CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3

Secession: it’s fun to talk about, but is it actually plausible?

Ever since FOX called Ohio for Obama last Tuesday night (touching off a near-hysterical conniption from Karl Rove), talk of secession has been rampant. Groups in all 50 states have started petitions aimed at leaving the Union, with Texas (predictably) reaching the minimum threshold of signatures first.

We’ve written about secession here at S&R a good bit, with Frank Balsinger’s piece the other day (“Want to secede? Are you really sure about that?“) being the most recent. I think the general sentiment among the staff is that the people carping the loudest about leaving really haven’t thought things all the way through: the states where we find the most anti-Union sentiment tend to be the states that receive more in Federal outlays than they contribute in tax revenues (“taker” states), and they’re also home to some of the most irrationally rabid anti-taxation sentiment in the nation. It’s easy to envision how a new country built around these dynamics might find itself in dire economic straits rather quickly. Some of us have also admitted that we think we’d be okay with a partition, and I went so far as to write a three-part series hypothetically considering some of the logistical challenges surrounding the proposed divorce.

Normally, it would be easy enough to dismiss petitioning as the work of fringe cranks, because in nearly all cases that’s precisely what’s going on. Now, though, there’s a new factor to ponder. In short, the secessionists have caught the fancy of the media. Google “secession.” It’s a little mind-boggling, to be honest. And if the last decade has taught us anything, it should be that no idea, no ideology, no delusion is so extreme that the mainstream press cannot haul it ranting and lathering into the Overton Window. Obama is a Kenyan, after all. And a Muslim. And despite being objectively to the right of Richard Nixon, a socialist. Climate disruption is a liberal plot. Now, as Dave Johnson explains, we have the tried-and-true Shock Doctrine approach being employed to create a fiscal cliff “crisis” that is pure manufactroversy. The terror is being aided and abetted by a corporate media that either a) doesn’t understand how it’s being played, b) is actively complicit in the disinformation campaign, or c) doesn’t care one way or another, so long as it’s good for ratings.

When ridiculous ideas are presented to normal people, those people tend to laugh, shake their heads and ease away, careful not to make any sudden moves. But the repetition of ridiculous ideas over an extended period of time, especially by large media agencies with a measure of presumed credibility (and the “experts” they invite on to discuss “serious” issues), though, exerts a corrosive effect on rationality. I wonder if, given enough time and cash, you could create a “public debate” over whether gravity is a fact or merely a “theory.”

The sheer volume of noise we’re hearing right now about secession perhaps makes you wonder: is it possible that the cranks and their corporate enablers could turn this into a real concern?

The coherent answer (for the moment, at least) is no. The media thrives on decibel level, and a few overstimulated wack jobs can make a great deal of noise. But actual secession isn’t about how loud the screaming is, it’s about how many voting adults are screaming. I have no problem believing that a statewide referendum on whether or not to secede could garner 27% of the vote; as noted recently, any analysis of the US population is safe enough assuming that percentage of the population is certifiably insane. Deep in Takerstatestan, you might nudge that number up above 30%. 50%, though, is hard to imagine, even in places like Texas or South Carolina.

A woman I know, a Texan with more than her share of well-placed friends and acquaintances, once laughed at the idea that Texas would ever secede. There’ll be plenty of bluster amongst certain testosterone-soaked segments of the population, but the ladies who run the moneyed homes will put a quick and certain stop to it as soon as it threatens cotillion season. (If this strikes you as a tad sexist, bear in mind that I’m just paraphrasing the words of a thoroughly progressive woman.)

It’s also worth noting that the howling secessionist contingent so far contains no real established leaders (that I’m aware of). Prominent GOP governors are having none of it (including Rick Perry, who not all that long ago certainly seemed willing to entertain the idea). Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who’s been acting remarkably lucid of late, called the whole thing “silly.”

Even Justice Anotnin Scalia, who’s as wide-right as they come, says it’s a non-starter:

“I cannot imagine that such a question could ever reach the Supreme Court,” Scalia wrote. “To begin with, the answer is clear. If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.”

In other words, if you want to secede, it looks like your options are limited to either moving to another country or taking the somewhat more permanent route opted for by Key West resident Henry Hamilton, may he rest in peace. History tells us that all great empires fracture in the end, and I’d be surprised to see the US still in one piece in, say, 50 years. But for now, as badly as the Deep South and I would love to be rid of each other, it looks like we’re stuck in the same boat.

