Nimble fingers that dance on numbers

27 12 2016

Alllla’ these motherfuckers bleating about the white working class, white men, working men, poor poor real white American working class men: shut up, shut the fuck up.

I’ve got nothing against white working class men—my dad was a white working class man! my brother! my brother-in-law! my neighbors and almost everyone I knew growing up! all white! almost all working class!—but I am sorely tried by all of these commentators telling ME that I need to be kinder, gentler, toward those poor poor real white American working class men.

It is fucking condescending.

I totally (well, maybe not totally, totally, but substantially?) understand why black people are tired of being told that they need to set aside their concerns for their own survival and focus on those PPRWAWCM; such counsel is white power in action.

But it’s also more than that: it’s a way for the non-working class white folks—men, let’s be honest, men—to demonstrate once again their superiority over every fuckin’ one.

Barack Obama was scalded for talk of bitter rural folks clinging to guns and religion and Hillary Clinton raked for drop-kicking some portion of the population into the basket of deplorables, but give some white dude a coupla’ column inches in the Times or Wall Street Journal and he’ll be lauded for his perspicacity in writing the exact same goddamned things.

Economic anxiety and fear and opioids and a disintegration of the American Dream and all are wrapped up in the soothing murmurs of I see, I see, as these pundits metaphorically pat their subjects on the head and assure them that It’s completely understandable they would feel this way.

Such horseshit.

This is, in the words of former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Y’know all those working class men I mentioned, above? They weren’t all racists. My parents, with their high school educations, somehow managed to teach all three of their children that racism was bad, that it was bad to be racist.

Were/are my parents prejudiced? Sure. But they didn’t and don’t think that indulging that prejudice was anything that decent people did.

They didn’t expect any of us to be perfect, but they did expect us to be better.


Days of open hand

29 07 2013

Peggy Noonan was a helluva speechwriter.

Her Challenger speech for Reagan was masterful, and she wrote a line I have repeatedly and delightedly stolen her the line “the soft bigotry of low expectations” [which, in looking up to confirm that this was written for George HW Bush, was actually written by Michael Gerson for George W Bush! Man! Still, great line.]

Didn’t like her politics, didn’t like the presidents she worked for, but I do respect her ability to craft a political speech.

Her skills as a pundit, however: no.

She gave the American public her prediction that Romney would win the 2012 election, based on the “vibrations” she got from his rallies, and stated that the non-White House IRS scandal was “something [she’d] never seen in her lifetime.”

This from a woman who was in the White House during the Iran-Contra debacle.

Anyway, Charlie Pierce likes to call her Our Lady of the Magic Dolphin, but guest post-er at his blog, Heather Horn, offered up an even better name: Trelawney.

I’m with Hermione—and Horn—on this one.

Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Twisting round to make me think you’re straight down the line

14 08 2012

Let’s play pundit!

C’mon, it’s easy: Just take a stray thought (either your own or one you overheard standing in line for coffee or maybe from that always-wise taxi-driver) and expand it into a Theory of Everything, alternate wrinkling your brow with raising your eyebrows, slip in a cliche or two to assure your audience that you’re not straying too far from the reservation [see what I did there?]—and don’t forget at some point to say, “Look, . . .” And if you can, work in a hand gesture to emphasize your insights; it also helps to sell your sincerity.

Here we go:

“I think one angle which has been neglected is the question of comfort. Mitt Romney is a famously disciplined man, so is it any surprise that he would choose another man with a reputation for discipline? Ryan has, rightly or wrongly, the reputation of a man willing to do the heavy-lifting on arcane budget matters and to make the tough decisions. He’s also known for his punishing workout routine.

“Ryan also knows how to stay on message—a terrifically important factor to the machine that is the Romney campaign. Romney has to know that his running mate will reinforce his message, not step all over it, or, as President Obama once said about Joe Biden, ‘get out over his skis’.

“Romney could have chosen someone who contrasted with his image, someone like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie’s blunt talk would have served him well in the traditional attack-dog role assigned to vice presidents, and I think not a few journalists following the campaign would look forward to the jousts between the let-‘er-rip vice-presidential candidates.

