You want to vote. Enough so you actually take a trip down to the polling place you've used before and you vote. Sometimes your side wins, sometimes your side loses. You might grouse a bit if your side loses, but you pretty much accept the process. You vote, and you hope your side wins.
Okay, let's try this.
You go to the polling place you've used before and you want to vote. It's not easy, because you don't make much money and you don't own a car. You take a bus every day to and from your low paying job. A polling worker asks you for your driver's license. You don't have one. You don't own a car and you don't drive. That's fine, says the worker, just show us your state issued alternate photo ID. HUH? So you can't vote. A lot of other working people, the ones who get up extra early every day to ride a bus to work, also can't vote. Neither can a lot of retired people, college students.
Those who advocate such measures sometimes say that they want to prevent voter fraud. Some do not know that the system we have in place now prevents pretty much every bit of voter fraud that a photo ID would stop. Many conservatives who want a new photo ID law are willing to take the trade off. A few million legitimate voters can't vote in exchange for stopping a voter fraud problem that does not exist.
Some of us on the other side think we see something a little more sly. Could it be possible that stopping legitimate voters from casting ballots is not the price conservatives are willing to pay, but is rather the very reason for the new restriction? After all, most of those the harsh new requirements, the requirements that don't actually stop any voter fraud, affect only voters likely to favor candidates and causes conservatives pretty much hate.
This suspicion is reinforced by occasional public statements by conservative officials that pretty much say exactly that. I'm thinking of you, Pennsylvania Republicans. I'm thinking of you, New Hampshire conservatives.
But some conservatives do present a case, of sorts, based on concept more than any possibility anything untoward is happening. "What I don't understand," says Chris Jankowski, head of the Republican State Leadership Committee, "is how anybody can be against fair and honest elections."
This objective was the focus of a panel convened last week by the conservative group Judicial Watch in Washington DC. The main focus was not on voter fraud. It was on future possibilities of voter fraud, and on a current perception of voter fraud. It doesn't happen, it has not happened in the past. But it might happen in the future, and even if it doesn't happen now, some folks seem to think it happens. We should act right away, even if it means lots of legitimate voters can't vote.
Okay. So let's put that to the test. How do conservatives react when there is no perception of voter fraud, and when procedures to prevent voter fraud are not at issue?
You go to the polling place to vote. The poll worker directs you to the voting booth. You vote for President, Senator, Governor, right down to the local state representative and city board.
The Republicans in charge of voting tell vote counters to throw your vote out. And they do. Now, if you had a driver's license, that doesn't matter. If you had voted before, that doesn't matter. If nobody challenges your legitimacy as a voter, that doesn't matter.
What matters is that the poll worker directed you to the wrong voting booth. You see, some precincts share voting places. You give your name and address, the poll workers look up your name and verify the information, check to see which precinct you're in, then tell you which voting booth to use. Normal people, which is to say non-conservatives and those conservatives who believe in fair play, might disagree about state representatives and local aldermanic votes. But even if a state paid poll worker told you to vote in the wrong booth, everyone agrees that votes for President, Governor, and Senator should count, right?
Going through court papers is a fascinating exercise. They are available here in pdf format.
Turns out the folks in charge of voting in Ohio did not throw out a few ballots. More than 14,000 Ohio votes were ruled improper in 2008 and weren't counted. 11,000 weren't counted in Ohio in 2010. All those thousands did what poll workers told them to do. They voted in the wrong booth.
It was taken to court. The courts ruled the votes had to count for the upper ballot candidates: the candidates that appeared on ballots no matter the district.
The conservatives who currently control the electoral process in Ohio appealed it. They were joined by conservative activists led by radio personality Tom Kelly. The conservative group thought the decision to count votes was so wrong the decision shouldn't be allowed to stand. After all, they said in a "friend of the court" brief, improper votes would dilute the effect of proper votes.
Besides, conservatives said, nobody could prove which voters had been given wrong instructions. What if some voters had been given correct instructions, but decided on their own to vote in the wrong booth. Throw them all out.
Page 7 of the court summary kind of spells out the reaction of the judges.
The Secretary also argued that reasons other than poll-worker error may have caused some of the wrong-precinct ballots. The district court rejected these arguments, citing the failure of previous state directives and the absence of evidence that voters disobeyed poll-worker instructions regarding voting precincts. “No party,” it stated, “has identified a single example, from the past four years’ elections, of a wrong-precinct provisional ballot being cast because the voter refused to vote in the correct precinct.”
The court said that workers have a duty under the law "to direct voters to the correct
precinct and inform them that wrong-precinct votes will not count".
...the district court reasoned, “It is common sense that no rational voter who arrives at the correct polling place would ever refuse to cast a provisional ballot in the correct precinct . . . Based on the record evidence provided thus far,” the court concluded that “Plaintiffs ha[d] established a strong likelihood that thousands of lawfully-registered voters will be completely deprived of their right to vote . . . in the upcoming election because of poll-worker error.”
Conservatives have lost in district court. Now they have lost the appeal. The votes that were not counted should have counted. The misinformation, and therefore the wrong-precinct votes, mostly happened in urban districts, where shared polling places is most common. Conservatives, looking toward the 2012 election are planning an appeal to a higher court.
Is this really because almost all Ohio shared districts are in urban areas, and pretty much all the affected voters are minorities? Conservatives scoff.
After all, you wouldn't want to damage democracy because of an incorrect perception that ineligible voters are casting ballots.
This week was a bit different from last week. Since I got last week so wrong, let's take another perspective this week.
We apply an examination of the contrast between the debates.
President Obama became Professor Obama, showing complete mastery of his subject. The lecture he delivered to the class touched on every point. Pay attention. You will be tested after the bell rings.
Mitt Romney was the personable sales guy. The deal is great, and this car is cherry. Trust me.
