Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ohio May Be Slipping From Obama's Grasp

A new round of polling shows that McCain is now a slight favorite to win Ohio, which makes Obama's once-commanding national lead in the all-important electoral college that much more tenuous. At the same time, the candidates' head-to-head appearance in pastor Rick Warren's church last weekend shows why McCain challenged his rival to a series of town meetings (and perhaps why Obama declined). It also suggests what I've known all along: that those who think Obama's cool and cerebral style equates to an easy victory over his older opponent in the crucial trio of autumn debates just may be in for the surprise of their life.
The Economist, meanwhile, kicked off a series of detailed studies of a handful of states expected to be bellwether battlegrounds with this interesting look at Ohio. It argues that the state "reeks of normality"--not so much in a strictly statistical sense as in "a deeper psychological sense." You can review some earlier thoughts and links to this subject here.

33 Comments:

At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

REALLY interesting Ohio facts. Will make me far more fascinating at parties(haha). Just turns up the heat under upcoming debates. I want to see more of the nuts and bolts underpinning their media personas. Wondering how well will they think on their feet, will they be confrontational,and how have they processed similar facts?

Have been reading excerpts from Lincoln-Douglas debates. Am amazed by the clarity of thought and the force of Lincoln's logic:

"Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises. And let me tell you, all these things are prepared for you with the logic of history, if the elections shall promise that the next Dred Scott decision and all future decisions will be quietly acquiesced in by the people."

Just don't think either candidate is going to hold a candle to THAT kind of thinking. Can we borrow some of this wisdom for today? What would he think of Guantanamo Bay, the thousands of people left destitute from the mortgage crisis, Enron-type scandals, and so on. Is anyone going to emerge having reasoned through some of the biggest issues of our day with hard but real answers? Though you only have one vote, wield it thoughtfully, responsibly. As John's chosen article points out, you may hold our future in your hands.

 
At 8:09 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Three quotes

Excerpts from the 2008 biennial news consumption survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press:

Traditionalists are the largest news segment (46% of the public) Older, less educated and less affluent. Television dominates as the favored news source. Most Traditionalists say that seeing pictures and video, rather than reading or hearing the facts, gives them the best understanding of events.

The Disengaged (14%) stand out for their low levels of interest in the news and news consumption. They are less educated on average than even the Traditionalists and exhibit extremely low interest in current events. Just 55% of the Disengaged get any news on a typical day, and just 20% know that the Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives.

James Moore on Karl Rove:

"He once told a consultant that we interviewed for 'Bush's Brain' that you should run every political campaign as though people are watching television with the sound turned down. And toward that end, you rely heavily on imagery and not very much on substance."

H.L. Mencken: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

 
At 10:10 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yes, Lincoln represents the unscalable summit of presidential eloquence, never to be equaled again. Any sane, happily adjusted candidate would do well to not use him as a yardstick. And Bluster, please illuminate us if you would on how that material to which you link and refer relates to this subject I've written about. If not (and I don't see an immediately close link), that's okay too. We just like hearing from you all the way down there in Oklahoma.

 
At 11:39 PM, Blogger S said...

The real issue is not how well Obama or McCain might do in the closely divided battleground states, but that we shouldn't have battleground states and spectator states in the first place. Every vote in every state should be politically relevant in a presidential election. And, every vote should be equal. We should have a national popular vote for President in which the White House goes to the candidate who gets the most popular votes in all 50 states.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral vote -- that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Because of state-by-state enacted rules for winner-take-all awarding of their electoral votes, recent candidates with limited funds have concentrated their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential election.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com
susan

 
At 12:17 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Susan, I couldn't agree more with you, and thanks for visiting. I've said here before that by instituting the electoral college as a check on a simply majority vote, the Founding Fathers made their only serious error in an otherwise ingenious constitutional system. And unfortunately, it's a doozy. It was easy to ignore it for a long time, at least until the disaster of 2000, and the serial disasters that wrought. But that election should have been all the dramatization we needed of why this system needs to be changed. I hope people will give your ideas some thought, and look over your site.