None of this should keep you from enjoying the political media theater, though.

The most important lesson we should all learn from the 2012 election

“You idiot! Get back in there at once and sell, sell!”

As we set about the process of compiling and canonizing the 2012 election post-mortem, one thing we keep hearing over and over is how utterly stunned the Romney camp was at their loss. Republicans across the board apparently expected victory – the conservative punditry seemed certain of it – and now we’re hearing that Romney himself was “shellshocked” by the result.

Mitt Romney went into Election Night expecting a victory and was “shellshocked” when he finally realized he had lost, CBS News reported.

Despite early signs of a stronger-than-expected turnout for President Obama, it wasn’t until the crucial state of Ohio was called for the president that Romney began to face the likelihood of defeat.

Even then, he and his team had trouble processing the news, senior advisers told CBS News.

“We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory,” one adviser said. “I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”

Well, Nate Silver saw it coming. His projections called the final outcome almost down to the precinct, and it’s not like he doesn’t have a track record.

Silver’s final 2008 presidential election forecast accurately predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia (missing only the prediction for Indiana). As his model predicted, the races in Missouri and North Carolina were particularly close. He also correctly predicted the winners of every U.S. Senate race.

It wasn’t just Silver. Almost all the polls showed Obama with at least a slight lead in the battleground states, and if we can believe CNN’s election night insiders, Mitt’s own tracking showed him five points adrift in Ohio as late as Sunday (which explains why he set up camp there when many expected him to focus his energies elsewhere).

In other words, all the data, all the nonpartisan analysis, all the evidence, made clear that Romney’s chances were slim. It’s understandable that he and his people would be disappointed, and mightily so. But surprised? How does that happen?

In a nutshell, the GOP blindsided themselves. The reason should be obvious to anyone who has paid any attention at all to American politics in recent years: an overabundance of blind faith. I don’t mean this in a religious sense (although the political and socio-scientific manifestations of the phenomenon issue from strong religious antecedents). Instead, I’m referring to the broad, swelling inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish between belief and knowledge.

As noted, nearly all the polls showed Romney in trouble. Most broke out their results in ways that clearly suggested why he was in trouble. The rational response to such information is to take it onboard, adapt and adjust. But that’s not what the GOP did. Instead, they dismissed the data that didn’t align with their beliefs. They went so far as to “unskew” the polls because they were clearly biased in favor of Mr. Obama. How do we know they were biased? Because they favored Mr. Obama. UnskewedPolls.com performed some ideological/mathematical hijinks and produced “corrected” polls that demonstrated how Mr. Romney was actually leading. By a lot.

The resulting projected electoral map was positively Reaganesque.

You might argue that the rational response isn’t to adapt and adjust if there is actually reason to believe that all the polls are, in fact, skewed. This objection is fair, so long as your reasons for doing so are driven by factual concerns instead of ideological ones. I think it’s more than clear, by now, that GOP faith in a Romney win was driven by belief instead of knowledge isn’t it?

The upshot is what we saw Tuesday night and in the days following: shock, dismay, confusion. Romney and his people (here I’ll include the GOP’s media relations arm, FOX News) didn’t see the obvious coming and some were melting down as reality began to assert its ugly presence in ways that even Megyn Kelly couldn’t ignore. Sure, Karl Rove had an excuse for going all Randolph Duke on the set. He’d just spent $600M of rich folks’ money and had a pack of nabs to show for it, an outcome with dire implications for his future career prospects. Of course he was losing it – he was seeing his political life pass before his eyes as the Ohio totals ticked in. Again, though, this was a live, nationally televised case study in self-delusion: it isn’t true because sweet Jesus it just can’t be.

I keep using these terms “knowledge” and “belief.” I suspect that many people across the country might initially grapple with the difference (in fact, I know this to be the case). So let me define these terms, at least operationally, for the benefit of those who don’t understand the distinction.

  • Knowledge is a process whereby conclusions derive from information and reasoning.
  • Belief is a process whereby preconceptions govern the pursuit of information.

In other words, with knowledge, you learn all you can in as rigorous and intellectually honest a fashion as possible, then you figure out what it means. With belief, the conclusions are given from the outset and data is selected and discarded according to whether or not it supports the point you’re trying to make.