“But it is precisely that let’s-wing-it approach to politics which likely put Romney off Christie. And, let’s face it, that Christie is overweight could be seen by Romney as evidence for a general laxity. Could you see these two men sitting down together—well, not over a beer [ha ha!]—to shoot the breeze? You can just see Romney cringe as Christie lets loose with a few choice words.

“Tim Pawlenty, I don’t think, was ever a serious contender. He ran a terrible campaign and quit far too quickly. I think Romney appreciates ambition and boldness, and Pawlently is conspicuously lacking in both.

“I have to say, I’m a bit mystified why he didn’t choose Rob Portman. Ohio is crucial to victory in November, and having Portman on the ticket might have made all the difference. Maybe a chemistry thing.

“Speaking of chemistry, could anyone really see Bobby Jindal running alongside Mitt Romney? Sure, a fine family man, but he’s been shrinking ever since his disastrous Scarecrow-sounding response to the president’s State of the Union speech. And Louisiana, hm, Romney is definitely not a laissez-les-bons-temps rouler kind of guy.

“And the women, well, the women I’m sorry to say were probably never considered due to the Palin factor. Nikki Haley is a first-term governor, as is Susan Martinez in New Mexico, and Kelly Ayotte has been in the Senate for less than two years. These women might be serious contenders in 2016, but putting one of these women on the ticket would draw comparisons the Romney campaign would prefer to avoid.

“It’s also not clear how comfortable Romney is with women. He has four, excuse me, five sons, worked in private equity—a very male, and, I should point out, a very white field—and as an elder in the Mormon Church hasn’t had a lot of exposure to women in powerful positions. Sure, his lieutenant governor in Massachusetts was a woman, but how much interaction has he had with women as equals?

“I mean, look at this campaign staff. It’s all men—all white men. Look, I’m not saying he wouldn’t have chosen a Hispanic candidate if that person was head and shoulders above everyone else, but Romney is clearly most comfortable with people most like himself.

“Paul Ryan is a lot like Mitt Romney. Intense, ambitious, disciplined. A religious man, a family man, and hey, with a nice head of hair [ha ha!] There may be a downside to having someone who seems to reinforce some of Romney’s more robotic tendencies than to soften them, but Ryan’s sincerity likely resonates with Romney’s own straight-arrow demeanor and, who knows, his earnestness may come across as endearing to undecided voters.

“None of this is to discount the policy implications of the pick, of course, or whether any of this will pan out in November, but I do think this pick tells us something about Romney and what kind of people he would surround himself if he does win the presidency.”


See how easy that was? Plausible, sober, and completely without recourse to any research whatsoever! I have no idea who his closest advisers are, and I know for a fact that there are some women high up in his campaign, but why bother with the labors of an internet search when I can just pull this stuff out of my navel? (Or, to be honest, from a shoot-the-shit conversation with T.)

Now, I did run a search for his campaign staff before I wrote the piece and found a handy sheet documenting his various staffers and advisers, but I didn’t look at it until just now. Whaddya know, there are a number of women in key positions (chief of staff to the exec director Kelli Harrison, deputy campaign manager Kelly Packer Gage, senior adviser Beth Myers, among others)—but hey, why let a few facts get in the way of punditry?

Besides, a really good pundit knows how to spin away inconvenient truths, noting that “it is well-known that his closest adviser is Bob White, and let’s not forget his campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, who’s been with Romney since the ’08 campaign. It’s not that women don’t have a role, but, with the exception of Myers, they’re all more organizational than strategic.”

Again, I have no idea if any of that is true. If I were a real political reporter and not just a Sabbath gasbag I would talk to people in and around the campaign, closely observe the candidate when he’s with his staff to see who he consults, see who’s quoted in the newspaper and who gives interviews, and then and only then, and based on a general background knowledge of what is expected roles of various staffers and advisers in any campaign, would I venture any suggestions as to the possible meanings of the Ryan pick.

