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Political campaigns are inherently negative. That's because negative campaigns tend to win.
Voters really don't like candidates who run negative campaigns.
If that seems to you like Schrödinger's ballot box, you have a great vocabulary. We have two opposite things that are both true. At the same time.
There is a reason both sides of that paradox are true. Like almost any human, candidates like to be liked. They just like winning more.
Most general elections are zero-sum affairs. Winning does not depend on a candidate being liked. Winning depends on a candidate being liked more than the opponent. Sometimes that just means being disliked less.
Think of Louisiana in 1991. Edwin Edwards, notoriously corrupt Democratic former Governor, runs against David Duke, notoriously racist Republican. That last characterization is not hyperbole. David Duke was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. The most famous bumper sticker that year was "Vote for the Crook. It's Important." Edwards won.
Negative campaigns produce two negatives. Voters dislike the candidate running negative ads. Voters come pretty close to hating the opponent who is the target of negative ads. All things being equal, the candidate voters dislike wins over the candidate voters hate. A lot of voters hold their noses and vote for the nasty guy who ran the ad they didn't like to see.
That can be true of any campaign with two credible candidates. None of the above is not a real option. One of the candidate will win.
Political parties produce that situation. That is because voters are usually inclined to cast ballots a bit strategically. The closer a campaign gets to election day, the less likely voters are to vote for independents. We don't like to waste a vote.
In 1980, I convinced my dad not to vote for John Anderson, the Mister Clean candidate running as an alternative to the weak Jimmy Carter and the radically crazy Ronald Reagan. I argued that Jimmy Carter was indeed an inept chief executive. But Ronald Reagan was possessed by demons. My father agreed that it was better to go with ineptitude over demonic possession, and John Anderson lost a vote. He lost most of those who were initially favorable.
So most races become two candidate campaigns. And we're back to negativity.
That doesn't always happen. When three candidates run, nastiness often loses. You can take down an opponent, but you can go down with that sad target.
In 1992, Ross Perot got some credibility by virtue of gazillions in campaign donations from many sources. The largest donor was Ross Perot himself. He represented an alternative to Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican President George H. W. Bush.
Most polls had Bill Clinton running a poor third. A television interview with top Republicans sitting with President Bush at a conference table had their reaction to Clinton's faltering candidacy. They joined in laughter.
Ross Perot and President Bush began criticizing each other. It began pretty mildly. It escalated into full scale attacks. Bill Clinton stated his position. "These guys really don't like each other." That was pretty much all he had to say about it.
The evidence is that Bill Clinton would have won a two candidate campaign. But the attacks between the other two probably helped him become President.
I was thinking of the rare three candidate dynamic as I read about what has turned out to be a strange campaign in South Dakota.
Republican Governor Mike Rounds is running for US Senate. He was supposed to win in a walk. After all, Mitt Romney won South Dakota by 18 points. The Republican campaign has been a casual stroll. The stroll is turning out not to be a walk in the park.
The problem is an immigration program Governor Rounds has been promoting to help the economy. Those wanting to immigrate to the United States would get help from the Rounds administration if they would move to South Dakota and invest substantially in new businesses to produce jobs.
But some members of the Rounds administration may have had other ideas. They are accused of requiring more than investment in the economy. The charge is that potential immigrants were told to contribute to the bank accounts of aides to the Republican governor.
Democratic candidate Rick Weiland has been running ads about the maladministration of the program. Accepting bribes for immigration permits has been a big issue. The effect has been much the same as in other campaigns. Voters don't like the negative ads or the candidate who runs them, but jeez. Bribes for immigration status? Are you kidding?
So guess who's running exceptionally well? Larry Pressler is a retired Republican Senator who is running as an independent. Pressler's campaign is not exactly vacuous. He says his party, the Republican Party, has moved so far to the right, it has gone off the charts. He says he voted for Barack Obama and would decide with which party to caucus after he is elected.
If the election was held now, and the candidates were only the Democrat and the Republican, the race would be tied. If the two candidates were Larry Pressler, the Independent, and Governor Mike Rounds, the Republican, Larry Pressler would be way, way ahead.
However, the race isn't a two candidate race. Rounds is ahead by about 7 points as Pressler and Weiland continue to divide the opposition. But that is an amazing straw to grasp in a state that would normally go any Republican who can inhale and exhale in the proper order.