Obama wins on policy, which appeals to me. Romney wins on theatre, which apparently appeals to most everybody else. I thought Obama won. The rest of the universe, including neighboring galaxies, thought Romney won. My cousins and nephews thought Romney won. Barack Obama thought Romney won. Eeeek.
On the other hand.
Joe Biden became the guy next door working on his house, who is also the one everybody else on the block goes to for personal advice. Yeah, these guys want to change a defined benefit system to an independent account system which means THEY WANNA REPLACE MEDICARE and THEY'LL PRIVATIZE SOCIAL SECURITY. They say they'll replace a harsh international system of sanctions with a tougher system of bluster and ultimatums which means THEY'LL TAKE US TO WAR, WAR, WAR. Clear enough?
Paul Ryan was transformed into the eager young guy who wants to win first prize for his science project by impressing the teacher at the open house demonstration. The guy working on his house takes a break from swinging the hammer to visit the school. He keeps asking the kid polite questions the kid can't answer but they both smile a lot. The hammer guy has an easy manner about him. The kid is fidgety.
Biden wins on policy. Biden wins on theatre. Ryan gets a passing grade on his science project, even though it breaks during the demonstration. Biden helps him stand it back up, pats him on the head, and promises to help him get it right next year.
Paul Ryan wears a suit coat two sizes too large. He borrowed it from his overweight uncle. His mom helped with the Windsor Knot.
And that's how Democrats win debates.
This isn't about tax cuts and the economy. But you have to start somewhere and you don't always start at your destination.
In the 1980s President Reagan engaged in what former Republican Senate Leader Howard Baker called a riverboat gamble and, before his conversion, George H. W. Bush, the elder Bush, called voodoo. Under the tutelage of Professor Arthur Laffer, President Reagan called for a reduction in taxes, most spectacularly for the very wealthy.
The theory had been around for a while. Maynard Keynes, of Keynesian economics fame, believed in it. Under certain conditions, lowering taxes can increase tax revenue. Professor Laffer was pretty sure those conditions existed in the late 1970s. Ronald Reagan bought into it. So taxes were cut and everyone waited for revenues to increase.
They didn't. Deficits-Gone-Wild was proving less than entertaining, so Reagan concluded that taxes had to go up. They did, on working Americans. Revenues went back up.
The Laffer idea became Republican belief. Republican belief became Republican theology. It is no longer that decreasing taxes will increase tax revenues under some conditions. Now Republicans hold rigidly to the dogma that decreasing rates, especially on the wealthy, will always increase tax revenues. Always.
This is carried to such an extreme that, even if it was always, always true, it would require effects that the population itself cannot support. Here's one example:
Mitt Romney wants to lower tax rates on the extremely wealthy. He promises that this will not affect the middle class or the working poor. The working poor, along with combat veterans, retired folks, and those who have been disabled, help make up the 47% that Mitt Romney was deriding when he thought he was speaking in private to wealthy folks. Tax rates paid by those at the very top will go from 35 percent down to 28 percent. And it won't increase deficits.
One reason it won't increase deficits: the very wealthy will be giving up tax deductions. Problem is, there aren't enough tax deductions for the wealthy to get the job done.
Well ... increases to the economy will produce enough of a financial boom to make up the rest. That's how supply side works. Taxes go down, the economy goes up, and taxes revenues go up with it.
Mitt Romney promises to increase the number of jobs during his first four years as President by 12 million. By coincidence, economists project that employment will go up by 12 million in four years if nobody does anything at all. But arithmetic still poses a problem. For the Romney tax cuts to work without exploding deficits, 12 million new jobs will not be enough.
Mitt Romney will have to oversee an increase of 162 million new jobs. That's more than the 12 million new jobs Romney promises. In fact, that's more jobs than there are available workers in the United States to fill them.
Representative Joe Walsh (R-IL) is a true believer. He holds to Laffer economics like it was written in the Biblical Book of Romney. For a while, he was famous for believing the sort of things journalists could easily fact check but don't. Balance, you know. He said things like this:
In the 80s, federal revenues went up. We didn't cut spending. Revenues went up in the 80s. Every time we've cut taxes, revenues have gone up.
It isn't so. It's a matter of record. It's just part of a belief system, conservative economic religion. I believe Jesus is coming. You believe cutting taxes for the wealthy will increase revenues.
But this isn't about tax cuts and the economy. Remember?
It's about Joe Walsh. You see, Joe Walsh is no longer famous for saying things that are aren't true about tax cuts and revenues.
Now he is famous for unorthodox attacks on the record of his Democratic opponent. He's quite creative about it. His opponent is Tammy Duckworth. It isn't her legislative record he attacks. It's her combat record.
To his credit, he doesn't get dishonest about it. It isn't the swiftboat sort of attacks falsely claiming to disprove the military heroism of Presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
On the other hand, he'd look a little weird if he did try to disprove her combat experiences. She lost both of her legs while fighting for America in Iraq. Hard to argue with that. She was later hired by the Veterans Administration to help other wounded warriors.
When Joe Walsh shows contempt, it isn't with any pretense that her bravery was, in some way, discredited. He shows contempt for her actual, undisputed, bravery.
Several months ago:
"I have so much respect for what she did in the fact that she sacrificed her body for this country,” said Walsh, simultaneously lowering his voice as he leaned forward before pausing for dramatic effect. “Ehhh. Now let’s move on.”
“What else has she done? Female, wounded veteran … ehhh,” he continued. “She is nothing more than a handpicked Washington bureaucrat. David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel just picked her up and dropped her into this district.”
Well, now, isn't that refreshing.
A few months later, he talked about whether she should be regarded as a hero. This is from the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Now I’m running against a woman who, my God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about. That’s why we’re so indebted and in awe of what they’ve done.”
