Saturday, June 28, 2008

Study call

On May 30, 2008, The Boston Globe published an op-ed piece by Geraldine Ferraro entitled, “Healing the wounds of Democrats' sexism”. Among other things, Ms. Ferraro asked:

that the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University and others conduct a study, which we will pay for if necessary, to determine three things.

First, whether either the Clinton or Obama campaign engaged in sexism and racism; second, whether the media treated Clinton fairly or unfairly; and third whether certain members of the media crossed an ethical line when they changed the definition of journalist from reporter and commentator to strategist and promoter of a candidate. And if they did to suggest ethical guidelines which the industry might adopt.

I haven’t seen a lot of reaction to this perhaps for understandable reasons. The Democratic campaign is over so such a study may be seen as beating a dead horse. Ferraro has been so thoroughly smeared as racist that it’s possible nothing she says is considered worthy of notice. All those who screamed that the Clinton campaign was playing the race card may feel they don’t need a study to tell them what they already know. Certainly most members of the media believe their coverage was fair and balanced so they have no reason to discuss such a study.

Two people who did react to Ferraro’s call for a study dismissed her request by claiming it had been satisfied by a Pew/Shorenstein study released the day before her op-ed piece appeared.

Marjorie Valbrun at The Root in a post entitled “Just Give It Up, Geraldine!” focused on the fairly or unfairly issue:

What's ironic is that Ferraro, who has accused reporters in general, and black reporters in particular, of reportorial dishonesty and bias in favor of Obama, supports calls for a study by Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein's Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy to determine, among other things, "whether the media treated Clinton fairly or unfairly." A study was recently done answering that very question.

The day before Ferraro's piece appeared in the Globe, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, both respected nonpartisan research organizations, issued a new study of primary news coverage showing that: "Democrat Barack Obama has not enjoyed a better ride in the press than rival Hillary Clinton."

Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic presented a post entitled “Sexism, Sexism, Sexism”. He begins "Geraldine Ferraro has an op-ed today in The Boston Globe. It's rife with twisted arguments."

The only twisted argument he details, however, is Ferraro’s call for a study. Like Valbrun, he then references the Shorenstein Center’s study and goes on to quote some of its conclusions. (This has nothing to do with the title of his post. Ferraro called for a study of sexism - like racism - within the campaigns, not in the media. Presumably Sullivan’s reference to “twisted arguments” means he is dismissing any concerns about sexism.)

Valbrun and Sullivan would have done better to emulate the rest of the world and simply ignore Ferraro. The Shorenstein study they advance as an answer to her concerns is so badly flawed that it cannot reasonably be used for that purpose.

In a June 2 post The Daily Howler finds the study is “opaque, impenetrable” and “makes groaning methodological leaps”. He “[guesses] that this study couldn’t be salvaged.” He then offers four specific caveats (my comments are in parentheses):

1) Only front-page stories are considered; no op-eds. TDH refers to this as “the day when Maureen Dowd gets her walking papers.” (This is such a glaring problem that I’m not entirely sure any other discussion of the study is necessary.)
2) Shifting methodology. (TDH is referring to the changes in methodology from one study to the next. As I’ll explain below, I’m more concerned about the shifting methodology within this study)
3) No examples. (Not a fatal flaw but it would be nice for the readers of the study to see clearly which stories are considered positive and which negative.)
4) Interesting blend of sources; for example, the Washington Post is sampled about as frequently as the Ashtabula, Ohio Star Beacon

The Daily Howler’s biggest problem with this study, though, is that it makes no distinction between unfavorable statements which are true and those which are false. I have to agree: that seems like a big problem if you’re trying to determine whether a candidate got fair coverage. Making a hundred true unfavorable statements could be fair; making one false one is always unfair.

