McCain Suspends Campaign to Spend More Time Campaigning

September 24, 2008

What, seriously?

It gets even more bizarre when you consider what “suspending his campaign” means to McCain. It means, apparently, that he will temporarily, for about four days or so, stop spending money on television and radio advertisements. Because, you know, having staffers making media buys distracts him from finding a nice quiet spot to sit down and think hard about the economy.

The current economic meltdown (Katrina on WallStreet as I like to think of it) is not exactly the Cuban Missile crisis: it’s a long-term structural problem that’s been a long time coming and will take a long time to shake out. The various bailout plans being floated around look like anything from reasonable gambles to insanely scary power and money grabs, but so far McCain’s camp has failed to explain how having him and his campaign stomping around in Washington and giving press conferences is going to help.

Obama’s offer for the campaigns to take the issue off the political table was something that McCain should have lept at, frankly: it could have helped McCain look both nobly bipartisan and maybe given him some cover on an issue that obviously hurts him (a champion of deregulation floundering in a scandal of corruption, fraud, and abuse). This move, on the other hand, makes him look utterly absurd: even his most dogged defenders are admitting that the move looks more like a gimmick in response to his declining poll numbers than an actual substantive response to financial crisis.


The Playing the Race Card… Card

September 19, 2008

We all know that the hyper-media age is a brave and bizarre new place, where “meta-” counts for far more than meat. Marc Armbinder has the latest dispatch from the front lines: Playing The “Playing The Race Card” Card.

Once upon a time, the rules were simple. Republicans, who usually have to scramble to find one or two African American faces to highlight in their conventions (including having to resort to using stock photography of them), have the temerity to actually include African American politicians like, say, Barack Obama (coincidence? I think not!), in their political attack ads. Someone, somewhere (and just about anyone anywhere will do) complains that the usage was racist: meant to subtly play on racial discord and feelings of otherness. The Republicans would then lean back, hands in the air, eyes rolling, and accuse all Democrats and Presidential candidates everywhere, whether they had actually complained or not, of “playing the race card.” This response is devastatingly effective, primarily because it allows the very same people who definitely aren’t moved by subtle racist appeals to have the same response to the ad/controversy as if they were moved by them. You see, they don’t hate African Americans, they just hate how those African Americans are always whinily pointing out that they are African Americans, and having the temerity to exist in a universe in which some people find some things potentially racist.

Wait, did I say that the rules were simple? What I meant was that they were totally insane.

But anyhow, now we have another meta-layer to add to the whole thing: as Armbinder points out, there’s a possibility that Republicans could now be deliberately using African Americans in their ads so that they can start off the “race card” chain.

Case in point: a newly minted (and laughably implausible) attempt to link Obama for the current financial crisis by pointing out that he knows former and talks to Fannie Mae employees. Specifically, the ad uses a supposedly sinister African American as its example, despite the fact that a former Fannie Mae CEO, and noted white male, is far more closely connected to the Obama campaign. And then there is a sad, obviously pained, white woman thrown in for good measure.

Is the ad racist? Ye gods, I have no idea anymore!

But here’s the thing. It’s very hard to imagine the McCain ad-meisters who came up with this ad not having a very conscious discussion over how the ad would be perceived, and whether it would spark accusations of racism, and whether that would be politically advantageous. Dial us up a white granny and see if they’ll fall for it!

So are non-racist guys who consider exploiting people’s non-racist anger over allegations of racism… racist? Ye gods, I still have no idea, but now I have a headache!


Conservatives Are More Likely to Believe Falsehoods If Told They Are False… And Why That Might Be Sensible Of Them

September 15, 2008

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone versed in psychology, but more and more research is supporting the idea that political falsehoods are effective: even if they are later exposed as false. Whether you be Democrat or Republican, the emotional effect of a compelling narrative or juicy smear seems to remain even if its decisively debunked. While we all seem to form knee-jerk attitudes initially because of certain claims, but we don’t base the attitude on the continued veracity claims: the attitude stands on its own with out without the survival of the supporting claims.

But in some cases, it’s even more bizarre than that. As political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler discovered, conservatives are especially prone to a sort of backlash effect: being given evidence that a claim is false seems to make them more likely to believe it’s true:

In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might “argue back” against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same “backfire effect” when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration’s stance on stem cell research.

Kevin Drum thinks that this effect may have something to do with the carefully celebrated disdain many conservatives have cultivated for experts and media sources in general, and there may be something to that. Drum also notes that the source of the refutation didn’t seem to help either: conservatives seem more likely to believe a politically convenient falsehood even if it’s FoxNews that’s trying to correct the misinformation.