Pressler doesn't say much about the sale of immigrant status. He is already known for his role in the Abscam scandal of a generation ago. Of all the guys who were offered bribes, he was the one who refused to accept the deal. Not going to jail turned out to be a campaign asset.
Nothing negative in talking about your own record, right?
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
SUNSET HILLS • The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen took action to potentially oust the mayor Tuesday night.
The board passed a vote of no confidence in the mayor and approved a motion to hire outside counsel to adopt a resolution outlining an impeachment process. The votes on both were 6-1.
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From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
HILLSBORO • Jefferson County Recorder of Deeds Debbie Dunnegan said Tuesday that she used a poor choice of words on a post on her personal Facebook page that some are interpreting as an attack on President Barack Obama.
“I have a question for all my friends who have served or are currently serving in our military … having not put on a uniform nor taken any type military oath, there has to be something that I am just not aware of. But I cannot and do not understand why no action is being taken against our domestic enemy. I know he is supposedly the commander in chief, but the Constitution gives you the authority. What am I missing? Thank you for your bravery and may God keep you safe,” Dunnegan said in her post from early last week.
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From the New York Times:
VATICAN CITY — In a marked shift in tone likely to be discussed in parishes around the world, an assembly of Roman Catholic bishops convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican released a preliminary document on Monday calling for the church to welcome and accept gay people, unmarried couples and those who have divorced, as well as the children of these less traditional families.
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From CBS News:
New Hampshire State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt wrote a long blog post predicting the outcome of the race in the state's 2nd Congressional District on one factor: incumbent Democratic Rep. Ann McLane Kuster's looks.
"Let's be honest. Does anyone not believe that Congressman Annie Kuster is as ugly as sin? And I hope I haven't offended sin," Vaillancourt wrote on NH Insider, a New Hampshire politics blog.
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That Generals are always fighting the last war has become a cliche. It became conventional wisdom after World War I, the War to End All Wars. That was the war during which young soldiers were sent to fight machine guns with their chests because sending minimally protected troops onto the battlefield had worked before.
Prior to that, the American Civil War was fought by groups of soldiers trained to huddle together and shoot in unison, a tactic that had been honed to success against muskets in the Revolution. The Revolution was won by untrained militia hiding behind rocks and trees who fought against well trained battle hardened soldiers who wore bright red coats and marched in a straight line, as history had taught the generals.
So yeah, generals did fight the last war. The more global truth was that politicians always fought the last war.
After the World War that came after the War to End All Wars, Dean Acheson was confronted with a new kind of war. He fought against political opponents to formulate a response to a form of aggression that the world had not seen in modern times. He put together a composite strategy of aid to countries on the ragged economic edge, military aid, and nuclear deterrence. The multi-pronged approach was called Containment. The new terrain was called the Cold War.
The new structures included NATO, MLF, SEATO, and the Marshall Plan. They were derided by conservatives, led by then Senator Richard Nixon as the "Cowardly College of Communist Containment." Presumably, the braver course, the conservative course, would have been a very hot war.
The long twilight struggle represented by the Cold War was predicated on the idea that the prime generator of evil in the world was a monolithic conspiracy directed from a single room in the Kremlin. The theory, even in retrospect, seems to have worked reasonably well in Europe and most of the Western world.
The price paid by subjugated populations was high. Freedom is a terrible thing to lose. But the Soviet Empire was confined to its illegitimate boundaries, where internal contradictions would eventually lead to collapse.
The problem was the theory outlived itself. Lessons of the 1950s were applied everywhere. But it turned out the great monolith of Europe was not a worldwide conspiracy. In much of the world, indigenous conflicts had local causes and local participants. In Vietnam, we discovered the cost of treating a mostly sectarian struggle as something larger. The cost in American lives came close to 60,000. The cost to the Vietnamese people most probably numbered in multiple millions. The cost to the Soviet Union was approximately zero.
The hard lessons of the Cold War continued to be applied for decades after the Soviet Union disintegrated. Destruction was not directed by a single point of evil. It was a series of several points, with dictatorships in more than one country operating independently, although often in cooperation with each other.
That lesson was applied after the 9/11 attacks. The only question was which dictatorship was responsible for that act of mass murder. The idea that a comic book villain in a cave on the other side of the world could have directed such destruction seemed hopelessly naive to policymakers. They quickly settled on the real culprit and set their sites on Iraq. Saddam Hussein was behind it.