Accepting facts that run counter to what we believe, and what we want to believe, and even what we desperately need to believe, can be hard. I understand the difficulty as well as anyone. I personally now believe pretty much the opposite of nearly every important thing I believed as a young man, and I have frequently noted how many times my beliefs changed because I was proven wrong by the very smart people with whom I insisted on surrounding myself. I’ve always been a fan of the famous John Maynard Keynes quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

As hard as it is to investigate contrary information and opinions, though, it’s imperative that we do so. With gusto. The Republican Party had all the evidence there before them throughout the entire campaign. There is precious little that we know now that we didn’t know a month ago. Their decision to pretend it was all skewed led to what? They lost the White House (in a race that was surely theirs for the taking). They lost ground in the Senate. Thanks to gerrymandering they still control the House, but their candidates nationwide received fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. Gay marriage initiatives passed in a couple of states. Gays and lesbians were elected to Congress.

All because the Republican Party privileged belief over knowledge.

Plenty of debate is already under way within the Republican Party as to what the results means and what might be done about it. Some conservative analysts are paying heed to the knowledge they have gained. Others, not so much.

And over at UnskewedPolls, well, see for yourself:

*sigh*

The GOP 2012 experience holds important lessons for us all as we move forward. The world in which we live, the nation in which we live, the neighborhoods and communities and cities in which we live are what they are, not what we wish them to be. For instance:

  • Some among us might wish that we lived in a uniformly white, Christian, heterosexual, nuclear family culture. We don’t. Whatever policies we seek to implement are doomed to failure unless we acknowledge our new multicultural reality.
  • Some of us believe that there is no such thing as climate disruption. There are Nate Silvers and Karl Roves in the natural science world, too. Our future and the future of generations not yet born depend on whether we’re smart enough to know to which of them we need to listen.
  • Many of us believe that cutting taxes on our wealthiest citizens creates opportunity and shared prosperity for everyone. All data on the subject shows this to be pure ideology – the precise opposite is true and the refusal to pay attention to the basic facts of economic history have grave implications for us all.
  • Dollar for dollar, the US pays three times more for health care than any other industrialized nation and by any measure we generate significantly worse outcomes. You might believe that only those who can pay outrageous prices deserve to be healthy, but the actual number of people who agree with you is diminishing rapidly.
  • The president was born in Hawai’i. If you insist that all proof is forged (it has to be, because it doesn’t conform with your beliefs), you will find that you’re damaging the credibility of other positions you hold. Also, people won’t sit next to you on the bus.
  • We are not a theocracy. A growing majority of voters are rejecting candidates whose views on how America should be governed more resemble the 1st century than the 21st. The coalition includes every facet of the electorate, but is especially pronounced among segments that are increasing in numbers.

The things are not beliefs, they are facts supported by every scrap of credible evidence that we have. The existence of facts doesn’t automatically suggest what the best policies might look like, but the refusal to acknowledge them assures disaster.

All of us – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Green and none of the above – would do well to learn from the GOP’s hard 2012 lesson.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

Mystery Unraveled: How a white, moderate, married, churchgoing, middle-class, middle-aged woman could vote for Obama

‘We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.” – Anais Nin

If there’s one word that seemed to characterize Romney supporters’ immediate reaction to Obama’s victory, it’s “shock.”

A conservative Facebook friend posted this status: “For the first time in my life I am at a loss for words…absolutely baffled by the electorate and the election results, especially considering the current state the country is in.”

A radio reporter interviewed a woman at the Romney campaign party in Denver shortly after the election was called. Her response simmered with anger as she pondered the reality of how more than half the nation had voted: “What don’t they see?? It’s mind-boggling!”

What they don’t see are people like me.

I’m a 50-year-old white woman who lives in the swing state of Colorado. I’m married, I’m a mom, I have a PhD, and I’m a Christian. In Boulder. I can’t imagine trying to explain the world without faith and science. I’m upper middle class, but I come from blue-collar stock. I believe in capitalism, but I also believe its inevitable excesses must be tempered with regulations – you know, Genesis, original sin, the human propensity for greed and all. I’m pro-life in the fullest sense of the term. I’m happy for my gay friends who want to marry – I’m all for commitment when it comes to sustaining the social fabric. My evangelical grandmother, whom I treasured, was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I’m a Democrat who likes hymns and red wine. Try squaring all that when it comes to putting me in a political box.

