funny how a movement that grew out of a belief that the government is completely inept has somehow managed to convince itself that that same government is capable of pulling off such a herculean feat as this without getting caught.  It's amazing what paranoia can do for you. 

Ezra Klein of The Washington Post had the best take on this:

The fact is that there’s not much that needs to be explained here. We’ve seen drops like this — and even drops bigger than this — before. Between July and August the unemployment rate dropped from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent — two-tenths of one percent. November-December of 2011 also saw a .2 percent drop. November-December of 2010 saw a .4 percent drop. This isn’t some incredible aberration. The fact that the unemployment rate broke under the psychologically important 8 percent line is making this number feel bigger to people than it really is.

But psychology is what this really comes down to.  The perception that things might be better than they actually are is what appears to be driving Republicans over the edge.  It’s not that a drop of three tenths of a percent in the jobless rate is all that significant – indeed, as Klein correctly observed, a lot of this increase could be “seasonal hiring.”  It’s what that drop symbolizes to potentially millions of likely voters next month.

Yep, you guessed it.  The doomsayers have their panties in a bunch because the electorate might actually start to feel good about things and that could spell trouble for Mitt Romney’s hopes for an early Christmas present.  Appalling, but hardly unexpected.

As for Obama, he’s now four tenths of a point behind Ronald Reagan for the worst post- Depression unemployment rate for a sitting present.  Guess who won reelection in 1984? Ho-ho-ho.