Time’s “Person of the Year” Essay Provides Insights on Obama’s Victory

It’s no surprise, of course, that Barack Obama was named Time‘s Person of the Year.  In presidential election years, the winner of the election has been named POY in 12 out of 22 times, including 9 of the last 13 and 4 of the last 4. (That’s original research; I counted them up myself.  You’re welcome.)

But I was surprised when I read the magazine’s POY essay. I was expecting a glowing hagiography, reminiscent of when the just-elected Obama was sanctified by the Nobel Peace Prize committee.  Instead I found a clear-eyed assessment of the re-election effort and why it was successful.

The passage I found most persuasive is set up by a statement from the head of the campaign’s research team that “undecided voters… were making a very trust-based assessment between Obama and Romney.”

This became the through line of the brutal and at times unfair Obama attacks on Romney — the cracks about car elevators, the specious mention of his potentially felonious Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the false claim that he supported an abortion ban without a rape exception, the endless harping on a Swiss bank account once held in his wife’s name. It all spoke to a central message built around trust: One man, despite his failures, had voters like you in mind. The other man, by contrast, knew how to make a lot of money for people you will never meet.

Of course, Romney turned out to be Obama’s biggest ally in that narrative.

Indeed he did.  Romney’s “47 percent” blatherings probably ended whatever chance he might have had at victory. As the left gleefully pointed out, he ended up with 47 percent of the popular vote.

One final thought: Is anyone else puzzled by Time‘s decision to dramatically darken the Obama “Person of the Year” cover photo?  Didn’t they learn their lesson in 1994?

Hold Off On Ordering Those “Romney 2016″ T-Shirts

Gracious.

It’s amazing how quickly and how savagely a political party can turn on its standard-bearer.  I noted this phenomenon four years ago — before the election, but after the probable outcome was clear:

Losing the Presidential race has to be even worse than losing the World Series.

If you lose the World Series, you at least get to put up a banner proclaiming that you were the League Champion for the year. Your hometown throws you a consolation rally, and you start talking about the future (“hey, we’re tied for 1st place” in the coming season). There may be regrets about missed opportunities that could have produced World Series rings, but your own fans probably will not vilify you.

McCain, however, can already hear the long knives being sharpened on his own side of the aisle. (Oops, wrong metaphor.) McCain knows the throw is going to beat him to the bag, but he has to be seen running it out just as hard as he can. This is the big leagues.

This time the guy who came in second is making things considerably worse for himself with some remarkably tone-deaf comments:

Republicans don’t want Mitt Romney to go away mad but they do, it seems, want him to go away.

That sentiment was in full bloom following Romney’s first post-election comments — made on a phone call with donors earlier this week. On the call, Romney attributed his loss to the “gifts” President Obama’s campaign doled out to young people and minorities. For many, the comments had an eerie echo of the secretly taped “47 percent” remarks Romney made at a May fundraiser.

“There is no Romney wing in the party that he needs to address,” said Ed Rogers, a longtime Republican strategist. “He never developed an emotional foothold within the GOP so he can exit the stage anytime and no one will mourn.”

Added Chris LaCivita, a senior party operative: “The comment just reinforced a perception —  fairly or not – that Romney, and by default, the GOP are the party of the ‘exclusives’. It’s time for us to move on and focus on the future leaders within the GOP.”

Remind me not to go into politics.

Does Hurricane Sandy Help Obama or Romney?


To my East Coast peeps: In between charging your cell phones on the neighbor’s generator and driving around looking for gas lines, I know many of you have been wondering, “what’s Kirk’s take on how Sandy affects the election?”

In all seriousness, the election Tuesday will be far more consequential than any mere hurricane. Sandy gives Obama a chance to look presidential, which he has been taking advantage of, as he should.  It may take people’s minds off the economy in the closing days, which tends to help Obama.  It also takes attention off of the administration’s missteps regarding Benghazi, although the mainstream media is largely ignoring that story anyway. But in the end I think the storm will be a non-factor, or perhaps help Obama slightly.  I can’t see any way Sandy helps Romney, but would welcome any ideas to the contrary in the comments.

The hardest-hit states appear to be New York, Connecticut and my beloved New Jersey.  I’m quite confident in predicting that Romney will get precisely zero electoral votes from those states, which is part of why I don’t think Sandy helps Obama much.

I think it’s going to be a very close election — I just hope it’s not TOO close.  The Florida recount saga of 2000 was a national tragedy, and I would say that even if it had gone the other way. (In fact, I voted for Mr. Gore, before becoming a 9-11 Republican.)

The respected and vaguely left-leaning uber-pollster Nate Silver gives Obama an 84% chance of winning, but is careful to explain that it’s not a lopsided race, he’s going on the basis of consistent small margins in battleground-state polls. He says “For Romney to Win, State Polls Must Be Statistically Biased” — and then he also carefully explains how such bias could exist without malfeasance on anybody’s part.

Right-leaning commentator Kathleen Parker runs through a variety of factors and concludes,

Combining all the above in some sort of meta-analysis, facing East while balancing on one foot and slicing carrots on the diagonal, you have to figure Obama will be our president for another four years.  Then again, people are unpredictable.