When Tammy Duckworth spoke this year at the Democratic National Convention, the most emotional part of her speech, at least for me, was actually not part of her speech at all. It was her still somewhat halting gait as she walked on her prosthetic legs, her own having been blown off as she co-piloted a helicopter that was hit by a grenade-missile.
Tommy Christopher covered it better than most. When she spoke, it was only briefly about trying to continue flying until she passed out. Her focus was on how her survival and that of others in that helicopter depended on supporting each other. It was more than teamwork. It was a refusal to leave anyone behind. "Their heroism is why I’m alive today and ultimately — ultimately, that is what this election is about."
As she found a grace in awkward movement, she made her way off stage. I thought I caught a glimpse of metal at the hem of her dress as she walked away from the camera. It would have been a big night for anyone. Demonstrating that degree of recovery must have multiplied the triumphant moment.
In a debate a few days ago, Joe Walsh spoke with derision about how much the moment had to have meant to her. You see, she had bought a special dress just for that speech, the dress just below which I thought I caught that reflected flash. He held up a photograph of Tammy Duckworth shopping for that special dress. He is quoted by TPM:
“I was marching in a parade in Schaumburg (Ill.), Sunday, two days before the Democratic convention,” Walsh said, holding up the photo, “when Tammy Duckworth was on a stage down in Charlotte (N.C.) — if you can look at the picture — picking out a dress for her speech Tuesday night.”
His point was that Tammy Duckworth cared more about her party, and the party bosses that chose her to speak, than she did about her prospective constituents in Illinois. She was picking out a dress while Congressman Joe Walsh was loyally walking in a parade.
Presumably on both legs.
This is how one newspaper in 2005 covered her survival.
The McKinley High School and University of Hawai'i graduate was missing almost all of her right leg up to her hipbone, and her left leg was gone below the knee. The 36-year-old Illinois Army National Guard pilot could feel the bandage over her broken right arm but didn't realize she might lose it if doctors couldn't restore its blood supply.
And Duckworth, who was plucked from her crippled Blackhawk helicopter after a rocket-propelled grenade tore through the cockpit as she flew across Iraq, wouldn't understand until the haze of medication lifted that she was one of the lucky ones.
Or, as Representative Joe Walsh (R-IL) puts it, "Eh"
About that dress, and how shopping for it was what had kept her from marching down the street in front of Joe Walsh's cheering crowds, Tammy Duckworth had this to say during that debate:
"And yes, I do sometimes look at the clothes that I wear. But for most of my adult life, I’ve worn one color — it’s called camouflage."
I read it. I got annoyed.
Then, because I'm just old enough to begin losing it, I fell asleep.
With the television on.
Well, kind of asleep.
Actually I drifted in and out. I would wake up, get dimly conscious of a comedian on late night. I'd remember what I was reading, get annoyed, then drift off again.
I have to tell you, there is very little to recommend getting old. Well ... there is survival. Not much else.
Ron White was on stage. At least I think it was Ron White. He was talking about three dogs. He housebroke them in the traditional way, the way PETA would protest. He would rub their noses in it. After two or three times, two of the dogs would get the idea. Don't go there.
The third dog got the wrong message. Don't go ANYwhere. The audience laughed. I thought about what I read and got irritated and drifted off.
At one point I think I dreamed about people getting naked to protest dog training. I'm not sure. I can say I wasn't one of the dream protesters, if that was the dream. That's because nobody would get much from seeing me naked. Believe me, I know. There is a huge mirror next to the shower and I've seen enough to testify that my disrobed image does little to interest me.
I do know I drifted in and out. It wasn't like Groundhog Day. More like Groundhog Hour. Continuous repetition. Déjà vu come alive. It might have been one of those "Can't get enough of Blue Collar Comedy" or something. You know. Where a television station will put one thing on and repeat it all night long. Just so you have the opportunity not to miss anything at all.
Because I woke up three times, maybe, in about the same place in the on stage routine. The third dog got the wrong message. Don't go ANYwhere. The audience laughed. I'd get annoyed at what I had read. I'd go to sleep.
What's disheartening is that you'd think I'd get who the guy on stage was. Memory goes, you know. I think it was Ron White. Maybe. All I really know for sure is that the third dog got the wrong message. Don't go ANYwhere. Also that the story was pretty funny, because the audience laughed. Everytime.
Also I remember the article, so there is hope.
The article is online. It's in Slate Magazine. It's by Ron Rosenbaum. He's an author. A successful author. I try to forgive him for that. I explain to my conservative friends that liberals don't demonize success. Except people like me who hate other writers who manage to make a good living at it.
Ron Rosenbaum writes mostly about political type history. Watergate, Ralph Nader, Chris Christie. You know, conspiracies. Sometimes he goes on about science and the universe, but mostly it's about something with a political edge to it. He is really attracted to a contrarian point of view.
So this time, he wrote about racism in the Republican Party. Except that isn't really what he was writing about. He's often a little sneaky. He devoted a paragraph to the Fox News sponsored charge against President Obama. Seems that a few years ago, before he became President, Barack Obama spoke to a black audience about the Bush administration's approach to Hurricane Karina. And ... and this one of the things that was supposed to hit Obama where he lives ... he spoke in an accent that is different than the "proper" way he speaks as President. And there was incriminating video that proved ... something. That he was black?
The racial makeup of the victims of the hurricane was not a fact that only occurred to black people, regardless of how Fox viewed it. I remember a friend from church who hadn't voted for a Democrat for President in decades reacting to Katrina. His voice spoke for many. "If it had been young white cheerleaders trapped in that stadium, there would have been help right away." He later voted for Obama, his first Democrat since about forever.
So is the Republican Party racist? In his second paragraph, Rosenbaum makes an abrupt transition to his real topic. The segue is Henny Youngman-like in it's whiplash change of subject:
I bring up the matter in part because it relates to the discussion lately about how journalism must do more than present false equivalency, treating the two sides of any debate as though they are equally valid.