 
At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating end run around changing the U.S. Constitution. It is a movement that is definitely gaining momentum and is certainly worthwhile considering. Too bad for us Ohioans that it would take us out of the catbird seat, but it does make a lot of sense. You wonder how it would change the national dialogue (would it draw in the disengaged and traditionalists that Mr. Bluster mentioned?), election coverage, and even the stances espoused by the candidates; it is a delicacy to ponder if you relish intelligent debate. Of course that is what you're all about here, eh John?

 
At 10:57 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

No intelligent debate for me until after Labor Day. Second half of August is a time to dial it down a notch.

 
At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Those 3 quotes of mine were in support of your statement, "...those who think Obama's cool and cerebral style equates to an easy victory over his older opponent in the crucial trio of autumn debates just may be in for the surprise of their life."

True, McCain does relatively well in this setting, and he'll do especially well in the debates hosted by the major networks, as we discussed previously.

But his success may depend less on how much sense he makes, than on his appearance and manner. It's up to Obama to highlight McCain's weaknesses. I would like to see Obama take the gloves off with the old guy, especially on his sacred POW status.

You know, if being a POW were such a great qualifier for leadership, why not just ship future officers off to a prison camp instead of West Point?

 
At 8:36 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for that explanation. I did subsequently come to understand how your comments related when I read them more closely. And your point about how it might be more important how they look and seem in the debates than what they say of course harkens back to both the Kennedy-Nixon debate (listeners on the radio thought Nixon clearly won, while TV viewers said Kennedy was the winner) and Al Gore's weird orange makeup and theatrical impatience with Bush.

As for "taking the gloves off with the old guy," that's of course been a hazardous path ever since Ronald Reagan famously showed some tactical brilliance (well, his handlers did) by turning the tables on poor Walter Mondale during a debate. He got off a joke about how "I'm not going to use my opponent's youth and inexperience against him," bringing down the house in the process, and poof, the age issue was mostly finished in that campaign. You can bet that McCain, who holds Reagan in heroic high regard, will be ready with his version of that defense.

Also be aware that with the vast Baby Boom cohort of 76 million people now beginning to move into their sixties, the bulk of the voting public is now basically in a range between about 50-70, ages in which they're not about to vote for someone who's ridiculing a 70-year-old guy simply because of his age. Obama's been very cautious about bringing up the age issue, referring to it only indirectly, with his salute to McCain's half century of service to his country. That's about as direct as he's likely to be able to take on this issue. It's about as much of a hot button for him as race is for McCain. Since they're both smart guys with smart handlers, I think you can expect that they won't attack those issues frontally.

 
At 10:24 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

I remember listening to a Reagan-Carter debate on the radio and thought Carter won, and I wasn't pro-Carter.

You're right, McCain's "handlers" will have a few lines scripted for him. Delivering scripted lines is not McCain's forte, though. He might well make the point against himself if he can't summon his inner Reagan.

Whether Obama himself can make the point or not, McCain has an excellent chance of not making it through a first term. You probably heard what Dr. Philip Butler, a POW whose experience mirrors McCain's, said recently:

"Most of us who survived that experience are now in our late 60's and 70's. Sadly, we have died and are dying off at a greater rate than our non-POW contemporaries. We experienced injuries and malnutrition that are coming home to roost. So I believe John's age (73) and survival expectation are not good for being elected to serve as our President for 4 or more years."

I grant you that this is a touchy point for Obama himself to make. But his surrogates should be making it, because it is a pertinent point for Americans, including boomers, to consider.

A more specific point: McCain hasn't learned how to use email by himself. Now I ask you, is this a guy who can assimilate new information and make intelligent decisions about important matters like technology, or anything else? That he can get away with admitting it only points out how absurdly anti-intellectual America has become.