A commenter called “DemD” has a good brief criticism of the Shorenstein study up at Talking Point Memo. He points out that the study identified a limited number of negative “narratives” about Clinton and considered only those narratives when looking for negative coverage. DemD identifies three specific Clinton brouhahas - MLK/JFK, RFK June, and a Chris Matthews’ insult - that would not have been picked up by the study because they don’t fit any of those narratives.

I have a number of additional problems with this study. First, the actual analysis of whether stories were positive or negative was only done for the period from January 1 to March 9. So when the study says that the media was not negative about Clinton, it can only speak to that period. Considering that March 9 was before Obama's "More Perfect Union" speech (March 18) and before the Pennsylvania primary (April 22), I’d say this part of the study ended just as things were getting interesting. (Valbrun was aware of this date range since it is contained in her quotation from the report.)

Also, although the verbiage in the report denies it, the chart about halfway down on the left side on the page headed “Sources of the Assertions” certainly makes it look like the press was far more likely to be a source of positives for Obama than of negatives (35% positive to 19% negative) and vice versa for Clinton although not as dramatically (25% positive to 33% negative).

Although the positive/negative analysis was only done through March 9, the study makes assertions about media coverage through May 4. These assertions rest on an analysis of the content of media stories from January through May 18. Here the study did not determine whether the stories were negative or positive with regard to the candidates; it just counted them up based on what they were about, not how they "slanted". The study finds that "two of the biggest stories of the year have been problems frustrating the Obama camp. This is a much larger percentage of the coverage than anything frustrating either McCain’s or Clinton’s messages." It thus concludes, "Contrary to the idea that Obama’s coverage has been entirely positive, in other words, two of the three biggest story-lines of the year have been negative for him."

However, by far the most frequent negative/frustrating story-line for Obama was described as "Obama's relationship with Rev. Wright". If this category includes discussions of Obama's "More Perfect Union" speech, my guess is that the stories themselves would actually tilt dramatically positive for Senator Obama.

Clearly, then, Ferraro’s call for a study of whether the media treated Senator Clinton fairly or unfairly has not been answered by the Shorenstein study and remains on the table. So, too, do her calls to study whether either campaign engaged in sexism and racism and to study whether some members of the media moved from spectators to cheerleaders and coaches. How could such studies be done effectively?

I’m not sure how a truly quantitative study of the sexism and racism in the campaigns could be done. It seems to me that unless the offense is egregious the judgment of what constitutes sexism and racism may be too subjective to be studied in a manner everyone can agree is dispassionate. And one woman’s egregious may be another man’s “get over it”.

The topic of media cheer leading may be more susceptible to quantitative analysis. The Public Editor at The New York Times has provided a rough idea of what such analysis might look like in his June 22 column about Maureen Dowd’s treatment of Hillary Clinton. Much of his review is subjective and he is careful to balance his concerns with opposing viewpoints but he does offer one eye-popping metric: 28 of Dowd’s last 44 columns are categorized as “gender-laden assault[s]” on Clinton. Although this measures boo leading rather than cheer leading, similar simple counts of other perceived line-crossers could prove instructive.

As for a study of whether Clinton was treated fairly or unfairly by the media, perhaps that could take some pointers from how the Public Editor scrutinized Dowd. Rather than run cursory reviews of a wide range of media organizations, a more effective study might identify 2 or 3 pack leaders in various categories: newspapers; network television; cable television; even Internet sites. A more detailed analysis could then be done of that smaller group beginning again with simple counts that classify articles (including op-eds, news segments, and so on) as either favorable or unfavorable to Clinton. Having each article categorized by more than one reviewer seems wise as does some attempt to determine if the article is reporting fact or fiction.

Will any of these studies happen? I doubt it. And even if unflawed studies are designed and carried out, they may not really change very many perceptions of what happened anyhow. A good study could probably convince most people either way on the question of media cheer leading. A good study has less chance of resolving the question of media fairness towards Clinton: odds are that most of the pro-Clinton contingent will always see media unfairness and most of the anti-Clinton contingent never will.

