By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 0 Comments
A new strategy for high-dollar donations troubles finance watchdogs
They come with their signs and banners on the 14th of every month to mark the shootings at Newtown, Conn.—a hundred or so protesters in front of the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, a boxy, glass-walled building surrounded by blooming trees in a suburb of Washington.
“I am here to show my senator, who has an A-rating from the NRA, that there is another voice,” says Donna Lipresti, a 60-year-old law-firm administrator from northern Virginia, who hoists a sign calling for background checks for gun buyers. Similar grassroots demonstrations, petition drives and vigils have been unfolding across the United States.
These are not just spontaneous local events. As President Barack Obama has been pushing hard for gun-control legislation, protests like these are part of an ambitious and expensive political experiment by his top campaign strategists. It is an unprecedented, and controversial, tactic that aims to convert Obama’s cutting-edge, get-out-the-vote expertise into a massive machine to grind laws through Congress.
By John Parisella - Monday, December 17, 2012 at 1:42 PM - 0 Comments
American voters want want compromise and results, writes John Parisella
In the days after Barack Obama’s decisive re-election on Nov. 6, we began to see some real soul searching among leading Republicans. Encouraging messages seemed to indicate a change in the political climate. There was talk of compromise on the so-called fiscal cliff, the possibility of revisiting immigration reform, and the general admission that the loss to Obama meant that the GOP had to take note about its losses with minorities, urban voters, single women and the young. But that was before anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist began to hit the airwaves. Now, Republicans seem to be back to their pre-election orthodoxy on taxes and spending cuts and are playing politics once again, just five weeks after their defeat.
While some Republicans, such as Senator Saxby Chambliss, took some distance from Norquist, it seems that House Republicans and their Speaker, John Boehner, began to feel the heat. Boehner has chosen to stake his positions through media interventions, essentially repeating his election campaign mantra that spending cuts must be the primary solution to avoid the fiscal cliff at the end of the month. Only spending cuts will bring long-term growth to the U.S. economy, Boehner argues.
Republicans can rightly argue that Obama did not appear any more intent on working out a deal by continuing his campaign-style demeanor in certain segments of the country. Obama has continually repeated that he has a mandate to build on his balanced approach, and to increase taxes for the top two per cent. Fortunately, in recent days, both Obama and Boehner have finally begun talking and Boehner made expected concessions over the weekend.
Like it or not, Obama’s approach seems to be working for voters. Recent polls have indicated that Obama has clear support to raise taxes on the very rich. While some spending cuts are expected, these same polls indicate the public wants the president to protect the entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The Republicans, on the other hand, seem unable to develop a coherent position that accounts for their disappointing election results and a changing electorate. The polls are now reflecting decreasing support for the GOP positions.
This erratic behavior on the part of Republicans has surfaced in another unrelated issue. The Republicans have decided to target UN Ambassador Susan Rice on the embassy incident in Benghazi last September. In this case, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have led the crusade against Rice, questioning both her integrity and her competence. Available verifiable evidence indicates that McCain and Graham are off the mark, and that Ambassador Rice had intervened in the days following the Benghazi events, using authorized talking points. Ambassador Rice has since withdrawn from consideration to be Hillary Clinton’s successor as Secretary of State in order, to avoid a long and divisive confrontation process in the Senate.
Playing politics five weeks following an election defeat will not endear the Republicans to the electorate. Attacking Rice — a qualified, experienced and respected diplomat — based on questionable evidence, will also do little to make the GOP appear inclusive. Repeating the anti-tax rhetoric of a failed campaign will not make the Republicans a constructive force for compromise. The American voters have spoken: they want compromise, they want a balanced approach on the fiscal cliff issue and they want results. Those were the lessons of campaign 2012 as Obama won with more than 50 per cent of the vote and made gains in the House and Senate. The Republicans still don’t get it.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, November 5, 2012 at 4:13 PM - 0 Comments
Jamie Weinman on the gap between trusting your gut and stats
My colleague Colby Cosh got a lot of favourable notice for this piece about Nate Silver. Well, to paraphrase Patty and Selma from The Simpsons, I believe the best way to write a post is to leech off the popularity of another post. But also, I had something I wanted to say about Silver. Or more about perceptions of Silver.