This kid gloves treatment of McCain has to stop. As with the Bush-Kerry race, the implicit point the GOP likes to make is, if this guy won't stand up for himself, he won't stand up for America, either.

Just debunking the latest Swiftboaters isn't enough. It's time to unload some gut punches on McCain.

 
At 2:19 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Forgot one more germane thing: McCain has one additional wild card to fall back on with the age issue--his 90-plus-year-old mom, whom he trots out regularly. Most people get the point when he brings her out and brags about her robust health (and she looks about 75). The family has the luck of the draw when it comes to genetics.
The lack of computer use is an issue, no doubt about that.

 
At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

McCain needs to get his wife to buy him a pie factory. Then he'll have flag, motherhood and apple pie all covered.

 
At 5:27 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Certainly can't say that of Obama. He's pretty much the polar opposite of FM&AP.

 
At 1:13 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Yeah, how do you like that Obama not wearing a flag pin all the time? Of course, his critics would make more hay if they didn't get caught making the criticism while not sporting one themselves.

 
At 1:18 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Dan Abrams Punks Rep. Kingston - Where’s YOUR Flag Pin?

This is surely one of the most vital issues facing America today. It speaks well of us that we can keep our focus on crucial issues like wearing a flag pin.

 
At 1:30 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

As to Obama's stances on motherhood and apple pie, I must confess ignorance. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

 
At 10:00 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

The flag pin is a complete non-issue, as is a stance against flag-burning. That stuff is just a way to evade real issues. As for Obama and motherhood and apple pie, that was my sly way of observing the obvious: that the black guy is never going to be about motherhood and apple pie issues for the bulk of white America. He'll represent, even if only subconsciously for many, the exact opposite of that. Finally, since we've been talking about Obama and McCain's chances in debates, you'll want to check out this well-done cover story in the current Atlantic, which analyzes both their oratorical styles. The sublime James Fallows breaks some new ground on this subject. I know that you'll find it interesting, Bluster, and no doubt others will too.

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200809/fallows-debates

 
At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

I just read it, and I agree, it's brilliant.

I was unaware of Obama's earlier "mix it up" style of debating. He is going to know that McCain's best tactic in the debate is to deliver an ineffectively answered insult. That is well within McCain's repertoire and would work perfectly for his pals in the media to rerun ad nauseum. So I think Obama will come out ready to punch harder and try to deliver a few of those irresistible bites himself.

I also think Obama will have some flexible counterpunches ready for the scripted Reagan/age shot. I just don't think McCain can pull that off as well as even a Reagan already affected by Alzheimer's in '84. Obama should have a few pointed shots for the inevitable showboating TV assclown gotcha questions, too.

Obama carries an instant handicap in the way the media will grade their respective performances: less-than-great for Obama translates to terrible; getting in a shot or two and not making a horrendous gaffe translates to a big success for McCain.

But despite that, the article notes Obama's relative consistency in identity over his body of speeches, a factor that worked for Bush (personally, I found Bush to be an empty suit from day one, so I don't quite understand the appeal of consistent numbskullery, but that's just me.)

 
At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Speaking of Bush, I suppose you've seen that YouTube clip that compares the speaking style of Gubernatorial candidate Bush with Pres. Bush. The article touches on that topic. It's startling how much more 'with it' Bush is in previous years. You are forced to wonder if he had a stroke.

Has the GOP gotten uncomfortable with running any other than impaired or geriatric candidates for President? Guess it works for them.

 
At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article IS brilliant. One cannot help but admire anyone willing to subject themselves to watching all those debates after interminable downloads on the other side of the globe. Of note was Peggy Noonan's observation, "I remember always having the sense that Obama couldn’t land a punch. And then kind of respecting the fact that he wouldn’t land a punch. Hillary was flailing away like a midget boxer and he was holding her off with his long arm and then saying something boring about alternative energy sources." Priceless.