But that’s too much like real work, and the evidence might get in the way of my narrative—and as a pundit, you should never let anything get in the way of your narrative.

That’s how the pros do it.

Mayan campaign mashup 2012: All hail the king!

11 08 2012

Update in the middle and below

So it’s Paul Ryan, 7-term member of Congress, chair of the House Budget Committee, author of budget plan written in fairy dust, and former prom king.


I got nothin’.

Is it a good pick? Bad? Bold? Foolish? I tend to be among those who thinks the veep pick won’t do much to help, although—as the pick of La Palin (or, further back, Thomas Eagleton) demonstrated—can hurt. Ryan is clearly more qualified than the former guv (of Alaska, people, of Alaska!) and is comfortable with the national attention, so he’s unlikely to do Romney any damage. He’s good-looking, which can’t hurt, and young, which is probably good.

After skimming a few pundit commentaries (rubbish), I think I’ll stick with the political scientists. Jonathan Bernstein, who writes a plain blog about politics, put up a late-night/early-morning post at WaPo on Ryan that should be read by everyone who comments on the veepstakes:

Now, beyond that, three points. First, I would downplay to some extent the idea that picking Ryan will establish the “narrative” of the rest of the campaign in any particular way. For the last few months, the veepstakes have been the biggest game in town; if Ryan does reasonably well, he’ll tend to disappear after the convention. That’s what running mates do. . . .

Second, Ryan will almost certainly be seen over the next week or three to have “energized” the party. That, too, is almost certainly overstated. Most of that “energizing” effect is structural, and would have happened regardless as long as Romney chose a “solid conservative”.

Third, I don’t think it will doom the campaign or anything like that, but it is worth noting that this is a shockingly inexperienced ticket, especially when it comes to national security and foreign policy. . . . The only ticket I can think of that was similarly lacking in foreign policy credentials would be Carter-Mondale in 1976, but at least both of them had military service in their backgrounds.

The bottom line about virtually all vice-presidential picks is that they seem far more important to the campaign when they’re made than they turn out to be. That’s probably true for this one, too. But if it does end up having a significant effect in November, it’s almost certainly going to be on the downside, and that’s more likely with Ryan than it would have been with most of the other reported finalists.

As an Obama supporter, I hope he’s right about the downside effect, but whether Ryan is an asset or a drag will depend on how he performs, how Romney makes use of or buries his budget ideas, and how the Obama/Biden campaign responds to the blue-eyed cheddarhead.

(Now, I was going to toss in some wisdom from the folks at The Monkey Cage, but I’m having a devil of a time getting in; I hope this means that journalists are overloading their circuits trying to get some real information—but that may be too much to hope for. I’ll try again later and plug ’em in then.)

*UPDATE* Okay, Larry Bartels at TMC has a post up; unlike Bernstein, he focuses less on the tactical than on the policy implications of choosing a man who

has spent much of his career warning America of “a crushing burden of debt” that “will soon eclipse our economy and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.” . . .

YouGov asked 1000 prospective voters “how the outcome of this fall’s presidential election will affect America over the next four years. Regardless of which candidate you personally support, what effect do you think the election outcome will have on the federal budget deficit?” The response options were “much higher if Obama is reelected” (selected by 35% of the sample), “somewhat higher if Obama is reelected” (11%), “no difference” (36%), “somewhat higher if Romney is elected” (5%), and “much higher if Romney is elected” (12%).

The distribution of responses to this question is a testament to the political effectiveness of Republicans like Ryan and Tea Party activists, who have been loudly bewailing the escalation of the federal debt since Barack Obama became president. Democrats’ counterargument that recent outsized budget deficits reflect fallout from the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, the Bush tax cuts, and the Iraq War seems to have been much less persuasive. Nor have they made much headway, at least so far, in convincing the public that the Republican budget plan authored by Ryan and endorsed by Romney would actually exacerbate the deficit by slashing the taxes of top income earners.