And I can’t imagine a study that could resolve the question of whether the campaigns engaged in racism and sexism. The Clinton contingent (and some Obama-supporting women) will always see sexism from the Obama side while most Obama supporters will be - or claim to be - convinced it never happened. Many on the Obama side will always see the Clinton campaign as playing the race card while most Clinton supporters will deny it. Racism and sexism will simply remain a matter of perception.

Afterword: I finished writing this post before Obama’s accusation that the Republicans would use race as an issue in the campaign. Given that charge, it behooves us all to remember that the race card is available to both candidates. For an excellent consideration of the ethical and political fallout from Obama’s approach, take a few minutes to listen to Scott Simon’s ”Reflections on Race and the Presidential Election”.

I’m particularly intrigued by this statement:

The results of this year’s primaries and today’s public opinion polls might suggest it is politically more injurious to insinuate someone is a bigot than it is to make an issue of their race.

If I read that correctly, he’s saying the Republicans would do far less damage to Obama by emphasizing his race than the Democrats can do to McCain by accusing him of bigotry. That is as it should be - provided, of course, that the charge of bigotry is true.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Troglodytes have feelings, too

Since I’m going to be doing a series of posts on Global Warming, I want to make clear where I stand. I’m a skeptic. Yes, I'm one of those people who might as well join the Flat Earth Club.

I’m not really happy about this, of course. My life would be much easier if I could be a Global Warming believer. My friends wouldn’t think I'm a knuckle-dragging troglodyte. I could smirk instead of wince when someone says that the kind of people who don't believe in Global Warming don't believe in evolution either.

Plus there’s a part of me that feels awful about not being a fervent Global Warming believer. What if they're right and I’m wrong and it's my failure to harangue my Congressional delegation that keeps something from being done and the whole world floods and humanity dies out because those few breeding pairs of humans don't make it to Antarctica in time? How bad will I feel then?

At the same time, I keep thinking that's the way I'm supposed to feel and to tell you the truth, I really resent it. I feel the Global Warming believers are pushing my emotional buttons rather than my rational ones and I'm not the slightest bit happy about that.

Not that my rational side is as much help in this as I’d like. I do think there are problems with the science of Global Warming, that a number of scientific issues seem unresolved. Yet I have to admit that I lack the requisite knowledge of math, physics, paleoclimatology, and whatever else to resolve them to my own satisfaction. It’s very frustrating. I’m reasonably bright, went to a good college, did very well in my graduate level Econometrics course. But I read about Global Warming and my head hurts and my eyes bleed. And what keeps running through my head is that stanza from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.

I know the conventional wisdom is that my confusion proves I’m not qualified to understand all this so I should simply accept that since everyone (well, almost everyone, but those other guys don’t count) believes in Global Warming, I should relax, admit my incompetence, and let them tell me what’s best for me and my planet.

I just can’t do it. I’ll talk about my scientific and philosophical misgivings in my upcoming posts about the steps to Global Warming. Here I want to talk about a couple of feelings that make it impossible for me to just believe and accept.

First, I really don’t like the attitude of many Global Warming advocates (by which I mostly mean “the guys who run RealClimate"). Specifically:

1) They're certain. The word "hubris" springs to mind.

2) They're apocalyptic. They remind me uncomfortably of the "Left Behind" guys.

3) They're eager to attack the supposed motives and agendas of Global Warming skeptics. I believe that if you're competent and convinced you're right, you're more likely to deal forthrightly with opposition, attacking ideas rather than people. If you're incompetent or suspect you may be wrong, you're more likely to launch personal attacks on your opponents while refusing to discuss their ideas.

The last point would be funny if this wasn’t all so serious. The Global Warming advocates are quite comfortable charging Global Warming skeptics with being lackeys of the big bad industries that want to keep pumping CO2 into the air but never quite manage to acknowledge that the whole Global Warming schtick is their own ticket to fame and fortune.

I'm far more comfortable with the Global Warming skeptics. They seem less certain and less apocalyptic and they seem to deal more gently with Global Warming believers than the advocates do with them.