Fallows' line, "But for some presidents, cast of mind is a central feature—the person, much more than the plan, represents the promise of the presidency. Obama is one of these," eloquently expresses my gut feelings about Obama. His youth and inexperience ARE important issues, but the way he thinks through issues and the ways he has visibly matured already gives one hope that he will be a leader whose intelligence will flower into wisdom.

Finally,"Peggy Noonan compared this approach to that of the Kennedy administration. 'JFK and his people came into the White House,' she said in an e-mail, 'with a faith they could be practical, pragmatic, worldly, that with these attributes they could manage what came over history’s transom. I see Obama as like this: things will come over the transom and he’ll approach them as a thoughtful sophisticate. He’ll think.'” The prospect of someone like that in the White House makes me think of the first warm spring day when you can fling all the windows open and let the fresh air blow through your freshly cleaned home.
:)

 
At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

I was just reading over at TPM that McCain's constant invocation of "POW" is beginning to draw a lot of negative attention from the press.

It strikes me that a lot of the corporate press really only want to know who the winners are, so they can fawn over them, identify with them, and get into a fruitful relationship with them. Does the "POW" reaction signal that they collectively are beginning to believe they should get a foot onto the Obama bandwagon? Or just using the other thumb on the other side of the scales, just to keep things dramatic?

I can imagine after eight years of an Obama presidency being so fed up with media suckups' Foxification of the new status quo that I would think about voting GOP, if they had become a lot less sickening than they are today (I suppose that is pretty unlikely, though.)

 
At 12:19 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You only just now discern a move by the media to get on the Obama bandwagon? Good lord, man, that's been happening on a vast scale for something like a year now. And what's actually been happening lately has been a move in the opposite direction, as the quality media has seen that there's rather less than meets the eye with his campaign, and with the candidate himself. I thought today's NYT column by Bob Herbert, a black man and the unashamed house liberal, was the best single indicator of that phenonmenon. He decries the careful way that Obama has waged this campaign, by staying away from populist themes. He thinks Obama should be going after the empty Bush legacy like the second coming of FDR, but complains that he's instead waged a safe, middle-of-the-road campaign. To my surprise, he also begins with a crucial observation that I've held all along: that Obama from the start has been a longshot to win the White House. That's another way of saying the Dems were foolish to nominate him in the first place.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/23/opinion/23herbert.html?_r=1&ref=opinion&oref=slogin

 
At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Yes, I'm only now discerning any move toward Obama. Of course he would be the focus of news stories by virtue of his race. But if you compare the ginger way McCain's many gaffes and screwups are politely ignored by the press, it is still very unequal. Remember that fawning BBQ McCain threw for the press? That's indicative of the way he has been treated up to now.

For my taste, I would prefer Obama to be much bolder. I think he should be lashing Bush and McCain together and horsewhipping them. But he is an astute politician, and it wouldn't surprise me if there is method in his caution.

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Oh man. I guess this falls under the heading of we see what we look for. But take my word for it, Obama has gotten mountains of positive coverage. And McCain, who's after all been a known quantity for the media for a very long time, gets covered in the context of his entire career, not just whatever he says or does that moment.

 
At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Yep, that's the heading it falls under for sure. It's hard for me to believe that any media-savvy person would fail to see the lengths to which the media will go to avoid mentioning things that would hurt McCain.

Example: the Rev. Wright story was flogged way past dead. Did the press show a similar zeal for the endorsement McCain actually sought from Bizarro Rev. Hagee? Not in the least.

(Hagee is quoted as saying among other things that: Hurricane Katrina was God's revenge for a gay pride parade, war with Iran is essential to bring about Armageddon, Hitler was fulfilling God's will.)

How do explain that? An aberration?

 
At 1:12 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Redirect on this sentence:

"...the black guy is never going to be about motherhood and apple pie issues for the bulk of white America."