Is THAT what we're discussing? Well, yes, actually.
Those who dismiss “he said, she said” journalism—the tendency to present both sides of any story without judgment—make the arrogant assumption that they can do better, present the truth, the absolute truth on any given contested issue.
And how does racism get into the mix?
I present, as a test case, the issue of whether the Republican Party should be identified as a “neo-racist” entity. Could the press present this judgment as a fact?
Then, with a journalist's penetrating inquisitiveness, he delves into the evidence. He really does. He interviews. He reviews history, statistical evidence, and polling. He really does his homework.
He is armed with a lot of careful research as he misses the point.
He eventually concludes that, yes, the Republican Party is pretty much, you know, based on white hatred toward black people. And, he says, news reporting should include this fact.
In a way mainstream media outlets who promote a false equivalency between the two parties by failing to note at the very least the neo-racist supporters of the Republican Party are themselves complicit in the charade that the GOP is a morally legitimate entity. Not that racists don’t vote Democratic, and yes I know the GOP was, was, the party of Lincoln, but that was long ago in another country.
Let's help out a little here.
The Republican Party is indeed the party of racism. That's my opinion, and it is a legitimate opinion. It is not THE legitimate opinion. It is not a statement of fact.
Here is a statement of fact:
The Obama administration, following in a practice that has been around since Ronald Reagan, made a series of start-up investments in green energy companies. About 5 percent of those companies went bankrupt.
See? It's fact. It can be looked up.
The GOP is racist. That's opinion. It's a solid opinion and you can find evidence for it. But it isn't something that you can document as true or disprove as false. It is opinion.
The idea of journalistic integrity, the reporting of the truth when the truth is unambiguous and factually documented, is a surprisingly controversial idea. In the bizarro world of contemporary reporting, it is thought to be kind of ... well ... impolite to say that someone is telling a lie.
Early this year, the Public Editor of the New York Times actually posed the question. Should the Times go so far as to fact check statements made by politicians? Should reporters tell the public when prospective representatives say things that are not matters of opinion, well founded or not, but are verified falsehoods? The title was Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?
Many readers were incredulous. I confess to wondering if this was a well deserved satire, an Onion piece, the sort of which sometimes fools Iran's religious autocracy. Is an editor wondering aloud if reporting should deal with facts?
But this is the form that modern journalism takes. Balance, the carefully divided critique of both sides of any issue, is considered the only legitimate departure from he said/she said reporting. Which is to say that false equivalency has supplanted reporting.
It is partly sloppy thinking, partly laziness, partly cowardice. It does not recognize the difference between advocacy, which is to say actively taking sides, and reporting, which is letting facts take sides. Opinions should be reported as opinions. Put them in quotes and attribute them or put them on the editorial page. But verifiable facts should be reported. Up front. Right there next to a quoted falsehood.
It would be a statement of fact if the New York Times printed this:
While speaking of Obama administration investments in green energy producers, Mr. Romney said, "I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in, they've gone out of business." Records show this is not true. The figure is actually five percent.
Readers could react in many ways, but they would at least have a means of knowing that a documented falsehood had been uttered. Even if it wasn't mentioned that a five percent failure rate is a better record than that of Bain Capital, a source of real information would be in every reader's hands.
On the other hand, it would be wrong of the New York Times, or any legitimate reporting outlet to report opinion as if it was fact. That is something best left to Fox News.
In an opposite example, Michael Medved and Pat Buchanan have written that slavery was, in part, an unintentional blessing to black people, an accidental gift from their white owners that continues to produce a continuous bounty of blessings to their descendants, even today.
It would be a statement of opinion, published as fact, if the New York Times printed this:
Michael Medved and Pat Buchanan are racists.
And it would be wrong to print it. Opinions, even if sound, should be printed on an editorial page or in attribution. For instance:
"Michael Medved and Pat Buchanan," said Burr Deming, "are racists."
If the Times were to print that, people would legitimately react with "Burr who?"
You see, very few journalists learn simply to avoid reporting opinion as fact or as falsehood if it is a simple matter of opinion.
Instead, they have learned not to report falsehoods as falsehoods at all.
Journalists are, for the most part, kind of like Ron White's overly housebroken dog.
Now I'm getting sleepy again.
The story may be apocryphal. I've never been able to document it. A candidate had purchased an hour of television time the night before the election. It was the very cheapest airtime he could get, near the end of the broadcast day. The election was close and both candidates were almost out of money. He figured if he could use that one big hour to persuade just a few voters, it might tip the balance to him. One big hour in a last minute push.
Shortly before his ad was to air, he found out his opponent had bought the five minutes of broadcast time just before his big hour. His campaign thought that was pretty funny. Five minutes for his opponent, followed by his entire hour hammering the other fellow.
The candidate and his staff gathered around their television to watch the opponent's five minutes, to be followed by their own hour. The opponent's time came on. A voice said "thank you for watching tonight." Then a flag was shown flying as the national anthem was played. The remaining four minutes was static and snow. The simulated end of the broadcast day reduced viewers to about zero. Nobody watched the big hour long political message.
Okay. Probably never happened.
But TPM's Muckraker guides us to a local story in a Gannett publication with a similar ending. Less creative, it seems to me, more brute force. But just as effective. And this one actually did happen. Really.
A heavily moneyed incumbent was invited by a local television station to debate his challenger. The incumbent didn't see any reason to give his opponent an equal platform, so he declined. The station taped the debate without him. It was a classic Clint Eastwood empty chair kind of deal. The challenger was interviewed in a debate format, with the empty chair reminding the television audience that the incumbent had decided not to face his opposition directly.
That made the incumbent pretty sore. He contacted the station in person and really let them have it. He told them he would stop running ads with the television station, and that his "level of cooperation in the future" with the station "could be affected". The station obediently withdrew from hosting the segment.