What they possessed in confidence, they lacked in evidence. They knew what they knew, but they couldn't prove it. America had to attack Iraq's dictatorship, but America had to be convinced.
I have to confess once more that I was among the convinced. Mushroom clouds over Manhattan were a bit much to contemplate.
Only later did we find that independent evidence had not been so independent. It had been planted with a few journalists with a low level of integrity. It had been supplemented by false confessions gotten by torture. It had been complemented by others with their own agendas. It had been made up out of whole cloth. Our President, and his administration, had been blowing smoke at us.
They had known all along the story of destructive weapons was bogus. But they also knew that the evidence was needed to convince America to attack. And they knew the attack was essential. The World Trade Center still smoldered in rubble. The Pentagon had been hit by a third plane. A fourth plane was in the ground in Pennsylvania.
They could not let Saddam Hussein get away with it, even if they could not prove he was responsible. The cartoonish figure at Bora Bora was an incidental figure. They could dispose of bin Laden after they had dealt with his sponsor.
The very notion that a privately funded and controlled radical movement could transcend national boundaries, could be independent of any sovereign state, contradicted everything that former Cold Warriors had learned in the long, bitter struggle against splintered opposition during the Cold War. Ho Chi Minh had not been controlled by a large monolithic conspiracy, but he had controlled a country.
I was reminded of the great deception in the cause of mistaken revenge, of a President blowing smoke at us, as I read the latest on the phantom Weapons of Mass destruction.
The leading candidate to become the next Senator from the great state of Iowa was interviewed by the Des Moines Register. Joni Ernst revealed new intelligence, unknown to ordinary citizens.
I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
- Joni Ernst, Republican candidate for the US Senate, May 13, 2014
She later tried to clarify. She issued a statement acknowledging that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction at the time of the invasion. What she had meant to say was that Iraq had had those weapons in the years before the invasion.
It does strike me as a bit of a strain to get that interpretation from the presentation she made in person.
In the original interview, a staffer at the newspaper was incredulous. He asked if she really truly thought there were such weapons in Iraq at the time of the invasion. She repeated her assertion.
I have reason to believe there was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I will tell you my husband served in Saudi Arabia as an Army Central Command sergeant major for a year and that's a hot-button topic in that area.
It could be I have it wrong. My loved one sometimes reminds me that I've been wrong before. One of those times was when I thought President Bush, the President of the United States, my President, was telling the truth about nuclear weapons.
The first time Joni Ernst said she had reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction as we invaded, I do have reason to believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it sounded to me as if she was actually saying she believed there had been such weapons.
When she repeated that she had reason to believe there were weapons as we invaded, I have reason to believe there was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and added that her husband was in a position to verify that there were such weapons it seemed to me she was saying she believed it.
She does now say she actually meant something other than what she repeated ... well ... repeatedly. As a Senator, it's hard to know what she will believe the next time a Republican President blows smoke at us, especially the smoke of mass destruction.
From the Angus Leader, Sioux Falls, SD:
The political world outside of South Dakota learned some stunning news last week: Mike Rounds, the guy everybody assumed would be the next senator from South Dakota, actually has been running a campaign more suited for sheriff of Mayberry County than U.S. Senate.
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With this note: This little boy is beyond brilliant, he is absolutely delightful.
From Asbury Park Press:
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Bell said he is behind in the polls by double digits because single mothers are "wed" to the social benefits like food stamps that Democrats hand out.
Bell said his 20-plus percentage point deficit among women in public opinion polls isn't due to his socially conservative views, such as opposition to abortion rights, but rather the result of demographic boost in the number of unmarried women.
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My conservative friend asked the question. So I invited him to join me in a pleasant stroll through the public record.
News is the unusual or the previously unknown. The story of Mitt Romney's confession will never be considered news.
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The United States seems to be safe from massive outbreaks of the Ebola virus, despite the disproportionate panic. But, at Crooks and Liars, Blue Gal suggests a couple of policy decisions that have opened the country to the sweep of epidemics.
States are often said to be the laboratories of policy. The Progressive Paradigm, looks at the data to judge the success of multiple state experiments with Republican Supply Side economics. It seems Professor Laffer falls flat.