I also like Parker’s closing words:

As for the two fine men vying for this impossible job, each should remember that no mandate comes with this victory. The winner of the pie-eating contest gets more pie.

The Web Goddess and I are without power at home, and I’m writing this in the dining room of a left-leaning friend, so I need to get it posted before my friend realizes what I’m doing.  (We are safe and dry, and our minor roof damage has already been repaired at a cost less than our deductible.)

If anybody is counting blog endorsements, count me as favoring Romney.  I think he has a better chance of prevailing than Silver’s analysis would suggest, but that’s just a gut feeling.  Ohio is key: if it gets called for either candidate early, that guy wins.  We’ll know in a few days — I hope.

Cliff Notes on the Final Debate: Not a Game-Changer

Obama looked more comfortable than Romney, and overall I think Obama probably “won”.  But the election is not going to hinge on foreign policy, and both men knew it. The way they both kept pivoting to domestic policy was nothing short of comical.  Romney’s first pivot at least made a bow in the direction of foreign policy when he said America needs a strong economy to have a strong military… but then he spun off on his five-point plan.  And how the hell did they get into an argument over education policy and class sizes?

Romney spent a lot of the debate agreeing with various aspects of Obama’s policies, such as drone attacks and standing with Israel.  I thought Romney came back strong in defense of the “apology tour” meme after Obama denied that he had been apologetic.  Romney quoted some of Obama’s criticisms of America on that tour, and hit the president hard for “skipping Israel” while visiting Arab countries.  Obama took some of the punch out of that by talking at length about his visit to Israel while he was a candidate.

Pet peeve: Romney twice used “Democrat” as an adjective.  I love ya, Mitt, but Democrat is a noun; the adjective is Democratic.

Obama partisans were pumped up by the president’s zingers — “we have fewer horses and bayonets,” “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”  But I wonder how well that kind of obviously scripted sarcasm plays with undecided voters?

It was odd that Romney had both the first AND the last word — were those separate coin tosses?  Seems to me that one candidate should open and the other close, and the winner of the coin toss gets to pick whether he wants the first word or the last word.

The New York Times has a transcript up less than an hour after the end of the debate.  Amazing. (Fortunately I haven’t used up all of my 10 free stories this month.)  The transcript also solves my problem of what to use for an illustration — when all else fails, use a word cloud from wordle.net.

 

“Binders Full of Women”: c.f. “You Didn’t Build That,” (context behind)

Binders full of context:

“And I brought us whole binders full of — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.”

The context behind Obama’s “You didn’t build that” (essentially, he meant to say “you didn’t build that all alone“) makes Obama’s faux pas a bit less offensive — but Obama still clearly celebrates the government’s role ahead of, or on a par with, the individual entrepreneur.  I think a majority of Americans are more inclined to celebrate the successful individual.

The context behind Romney’s faux pas makes it clear that he has been a leader in identifying and appointing qualified women to senior positions.

Chris Matthews Has Lost the Tingle

I never thought I would link to Chris Matthews, but here he is in full panic mode after his guy’s dismal performance (2:11):

Update: to me, this is the line that shows Matthews at his most nakedly partisan:

“Listen to this stuff he [Romney] got away with! Emergency room — the latest thing we got from Romney, because he said so, is you know what I want to do with people when they’re poor? Shove ‘em in the emergency room.  Why didn’t Obama say that?”

I thought Matthews was talking about the muddled and embarrassing 47 percent speech, but I just looked at the Mother Jones transcript, nowhere there does Romney even mention the word “emergency”.  But then I found this:

QUESTION: Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don’t have it today?

ROMNEY: Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance, people — we — if someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.

C’mon, Matthews… that’s a long way from saying Romney wants to “shove” “poor people” in the emergency room.   Romney is making a distinction, which too often gets lost, between “health care” and “health care insurance,” the latter being what those 50 million people do not have.  And of course the ER is not the best way to provide routine care, nobody disputes that.  But it is a safety net for emergency care that is available to virtually all Americans.

His & Hers Candidates: When Love Is Stronger Than Politics

On November 6, the Web Goddess and I will walk down the hill to the Presbyterian church and fulfill our solemn civic duty of canceling each other out at the polls.

It’ll be the third straight election where we support different candidates.  This, combined with my ongoing political advocacy on this blog, makes for some careful conversations at home.

But never anything heated — we don’t “do” acrimony. She’s my summer love in the spring, fall and winter, and I’m sure as hell not going to let differences over healthcare policy or the war in Iraq come between us.

In online forums where I’ve disclosed my “mixed marriage,” I’ve had Republicans ask “how can you stand living with a Democrat”?  Well, I was a lifelong Democrat before becoming a 9-11 Republican — we both supported Mr. Gore in 2000.  I’ve seen demonization of “the other” from both sides, and it’s ugly from any perspective.  Liberalism and conservatism are both vibrant and essential strains of thought, and each deserves its champions in the clash of ideas.  That’s why on this blog I try, with perhaps mixed success, to treat opposing ideas with respect.  We’ve gotta be able to talk with each other.