Like a great many voters who helped tip the election to Obama, I see social complexity that the poles refuse to acknowledge. I’m a reasonable centrist. And I think Republicans write us off at their own expense.

If one had spent the campaign watching only Fox News, following only conservative pundits and pollsters, it’s no wonder the election results seemed so inscrutable. Daniel Larion, doing some Wednesday morning quarterbacking in The American Conservative, observed that the entire Romney campaign was organized on “flawed assumptions.”

“Romney and his allies not only didn’t understand their opponent, but they went out of their way to make sure they misunderstood him, and in any kind of contest that is usually a recipe for failure.”

Likewise, Romney supporters misunderstand many of us who sent Obama back for four more years. Why on earth, given this economy, would tens of millions of Americans choose to do that?

The right-wing radio blowhards think they have it figured out: we’re dupes of the mainstream media, a giant liberal-elite faction engaged in a conspiratorial embrace with the Left; Hurricane Sandy and turncoat Chris Christie joined forces in an eleventh-hour PR move for the president; or – and this is emerging as the dominant narrative – we simply want more stuff that we don’t have to work for. We’re takers, not makers. Romney was right when he talked about the 47 percent, only it was 51 percent – apparently there were more slackers in the country than he counted on.

All of those explanations are as wrong as they are offensive.

I would like for my bewildered Republican friends to know how I could possibly have voted for Obama without being a far-left ideologue who is simultaneously blind, immoral and lacking in patriotism.

Here are five reasons. And I’m pretty sure I speak for the bulk of the moderates who broke for the president on Tuesday night.

1) I don’t believe Obama is a closet Muslim with a radical socialist agenda to undermine America. I don’t believe he has a false birth certificate and a fake Social Security card. I think he is a deeply sincere, smart, principled man who is far from perfect but deserves a chance to continue what he has tried to begin.

2) I’m more comfortable taking a risk on Obama’s economic agenda than Romney’s. The numbers are starting to look up. I’d rather hedge my bets with Keynes than Adam Smith. Mitt wants to cut spending and slash taxes, and give most of those tax breaks to the richest Americans. That doesn’t square with my sense of what’s rational or what’s just. We’ve tried that before, and that Kool-Aid does not trickle down for me.

3) I’m willing to take a chance on Obamacare. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than a system that excludes millions and is dedicated to lining the pockets of insurance companies whose primary mission is not to cover care but to deny it. The Affordable Care Act is not “socialized medicine” in which the government dictates my health care. It’s a hybrid system that worked in Massachusetts; I’m ready to see how it goes in the rest of the U.S.

4) I care deeply about protecting this planet, our home. How could we elect a president who is so cavalier about God’s creation that he wants to dismantle the EPA? Really? The clean air and clean water acts established under Richard Nixon aren’t important to keep for our kids? I can’t imagine a world leader not grappling with the problem of global climate change. Solyndra was a debacle, but to suggest that we ought not to pursue green energy isn’t just short-sighted, it’s grave foolishness.

5) I believe a graduated tax system is the most moral means of structuring an economy. I think that rich folks who benefited so disproportionately from a wildly deregulated Wall Street need to return to shouldering more of our shared burden. Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Now, plenty of wealthy business owners are going to argue, ‘This wasn’t given to me, I built it.’ Yes, you did, with a public infrastructure supporting you. But until we have genuine equality of opportunity in this country – including equal pay for equal work – some people can build a lot more than others.

There are parents who hire me for $50 an hour here in wealthy Boulder to coach their kids on college application essays. They fly to visit schools so their kids can interview in person. You think that teenager of a single-mom Wal-Mart clerk struggling to pay her rent has the same crack at a premier college education and the connections that come with it? Where is the equal opportunity?

And don’t tell me that working woman is a sponger. Don’t tell me that Diego who painted my house or Beatriz who sometimes cleans it is a freeloader. As a Christian, I am told to care for the least of these. When I vote, their self-interest should be as important as my own. “Sink or swim,” or “Go home even though you’ve lived here since you were two” is no more a path to economic autonomy than a government check is.

The fact is, we are all in this country together, and we have different needs and means, and we have a lot in common when it comes to teaching kids, fighting fires, cleaning up after storms or caring for our national parks. Those who have more need to do more, as we work to give the rest not a handout, but a hand up. As for me, I went to college on Pell grants, work-study, scholarships and summer jobs. That combination of my own hard work and a little help from a society that supported my potential is what got me a college degree. That powerful model – public and private in synergy – remains most compelling to me and is the most fundamental reason I voted for President Obama.