The incumbent is Congressional Representative Richard Hanna, a Republican from the Utica, NY, area. The television station, WUTR-TV Channel 20, is managed by Stephen Merren. Merren sent a very frank email message to a staff member of the Democratic opponent, Dan Lamb.
“We are going to have to back out of this taping on Friday and deal with our relationship with Congressman Hanna on our own,” Merren said in his Wednesday e-mail, which described Hanna as “angry.”
It has been more than three and a half decades since the Supreme Court, in Buckley v. Valeo, decided that money is the same as speech. You can't limit free speech, but the court did allow for some campaign limits. It's independent expenditures by individuals that were let loose. You can't keep those individuals with lots and lots of money from essentially buying the only megaphone in town. Conservatives have since been appointed to the Court who feel the decision didn't go far enough. Justice Antonin Scalia is the main voice on the court for eliminating even the thin sort of what now passes for regulation.
One unanticipated effect of the philosophy of money-is-speech turns out to have been pretty much inevitable. Those with enough money can not only buy up all the microphones, they can buy enough duct tape to gag dissenting voices. They can do this through intimidation. At least they can if a newspaper decides, as corporations can be expected to decide, that profits come ahead, way ahead, of freedom of the press.
The announcement by email to the Democrat was honest, at least. The station needed to protect the relationship with the incumbent member of Congress. Station Manager Stephen Merren explained the announcement this way. He had sent the email to the Democratic staffer by accident. He didn't intend to let anyone know the station had been threatened. That part was supposed to have been kept secret. Oops. Sorry about that.
You see, money is speech. And the principle is that we have to protect free speech. Even if the free speech that is money pretty much crushes the free speech that is actually speech.
A new poll reveals that President Obama is almost certain to win re-election, according to a study published by the Democratic National Committee. In fact, the study proves that more than 98% of Americans intend to vote for the President. The study is based on a survey conducted by mail of a random selection of the organization's membership.
Okay, okay, I just made all that up.
No advocacy organization would be stupid enough to base predictions on surveys of its own members and then try to peddle those studies as anything else.
You don't hear about the Republican National Committee predicting the percentage of voters who will vote for Mitt Romney based on a mail in survey of its Republican membership.
You don't hear about studies of white attitudes published by the Ku Klux Klan based on surveys of KKK members.
You don't hear about political advocacy groups composed of Republican business owners predicting business trends based on some survey only of its own members.
Conservative political organizations composed of sub-groups of conservative businesspeople, a substrata of owners who favor certain policies, conduct surveys of those who favor those policies and discover that, surprising as it may seem, that those who favor those policies also tend to favor those policies.
The Chamber of Commerce does that. A lot.
So does an off-shoot started by Chamber staffers decades ago who felt the Chamber wasn't conservative enough in attacking Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies. They call themselves the National Federation of Independent Business. They lobby for conservative policies and back Republican candidates for office. They publish statistics all the time showing that business owners back the policies their members want in place. Almost all those studies are based on surveys of their members. So they find that their members favor the policies favored by their members.
You see how taxes and regulations hold back the economy?
If you look carefully at the study, you can find in a different section this statement: This report is based on the responses of 736 randomly sampled small businesses in NFIB’s membership, surveyed throughout the month of August. So the study finds that the members of the National Federation of Independent Business happen to have the same concerns as the members of the National Federation of Independent Business. At least those who answered the survey do.
That is not all the National Federation of Independent Business does, of course. They sometimes locate other surveys that tend to ignore the reality based world. For example, an analyst at an accounting firm ran some numbers on raising taxes on business owners. The fellow was interested in attacking the idea of raising taxes. He included in his definition of "small business" a whole lot of people we normally don't think of as businesses. Movie starlets, book authors, tax accountants, marketing consultants: in other words, self employed folks who don't employ and won't employ anyone else. President Obama was counted as a small business. So was the retired Mitt Romney. Nothing wrong with that. If you're self-employed you do employ yourself. And he didn't include any of the proposed Obama tax cuts and other programs for small business specifically aimed at employment.
Other more reputable surveys conclude the Obama proposals would dramatically improve employment.
But, that's the sort of thing that the National Federation of Independent Business does. It looks for bogus surveys to back it's policies. It polls itself and finds that it also backs its policies.
Now, in fairness to the National Federation of Independent Business, they are not the only ones who use dishonest statistics. Consider this statement during a recent national debate:
Romney: And your plan is to take the tax rate on successful small businesses from 35 percent to 40 percent. The National Federation of Independent Businesses has said that will cost 700,000 jobs.
Oh, by the way. Family members recently conducted a scientific study, that happened to be composed of those Deming family members who responded, and found who most Americans consider to be the best blogger anywhere.
That person was:
Manifesto Joe of Texas Blues.
Okay so these studies sometimes have unanticipated results.
Todd Akin is a Republican member of the House of Representatives. He has a shot at becoming the next United States Senator from here in Missouri.
He is most famous for his biologically challenged view that "legitimate" rape does not result in pregnancy because the rape victim's reproductive ability is interrupted by the trauma. That was a bit of a hit against his candidacy because it was recorded as part of a television interview. His initial reaction was surprise that anyone objected.
You'll find similar informational points of light in the Fellowship Halls of occasional churches. The religious belief that full human rights are endowed by our Creator at the moment of conception seems a self-evident fact to those raised in that strain of our faith. The countervailing idea that each woman has rights that supersede those of a blastocyst seems to some to be against common sense itself, as well as against the Lord.
It is not closed mindedness, exactly. It represents a lack of contact with other viewpoints. It comes close to unawareness that other ideas even exist in any meaningful sense. A philosophical position that does not recognize itself as a debate proposition is not prepared for rejection. The fall of "personhood" referendums in conservative states do not really serve as a wake up call. It is hard to awaken from pure and simple normalcy.
