Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Morning Charlie

I've been expecting this article from Charlie Harper. He's a Republican; he's a syndicated columnist; of course he's going to write an article justifying his obvious choice next Tuesday. Half the time, much to the chagrin of his fellow partisans, Charlie surprises. Not today.

Forever, will today's column be known as the jelly bean column. Charlie is not one to normally succumb to mythology, but the pull of Reagan is difficult for any modern Republican to resist.

In those "glory" years of the 80s when we saved the economy from the Great Depression brought on by the feckless Carter and shot laser beams through red, white and blue lenses to obliterate the Berlin Wall, President Reagan's fondness for jelly beans was legend. A former smoker, he used the sugar nubs to curb the cravings. He was also known to use them, along with his aw shucks, Will Rogers (without the Communism) ways, to seduce Democrats into agreeing with his agenda.

Despite living in the post-partisan world after the 2000 election, after 9-11, after Katrina, after the largest economic collapse since the Great Depression, apparently there are people who still think jelly beans are magic.

Let's dig in.
America faces a stark choice for this Presidential election.  Despite third party groups who choose to paint the contrast between the Republicans and Democrats as two versions of the same flavor, there is perhaps a difference in philosophy between these choices that is greater than any election since 1980, and possibly even since 1972.  In many ways this contest has been ongoing for four full years.  Such is the nature of campaigns these days.  Tuesday, it is again time to choose.
 The  shibboleths here are not surprising. Want to paint someone a liberal? Call up the recently deceased McGovern. Want a shadow of failure, summon the scolding Carter. On the one hand you have arguably the most liberal candidate Democrats have ever nominated; who won exactly one state in 1972. On the other hand, you have a Democrat whose administration was forever stained with the perception of weakness on foreign policy.

Then on the hand of reality, you have a President, elected with the largest majority since 1988, who proposed the same health care policy Republicans proposed in 1994 and 1996, who agreed to cut taxes, whose foreign policy has included the promised pull down of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Oh. And yeah. Ordered the death Osama Bin Laden.

Do I have to replay the last debate where, except for brief calls of that rare beast named nuance, Romney practically agreed with every facet of the current President's foreign policy?

Yep. Just another weak, socialist, scolding liberal. Quite the stark choice.
Americans do not vote against incumbent Presidents easily.  In the last 50 years only two have lost a re-election bid.  We are a nation that likes to criticize, but often still prefers the known status quo to the fear of the unknown.  As too many corporate management consultants are overpaid to say, “we fear change”.
Yet with the backdrop of the housing market collapse and interconnected banking turmoil of four years ago, change was not only desired but demanded.  Along with it, we were given the promise of hope.  The two words coupled together were enough to capture the imagination of a fearful public who had no idea what problems were ahead of them.  They were delivered by a reassuring telegenic messenger – A fresh face who offered stark contrast of the status quo which had failed so dramatically and abruptly.  The American people embraced the idea of change.
 Also true.
We were short changed.
 ZINGER!  On to the real meat.
The President who promised to bring the parties together summoned Republican leaders for a bi-partisan photo op outside the white house early in his Presidency.  When one spoke up to offer a contribution, the President responded on camera with a dismissive “I won”.  It was but one of many early signals that the rhetoric of the campaign would not reflect how this President would govern.
Actually, we were short changed on this anecdote. The Republican leader who offered a "contribution" was the recently defeated John McCain who essentially offered the idea the President should pursue his party's platform even though it had been soundly defeated just a few weeks before.

This is a popular brick in the wall of Republican myth - Obama never tried to work with us. Peggy Noonan recently rolled out the canard, "He misread his Republican opponents from day one. If he had been large-spirited and conciliatory". Apparently, Peggy forgot how President Obama snubbed the Republican press by meeting with them in January 2009 to discuss issues; truly an amazing piece of political amnesia as she was there.

Then there's that guy that prayed at the Inauguration.  The pro-life, anti-gay marriage preacher from Texas.