Clearly, the Right and Left perceive the role of government differently. We may ultimately be captives of a postmodernist analysis that says there is no way outside our own subjectivity to view the world through another’s eyes. If that is so, then empathy is a casualty and our divisions rigidify.

I refuse to concede that. I’d rather share the prophetic words of Abraham Lincoln, speaking to a deeply divided America in his 1861 Inaugural Address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

May we each appeal to the better angels in one another as we start healing the wounds of this election season.

The day after: taking America's temperature. And you don't even want to know what kind of thermometer we're using.

The election is over. So, how is everyone reacting to the results? As always, my data is tragically unscientific, but it’s occasionally interesting nonetheless. So, let’s check S&R’s stats page.

Aha. Top incoming search terms for Nov. 7, 2012:

  1. secession
  2. socialism for dummies
  3. definition of socialism for dummies
  4. phil collins

That seems about right. Also at #6 we have “not proud to be an american” and at #9 “4 more years of shit.”

Which S&R posts are doing the best traffic today? Some of the more interesting results include:

Also, my three posts in the “what if Obama were white?” series are in the top ten.

Not seeing anything on “kumbayah” or “maybe doubling down on rape and crazy was a bad idea.”

Okay, enough of this. Go vote in the Tournament of Rock, fer fuck’s sake. We’re trying to sort out who’s the greatest corporate rock band in history here.

Deciphering those S&R Obama/racism poll results

Last week, a highly unscientific Scholars & Rogues poll asked our readers this question: What percent of the popular vote do you believe Barack Obama would win in the upcoming election if he were white? The results are in, and I’d like to spend a few moments examining what they reveal.

First, the numbers:

Less than 50% 15.15%
Roughly 50% 10.61%
60% 31.82%
70% 36.36%
80% 4.55%
More than 80% 1.52%

Here’s what those answers mean.

60%: This we’ll call the aware, informed and reasoned answer. Our friend Wufnik, in the comment thread, offers some analysis suggesting that the race factor is worth maybe four points. It’s certainly an intelligent estimate, although for reasons I briefly note in reply, I fear it underestimates.

70%: This is the the aware, informed and reasoned, but even more cynical answer. Full disclosure: this is how I voted. I don’t think everybody in the South (and various other South-like regions of the country) are racists, but I grew up there and I know the culture intimately. Over time these people have learned what to say in public. But they vote in private, don’t they?

80%: The more cynical than is probably healthy answer. Listen, 30% of the population would vote for Voldemort before they would a Democrat, regardless of race. (Although, granted, a big part of the reason this is true traces back to Johnson and the Civil Rights Act. Objection noted.)

More than 80%: The seek help answer. Lord, folks, it probably wasn’t that bad even during the Jim Crow era.

Now, to the other end of the spectrum.

Roughly 50%: The there is no racism in America answer. If Barack Obama were white, his poll numbers would be precisely what they are now, apparently. This answer asserts that there are no Americans who hold his race against him. This option pulled better than 10% of the response. Which, now that I think on it, might mean the polls has more scientific validity than I previously imagined.

Less than 50%: The positively barking being a minority is a huge plus in American politics answer. Not only does race not hinder your ability to attain higher office, it helps to be black. Which explains why we have had so many black presidents and nominees from both major parties. And why in the entirety of modern US history there have been four black senators (none of them from the South, it might be observed, and unless I’m missing someone, none currently). And why there has only been one black Supreme Court justice. (Well, two if you count Thomas.) This option rang up better than 15% of the final tally. It’s possible that some of those who voted this way were trolling. It’s certain that the rest shouldn’t be allowed outdoors off-leash.

In the end, this poll perhaps suggests that S&R’s readership is less skewed to the left than we usually assume. As Wufnik notes in the comments on the previous post, analyses of American politics begin with the assumption that 27% of the voters are certifiably insane. The percentage of respondents voting the two incoherent conservative choices here comes to nearly 26% – well within any margin of error you might like to apply – and if you add the exceedingly paranoid 1.52% from the other end, we’re at precisely 27.28%, with a significant majority of the irrationalism on the right end of the spectrum.

Sounds about right.

Who's gonna win? Let's ask the I Ching.