Todd Akin simply has never thought of his conservative ideas as at all controversial. They are Jack Webb truths: just the facts, ma'am. And facts are subject to the sort of objective verification that are denied to philosophical positions. In the Todd Akin universe, the universe of many conservatives, full rights for a fertilized egg, and a corresponding denial of full rights for the woman who carries it, is quite provable. In fact, various proofs are necessary for the enlightenment of those who live in the darkness, and to validate those who live in the truth.
Taking a philosophical position, a premise that needs no proof, and treating it as a fact, leads to asides that the outside world, the population outside the circle of holy brethren, can regard as absurdities.
In that realm of provable fact, women who are truly raped, not faking it, not using it as some excuse, have no need of abortion. Doctors who perform abortions are murderers. More than that, because they are immoral, they commit other crimes as well. They cheat on taxes, they behave fraudulently, they perform abortions on women who are not really pregnant in order to pocket extra income. Abortion causes breast cancer. Early abortions result in pain for the unborn, neocortex or not. The proofs go on and on.
The doctors-who-fake-abortions-for-profit story gained some notoriety when Todd Akin suggested it on the floor of the House of Representatives. After all, to Representative Akin, it is a well-known, indisputable fact. It is for many. After all, when you hear it in conversation at a church, it is impervious to challenge.
The facts that prove a non-factual position will often lead to a Todd Akin.
Corollary beliefs about women, and about life in general, tend to place Representative Akin into a bewilderment. How can anyone think routine things are to challenged?
Those who saw the last Senatorial debate between Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and challenger Akin witnessed the Senator call attention to some of the views Mr. Akin sees as normal. She was no more aggressive than any debate would call for. Mr. Akin criticized her as "unladylike." Although the notion that a Senator running for reelection ought to curtsy to her male opponent as she makes her dainty points may seem quaint, Mr. Akin thought nothing about advancing it as a serious criticism. She was not legitimately ladylike.
The reaction to similar statements seems to be a perpetual surprise to Todd Akin. The idea that discrimination against women should be prohibited is a bad idea. It is an affront to free enterprise. If employers want to pay women less than men for the same work, well that's what freedom is all about.
Pell Grants help talented kids who come from impoverished homes make it through college. Todd Akin is on record, again on video in a public speech, opposing it. When he called Pell Grants the "stage III cancer of socialism," he was surprised that anyone took exception.
When he said that Medicare was unconstitutional, when he criticized Social Security as a foreign idea imposed by a tyrannical President ("I didn’t design Social Security. It actually came from Bismarck, FDR put it in place."), he thought he was simply stating conventional wisdom.
His ideas are shared by other Republicans, coming into what Republicans regard as the mainstream. Todd Akin voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that makes it easier for women to prove discrimination. He was joined in opposing equality for women by almost every Republican in the House of Representatives. When he co-sponsored a bill that would recognize only "forcible rape" it was a bill sponsored by Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate. The Romney proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program is seen by Republicans as completely reasonable.
When Representative Akin theorized that legitimate rape does not result in pregnancy, Mitt Romney and other Republicans condemned the comments as ignorant. Representative Akin himself has taken that one back. Republicans are beginning to come home to the Akin candidacy. His other views are apparently acceptable to the GOP.
But the charge of ignorance is misplaced, in at least this sense: Todd Akin's continuing flow of ideas, casually propounded each week in Missouri, do not come from ignorance.
They come from unfettered certainty.
Not once in any Star Wars movie does someone pick up a book or newspaper, magazine, literary journal, or chapbook handmade by an aspiring Jawa poet. If something is read by someone in Star Wars, it’s almost certainly off of a screen (and even then, maybe being translated by a droid), and it’s definitely not for entertainment purposes. As early as the 1990s-era expanded Star Wars books and comic books, we’re introduced to ancient Jedi “texts” called holocrons, which are basically talking holographic video recordings. Just how long has the Star Wars universe been reliant on fancy technology to transfer information as opposed to the written word? Is it possible that a good number of people in Star Wars are completely illiterate?
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Here were two predictions:
Unless both candidates doze off at the same time, the debates will be, at very least, mildly entertaining.
- Unless one of the candidates douses himself with holy water and melts on camera, the debates will not affect who wins.
Neither candidate fell asleep. Neither candidate melted.
As predicted, the debates were mildly entertaining, at least for me.
My second prediction will be tested, to the extent that a subjective judgment can be made, in a few weeks.
The clear loser of the debate was the moderator.
I felt that Mitt Romney was more effective than he typically has been. I suspect that is because he was willing to throw large parts of the party base, and his own previous positions, under the bus. At this point, most members of the right are more consumed with Obama hatred than they are fixated on ideological purity. Under the bus may seem kind of cozy to them just now. Against almost any other national Democrat, Mitt Romney would have won handily on each topic.
I felt that President Obama was less effective than he has been in the past. He was professorial. On the points, he won, but televised debates are seldom won or lost on debating points. Although technically correct, appearing to agree with Governor Romney on the eventual dismantling of Social Security represented a lost opportunity. Against any other Republican, President Obama would have lost abysmally on each topic.
To my mind the sum was that, in a contest between Romney at his best, and Obama at his most academic, the President came out ahead.
It strikes me that televised debates are seldom decided on style or substance. Another element has been at play during the campaign, and could have been deciding factor last night.
Campaigns have been notably negative in the last few weeks. Polls indicate that attack ads against the President and the challenger have played out quite differently. The Obama people have repeatedly referenced the 47% remarks by Mitt Romney. The Romney folks have centered their convention on the Obama "you didn't do that" remark. In the weeks since then, the Romney side has seized on distortions of a variety of remarks the President has made in the last couple of decades.