Sideshows you say? Well, there was also that time in January 2010, with the healthcare battle looming, when he met Republican leaders and took their questions for hours. Maybe the Republicans have a point; maybe Obama does want to convert us to a European style of government. He certainly takes as many questions from the opposition as leaders in a Parliamentary system.

Ronald Reagan's first budget passed with the support of 62 Democrats. President Obama's stimulus package passed with exactly 0 Republican votes. If only he had more jelly beans.
Instead of working together the President remained distant and alone.  Bob Woodward, who has chronicled the inner workings of virtually every administration since Watergate writes in his new book the amazing distance President Obama has between himself and members of Congress from both parties.  His dramatic rise through political ranks left him little time to forge the friendships and alliances that may be unseemly to some who reject the notion of any backroom dealing, but are in reality quite critical to the way Washington works.
More jelly beans. See above.
His challenger, by contrast, was Governor of the most Democratic state in the country.  He has been an executive in government, corporate, and non-profit settings.  He understands that speeches filled with hope and idealism are nice, but unless there is a tactical and realistic way to implement those ideas, as well as metrics to gage their success, then words are, in fact, just words.
Which is why he as Governor of Massachussetts, Romney used his veto power over 800 times and was overriden by the Democratic legislature over 700 times.  Not a lot of jelly beans there.
The President, whose actual record is in stark contrast to the promises made as a candidate and during his first year, has instead chosen to abandon hope and change for an attempt to characterize Mitt Romney as someone who is aloof and out of touch.  Romney, in response, spent most of the early part of his campaign – including the critical infomercial that is what political conventions have become – to sell himself as a person instead of focusing on his agenda.
Promises versus record. Economic stimulus passed - check. Healthcare reform passed - check. No longer use torture - check. Draw down of forces in Iraq - check. Draw down  of forces in Afghanistan - delayed but by 2014 will be a check. Got Osama Bin Laden - check. Yes., that's quite a stark contrast. Disagree with policies if you must, but pretending the President hasn't delivered on major promises is myth building at its finest.
The debates, written off by many pundits as events that no longer matter, allowed the candidates to face off and for once, revealed much of their contrast in style and substance.  In the first debate, voters were able to see a candidate who has had to sell his ideas to investors, legislators of opposing parties, and taxpayers.  They were also able to see the response from a President whose career has been one of speeches filled with lofty rhetoric but often lacking in substance.  One who has been surrounded by a bubble of yes-men for four years who seems out of practice with having genuine conversations with those who disagree.
Most of the speeches I hear contain lofty rhetoric, but they also contain the checklist of accomplishments I've laid out. As far as yes men, maybe true. We'll hardly know until the years down the road when the books are written. But I look back at that first term and see Bush Defense Secretary Gates and former  rival Hillary Clinton and I find it hard to spot sycophants; men or women.
Whichever of these men is chosen to serve our country for the next four years will face a daunting challenge of moving a legislative agenda through a hyper-partisan Congress while facing the will of a sharply divided electorate.  With the challenges we face, however, we cannot afford four more years of gridlock.
Mostly true, but about that gridlock thing. Charlie etal. seem to be stuck in one gear - the only way to solve gridlock is give us all the power. Funny, four years ago, I heard many of the same people say the only way to reign in out of control government was divided government. Now, the only way to reign in out of control government is to give complete control to one party. One question - how's that working for you in Georgia, Charlie?
I will be voting for the person whose experience in bringing together those of opposite parties extends beyond speeches and into actual experience demonstrated in the Governor’s Mansion in Massachusetts.  Mitt Romney is my version of hope and change.
I haven't said who I will vote for yet, but I will say this - I'm leaning towards the moderate Republican.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thoughts From Outside The Bubble : Mulligan

I barely watched the debate last night. I barely glanced at twitter. Foreign policy debates are jet fuel for the irrational; even reasonable people go round the bend.