Arguing about Silver has suddenly become a big thing in the last few weeks. He’s been taking criticism from at least three different directions. First, there are the people who don’t so much have a beef with the man himself as with the idea of him as an oracle. Silver does not claim to be an all-knowing prognosticator. But there are people out there who see him as such. I know a few people who have told me the U.S. presidential race can’t be close because Silver gives Obama a 75 per cent chance of winning, or who simply refer to Silver alone to tell them what’s going to happen. Silver has never set himself up as a prophet, and he can’t be blamed for his adherents, but I do think that the way he expresses his findings is very vulnerable to misinterpretation. It’s true that Silver isn’t literally saying that Romney has almost no chance of winning; he’s talking about probabilities. But they do lend themselves to those talking points, even if that’s not his fault.
The second anti-Silver faction consists of Republicans and conservatives who detect a bias in his work. You can see one such argument here. To some extent, this may be misdirected: the polls themselves, particularly the swing state polls, have tended to show Obama in the lead. But there is an argument that any system with a subjective element — and while Silver has stayed true to his system, it includes subjective decisions about how things are weighted — has an element of bias in it.
From a Republican point of view, Silver may have stood in the way of developing a media narrative of Romney momentum after Denver; as the national polls started shifting toward Romney (many of them have since shifted back again) Silver continued to say that Obama was the favourite based on swing-state polling. I don’t know how harmful that actually was to the Romney campaign, but perceptions of momentum are quite important to some of the people who run campaigns.
Finally, there are the pundits and reporters, many of whom see Silver as an annoyance at best and an enemy at worst. Here’s the article that mentions some of the anti-Silver sentiment brewing among pundits; one of the people from Politico also mocked people who think Silver has some kind of “secret sauce,” when he’s actually just “averaging public polls.” Though, I don’t think he, as opposed to some of his fans, have claimed he has any “secret sauce.”. As many people have already noted, this is developing a lot like arguments over baseball statistics: who has the better perception of the game, the guy who goes out and talks to the players and has inside knowledge of what goes on, or the guy who sits at home with the statistics and plugs them in?
It’s not as simple as that in election forecasting, because analyzing baseball statistics is about analyzing things that have happened, while polling is about things that haven’t happened yet. With predicting the future, it is probably true that inside knowledge can help you see things the stats don’t — just as someone who knows about a baseball star’s drinking or drug problem will do a better job than the sabermetrician of foreseeing his upcoming decline. An example from 2010: Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun, who predicted Harry Reid would be re-elected at a time when Silver gave Reid’s opponent “a better than three-in-four chance,” thanks to polls that were turning in her favour. Ralston didn’t have a lot of evidence to give us, but he did have his reputation as a clued-in, plugged-in observer of Nevada politics, and what he observed was that Reid’s political operation was as strong as ever, and that his opponent wasn’t being carried along as strongly as she should have been by that year’s Republican wave. This is the sort of thing you can probably see that the polls can’t – if you’re intimately familiar with the political workings of a particular area or state.
But most people who forecast elections, of course, have no such familiarity. Even people who live in a state, while their local perspective is almost always more insightful (for example, a local can tell you not only what ads are on television, but what they’re saying on local news and the weirdly political world of sports radio), are going to have limited knowledge of what’s going on. Other people just tell you that someone must be winning, no matter what the polls say, because he had huge turnout at some rally, or the locals seem to be getting really excited about him. And then there’s the most problematic of all these little subgenres: talking to interested parties and asking them if they think they’re winning. Of course they think they’re winning, and can give you all kinds of reasons why. But why on earth would that be more useful to us than looking at an average of the polls?
It always seems counterintuitive and wrong that a guy staying at home with the numbers, never setting foot in a state, could have more insight into the situation than someone who does shoe-leather reporting on the ground. And in one sense that’s true: the number-crunchers would be nothing without the people in the field doing the polls. But in terms of the actual process of figuring out who’s likely to win, this is probably one of those situations Bill James described in response to criticisms of the sabermetric method: told that sabermetricians can’t see the forest for the trees, he pointed out that the trees aren’t in a good position to tell us how tall they are. To go and report on baseball up close, you find out a lot of things, but you still need hard cold statistics to put the season into perspective for you and find out stuff like, well, who’s ahead in the standings. If you ignore the stats and just “trust your gut,” you get something like this piece from Peggy Noonan, a full-blown pundit in good standing, where she argues that the polls don’t matter because she’s hearing a lot of people have signs in their yards:
There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.
Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us? Maybe that’s the real distortion of the polls this year: They left us discounting the world around us.
This is the kind of predicting that, even if it turns out to be right, is completely useless. It’s useless because it’s not based on anything; it tells us nothing except that humans will pick out the signs and portents that tell them what they want to hear. With Ralston’s prediction about Harry Reid, we could at least look back on it after the election was over and learn something about the way politics works in Nevada. But most gut-feeling punditry, I think, is closer to the Noonan quote: someone is going to win because I feel it in my bones, or a particular candidate has the “momentum.”
This is why I think now is right time to argue about whether Silver’s method makes sense, rather than after the election. There are many reasons why he might wind up calling the election wrong (along with a lot of other poll aggregators, pundits, and so on). There are also flukey reasons why he might be right. It doesn’t exactly matter a lot, since the actual election renders all advance polling completely irrelevant. The question is, though, before the election, when predictions are all we have to go on, which predictions are useful? Which methods shed some light on the state of the race at a particular time? Which posts seem like they might have something useful to tell us about where the polls stood, even if things change?
I think there are some ways in which the Silver method makes the race more confusing, creating the impression that races are less volatile than they really are, and under-stating the chances of surprises like the Harry Reid/Sharron Angle race. And I think it’s important to take the polls in conjunction with some bigger-picture reporting. But that’s not the choice we usually have: the choice we have is between poll aggregation and analysis, and pundits reporting “SHOCK POLL: OBAMA LOSING [name of state]” or telling us how David Axelrod thinks things are going. With a choice like that, no wonder people turn to Nate Silver.
By John Parisella - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 12:58 PM - 0 Comments
Romney seems determined to stay the course despite a devastatingly negative ad by the Obama campaign
Back in 2004, Democratic presidential contender John Kerry came off his party’s national convention with better than reasonable odds to make George W. Bush a one-term president.
A political ad called the Swift Boat veterans for Truth took direct issue with the Kerry narrative of the war hero “ready to serve” once again for the greater good. The ad had a devastating effect not so much for its content, but for how the Kerry campaign managed the fallout. The contents were ultimately shown to be incorrect, but the initial inaction or slowness to respond to the ad by the Kerry campaign resulted in a drop in support for the Democratic contender at a crucial moment in the campaign. He never fully recovered, despite solid debate performances in the weeks that followed.
The Bain controversy involving Mitt Romney’s record and his disclosures between 1999-2002 continue to dominate the news and are creating an unnecessary diversion to his candidacy. Even noted conservative commentators like George Will and Bill Kristol are urging Romney to release his tax records for the past 10-12 years to put the issue at rest.
Romney seems determined to stay the course despite a devastatingly negative ad by the Obama campaign released this past weekend. Did he not learn from the Kerry experience? Does he not know that having his opponent define him is usually catastrophic in an election campaign?
Most voters would prefer a contest dominated by the issues, the assessment of the record of the incumbent, the policy choices, and the character of the contenders, especially with high unemployment and a slow economic recovery. Negative advertising, while a fact of political campaigning, has had the effect of turning off voters and adding to increasing cynicism from voters.
Yet, this Bain issue is not the result of a negative ad. It is the result of the Romney campaign not anticipating that running on the Bain record contained some risks. Romney, aware of his controversial healthcare law that served as the forerunner of Obamacare, chose to run more on his business experience and downplay his government record. It soon became fair game when he used his Bain record to show the failures of the Obama record.
Now Romney is faced with trying to change the subject. But holding back on divulging tax returns, or having Swiss bank accounts, or having money in the Caymans with its tax havens, are bound to raise questions after the 2008 financial meltdown and the TARP bailouts that followed to salvage Wall Street. The media is following the story not because Romney is rich , but because the issue of transparency is raised.
Just like John Kerry, Romney is a qualified candidate. He may not be politically agile as a politician, but he did win the primaries and the nomination will be his officially at the Republican National Convention in late August.
It is too early to think the unthinkable that Romney may have to reconsider his candidacy. However, transparency, integrity , and a compelling counter-narrative to Obama remain the best ways to the White House against an incumbent who is vulnerable on the number one election issue—the economy.
Romney has the tools to turn this around. Or, has he unconsciously chosen to “self-Swift-boat”? Time will tell.