Liberals will no doubt find this research as yet more evidence that their counterparts are indeed stubborn science-haters who prefer ideology to reality (conservatives may, ironically, respond by denying the science behind this study). But before we go whole-hog down that route, I can think of one major explanation for the results that Drum might have missed, and for obvious partisan reasons.

Simply put, this research might not be evidence of conservative pigheadedness: it could just as easily be taken as evidence of legitimate conservative cockiness in the face of consistently lousy critics. That is, it could be that, in the actual real-world experience of most conservatives over the past few decades, prominent “refutations” of ideologically pro-conservative claims really have turned out to be wrong a lot of the time. Perhaps even so much that encountering strong objections to such claims is itself a good statistical predictor of their veracity.

This isn’t necessarily a rational reaction on a case by case basis; it doesn’t have to be. Like any Pavlovian mechanism, what matters is simply its general effectiveness as an association over time and experience. A knee-jerk “backfire effect” response may not make conservatives look very good in a controlled situation in which the claim is already known to be wrong. But it might be a reaction that’s served conservatives pretty well in everyday political life.

Thus, what may be at work here is simply a difference in actual historical experience. Refutations of claims that liberals like may simply have turned out to be valid more often than the refutations of claims conservatives like. And because each group has had different experiences, they’ve developed different knee-jerk mechanisms for how they process a refutation of a politically convenient claim.

Of course, this explanation would require you to basically accept that, in practice, conservative claims really are right more often than liberal ones. Or, at least, that critics of core conservative claims tend to be a lot sloppier and untrustworthy than critics of liberal claims. As someone that leans towards the liberal side of things myself, my own knee-jerk reaction is to find such possibilities absurd: how could our “reality-based community” be less reliable than… than… them?!

The problem, of course, is that I’m obviously too biased to subjectively sum up such a broad and comprehensive balance sheet of overall trustworthiness. Nor can I think of any immediate way to test a partisan bias in “accuracy” empirically.

But I do know that it’s at least a possible explanation for the highly partisan nature of the “backfire effect” that the researchers observed; it’s one which I can’t, as a good social scientist, immediately discount just because I happen to get all worked up about McCain’s latest campaign ads.

And it is an intriguing thought in any case: that the individually irrational behavior of a certain group towards criticism could itself be evidence that their ideological red meat is generally more accurate in the face of criticism.


McCain Picks Sarah Palin as VP… Analysis

August 29, 2008

Palin has landed? If so, it looks like I was right about McCain’s strategy in VP picks. It only remains to be seen whether or not Obama’s failure to anticipate, or at least pro-actively counter, this move will cost him in the way I expect.

When it comes to message, Palin ironically seems to undercut virtually every major line of criticism the McCain camp has so-far employed against Obama. Palin was a former beauty-pageant contestant: surely the crown jewel of the “vapid celebrity” image. Palin has little political experience (undercutting McCain’s claims of similar worries about Obama) and an abuse-of-power scandal under her belt (playing into the “3rd term for Bush” narrative). But the sort of people who buy into these sorts of character narratives are notoriously immune to hypocrisy, and even if they weren’t, what really McCain needs more than anything else is something that will shake up the race big time and keep the “bitter Hillary supporters” narrative in play. Palin fits the bill.

While Palin isn’t actually the first woman to be a Vice-Presidential nominee, that actually matters far less than the possibility that she could be the first woman to become Vice-President, and with her on the ticket, some measure of Obama’s uniquely historic appeal of a “first” is definitively blunted.

Like I said previously: this is a savvy move, and one that Obama’s camp had every opportunity to strangle in the crib. Either they don’t think it will play out in McCain’s favor, or they think that Biden will have some advantage that I’ve yet to see myself. Palin is also as right-wing as they come on social issues, completing McCain’s own retreat from his former life as a maverick and near-independent.


Charging For Obama/McCain Lawn Signs: Good! Obsessing About Them: Bad!

August 13, 2008

Via Dean’s World comes word of a story on a single disgruntled Obama voter, frustrated over the fact that campaigns are charging money for their candidate’s lawn signs.

Every year this happens, and every year people treat it as if it were something new and outrageous under the sun. If only the grumpy Mr. Norris understood what was going on behind the curtain…

You see, one of the most annoying thing about field campaigns is how overwrought and obsessed people get about big, glossy yard signs. Virtually every study conducted on the issue shows that they have little to no effect in an already media saturated national election, and yet nutty volunteers, activists, and voters not only demand insane amounts of them, but drive the campaign nuts with reports of “enemy” signs, complaints of too few signs at this or that street corner, some signs blocking other signs, pointless outrages about supposedly stolen signs (half of which just blew away), stealing enemy signs themselves in the dead of night, blanketing roadways with signs (often illegally!) and so on.