As is our custom in major elections, we decided to check up on Obama’s elections chances with the I Ching. We’ve done this before—in the UK elections in 2010, and the US presidential elections in 2008 (sorry, can’t find the link!) and 2004. The first two worked out pretty much as indicated by the I Ching—2004 didn’t, although I’ve always assumed that that was because the I Ching didn’t expect a stolen vote in Ohio. It’s hard to factor criminality into these things. That’s my rationalization, anyway.
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Poll: how much of the vote would Obama win if he were white?

If you read Wufnik’s secession piece yesterday, you may have noticed that the inevitable cropped up in the comments: racism. You can’t talk about secessionist impulses anywhere – Scotland, Belgium, Spain, Quebec – without the subject of the US intruding, and that tends to mean the South. As in, the South in which I grew up (as did some of my fellow scrogues).

As Wufnik notes, there are all kinds of reasons why a group of people might want out of the nation they’re in, whether it’s language or historical culture or religion or resources or economics or whatever. But in the US South, it’s about one issue and one issue only: racism. If you want to argue that racism is not rampant in the South, either you’re trolling or you’re willfully self-deluding because you hate facing the bald facts or maybe you’re just not bright enough to be in a conversation with educated people.

No, racism doesn’t exist only in the South. No, not everyone who votes for Mitt Romney does so because they’re racist. And no, not all Southerners are racists. But the phenomenon is unarguably more ubiquitous there, especially once you get beyond the boundaries of larger cities. It doesn’t really matter, though: if you’re paying attention, you can’t help noticing a powerful correlation between racism and the relative redness of the electorate in a given state, can you?

Wufnik allows that if Obama wins re-election the right is going to pitch a full-on nukular galloping hissy fit (as opposed to the more reasoned, respectful, collaborative approach we’ve seen since 2008). (Despite the fact that some polls are calling it neck and neck, I do expect the president to pull it out. I’m not a hardcore quant demographer, but Nate Silver’s analysis seems coherent enough, and he’s saying it’s about a 73% chance of an Obama win). He’s probably right. I’m having a hard time imagining how much worse the racist right can get without actually donning white hoods and burning a cross on the White House lawn, but we’ll see, won’t we?

In any event, this all got me to thinking about a basic question. Consider the GOP approach, from their positively Byzantine assault on women to their willingness to openly lie about anything and everything to their reactionary theocratic rhetoric to … well, you’ve been watching, so you’ve heard the same barking asshaberdashery that the rest of us have. In a remotely sane world – that is, one in which candidates and ideas were intelligently evaluated on their merits alone – this batshit brigade couldn’t pull more than 15% of the popular vote if they were running uncontested. And yet, here they are, poised to score nearly half the popular vote for president and probably maintain control of the House. Why is that, I wonder?

So here’s the question: what would the polls look like if Barack Obama were white. (100% white, I mean.)

Instead of letting that hang there like a rhetorical question, let’s actually do a poll.

Feel free to add comments, if you like.

The Des Moines Register's presidential endorsement is short-sighted and shallow; Iowa deserves better journalism

by Andrea Frantz

My husband and I, Iowa natives both, recently returned to our home state after 14 years in Pennsylvania. There were many things to look forward to as we anticipated our move home, not the least of which was the fact that we have long deemed Iowa an independent-minded state both socially and politically.

I am proud of the fact that I was raised in the state whose Supreme Court ruled against racially segregated schools more than 80 years before the Federal Supreme Court would do the same. In the same vein, Iowa was the nation’s leader to ensure its public schools were co-educational, guaranteeing that women could have the same opportunities for education that men had so long enjoyed. And I celebrated its forward-thinking attitude when it became the fifth state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

We also looked forward to returning to Iowa’s long tradition of excellence in journalism and the Des Moines Register.

I was not surprised by the Register‘s endorsement of Mitt Romney last night. I saw it coming by drips and drabs in its coverage of both candidates, though it was perhaps clearest last week when I saw the blatant difference in tone in the side by side campaign “news coverage” on its front page. While the lead on the article focused on Obama was long-winded and struck a negative tone focusing on how his campaign had stepped up criticism against Romney, the lead in the Romney article was pithy and clear where the Register was leaning: “This must be what momentum looks like.” Hm. So much for objective news coverage.