The casual words of attack on people who the Republican candidate believes think of themselves as victims, those who want "you name it" for free, those who are chronically unwilling to accept responsibility, those words have become familiar to most voters. The numbers show most have reacted with a lower opinion of Mr. Romney.
Fewer voters are familiar with "you didn't do that." Those who have absorbed Republican attacks have also reacted. Unexpectedly, most of those who are familiar say their opinion of Mr. Obama improved as a result.
Why the difference? The data suggest two things. People find the President more likeable. And they are tending to discount attacks on him. Voters, by and large, believe the attacks on Romney. They do not believe attacks on Obama.
Not lost on some voters is that a few Romney campaign attacks on Obama have danced pretty close to a racial tinge. The fact that Mr. Romney last night felt comfortable comparing Barack Obama to his boys will have had a familiar ring to some viewers. In some respects, those days may be gone forever, but they have a lifetime's familiarity to those who lived in a harsher world.
In the end, I think the national debate devolves to the studio debate. President Obama will have won because voters like him and are prepared to believe him. More of the television audience will have reacted that way than will have liked and believed Governor Romney.
The reasons for this are pure speculation on my part. I think it because enough of those attacks on the President have been unbelievable to suggest to voters that the rest are to be dismissed. In contrast, the attacks on Mr. Romney are not based on anything out of context. The context makes his words worse. So the attacks are believed.
I think that determines the debate and (this may turn out to be wishful thinking) the election.
Last night, Mr. Romney came across as well practiced and smooth. Smooth and shiny as a sheen of oil on the highway after a light sprinkle.
I suspect and hope that is how he is perceived.
A little oily. Slippery when wet.
In response to F&B: On Honor, Wealth, and Romney
It is logical to believe that someone who has experience creating and managing wealth and jobs will do a better job with our economy than Obama has done.
- F&B, October 1, 2012
It is not logical to believe that. Mitt Romney's private sector experience does not uniquely qualify him to make decisions for our entire economy. If we want to know how Romney will be as a president, we should look at his record as Governor of Massachusetts.
Why the democrats insist on demonizing success and successful people, as if Americans should be ashamed of being successful and gaining wealth...
That is your (or the Right's) invention. Democrats do not want people to be ashamed of success and wealth. Romney is condemned not because of these factors, but because he has offshore bank accounts, pays less in taxes than much less wealthy people do, speaks of 47% of Americans as dependent victims who will vote for Obama, seems out of touch with the average American, and so on. Whether or not you find these behaviors to be worthy of condemnation, Democrats do and therefore think little of him as a man. It is not as simple as your account in which Romney is condemned because he has money. Your willingness to believe that shows only your own bias against Democrats.
That he only did it because of the apparent social status or wealth of the individual he was helping is purely your fictionalization of the account. It is interesting, however, that you are able to discern Mitt Romney's intentions and feelings as well as interpret his actions.
I don't care one way or another about the story of Romney helping Marriott, but you proceed to condemn Obama for actions that he did not and would not (except in your mind) take. Is the hypocrisy not apparent to you?
But somehow, democrats seem to believe that Obama's actions deserve merit and approval while Mitt's actions should result in condemnation. And not just condemnation of the actions, but of the man as well.
Welcome to politics. Actions are interpreted according to the context that we perceive and the context that we bring to the table. Character is part of context. Republicans don't like Obama, so they interpret meaningless (or even good) behavior as diabolical, which reinforces their attitude toward him. Democrats do the same for Romney. It is a feedback loop.
In fact, it is not unique to politics. Our emotions interfere with reasonable judgment. But you know this, so do not act like Republicans are innocent. Even you are not.
In addition to his generous contributions here, Ryan also writes for his own site, where he applies principles of logic to real life propositions.
Please visit Secular Ethics.
Debates do have the potential of changing national races. Rick Perry's crash into the brain break from Hell, oops, pretty much sank his chances to achieve a promotion from the Governorship. It reminded me of the first high school debate I saw as a teenager. Here's how I recalled it at the time:
The first debate I saw was divided into two teams. A young lady completed her presentation and her opponent, a hesitant teenage fellow, took a turn. He stood in front of his audience, examining his feet. Then he looked up and spoke. I remember his words well. "We have heard the other team present their case and their evidence." There was a pause of several seconds, then he cleared his throat and continued. "Now I would like to throw up for you on the floor... uh ... our side."
There is some debate about debates. Do they really affect the final decision of the electorate once candidates have become nominees? There is no sure way to know. In most elections, the candidate ahead before the debates was ahead after the debates. Reagan's there-you-go-again was a natural response to the awkward what-to-say-next of President Carter. Carter's daughter and nuclear proliferation, Gerald Ford's freeing of Poland, Richard Nixon's makeup, Al Gore's sigh, all contribute to stories that have gained the strength of legend. Not all myths are necessarily false, but there is no sure way to measure reality against what might have been.
Debates are said to be won or lost when measured against what is expected. John Kennedy was considered a lightweight, according to conventional wisdom. But he unexpectedly held his own against the sweaty, shifty eyed, Richard Nixon. Reagan was supposed to be an inexperienced stumbler when he pranced about the incumbent President, all but performing an Ali shuffle. Hard data does not show a great shift after either set of debates, but the stories acquire a greater strength with each retelling.
So both sides play a traditional expectations game. It's a game within a game. News organizations and their audiences discount the pre-debate spin. It's part of the cost of doing business, built into the expectations. Even the expectations game becomes measured against expectations. The story about who is winning the spin is itself spun, producing a sort of house of mirrors. Nobody believes any of it, but nobody dares to stop.
One story coming out of the Romney camp has Mitt Romney rehearsing what anonymous staffers are calling "zingers": one liners that will achieve memorable headlines. Unless those one liners are delivered perfectly, unless they play into an already perceived weakness, it's hard to see how they can work. President Obama is seen as strong on defense. The economy is mostly seen as recovering from Bush policies. Personal attacks are not likely to be productive. And, let's face it, public humor has not been Mitt Romney's strong point.