With two weeks to go in the most bitter election we will see in our lifetime, I'm avoiding confrontations with friends who have become partisan zombies.

Cowardice maybe, but at this point, I value friendship more than politics.

Could be worse. I could live in a swing state.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Myth Of The Day

The last time a Georgia politician sought help in developing bi-partisan solutions to tackle the big problems, it was 2008 and Newt Gingrich. A few months later, I attended the first American Solutions bi-partisan hootenanny and enjoyed the conciliatory tones of a key speaker - Sean Hannity. A few years later, the emails I regularly received from Newt's folks were of a decidedly less than conciliatory "Democrats and Obama are evil" flavor.

Funny how movements want you to sign up to solve things eventually evolve into mailing lists for whatever purpose the money changers and polemicist deem worthy.

Now, here comes former 9th District candidate and radio personality Martha Zoller with something called fixthedebt.org. Martha is very serious about about taming our debt, to the point she challenges us to work together, "no matter whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat".

To underline her "concern", Zoller says the Federal debt is "Currently at $16 trillion, and with no signs of slowing". (italics mine)

Of course, this is false.

Take a look at the above chart. After peaking at just over $1.4 trillion in 2009, except for a plateauing in 2011, the deficit has gradually reduced. 2012 is estimated at just over $1.0 trillion; the lowest it has been since President Obama was inaugurated.

This is how myths (and mailing lists) are created.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More Thoughts From Outside The Bubble

Two weeks ago, without watching the Presidential debate, I analyzed my twitter feed to determine who I thought "won". You can read my initial attempt at this new methodology here.

Last night, I did the same. I could have watched the debate, but it is interesting to not watch, avoid the noise and try to sort out the signal from a different data set ( apologies to Nate Silver, I promise a plug later ).

Once again, my twitter feed consists of three subsets: partisan Republicans, partisan Democrats and fairly objective analysts. Here's my off the cuff thoughts from last night:

-It was obvious the President was more aggressive earlier. I didn't even need to see all the partisan Democrats in jubilation, it only took one Andrew Sullivan tweet.

-Early on it was apparent the aggressive/defensive posture's from the last debate switched. As I posited before, to me this is an indication of winner vs. loser. Defensive doesn't work well in close in combat. Examples below.

- I knew it was going badly for Romney, or perhaps more accurately, well for Obama when partisan Republicans swarmed to the comfort of the most familiar canard: media bias. Add on to that the heuristic that he who blames the moderator loses and things headed south pretty early.

-The ultimate tell of dwelling on the minutiae is a losing position was the number of people clock counting. When you are moaning about one side getting an extra 4 minutes ( oh the humanity! ), larger points are flying by faster than Felix Baumgartner

-About that "act of terror" thing.  Both camps are right. Both camps are wrong. And Candy Crowley was right to walk it back. But walking it back misses the larger point and ultimately leads a larger sin. But more on that later.

And with that I'll leave you with more words of advice from Nate Silver;
There is a more subtle form of bias, however, that a lot more of us are prone to. That bias is to look at all the data — except for the two or three data points that you like least, which you dismiss as being “outliers.”
By the way, I'm currently reading Silver's "The Signal And The Noise". It's fascinating and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Whiplash

I spoke yesterday of the whiplash, well there is no better example than this,
Mitt Romney told the Des Moines Register that he has no plans to push for legislation limiting abortion
Following the red meat wallow of the political conventions, traditionally candidates have slowly edged towards the middle. After the Republican convention, Romney continued to whip the base into a frenzy and the wise people inside the D.C. bubble scratched their collective pointy heads; how can he not do what we expect him to do?

Well, here it is, but not exactly how the pointy heads envisioned. From a debate performance filled with policy positions that would have most Tea Partiers screaming to this latest modification of his abortion position (although a staffer walked it back almost immediately), it is apparent Romney is not going to walk to the middle, he's going to turn left and scream towards the middle.

