Thinking Out Loud

I am gloomy about the election campaign, but I keep reminding myself that previous election seasons have had dramatic shifts in the polls. For example, in the Reagan-Carter contest of 1980, until a week before the election the polls were very tight, and some showed Carter slightly ahead. And, of course, Reagan won by a landslide.

The shift was caused by the candidates’ performances in their last debate, held one week before the election. Internal tracking polls showed there was almost an immediate shift after the debate, when huge numbers of Americans decided to vote for Reagan.

Debates don’t always count. I thought Kerry absolutely clobbered Bush in their 2004 debates, especially the first one, but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference. I suspect people had been too well conditioned to like Bush and dislike Kerry to trust their own eyes.

The point remains that much can happen between now and election day that could push the results decisively one way or the other.

I think Joe Biden has it in him to put away Sarah Palin in their debate, and he can do it by being courtly to her while gently and patiently pointing out what she doesn’t understand about the world. If he plays it right, she will look shrill and ditzy in comparison. I know some of you will disagree with that, but if he beats her up too much, so to speak, it could backfire and grow sympathy for Palin even if she reveals she doesn’t know China from cheese.

It’s outrageous that we have to play mind games like that, but that’s where the last several years of scorched-earth politics have brought us.

More than anything else, in their debates Obama will have to be more likable than McCain. And he can do that. But he also has to take care not to seem to be showing off his intellect, and everyone fears he will actually answer questions intelligently rather than spout the “crisp” but empty prepackaged rhetoric bits that the pundits always prefer to real answers.

In both cases I think the Dems should keep a principle of martial arts in mind — using your opponent’s momentum and force against him. Unless McCain is allowed to bring Joe Lieberman on stage with him to whisper the correct answers in his ear — or obtain the mysterious “back box” that Bush sported in a debate against Kerry — McCain will be confused about many things. Since the McCain campaign has declared war on news media, I think news media are in less of a mood to let such things slip by these days. The shills on Faux News excepted, of course. Anyway, at such times, Obama should step back and let McCain be McCain.

Now that it has become conventional wisdom that Palin didn’t exactly cover herself in glory in her first interview, the excuses are coming out. One excuse is that ABC News deliberately edited the tape to make Palin look stupid. However, I’ve looked at the transcript of the complete first interview, and the stuff edited out doesn’t seem to me to make her any less frivolous that the stuff left in. See what you think.

Another excuse is that there are many versions of the “Bush Doctrine,” and Palin couldn’t be expected to know which one Charles Gibson referred to — except that he deliberately and clearly defined the precise version he was inquiring about. And while there are many fine points, if fine is the right word, about the Bush Doctrine that can be interpreted in diverse ways, Palin clearly didn’t know any of those points, nor did she seem to know there was such a thing as a “Bush Doctrine.”

Shorter Steven Hayward: If we don’t elect idiots, we’re betraying democracy.

Maybe it’s because I live in New York and nobody’s campaigning here, but I never see the candidates. He see news about the candidates and brief clips showing some little slice of the candidates’ day, but I keep feeling that I’m not seeing the actual candidates anywhere. How is it where you live?

16 thoughts on “Thinking Out Loud

  1. It’s a depressing time, I feel your pain. The doom of a hurricane wrecking the hub of our oil and gas production, the collapse of yet another major financial institution or two, and all the fucking lies yet the polls indicate they work. Not too encouraging.

    I know I got a headache. We gotta keep on fighting, but (thinking out loud) sometime you wonder if it’s all worth it.

    Of course it is, and we soldier on. But just once I’d like to think being the good guys was easier.

  2. I now live in Fayetteville, NC.
    How a LIBERAL DEMOCRAT (and DAMN PROUD OF IT!!!), from NYC, ended up here next to Fort Bragg is a story for another time…
    And, I’ve had the opportunity to meet the great BO and/or Michelle (for the work I’ve done for the campaign).. But, I don’t need to. I just beleive in the message.

    Years ago, my mother sang at Carnegie Hall. SOLO!!! After the concert, I was hanging around the stage and someone I took to be the janitor was walking around. Real skinny guy with a pony tail…
    As my mother was collecting her things from the dressing room, the “janitor” and I had about a 1/2 hour of laugh’s. I made him laugh, and he cracked me up.
    As we were driving off, there was the poster of the “janitor” up on the wall. He was appearing next!!!
    It was George Carlin!!! I had his album (this was in 1973).
    I freaked out. I was screaming that I had just talked to him. My Dad, slowed the car, and asked if I wanted to get out and get his autograph. I was 14 years old, and this was one of the first celebrities that I had ever met (except for the Opera singer’s my Mom knew).

    I thougth about it for a few moment’s. Then, I said to my Dad, “No, let’s go… ” I had a great time with the guy, why ruin it with a scribble of ink on paper?

    I bartended in NYC in the ‘Reagan year’s (don’t even get me started). I met a ton of celebrities, and you know what? They’re just like us – only with more money.

    And so is Barak. Just with less money than them.

    I don’t need to meet, or see, the man to vote for him. I understand what he and his wife stand for. And, I’m on his side… OUR SIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. I keep thinking that in 2000 and 2004, the MSM seemed to have the attitued that the election was Bush’s to lose, and they were playing the “one said / the other said” game with rare fact checking.

    This season started out with NBC, at least, taking the viewpoint that the election is McCain’s to lose. But in the last two weeks, I truly believe (or am delusional enough to believe) that they’re starting to see McCain for what he’s become, and they’re starting to call him out on it. This gives me hope. Even “Bill-O the Clown,” as Olberman calls him, has pointed out how much McCain is lying.

    When that shread of hope fails me, I watch Keith and Rachel – always good for a morale boost.