While the Register‘s editorial board points to the state of the economy and jobs as the key drivers behind its endorsement, there is little in the way of specifics in this piece to support the choice. Not unlike Mr. Romney’s campaign, the endorsement offers no specific economic policies, plans, or achievements that illustrate how he is better suited to lead our country further out of the mire created by the Bush administration. This surface treatment of an exceptionally important issue does a disservice to your readers and ensures that political conversation in Iowa remains the consistency and nutritional value of a flaky, sugary pastry a la Pella’s famous Dutch letters. While sweet and perhaps a temporary energy fix, there’s nothing sustainable. Needless to say, I was looking forward to more meat and potatoes upon my return to the state. A little protein please, Des Moines Register.

Last, while the economy should, in fact, be a leading criterion for this Presidential choice, I am stunned by the fact that the Register ignores foreign policy, women’s health and reproductive rights, immigration, education, energy and the environment in its endorsement. All of these things are, in fact, drivers of economic stability and President Obama has a proven record and well-articulated vision with them. Mitt Romney has stated for the record he will boost funding to our military and aggressively engage Iran and China while simultaneously cutting funding to Planned Parenthood and federal pell grants. This is the “fresh economic vision” you herald?

For a newspaper that purports to serve Iowans equally, your endorsement falls short of the progressive, nuanced understanding of Iowans’ needs that I had so looked forward to upon my return to this state. Your endorsement is short-sighted and shallow both politically and as a journalistic contribution to the larger discussion. We deserve more.

Andrea Frantz is a journalism professor who still has faith in the future of the field…though some days, that faith is tested more than others.

"Binders full of women": Mitt finally lands a zinger for the ages

Remember back before the first debate when Mitt let us know he was working on his zingers? Yep. Clearly he wanted to land a punch that would push him over the top in the public consciousness, score the iconic rhetorical knockout blow that people would still be pointing to decades later. He wanted to be like Ronnie:

There you go again.

He wanted to be like Lloyd:

Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Finally, after so many months on the campaign trail, Mitt landed his zinger.

Frankly, I was staggered at how quickly Mitt’s iconic “binders full of women” remark caught fire. Within an hour or two we had #BindersFullofWomen on Twitter, BindersFullofWomen.com, the hysterical Binders Full of Women Tumblr pageMittsBindersFullofWomen.com and several Facebook groups, one of which had 70,000 likes by the end of the debate. It happened so fast I found myself wondering how these people had known it was coming, because clearly they had the sites locked and loaded and were just waiting for Romney to utter his instant classic.

The problem, of course, is that when Mitt finally pulled the trigger, he had the gun pointed at his own balls. Which is fitting, I suppose, given how much time he had dedicated in recent months to debating with his own positions.

This is all funny, and yeah, check back in 50 years. If you’re still around, do a Google search (or whatever the equivalent is at that point in our future) for “memorable presidential debate moments.” You’ll certainly find Ronnie’s dismissal of Jimmy Carter and Lloyd Bentsen’s famous VP debate bitch-slap of Dan Quayle. But you’ll also find Admiral Stockdale:

Who am I? Why am I here?

You’ll find Dick Nixon sweating like a hog in the afternoon sun on an especially warm August day in Tucson. You’ll find Jerry Ford explaining that Poland is completely independent of Soviet influence.

And you’ll find binders full of women, the awkward moment where a candidate who has lived his entire life out of touch with regular men and women tries desperately to show that he really does get it. And only proves, ever more conclusively, that he doesn’t. Turns out Hofstra was merely the latest stop in the long and comical Mitt Romney, Man of the People® Tour.

This is what happens when an election process is driven by style instead of substance. Meticulous attention is devoted to appearances, to how the candidate looks, to how he or she appears to be in command (or not) of the stage. Abraham Lincoln might be carved into Mt. Rushmore, but his ugly ass couldn’t get elected dog catcher in 2012.

What is actually said matters, but not because of its relationship to facts. No, every potential word is tested for how it might be perceived, for its emotional charge, for its effectiveness with key demographics. Words are uttered not because they’re true, but because they persuade. And we have fully abandoned any notion that persuasion is a function of truth. If we cared about facts and the truth, we’d subject candidates for Leader of the Free World® to considerably more pointed questioning, wouldn’t we? We wouldn’t let their handlers dictate the process top to bottom.

But we don’t. Campaign 2012 isn’t about policy, it’s about pwning.