The median strip of Local Route 11 proudly supports candidate Smith!

In any case, the amount of precious organizing/voter contact time essentially wasted on these silly sign activities is legendary, and worse: it’s done by well-meaning people who passionately believe that they are doing the campaign a huge favor. The norm is that people come into offices and basically want to just take 50 signs, all for free, so they can put them up in the middle of nowhere on a disused highway median and then call the campaign constantly to report what’s going on with them.

The practical reality is, however, that the signs are in VERY short supply during the summer, and are paid for not by the national campaign, but local donations and groups. And most of the time, charges are either for online ordering and shipping, or actually just for any extra taken on top of the first freebie.

Charging people money is less a means of getting revenue than it is limiting people’s overenthusiastic insanity about signs: making them realize that they do cost money (quite a lot, actually) and are not an infinite resource. Because, of course, if the local campaign office ever temporarily runs out of lawn signs, people coming in get just as outraged and indignant about how poorly the campaign is being run.

The fact that people get upset about a few dollars a sign is just more of the same misguided madness.

It’s not for nothing that campaign vets quietly call bumper stickers, signs, and buttons “chum” (i.e. the smelly bait you throw in the water to attract fish). The fact that the stuff drives people come into campaign offices, potentially to volunteer, is far far more important than some guy plastering his Volvo with a thousand bumper stickers.


Aaaaaand We’re Back, Again….

August 11, 2008

Vacation 2 is complete, but boy did I miss some fun.

John Edwards, a man for whom I once used to work (though not by my choice per se), was outed as an adulterer.

Ed Brayton says I shouldn’t feel betrayed, but I do.

Edwards can conduct his personal affairs as he pleases, with the consequences and benefits falling on him. But when he does so with the mantle of a party, a campaign, and as an active player in the political scene, he is most certainly is taking on a level of commitment and trust to the people who support him and work for him that he’ll do everything he can not to screw things up. Imagine if he had won the nomination, only to drop this bombshell on the entire party. Betrayed? You betcha.

Course, maybe I’m biased, since I’ve never met the man, but I did get to meet his wife, who was a truly classy lady.

In other news, Obama is apparently still very snooty and arrogant for having the audacity to be a Democrat. China really, really wants to impress the world. Russia really, really wants to disgust the world. Some famous people died of oddly improbable causes. And President Bush rather laudably spoke out, albeit a little timidly, for religious freedom in China. Some other stuff happened, but dude, I was at the beach.

More to come…


Obama Must Pick a Woman as VP Before McCain Does!

August 1, 2008

Before I head off for the weekend, let’s play some political “inside baseball!”

Resolved: Republican nominee John McCain would be incredibly silly not to choose a woman as his running mate. One of McCain’s biggest demographic targets this season are disgruntled Hillary voters, still bitter and still grumbling about (largely paranoid and self-serving) allegations of sexism during the primaries. A female running mate not only gives these fence-sitters a reason to vote for McCain, but it could even help to sour and upset them further.

That’s because Democrats are going to have to attack the Republican VP in some fashion. And no matter how fair and above-board these attacks are, they’ll still drudge up every bitter feeling about Hillary’s primary loss (ironically, those most eager to cry “sexism” are generally also those who treat women as so delicate that any attack on their character will be seen as sexist, despite the fact that male politicians rake each other’s character over the coals regularly). It’s a brilliant means of straight jacketing Democrats and dividing them against themselves.

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Obama Still Wrong on Race: McCain’s Smears Of a Different Sort

July 31, 2008

Josh Marshall over at Talkingpoints Memo is having a little spat with Jake Tapper at ABC. The subject? Whether Obama is right to imply that McCain has been pushing xenophobia and racist themes in his recent bout of negative campaigning.

As Obama put it:

“But, since they don’t have any new ideas the only strategy they’ve got in this election is to try to scare you about me. They’re going to try to say that I’m a risky guy, they’re going to try to say, ‘Well, you know, he’s got a funny name and he doesn’t look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five dollar bills and, and they’re going to send out nasty emails.

But Tapper has it right here.

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The Press is at Fault for McCain Campaign’s Funk? Absurd.

July 25, 2008

Polls demonstrate that the American populace, after being told for weeks by the press that the media is too soft on Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, agrees that the press really is too soft on Obama. But is mere media malfeasance really the major factor in Republican nominee John McCain’s recent woes? That seems a view remarkably divorced from reality: a cheap excuse that for some reason seems to be trumping common sense in this case.