And on this note , I will be off for a few days with family and friends. Enjoy your summer.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Friday, April 27, 2012 at 12:10 PM - 0 Comments
“It’s a book about Washington and how it really works,” explains David Frum, the Canadian-American who once wrote speeches inside George W. Bush’s White House, but now finds himself in a genteel exile from the power circles of America’s conservative movement with a surprising new turn in his career.
A one-time true believer who helped coin the “axis of evil” label, who wrote a book defending Bush (The Right Man), and who was foreign policy adviser to the presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani, Frum has since been called a turncoat, a rat, and a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only). The Wall Street Journal editorial page has denounced him as “the media’s go-to basher of fellow Republicans.”
By John Parisella - Monday, June 20, 2011 at 3:54 PM - 3 Comments
Last week’s Republican debate in New Hampshire featured a steady diet of attacks on…
Last week’s Republican debate in New Hampshire featured a steady diet of attacks on Barack Obama. Mitt Romney said Obama had failed America. Michele Bachmann declared Obama would be a one-term president. All the candidates, evidently suffering from short memories, blamed today’s economic woes on the Obama administration. Some called his policies European in character and incompatible with American values.
Pundits generally concluded that Romney and Bachmann came off the best. No one really based their assessment on the content of any candidates’ policies, focusing instead on style. Romney stayed on message and Bachmann downplayed the looney/fringe characteristics her detractors often attribute to her. Continue…
By John Parisella - Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 3:10 PM - 8 Comments
Over the past six months, an array of Republican hopefuls have shown interest in…
Over the past six months, an array of Republican hopefuls have shown interest in the party’s nomination, but outside of a couple of exploratory committees, none have declared. As a result, celebrity candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump have filled the vacuum and are currently dominating the headlines, pushing more serious candidates into the background and making otherwise promising potential candidates hesitate about their prospects.
Bachmann is the leading social conservative and Tea Party candidate, and is raking in the donations. As a result, she is a leading candidate in the all-important Iowa caucus and should be very competitive in the South Carolina primary. But the Republican leadership in Congress is growing uncomfortable with her prospects. Her controversial statements have made her a serious contender within the party base, but not with electorate outside the GOP.
Trump, on the other hand, is commanding national attention and has chosen the birth certificate issue as his means to confront Obama. In a short matter of weeks, Trump has taken the lead among Republican primary voters at 19 per cent. His pomposity, high profile, and penchant for publicity have made him a formidable challenger and one who will continue to capture headlines until he decides whether or not he’ll make a real run at the nomination.
The Republican establishment is obviously upset and concerned at the prospect of a Trump candidacy. Former George W. Bush operative Karl Rove, a leading fundraiser for the party, has shifted his criticism of Sarah Palin to Donald Trump calling him a “joke candidate.” Influential columnist George Will has also be very critical. Republicans who feel Obama is vulnerable and the White House is within reach are concerned by this turn of events.
But serious candidates such as Mitt Romney seem unable to break through the clutter. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels seems interested, but cannot compete against the Trump publicity juggernaut. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s former governor, looks like a serious potential candidate but cannot make inroads in the media. Meantime, Trump is able to make it onto the news shows anytime he wishes and still has his weekly reality show.
The Obama campaign has benefited from what has become a political sideshow. Even though he may not be a candidate in the end, Trump is putting a damper on everyone else’s campaign. The GOP did well in 2010 at the mid-terms, but a presidential campaign must appeal to a wider range of the electorate. The angry rhetoric of Bachmann and the perceived silliness of Trump are distractions. If the Republicans hope to be competitive in 2012, they will have to get serious.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 12:00 PM - 23 Comments
There’s never been a better time for a man with no political experience to audition for the world’s biggest job
Can Donald Trump be president of the United States? Snoop Dogg and the Situation from Jersey Shore think so, and when are they ever wrong? Last week, the billionaire took time from firing ex-stars like David Cassidy from Celebrity Apprentice and attended a televised “roast,” where many of the jokes from B-list celebrities were about his intention to throw his toupée into the ring for the Republican presidential nomination. “Trump says he’s gonna run for president in 2012,” said host Seth MacFarlane, “but if his plan for America is to fire everyone, he’s about two years too late.” If smarmy stars believe Trump’s running, so does Trump. He told the show Inside Edition that he’s “seriously thinking about doing it” after this season of The Apprentice ends in June; he’s also reportedly booked time that month in New Hampshire, an early primary state, to address its fabled “Politics and Eggs” lecture series.