Perhaps the most prominent example of opposing viewpoints within a marriage is James Carville and Mary Matalin — although a friend just nominated Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.  Carville was the campaign manager for Bill Clinton in 1992, while Matalin was a senior campaign adviser to George H.W. Bush.  A year after the election they got married, had two kids, and by all accounts they’ve been happily married for more than two decades.  (Schwarzenegger and Shriver, not so much, although that had more to do with adultery than politics.)

At the end of the day, of course, as residents of New Jersey it doesn’t matter who either of us votes for.  The Founders in their wisdom created the Electoral College, which means your vote is meaningless if you live in a lopsided state.  No, I’m not bitter — I generally support the idea of federalism, and the Electoral College comes with the package.  So on November 6, the Web Goddess and I will tune in while the election is settled by the good citizens of Ohio, Virginia and [shudder] Florida.  And on November 7 we’ll wake up grateful for the blessings in our lives.

(Photo by Ray Folkman — our neighbor)

“47%” and “You Didn’t Build That”: Two Sides of the Same Coin

It’s funny how each candidate’s biggest gaffe revolves around the topic of government dependency.

When Barack Obama said “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen,” he displayed both a scorn for individual achievement and a reverence for the role of government.

When Mitt Romney clumsily conflated two overlapping-but-separate populations that each weighs in at 47% — people who pay no income tax and people who will vote for Obama “no matter what” — he displayed a scorn for dependency on government and a reverence for self-reliance.

Romney is correct that there are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement.”  That doesn’t describe every Obama voter, as Romney carelessly implied — but the people it does describe most certainly will support Obama.

The election offers a stark choice between competing visions of the proper role for government.  The outcome may hinge on whether voters focus on the gaffes or focus on the underlying conflict.

Why Do People Make Tendentious Statements As Though They Were Established Fact?

Pictures from WikipediaAn op-ed teaser on the homepage of the Washington Post this morning promised to explain “Why the presidential campaign is so negative.” To my mind there’s a fairly simple answer — because negative campaigning works — but I clicked through to the column to see if the author could put some flesh on those bones.

Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory University, describes a message grid with four quadrants — the positive stories each candidate tells about himself, and the negative stories each tells about the other candidate.  He offers bipartisan examples of positive messages that have been successful in the past — Bill Clinton as “the man from Hope” (Arkansas) and Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” ad.  As a long-time PR guy, I see Westen’s grid as a useful intellectual construct, and I read on.

Until I get to this passage:

In 2008, for example, the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, pulled ahead of Obama for the first time at the beginning of September, in part because Obama sought to run almost entirely in one quadrant of the grid — telling his own story and rarely mentioning the name of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Although that might seem virtuous, it would probably have seemed less so if McCain had won the election and continued many of the policies that destroyed the economy.

Gracious.  However fervently Professor Westen may believe that Republican policies were responsible for the financial crisis, that’s an opinion, not a fact.  It’s a storyline that fits squarely into one of Westen’s quadrants.  In another quadrant, some of us would argue that the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act played a major role in the housing crisis that damaged (not “destroyed”) the economy, by providing mortgages to a lot of people who were not financially able to pay them.  CRA was championed by Democrats, signed by President Carter, and tinkered with over the decades by Republicans and Democrats alike*.

By changing just a few words, Westen could easily have couched his statement as an opinion.  With a few more words, he could have mentioned and found fault with particular Republican policies. But by taking his partisan shot in an “everybody-knows-this” tone of voice, he lost me.  It’s like the friend who once started an argument, during the closing months of the second Bush presidency, with the words “now that George Bush is generally agreed to be the worst president in history…” The mind reels, and everything that follows is tainted.

As an overlay for Professor Westen’s grid, I would distinguish between “messages intended to arouse the base” and “messages intended to persuade the persuadable.”  To me, opinion writing is about persuasion, and on this blog I try, not always successfully, to treat opposing viewpoints with respect.  I was a lifelong Democrat until I became a 9/11 Republican, and I see liberalism and conservatism as two potent and worthy champions in the clash of ideas that has helped make America the most powerful and successful country in the history of the world.  People who treat the opposition as fools or knaves or worse need to understand that they’re not likely to change any votes that way.

Photographs from Wikipedia.  This post initially stated that the CRA was signed in 1997, it has been corrected above to 1977.

* A vigorous discussion about this post on Facebook has convinced me that I did not sufficiently explain my point about the CRA.  The 1977 law itself may have had only a very limited effect on the housing market, but it opened the door for further social engineering over the next 30 years, including a 1995 legislative change that provided penalties for banks that did not issue a sufficient volume of sub-prime loans. In the post above I linked to a 2008 blog post that traces the dots more thoroughly, at http://blog.kirkpetersen.net/2008/10/in-defense-of-wall-street-greed.html . In any event, the point of bringing up CRA at all was to establish that Westen shouldn’t say that McCain would have “continued many of the policies that destroyed the economy” in the same tone that he might say “the sky is blue.”