Circus Maximus MMXVI: If you complain once more

15 04 2015

By the Fata Morgana, what is Peggy Noonan ingesting?

I don’t usually read Noonan—Charlie Pierce and Wonkette provide sufficient wrap-ups—but I caught an excerpt of her column in which she complains about the unfairness of the media:

Two points on the general feel of the 2016 campaign so far.

One is that in the case of Mrs. Clinton we are going to see the press act either like the press of a great nation—hungry, raucous, alive, demanding—or like a hopelessly sickened organism, a big flailing octopus with no strength in its arms, lying like a greasy blob at the bottom of the sea, dying of ideology poisoning.

Republicans know—they see it every day—that Republican candidates get grilled, sometimes impertinently, and pressed, sometimes brusquely. And it isn’t true that they’re only questioned in this way once they announce, Scott Walker has been treated like this also, and he has yet to announce. Republicans see this, and then they see that Mrs. Clinton isn’t grilled, is never forced to submit to anyone’s morning-show impertinence, is never the object of the snotty question or the sharp demand for information. She gets the glide. She waves at the crowds and the press and glides by. No one pushes. No one shouts the rude question or rolls out the carefully scripted set of studio inquiries meant to make the candidate squirm. She is treated like the queen of England, who also isn’t subjected to impertinent questions as she glides into and out of venues. But she is the queen. We are not supposed to have queens.

I honestly thought Pierce and the nasty good folks at Wonkette were exaggerating when they referred to her, uh, louche style, but now I’m wondering exactly how many lotuses she eats prior to laying down in front of her keyboard.

Marco Rubio had a pretty great announcement in that it made the political class look at him in a new way, and a better way. I have heard him talk about his father the bartender I suppose half a dozen times, yet hearing it again in his announcement moved me. I don’t know how that happened. John Boehner is the son of a barkeep.

I. . . it’s. . . Good goddess, who writes like this?

Okay, sorry, I got distracted by the vapors wafting off of her. . . thoughts. The real point in bringing this up is to bang away on one of my favorite pots: Fairness doesn’t matter in electoral politics.

It doesn’t matter if Noonan is correct in her assessment of the mild treatment of Clinton (she is not) and that GOPpers will be subject to the cruelest and most unusual punishment by the media (if only), because fairness itself doesn’t matter.

I get the complaints, I do—I hated Ronald Reagan and thought he skated from the ill consequences of his policies, and considered the press’s treatment of Al Gore juvenile (and I still don’t understand how Joe Biden gets away with what he does)—but in the long march to the presidency, the agita over media slights or mis-magnifications is itself misplaced.

Sure, it allows you (if you are Peggy Noonan) to fill column space with psychedaelia, but the candidates themselves can’t get bogged down in the media mire: whining about the news-meanies isn’t going to get the non-tribal voter to the polls.

And that’s the whole point of the campaign: to get the folks on your side to show up, and to prod those who aren’t on the other side (and maybe a few who are) to drag their asses to the polls and pull the level or draw the line or punch the screen for you.

Who knows, maybe in Noonan’s marmalade-sky world, slurring about fairness makes its own tangerine sense. But on that hard, hard campaign trail, it doesn’t matter.