Let’s just look at the major campaign threads from the past few weeks….

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Breaking: PUMAs May Conceed that Obama was Actually Born, Still Exists Today

July 23, 2008

Over at Reason’s Hit and Run, David Weigel has uncovered shocking side-show developments: the never deterred Hillary Clinton-or-bust PUMAs have, all this time, been continuing in their opposition research efforts into the murky past of Obama’s time as as an embryo. And, much their dismay, they’ve discovered shocking evidence that… Obama was maybe actually sort of born in Hawaii after all.

This too-perfect to be anything but suspicious piece of evidence comes in the form of a birth announcement in a Hawaii paper that just so happens to announce Barack Obama’s birth as occurring on the very same day that he was allegedly born.

Even as a fetus, Obama was plotting to take control of the White House.

And yet, the proud PUMAs still aren’t quite convinced: they have a twelve point list of suspected shiftiness, and a spirited comment thread full of theories and fantasies about this astonishingly irrelevant issue.

Then comes the loopiest sentence of all:

Jackson, I’m not sure that any info on the COLB is fake, but perhaps the document was set up to appear to be fake, so that we would spend hundreds of hours studying it…

Did you get that? Premier PUMA TexasDarlin is actually suggesting that there might have been a vast conspiracy to alter or misrepresent authentic documents such that they appear to be fake, all to throw her off the trail of… something. Something embarrassing about Obama’s mother.

You’d think with all the heated rhetoric about how Hillary’s campaign was was sabotaged by sexism, these people could find something better to do than spending their days trying to dig up dirt on the private relationships of a young woman living in the roaringly sexist 60s.


Obama’s German Flyers: Yglesias Jumps the Gun on RNC’s Ruffini

July 23, 2008

In an illustration of the dangers of habitually indignant speed blogging, Atlantic Monthly blogger Matthew Yglesias totally misreads a post by Republican strategist Patrick Ruffini, complaining about Obama’s big upcoming rally in Germany:

Patrick Ruffini slams the Obama campaign for using a foreign language in its promotional material for an event in Germany. Apparently it’s now unpatriotic to so much as concede that they speak foreign languages in foreign countries. Or maybe American politicians should only be allowed to speak in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK.

Get it? Ultra-partisan Ruffini is so knee-jerkily nuts that he actually thinks that using a foreign language in a foreign country is unamerican!

Unfortunately, Yglesias’ take is, literally, too funny to be true.

Ruffini’s actual objection is the use of classic campaign tactics and money to build a crowd for the speech in a foreign land. The fact that the flyers are in German is not a problem for him because he thinks that Americans should never stoop to the use of anything but the King’s English. It’s a problem for him because it demonstrates how Obama’s campaign is willing to spend money lobbying foreigners to rally for American-media consumption:

So, this isn’t just some sober, high-minded foreign policy speech, part of a foreign trip occurring under the auspices of his official Senate office. It is a campaign rally occurring on foreign soil. They are using the same tactics to turn out Germans to an event as they would to any rally right here in America.

The sea of Germans drummed up by the Obama campaign will be used as props to tell us Americans how to vote, and the campaign isn’t trying to pretend otherwise. That’s breathtakingly arrogant, and par for the course for Barack Obama.

Now, I don’t think it’s breathtakingly arrogant at all: this is simply Ruffini being a good campaign man and dutifully reinforcing the standard Republican talking point about Obama having a big head.

I disagree with Ruffini’s argument, of course: demonstrating Obama’s appeal to the world is undeniably a legitimate selling point for his candidacy. It’s all a demonstration of his ability to get things done abroad to better serve American interests back home. He has as much reason to play that up as McCain does to talk about the surge (or to campaign abroad himself).

Still, Yglesias’ criticism of Ruffini is the only thing that’s “breathtakingly” anything here: breathtakingly sloppy. A little skepticism about something seemingly too partisan-ly perfect would have served him a little better.


CBS Deceptively Edits McCain Interview?

July 23, 2008

If this pans out to be true, CBS will soon be answering to angry Democrats much in the same way it had to answer to angry Republicans over “Rathergate.”

At issue is an interview between Katie Couric and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. McCain is using the venue to tout his superior understanding and judgment on Iraq: a perfectly fair campaign claim. But McCain apparently went overboard and bizarrely credited the surge with an event that started happening two months before the US even started discussing having a surge.

In the final interview, however, this footage has been edited so that McCain answers a different question than he was asked, cutting out his mistake.

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