More precisely, the well-spoken, highly intelligent black guy is never going to be about motherhood and apple pie issues for the bulk of white America.

The white South would have little trouble associating the black man with m-hood/apple pie, if it were in the form, "Mammy, yo' sho' bakes a dee-lishus pie!"

Seriously, what is it that the words "motherhood and apple pie" stand for if they are supposed to be such alien concepts to the person of Obama?

If FM&AP are supposed to mean "all-American," consider that Obama is an embodiment of the Horatio Alger story. Modest beginnings, then through hard work and application graduates from Harvard magna cum laude, writes books, becomes a U.S. Senator at a young age.

McCain has a piece of the pie, as it were. However big a screw-up he was at West Point and Naval Academy (probably lasting only due to his father and grandfather having been admirals,) he did serve and he did survive being a POW.

On the other hand, he dumps his wife, but not before taking up with a fabulously wealthy heiress. His subsequent political career was fueled by this acquired wealth.

Which story sounds the most American?

 
At 2:33 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

If you are using the "flag, motherhood and apple pie issues" phrase ironically, as in "irrelevant, bogus issues like flag-burning and flag pin-wearing," then I am in complete agreement with you. Obama is definitely not about those.

 
At 10:26 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

No, I wasn't being ironic. I was using FM&AP to signify the deep-seated feelings most people have about the things that make them comfortable and remind them of home and early creature comforts. These feelings drive votes in a very real way in presidential elections. And Obama's early rootlessness, his stint living in Indonesia, his Kenyan father and other exotic pieces of his bio are at war with that comfort and its parallel discomfort for anything and anyone who's part of "the other."

 
At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Tulsan said...

Well, certainly you have a point if you define it that way.

However, the most common usage of the phrase in a political context, saying a candidate "stands for motherhood and apple pie," means that he stands for nothing substantial.

I get no comfort when I think of McCain's impulsiveness applied at the presidential level.

Recent example: his "presumptuous" injection of bellicosity into the Georgia situation. Poor judgment. No warm fuzzies.

Side note and another example of media selectivity: Obama was repeatedly hit for being "presumptuous" for touring Europe and the Middle East. The application of this word to Obama was a multi-purpose, Rove-created meme.

Soon after Russia invaded Georgia, McCain telephoned the Georgian President to say "we (Americans) are all Georgians," seemingly pledging support that was completely not forthcoming.

McCain also sent his left and right arms, Sens. Graham and Lieberman as envoys to Georgia. Maybe Bush secretly deputized McCain to carry out U.S. policy over there.

Did the press just wear themselves out on the "presumptuous" Obama reporting and forget to notice how extremely presumptuous and inappropriate it was for McCain to intercede?

 
At 2:03 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

When it comes to McCain's impulsiveness, I'm torn. On the one hand, it can be refreshing in an age of overscripted politicians to hear a guy say what he really thinks. At the same time it obviously could lead to some serious foreign policy disasters as president.To yur earlier point about McCain's over-reliance of his POW experience, I didn't realize how obnoxious that had become until reading Maureen Dowd's column today in the NYT. Time for him & the campaign to give it a rest.

 
At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Speaking of the NYT, it looks like Frank Rich and I are on the same page today:

"Is a man who is just discovering the Internet qualified to lead a restoration of America’s economic and educational infrastructures? Is the leader of a virtually all-white political party America’s best salesman and moral avatar in the age of globalization? Does a bellicose Vietnam veteran who rushed to hitch his star to the self-immolating overreaches of Ahmad Chalabi, Pervez Musharraf and Mikheil Saakashvili have the judgment to keep America safe?"

 
At 4:45 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yes, you & Rich seem to be channeling each other. He's been consistently right about the Bush crowd, second only to Krugman in diagnosing their depravity.

 
At 4:46 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yes, you & Rich seem to be channeling each other. He's been consistently right about the Bush crowd, second only to Krugman in diagnosing their depravity.

 

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