  4. Living in Chicago … I haven’t seen a campaign commercial yet.

    And good thing too … if Obama put a commercial here, I’d call it wasted money, if McCain did I’d call it clinical insanity…


  5. Karl Rove, former spindoctor of George W. Bush, strongly supports the McCain – Palin ticket.

    The reason why: Both McCain and Palin have been able to lure the american voter away from critical issues like the war in Iraq, social insurance, education, global warming and instead to direct his attention to issues like family values, hockey-moms, sunday prayers and – how funny – lipstick, i.e. things that can never be criticized.

    This statement was invented, though its genuinly true – writes the German Transatlantikblog

    and got his fun with “Karlsarah”:

    Cheers, Mark

  6. I’m in Lincoln, Nebraska. Red state, sure thing, so no candidates here. If I could get the Omaha stations, I might see some TV ads targeting voters in eastern Iowa. To follow what’s happening with the candidates day-to-day, I check in with the McClatchy election coverage.

    I do see lots of Obama bumperstickers and yard signs here. So far I’ve seen one McCain bumpersticker, and maybe three yard signs. The last time they leaned Democratic was in 1992.

    The Gore-Quayle VP debate in 1992 was another indicator; the next morning, I heard several people say it convinced them to vote for Clinton. Let’s hope Biden and Palin are asked intelligent, serious questions in their debate.

  7. The martial arts point you make is so apt. Intelligent use of leverage instead of brute force–intellectual vs. warrior–Biden vs. Moll–Obama vs. McCain. (If you haven’t ever drooped low enough go listen to Barbie Girl on youtube).

    In addition to your excellent piece, two others that are raising a welt on me this weekend are :

    Marcellus asks us why we are pissed off about McCain’s lead., and

    Jamison Fosner is shining a bright light on the MSM that prompts the expression, “screwed, blued and tattooed. Jamison

    I dunno, F-’em and feed ’em fisheads.


  8. Somebody important once called the public ‘fickle’ and I have to agree.

    Nixon’s five-oclock shadow – made him look sinister – against Kennedy’s fresh (heavily made-up) face lost Nixon an important debate, even though content-wise he actually won, and ultimately the election of course.

    George senior debating ? takes a quick glance at his watch toward the end and the public gives to the debate to his opponent. (The ‘glance’ apparently indicated to the audience that George wanted to be anywhere other than where he was, translated, he was way out of his league, stupid, unprepared for anything and he knew it.)

    That an election can so easily turn on so little is more than scary. And as more information comes out about Palin, it’s pretty clear that to elect Palin would be to re-elect Bush – even their personalities are remarkably similar – and that’s even more scary.

  9. California here, a gloriously safe blue state, so no campaigning here, unless the candidates come to load up on cash, like an ATM.

    Recall that the Kerry-Bush debates repeated the classic trap for Democrats: cerebral Kerry talking policy, and dumb like a fox Bush talking to voters’ emotions. McCain is nowhere as skilled a manipulator as Bush is, but the upcoming debates risk reprising this same trap. I read reports (sorry no link) that Obama is going way into too much detail about policy in this phase of the campaign – wrong, wrong, wrong. This chronic problem for the Democrats, and the remedy, is well laid out in Drew Westin’s The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.

    I saw a few excerpts of Palins’ interview with Gibson, and went to bed that night feeling better than I had in days. Palin is a doof, and should be easy for Biden to take down, even given all the cautions you mentioned. Her fans will never be swayed, but Biden may be able to add a few points to our column. The real question for me is what form the Obama/McCain matchups will look like, and will the public like Obama – beyond those of us who are already committed. We have such bad luck with cerebral guys like Kerry.

  10. Palin may be a Doof Moonbat, but remember what her base is….
    I miss southern California. The last job I did there before moving to Florida was underwater repairs at the Avalon pleasure pier on Catalina Is., Sweet!

  11. The main point about Palin is that she obviously has never given any thought whatsoever to foreign policy or international affairs. This means she is the proverbial blank slate, ready to be written upon by whatever right-wing fanatic she decides to take her cues from.

    For McCain to foist this petty, small-minded person on the United States at this delicate moment in history is the most despicable act of his career – it borders on treason.

  12. From the Hayward article: “If we implicitly think uncertified citizens are unfit for the highest offices, why do we trust those same citizens to select our highest officers through free elections?”

    Answer: Because we expect them, on average, to be smart enough to change a light bulb, and to call an electrician when the house needs to be rewired.

    Uncertified citizens are most certainly eligible to be elected to high office, but they are expected to prove their competence in the campaign. Palin is off to a bad start here.

    And that part about comparing Reagan and Palin to Truman? Off the deep end. And he contradicted himself: Truman was a two term senator before he was V.P. I think that counts as ‘certified.’

    From Maha’s article: “But he(Obama) also has to take care not to seem to be showing off his intellect.”

    What a sorry, sorry state of affairs, that this is actually true. If he looks too smart Hayward won’t vote for him

  13. I think it would be pretty awesome to watch Biden gnaw on Sarah Palin, I know from my own debate experience that whenever there’s a mismatched debate where one team is clearly smarter and more articulate than the other, things start going south when the better team gets cocky and arrogant. There’s an art to handily winning a debate without also making yourself unlikable.

    I’m really psyched for the Obama/McCain debate, though. Obama might want to scale back on the big words and be conscious of his audience, but I think there’s really no contest there otherwise.

  14. I’m in Michigan, and both campaigns are making up for ignoring us in the primaries. I think several of the candidates may soon qualify for residency.

    I haven’t had the chance to see any of them yet–not in my neighborhood, and too busy with work and family issues at this time. I do hope to see Obama or Biden speak, though, and to perhaps get a chance to heckle McCain and the Moosekiller.

    Lots of ads, too, although I skip through most of them with the DVR. Life’s too short to watch commercials.

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