Despite the question wording encouraging respondents to put aside their own candidate preferences, expectations regarding future budget deficits are strongly skewed by partisan predispositions (as measured in a “baseline” survey of the same respondents in late 2011). Most Democrats think deficits will be larger if Romney is elected, while most Republicans (and independents) expect bigger deficits under Obama. As is often the case with politically charged beliefs, this partisan gap is especially large among people who are especially knowledgeable about politics.

Bartels goes on to discuss the poll results in some detail, leaving off anything more about the choice of Ryan. He does note at the top that expectations about the debt and deficit mattered a great deal to prospective voters, but the evidence for that is unclear.

Ah, and while I was writing up the Bartels post, here comes John Sides and Lynn Vavreck with a post on the polling of the pick. Most haven’t heard about him, and of those who have, most don’t know exactly who he is.

And what do the people who know Ryan think of him?  In these surveys, about 28% reported having a favorable view and 29% reported having a unfavorable view.  Those who had strongly unfavorable views outnumbered those with strongly favorable views—suggesting that unfavorable opinions are more intensely held at this point in time.  These ratings are affected by party, of course: on average about 54% of Republicans have a favorable impression of Ryan compared to only 10% of Democrats.

What about independents and undecided voters? Their opinions tend to be unfavorable.  About 26% of independents have an unfavorable impression of Ryan, while 21% of independents have a favorable impression.  A majority (52%) of independents did not have any impression of Ryan.

Among undecided voters, the same things holds: 57% had no opinion, but unfavorable opinions tended to outnumber favorable opinions (25% vs. 18%).

The upshot, as sides and Vavrek observe, is that his relative obscurity gives him a chance to introduce himself on his own terms, although the

tendency [toward a negative view] among independents and undecided voters is potentially troubling for the Romney-Ryan ticket.

Can Ryan change the impressions of those who have them?  Probably not.  Can he shape the impressions of those who don’t have them, and shape them in a favorable way?  That’s the big question.

Even if Ryan is great, he’ll hardly be the main factor in the election: the economy, gas prices, job numbers, the Eurozone, and those pesky unknown unknowns (especially on the foreign affairs field) and how they are handled by the candidates at the top of the ticket matter much more than Ryan.

Romney is, after all, the one “running for president, for pete’s sake”.


Okay, further updates down here.

Update2: I mentioned skimming rubbish punditry earlier, but I do want to highlight James Fallows’s take, not least because Fallows is never rubbish.

He focuses on the substance—or, I should say, the lack thereof—of the Ryan Budget plan, and provides some good links to boot.

I think the choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate is a good one for the country. It makes the race “about” something, beyond just being a negative referendum on how the economy is going under Obama. And the Republican vision and program, if Romney and Ryan should win, immediately becomes something more specific than “the opposite of Obama’s.” This is how we think elections are supposed to work, and Romney’s decision will make plan-vs.-plan, vision-vs.-vision comparisons more likely — as opposed strictly to gaffe-vs.-gaffe. For those reasons, good choice, congratulations to Romney and Ryan, and let the real campaign begin.

One request: I hope that when reporters are writing or talking about Paul Ryan’s budget plans and his overall approach, they will rig up some electro-shock device to zap themselves each time they say that Ryan and his thoughts are unusually “serious” or “brave.” Clear-edged they are, and useful in defining the issues in the campaign. But they have no edge in “seriousness” over, say, proposals from Ryan’s VP counterpart Joe Biden.

How much substance (or the lack thereof. . .) matters in a presidential campaign is debatable, but yes, it would be nice if those writing about a policy would actually look at that policy.

Update3: Oh, god, I just realized: This pick means we’ll be hearing more about/from Bill Kristol, the hackiest of hacks and a man who is wrong about everything. He promoted Ryan in various media, which means (sigh) that he promoted himself as well.

Romney almost certainly—or, at least, I fervently hope—paid no attention to Kristol in deciding on Ryan, but do you think that will stop Kristol from trumpeting his powers of prognostication or other pundits from applauding his pull?

Ye gads.