Republicans have had a tough time appealing to single women, women with kids, and the families of those women. Tommy Christopher, at the Daily Banter reports that Republicans are now on the upswing after all male gatherings, then images of women that turned out to be stock photos gotten from public domain sites. At long last, they can be proud to have found nine public women to show to voters.
Jonathan Bernstein, writing for Bloomberg, concludes that ideologues will face perpetual disappointment with the politicians they support.
Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot figures out how to find out more than he suspected from the tail numbers on military planes then uses that knowledge to find the military service of his war veteran father.
Sent by friend Cindy with a note:
Incredible! I'll bet you've never seen anything like this.
2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic trailer，500 people dancing in the sky.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Madison — Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel said he would have reluctantly defended a ban on interracial marriage had he been attorney general in the 1950s — a stance Democrats criticized Wednesday.
Schimel, a Republican, is running for attorney general in the Nov. 4 election against Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, a Democrat.
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Conservative commentator T. Paine recently responded to a piece I wrote on the apparent level of integrity displayed by Mitt Romney in a recent interview.
I have never met T. Paine. But he has become a close friend. Over the internet, he has stood with us, sharing our anxiety as our young Marine was under fire in Afghanistan. In times of family illness we knew his prayers were with us.
So I pretty much have to respond to his recent question:
I am certainly not going to defend Romney, and dearly hope he doesn't run again. That said, Mr. Deming, do you find President Obama to be a man of his word who governs with integrity and without misdirection and outright lies?
- T. Paine, October 8, 2014
I like to think I have an interest in how the nation gets along.
The most obvious measure is the economy. Certainly the very wealthy have been the prime beneficiaries of the new prosperity. A lot of folks I know are still struggling. But things are looking up. Did you ever think we would again see an unemployment rate below 6 percent?
But I suppose I'm most likely to notice what affects my family and friends.
President Obama said he would try to make sure insurance companies would keep children on their parents' insurance up to age 26. That helped us until the twins left and went on their own.
When we got a refund in the mail from the insurance company, it was because of they were required to pay a percentage of premiums on actual care. They hadn't, so they had to refund part of it. President Obama had said that would be part of Obamacare and sure enough, we got the check. Not only that, the insurance company had to tell everyone how much they spent on actual medical care.
How about that?
Of course, that only affected us because I was paying for family coverage. A lot of those refunds went to employers. Our coverage got better because of tax cuts President Obama promised to small businesses to help pay for group coverage.
I know a few folks through church who don't have coverage through work. I understand most employers have to provide coverage, but not everyone works full time. And some full time folks are self-employed. President Obama promised tax credits for individuals who needed health insurance. He kept that promise and we have friends who have coverage who didn't before.
A lot of people in our church are pretty well-to-do. But not all. President Obama was able to expand Medicaid to cover people under age 65 who are above the poverty level but who still struggle to get by.
When the twins were still in college, the government stopped forcing students to go to private middlemen to get government guaranteed loans. Obama had eliminated the middlemen. That saved everyone except those who had been taking a huge cut for processing paperwork.
Our students didn't qualify for expanded Pell Grants, but we have relatives who were able to go to college with that additional help.
My loved one is looking at Medicare. She found out that prescription drugs will be about half of what they used to be before Obama kept his promise to reduce costs that used to be predatory.
I have to confess we're still in debt. But our credit card companies can no longer just increase our rates anytime they want to. And the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau means our nephew won't have to become a fine-print expert when he gets a loan for a used car.
I dunno. You want to get into fair pay and non-discrimination for women? It's still a problem, but there are legal protections now. President Obama promised that.
President Obama didn't say he was against all war, but he did say he was against dumb wars. When George W. Bush was my President, his people got us into the middle of a misplaced war against Iraq when we should have focused on terrorists. That invasion is the proximate cause of the rise of ISIS. Our young Marine is back from Afghanistan, but if he is asked to risk his life again, it won't be because of reckless bluster. We think President Obama is keeping that promise as well.
There's a lot more. How am I doing so far?
Integrity? I think he's done pretty well in that area, opposed as he is by obstruction for the sake of obstruction. The lies I have read and heard have come from those who question his birth, his ethnicity, his citizenship, his patriotism and his upbringing. The attacks on his wife and his children have been extraordinary.
He has responded with grace, dignity, and forbearance.
In all, I think he is doing quite well. Don't you?