Winning matters. That’s all that matters.

~~~

h/t Shakesville

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Between ideals and fact

26 01 2013

I said I wasn’t going to concern-troll the Republicans, right?

Well, what about concern-imp-ing? Concern-nixie-ing? Is it really concern-monster-ing if my recommendations apply to all political parties?

Whatever.  Here it is: Focus on governance.

Shockingly original, I know, but its obviousness has been obliterated in the past decade or so by Republican operatives (Karl Rove) so intent upon winning that they forget that winning is only the beginning, and not the end, of electoral politics.

I’ve described election campaigns as free-for-alls, governed solely by the standard of “what works”, i.e., solely by what increases the chances of winning. Another shockingly original insight: if you want to win, you have to concentrate on winning, full stop.

But after  you’ve won, you have to do something else: You have to govern.

Now, however distinct are the ways of the campaign from those of governance, it is worth considering whether a platform for governance can help you to win. Sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes all you have to do is remind the voters of what a great guy you are or what a great team you’re on and how terrible is the other guy or team. You go for fear or pride or collegiality (“I’d like to have a beer with that guy”) and don’t say much about the Eurozone crisis or CAFTA or the eligibility standards for SSI and bim bam boom, you’re in.

At some point, however, folks might wonder just what it is you plan to do once you’re in. A backbencher representative might be able to get away with platitudes and ideas to nowhere, but party leaders—governors, senators, presidents—have to do something. They have to govern.

If, therefore, you want your candidate or party to win, it might just help to have some ideas of how to govern. It’s not enough simply to say “there’s a problem and the other team caused it”; you have to offer solutions.

Edward L. Glaeser gets this. He’s an urban-conservative, and as such focuses on what can done to make things better. I disagree with both his analyses of and suggestions to fix the problems of urban life, but I really like that he grounds the symbolic appeals to conservatism in practical policy-making. I really really like that he thinks Republicans should engage in governance as something other than acts of arson, and that he doesn’t consider conservative policy-making a contradiction in terms.

He thinks Republicans should compete for cities, and points to what he sees as the accomplishments of Republican mayors as both reasons and guides for a GOP commitment to urban America. Focus on what we have to offer—what good we can do—he counsels Republicans, and go from there.

In other words, build an electoral strategy based on policy accomplishment, and you might just win.

Elections and governance are way too messy and contradictory for a simply Competence=>Victory equation to pan out (see: Michael Dukakis). Dirty tricks and fear-mongering and lies and money and error and passion and whole tangled nest of interests and reasons and desires will all play parts in electoral campaigns, as will the always-important backdrops of economic performance and unpredictable crises. Arguably, policy achievement might not play much of a role, at all.

And yet, it’s just possible that policy achievement might matter, perhaps even enough to cross that line from defeat to victory. There’s so much that can’t be controlled in elections; why not focus on what you can control, what you can do?

Unless, of course, you think it’s better just to control the elections so that you don’t have to worry about governing at all.





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: You can’t make this shit up

28 08 2012

This is among the many, many, many reasons why you cannot be too cynical when it comes to America presidential elections, courtesy of Greg Sargent:

Get this: The Romney campaign’s position is now that the Obama camp should pull its ads when fact checkers call them out as false — but that Romney and his advisers should feel no such constraint. This is not an exaggeration. This is really the Romney campaign’s position.

As Buzzfeed reports this morning, top Romney advisers say their most effective ads are the ones attacking Obama over welfare, and that they will not allow their widespread denunciation by fact checkers as false slow down their campaign one little bit:

“Our most effective ad is our welfare ad,” a top television advertising strategist for Romney, Ashley O’Connor, said at a forum Tuesday hosted by ABCNews and Yahoo! News. “It’s new information.”… The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” awarded Romney’s ad “four Pinocchios,” a measure Romney pollster Neil Newhouse dismissed. “Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” he said.

That’s a very interesting admission. But it gets better. Reading this brought to mind Romney’s own remarks about fact-checking and political advertising not long ago. Needless to say, he has a different standard for the Obama campaign:

“You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad,” Romney said on the radio. “They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they’re wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them.”

The upshot is that Romney doesn’t have an intellectual objection to fact checking’s limitations in a general sense, at least when it’s applied to the Obama campaign. In that case, fact checking is a legitmate exercise Obama should heed. But at the same time, the Romney campaign explicitly says it doesn’t see it as legitimate or constraining when it’s applied to him.

The only rule in electoral campaigns is What Works.

Yes, there are laws, but breaking these laws almost always lead merely to fines, rarely to jail sentences, and almost never to overturning the election results. Campaigns will break laws if it works, and will decline to break the law if they think it won’t work.

To repeat, the prime directive of elections—which can be restated as Do Anything to Win—matters more than the law.

Given that, and given that lying in campaign ads is both not illegal and often works, this isn’t even a tough call: If a candidate thinks lies will work better than the truth, then lies it is.

h/t: Brad DeLong





Well done, Mr. President

9 05 2012

 

 

Sullivan has a round-up of reactions, a fair number of which are. . . peevish. He only did this because he had to, or it’s not courageous because a majority of Americans now support gay marriage, what took so long, etc.

For fuck’s sake: really?

He is the first sitting president of the Yoo-nited States to state publicly his support for marriage equality, and bitching about suspect timing or impure motives is so much pissing into good beer.

This is a solid goddamned win. Learn to enjoy it already!

Shees.

(Screenshot taken from Slate, because I keep forgetting how to do screenshots.)





You should wear with pride the scars on your skin

19 12 2011

Christopher Hitchens and Vaclav Havel died this past weekend.

Both men were writers deeply engaged in the politics of our time; one was more in love with words than ideas, the other, the other way around.

One man engaged in politics, the other, engaged in the engagement; both are worthy pursuits, but they are not equal to each other.

One man knew that, the other didn’t.

One was a hell of a s/wordsman, and I would have loved to have had the chance to have lost (as I would have) an argument to him. Fight above your weight class, I say, and Hitchens was certainly far above mine; losing to him would have been instructive, and if I could never have hoped to have bested him in argument, I could have applied the lessons of those beatings elsewhere.

But if I wanted to learn more than verbal fisticuffs, I would rather have sat down in a smoky pub with Havel. If Hitchens had great verbal reflexes, Havel was the far better reflector. He questioned, he doubted, he admitted the possibility of error in his steadfast search for moral clarity. He lived an absurd life, and was imprisoned by an absurd regime for pointing out its absurdity.

His stint as leader of Czechoslovakia, and later, as president of the Czech Republic, was not an unqualified success, and some of us were disappointed by his support for the Iraq war. He based that support on the grounds of the threat Saddam Hussein held for the Iraqis, not the Americans, and even that support was qualified, arguing that  “the international community has the right to intervene when human rights are liquidated in such a brutal way.”

I have some sympathy for liberal interventionism—the legacy of inaction in Rwanda—but even more suspicion; still, I can extend that sympathy to someone whose country was ripped apart by Hitler, then stomped on by the Soviets in 1968. Havel’s idealism got him through prison terms and decades of oppression, and if that same idealism led him to underestimate the Hobbesian in politics, well, I can still appreciate his admonition that Truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred.

Hitchens was a champion hater and, to be honest, I can take altogether too much comfort in my own contempts. I enjoy the fight, enjoy the hardness of verbal combat and in slamming back a volley aimed at my own head. I like to win—ohhhh, do I like to win.

But winning is not enough; what is the win for?

What is needed is something different, something larger. Man’s attitude toward the world must be radically changed. We have to abandon the arrogant belief that the world is merely a puzzle to be solved, a machine with instructions for use waiting to be discovered, a body of information to be fed into a computer in the hope that sooner or later it will spit out a universal solution.

. . . We must see the pluralism of the world, and not bind it by seeking common denominators or reducing everything to a single common equation. We must try harder to understand rather than to explain. . . . In short, human uniqueness, human action, and the human spirit must be rehabilitated.

From a speech before the World Economic Forum, 1992

I do not share Havel’s moral idealism, Havel’s hope, but I don’t think he’s wrong to tell us to look past ourselves, our interests and our fears, and to live in the full possibility of this human world.

I might have had fun hanging out with Hitchens, and been discomfitted by Havel, but I think the discomfitting is more fitting: unease propels me more than certainty ever will.