We don't normally see this type of abrupt grasping and anything new leads to questions. The two important in my mind.

-Will the Republican base, which was castigating Romney on these very issues just six months ago (arguably three months ago!), continue to succumb to the euphoria of the post-debate high and give him a pass?

James quick answer: Yes. Republicans fall in line. He's winning the beauty contest and at this point in the game that matters more than single policy issues - including abortion.

-Can the Obama campaign take advantage of the "new Mitt"?

James quick answer: Maybe. Navigating to the middle is usually a high wire act for a challenger. Romney's bull rush has momentarily befuddled the President's campaign, but there is opportunity to point out opportunism.

27 days to go. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Elections Are Worse Than Ebola

From an Andrew Sullivan reader, in response to the ur-blogger going round the bend over President Obama's poor debate performance.
it took a failed war and Abu Ghraib for you to turn on the incompetent mediocrity that was George W. Bush, but Obama now seems to be old news because he was uninspiring on the television? 
After reading Sullivan's wailing last night, I seriously considered backing off politics for the next four weeks.

Elections have a debilitating effect on people. Already I've had to make one deal with a friend to not speak of it until after its over (a pledge both quickly broke). But this particular election seems to be infecting even reasonable people. I expect some level of crazy as even the normally rational succumb to partisan fever, but there's something about this election which is turning people into whirling, tarantella spinning, spewing, thrash monkeys.

But I won't. It's too enticing. Just have to be careful to not let any of the contagious spittle splash on my person.

For those on both sides who tend to get caught up in the whiplash, here's a little non-Buddhist chant you can recite over a candle or whatever floats your boat as you try to maintain some facsimile of humanity:

-Mitt Romney was never as bad as people made him out to be.

-President Obama has never been more deadly than right before he lunges out of a hole of his own creation.

-Every candidacy has a near death experience and that goes for incumbents too.

-Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Thoughts From Outside The Bubble

Due to a fortunate conflict, I was unable to watch the debate last night. And still I woke this morning and all the world was well. As my friend Rusty said on Facebook this morning, cutting back the steady push of news and politics has been beneficial to the health of this news junky.

But the jones is strong and I could not stay away completely. Last night, instead of participating in the nerd equivalent of the NFL playoffs (people drunk and screaming at televisions but with less violence), I monitored my twitter feed.

As you might expect, my feed is a mixture of partisans from both sides, analysts from both sides with a few straight up journalists thrown in.

It was a very different experience from my past exposures to the ugly irrational thing that is the debate game and there were some trends that I think are enlightening.

-It was obvious they were in the weeds very early. Past history has shown that unless your name is Bill Clinton, getting into the detailed policy debates don't work for an incumbent. Debates are more about appearing "Presidential"

-As the debate progressed, the trend became one side of partisans getting more aggressive, more bloodthirsty and the other side getting more defensive. As with most everything in life, defense in the middle of close combat is an eventual loser. Examples below.

-Example One from the Republican side. A normally rational individual snarked that it was "quaint" that a candidate who ran on the nebulous hope and change has a problems with Mitt Romney's 57 point plan. A ridiculous straw man but campaigns are built on ridiculous straw men. It's an effective talking point.

-Example Two from the Democratic side. A particularly excitable person proclaimed that Mitt Romney's statement on Big Bird cost him the election. That's just ridiculous. Good rule of thumb - when your supporters start focusing on minutiae, you're losing. (Just look at 2008 with a rational eye. Rezko, Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, etc)

-When Bill Maher starts making teleprompter jokes, President Obama is obviously not doing well.

Bottom line - based on my twitter feed, I knew Mitt Romney would be "declared the winner" before the spin room even opened. But does it matter? There's lots of ways to look at it but I leave you with the words of one of the few rational  players in the game; Nate Silver

-My own instant reaction is that Mr. Romney may have done the equivalent of kick a field goal, perhaps not bringing the race to draw, but setting himself up in such a way that his comeback chances have improved by a material amount