Trump is encouraged in his ambitions by a website, shouldtrumprun.com, which was set up by his spokesman Michael Cohen and grabbed what Trump described as “500,000 names in a very short period of time.” Polls are looking good too: a Newsweek one shows him running almost even in matchups with President Barack Obama, while another (by NBC, which broadcasts his show) announced that his favourable rating is higher than the GOP’s top candidates, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. In the words of MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, “Who can beat Barack Obama? Donald Trump! Yeah, baby!”
Much of the mainstream media has chosen to treat his candidacy as a joke. Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator, told CNN that The Donald “has absolutely no chance of winning,” adding “I mean, he’s famous for being famous. He may be good in business but he’s not going to be president.” But maybe the supporters of the “serious” candidates don’t think Trump is such a big joke: after he appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February and said that Rep. Ron Paul has “zero chance of getting elected,” a Paul supporter from 2008 sprang into action and filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Trump, charging that this “de facto candidate” was improperly spending money to jump-start his primary campaign in Iowa.
By Nancy Macdonald - Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 13 Comments
Why are Republicans so often caught in gay sex scandals?
For his entire career, California’s Bible belt state Sen. Roy Ashburn was best known for sound bites like this one, dating to 2005. At a rally he organized to drum up support for a ban on same-sex marriage, the powerful Republican from Bakersfield stood beside the founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, Lou Sheldon, proclaiming heterosexual marriage “fundamental to civilization,” as Sheldon made vile claims about the lives of gay men and women—in all, “one of the most disturbing hours of my life,” said one reporter present. Ashburn, said to be “right of Rush Limbaugh,” has opposed every gay rights initiative that’s crossed his Senate desk, including measures aiming at fairness in jobs and housing, and one to protect gay youth.
Fast-forward to March 3 of this year, when a drunk-driving arrest near the Sacramento gay club Faces led him to announce, days later, to Kern County radio listeners: “I am gay.” Even north of the border you could practically hear the collective slap! as Republican hands met foreheads.
The gay Republican outed by scandal is, by now, a familiar event on the American political calendar. As Out magazine describes modern, gay Washington, Democrats live openly on the Hill and in K Street lobbying firms while their Republican counterparts “still cower in the closet until they trip themselves up with off-colour instant messages to teenage pages or conduct unbecoming to a United States senator in an airport bathroom.” Why demonize gay people in the first place? “Beats me,” says Wellesley College political theorist, Laura Grattan. Surely, she adds, there’s self-hatred or overcompensation going on—“they could take a stand against gay rights without being so publicly vitriolic about it.” Whether railing loudly against gay rights is a shield, a political ruse to win votes or an attempt to scare it out of their systems, the result is clear: ritual outings and public embarrassment—though on that score, Ashburn’s glassy-eyed mug shot barely registers.
By Lianne George - Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 8:00 PM - 46 Comments
Is Sarah Palin a good mother? When you put it as a direct question,…
Is Sarah Palin a good mother? When you put it as a direct question, her supporters are quick to cry, Sexiste! We don’t put Joe Biden’s performance as a father under the microscope, they say, so why should Palin be subject to scrutiny just because she’s a woman? But the reason the motherhood questions keep resurfacing is not that Palin’s a woman. It’s that she’s a strident family-values politician, and observers can’t help but wonder whether she’s exploiting her own family’s deeply private matters to lend her campaign even more family-values credibility. Why else did Levi Johnston, the 18-year-old hockey-loving father of her pregnant 17-year-old daughter’s baby, suddenly find himself front-and-center at the Republican National Convention?
Weighing in on the Levi Johnston matter this week, even Bonnie Fuller, the inventor of the modern celebrity tabloid, was shocked by Palin’s poor taste. In an online face-off against political commentator Dick Morris for Page Six magazine (yes, that Page Six), Fuller scolds the Alaska governor for thrusting her daughter, Bristol, and baby daddy Johnston into the spotlight. Fuller writes:
“Becoming a teen parent is traumatic enough without having millions debate your effect on the McCain-Palin ‘family values’ platform. Normally, Levi and Bristol would be able to privately decide how best to deal with their circumstances. By thrusting them onto the national stage, Sarah Palin robbed them of that option.”