Meanwhile, outside the debate hall, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, a woman who actually does have some substantive ideas to discuss, was arrested. Because she didn’t have the proper credentials. One ought to wonder why somebody who will be on 85% of the ballots in the election couldn’t score the proper credentials.

So congrats to the Romney camp for finally getting of a zinger that’s destined for immortality. And good for us, the dumbass culture picking our leaders using process that looks like it was designed by Kardashians.

Or not. This is how Cartel Democracy works, I guess…

How digital is transforming politics: a special report from Mashable that's well worth a look

Unless you’ve been off-world for a few years, it’s not news that electronic media technologies are exerting a dramatic impact on our political sphere. However, being generally aware of the fact and having a more detailed understanding of the hows and whys, that’s another thing.

Our good friend Josh Catone and his colleagues over at Mashable have just released a fantastic series (http://mashable.com/2012/10/02/politics-transformed-special-report/) entitled Politics Transformed: The High Tech Battle for Your Vote, and to say it’s illuminating is to badly understate the case. Some of the specific issues addressed include: Continue reading

Give that moderator a striped shirt

Before the next Presidential/Vice-Presidential debate, I’d like to make a modest proposal: turn the moderator into a referee and bring in the rule-enforcing accoutrements of sports. Tonight’s debate was a textbook example of candidates running over the moderator, the parameters, and sometimes each other. Poor Jim Lehrer–he looked embarrassed, especially when Obama congratulated him on a good job on the debate.

So here’s what we should do: put Martha Raddatz, Candy Crowley, and Bob Schieffer into black and white striped ref shirts (black ball cap optional). Give them each a whistle. The point I’m not settled on is whether we should give them a yellow flag or yellow and red cards. Continue reading

Mitt Romney lies like a rug. So what?

I didn’t watch the debate, so all I have is a bunch of second-hand information. Watching it would have required staying up until 3:00 in the morning here in London, and while the Patriots in the Super Bowl will get me to do that, and the actual election night returns, this didn’t seem worth it. And it wasn’t, although not for the reasons that many expected. So now we’re seeing lots of commentary from the blogosphere to the effect that—wait for it—Mitt Romney lied. A lot. This seems to be making a number of people feel better, especially people who were disappointed in Obama’s performance. That group probably includes me, although I’m with Booman in thinking this actually doesn’t change a whole lot about the dynamics of what the actual election returns will look like. Still, Mitt Romney lied.

Meanwhile, the unemployment number just came in much better than expected, which will probably bring a sigh of relief in the White House. And Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is already accusing the Obama administration of manipulating the numbers. This somehow gets tons of media coverage. But, you know, Mitt Romney lied—where does that get covered? Continue reading

Conservatives are a frustrated lot

We Democrats aren’t very good at this campaigning stuff. But we don’t need to be. Because we don’t have Fox on our side.

The conservatives are a frustrated lot. They are frustrated that a Negro is president. They are frustrated that no matter what they write in their homeschool textbooks, it’s getting warmer and everybody knows it. They are frustrated that economics (and arithmetic for that matter) don’t work the way they think it should. They are frustrated that admitted homosexuals get to sleep with members of the same sex openly and they have to sneak out to toilets in the Minneapolis airports. And, did I mention the thing about the black guy in the White House? Continue reading

The 7th Sign: David Brooks in the Times, telling the truth about Romney

This is just remarkable. And it may be the 7th Sign.

I try not to read David Brooks any more than I have to because every time I do I wind up wanting to throw things. Through the years he has established himself as one of the most reliably disingenuous, dishonest propagandists on the GOP payroll, a fork-tongued weasel who can’t say hello without lying. And BAM! Here, without warning or precedent, he smacks us in the lips us with the truest thing I’ve read in days.

The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor. Continue reading

A speech Obama should give

As President, I’d like to set the record straight about myself and my administration. We are intelligent people engaged in a search for solutions to the modern problems that face us. I call them the five E’s: Economy, Education, Environment, Equality, and Energy. These are the building blocks of our society. We need each of these functioning properly in order for civilization to move forward.

Economy: The economy is recovering from a disastrous experiment in deregulation, which allowed a large volume of worthless stock to pollute many of our most trustworthy financial institutions. I have addressed this problem in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, with the goals of increasing transparency, increasing accountability, and ending bailouts. If you haven’t read Rolling Stone’s article about how Wall Street strangled it in the womb, you should. It’s an eye opener. Continue reading