The zinger madness would be a nakedly stupid tactic for another reason. The surprise remark that zings into a bullseye can only work if it is seen as spontaneous. Announcing it days before to the New York Times is bridge burning in advance. The Empire of Japan did not send word ahead of its intentions for Pearl Harbor. Eisenhower did not broadcast his aims at Normandy. "Man, have I got a zinger for you," is not the way to deliver a punchline.
A more dangerous desperation move is portended by an alternate story. This one has Romney presenting evidence that President Obama knew in advance of attacks on our ambassador to Libya. Like Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations ("Don't wait for the translation. Yes or no"), he will devastate the weak kneed, naive, trusting, strength-is-provocative Commander-in-Chief. Seems unlikely to me, but then so did Watergate when it was first beginning to unravel.
If polls are to be believed, Mitt Romney needs more than a superb performance to become President. He needs for President Obama to go beyond swallowing his tongue. A Rick Perry performance won't be enough. He needs for the President to rip off his mask and reveal something truly horrible. "As I was saying to my fellow Kenyan socialist co-conspirators as we ate live kittens for breakfast ..." If something remarkably awful happens to the Republic for which the flag stands, and Mitt dampens his day-after gloating, it would boost his chances more than what is said on camera tomorrow evening.
Here are two predictions:
Unless both candidates doze off at the same time, the debates will be, at very least, mildly entertaining.
- Unless one of the candidates douses himself with holy water and melts on camera, the debates will not affect who wins.
When I was a little kid, I liked to watch old cartoons. Depression era Popeye movies were a favorite. I don't remember many specifics now. Plot lines were kind of thin anyway.
I do remember occasional scenes, although they are disconnected in my memory from anything else. One was Popeye falling through the air in a water dive of some sort. As he dives, he says in his Popeye voice "I wonder what the poor people are doing today?" You can't put the voice in print, you have to imagine it.
As I got a little older, it occurred to me that the scene was supposed to be a form of humor based on contradiction. It was the colloquial stereotype held by normal folks of the disassociated wealth, severed from ordinary struggle of survival that was daily life for most Americans at the time. Not knowing what the other side was experiencing, caring only out of idle curiosity, was the attitude most people thought they detected in the wealthy.
As we came out of Great Depression times, having won a World War, experiencing a growth that went on for decades, Americans pretty much knew the old cliches were partly humor, partly mistaken. Thurston Howell, III, was not a realistic portrayal. It was a slapstick caricature, an obvious exaggeration. Rich people did not think that way. Non-rich people did not think they did.
Exaggeration often is seen as having a core of truth. Many of us have met a version of the moneyed who preen just a little, strutting just a bit in the knowledge of superiority. We read about the CEO who throws his weight around, but we also come across accounts of those who exhibit a more nuanced wearing of the crown. The internet can reinforce, but can also put the lie to stereotypes.
Conservative Member of the British Parliament Andrew Mitchell rides his bicycle a lot. When he was riding away from 10 Downing Street, the official home of the Prime Minister, he didn't want to go through the pedestrian gate with the common folk. He ordered police to open main security gates for him. They wouldn't violate security procedures. He flew into a rage. He later denied calling them plebs, which is a derogatory term for working class people, the rough equivalent of "boy" in America. But the report quotes him thusly:
Best you learn your f***ing place. You don't run this f***ing government ... You're f***ing plebs ... I'll have your f***ing job for this.
Pressure is on the fellow to resign. Britain is said to be a much more class conscious society than is America. Has to do with Norman invaders conquering the Saxon population in 1066. Norman descendants are thought to have inherited a superior place. But this assumption of superiority was too much.
Mitt Romney's dissertation in Boca Raton was less vulgar, less emotional than the imprompto outburst of the British legislator. But it came from a similar outlook.
It was not a slip of the tongue. It was not inelegant. It was not a mispronunciation.
It was a studied, coherent, analysis of what those in the room saw as the lower classes. Essentially, Governor Romney was describing to an appreciative audience of the wealthy the condition that makes their inferiors inferior. He sees it, not as an opportunity to expand opportunity (A potential bumper sticker?), but rather as a catalog of moral failures that led to financial failure. It is never harsh circumstance that leads to financial hardship. It is lack of merit.
Mitt Romney was in his element. No longer in awkward exchanges with the lower classes, he was among his peers, those who knew all about personal responsibility. In the zero-sum world the Governor was describing, the corollary to the moral inferiority he was outlining was the implied moral superiority of his well-to-do audience.
With the unveiling of the secret tape of that description, the just-below-the-surface, not truly believed, stereotype of wealthy snobs came an authenticity not experienced for generations.
When Bill Marriott, Hotel King, described how Mitt Romney appeared to help him tie his yacht, he illustrated the willingness of the candidate to help his fellow man.
Both Mitt and I have summer places up in New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesaukee. And a few summers ago I was taking my grandchildren and children to town in the boat for ice cream. And we got into the docks and they were all full and I looked around, there was no place to park, so we stopped at the end of a dock.
They all jumped off and ran up the dock. And I realized there was nobody in the boat to help me dock the boat, handle the ropes, do anything ? they just left me out there at sea. So I finally found a place to park after about 20 minutes, and I pulled in, I said, ‘Who’s going to grab the rope?,’ and I looked up and there was Mitt Romney. So he pulled me in, he tied up the boat for me. He rescued me just as he’s going to rescue this great country.’
It's a bit of journey from Popeye.
You can see why Bill Marriott deserved the help. His huge boat was plain evidence that he was among the deserving part of society. The part that makes Mitt Romney feel at home. The part he is always willing to appear out of nowhere to help.
In odd moments, he may wonder what the poor people are doing today.