Second, I simply do not accept that I am living in the End Time. I realize that is not a totally logical position but I don’t believe it’s a totally illogical one either.

So much for my feelings. Coming soon: “Step by step to Global Warming: What is, was, and will be.”

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Poisoning the well

Okay, that’s it. I’ve had it with this nonsense.

Here’s Senator Barack Obama warning about nefarious Republicans:
Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama said on Friday he expects Republicans to highlight the fact that he is black as part of an effort to make voters afraid of him.

... ”[The Republicans are going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?"

He said he was also set for Republicans to say "he's got a feisty wife," in trying to attack his wife Michelle.

Here’s Father Andrew Greeley making clear that the real reason people don’t vote for Obama - the only reason anyone has for not voting for Obama - is racism:
[I]s the voter a bigot who says -- to himself or others -- "He's too young for it," "I don't know anything about him," "He's an elitist," "He's just a lot of fancy talk," "The country isn't ready for a man like that," "He's weak in his support of Israel," "He's Muslim, possibly the anti-Christ!" Are these hints of lurking prejudice?

... Certainly there are solid political and personal reasons that some Americans might have had for voting against the senator that would not be in principle racist. He is one of the most "liberal" members of Congress. He stole the election from a woman who was entitled to it. He is one of the "boys" beating up on the female candidate. He is a not a patriot dedicated to final victory in Iraq. He is weak on national security. He lacks experience. He supports abortion. Yet behind these arguments, might racism lurk?

And Governor Kathleen Sibelius on those sneaky Republicans again:
Echoing comments by Barack Obama, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius predicted that Republicans would undertake "a major effort to try and frighten people about him" because of his race.

"That has been the Republican playbook for the last eight years," said Sebelius, an Obama ally. " 'He’s not qualified, he's somebody who should scare you. He's too liberaI.' "

The Kansas Democrat, often mentioned as a possible running mate for Obama, said those were all "code words" to try to make voters "uncomfortable."

"I don’t think anybody's going to go directly at the race issue, but that’s going to be an underlying theme," she said in an interview this week.

All equating perfectly legitimate concerns about Obama with racism. Well, that’s just ugly.

Even worse, it’s a policy that appears deliberately designed to have a chilling effect on the free expression of legitimate concerns. Do Obama supporters really want to suggest that people should vote for someone who is beyond criticism? Does that seem like a clever strategy? Do they actually think the American people are so stupid they can’t figure out that a President who rejects all criticism as without merit is not a good idea? Haven’t they been screaming their heads off about that very problem for the past, oh, four to eight years?

And if Obama does become President, what’s going to happen then? If Republicans criticize his policy decisions, are they going to be shouted down because their opposition to Obama’s health care plan or higher taxes or energy policies is really just a cover for racism? If someone in the media declares that President Obama is economically unsound or showing his inexperience or pursuing the wrong foreign policy, will he be yanked off the air because those are all code words for “black”?

Deep breath.

Obama, Greeley, and Sibelius say concerns about Obama are just cover-ups for racism, just code words for “Obama is black”. Well, I never got my decoder ring.

To me, “Obama is young, inexperienced, not qualified” does not mean “Obama is black”. It means Obama does not have enough time in executive or government positions.

To me, “Obama is somebody who should scare you, somebody you don’t know anything about, just a lot of fancy talk” does not mean “Obama is black”. It means I never heard of Obama until seven months ago and he wants to run the country for four years. It means Obama has such a scanty track record I can’t assess where he stands on issues based on what he’s done. It means Obama has had a recent run of position changes that exacerbate my concerns about where he really stands. It means Obama’s supporters are too unquestioning. It means his speeches are much more impressive when he gives them than they are when I read them.

To me, “Obama has a funny name” does not mean “Obama is black”. It means Obama has a funny name. Since my first name is unusual and my last name is downright hysterical, I can certainly sympathize. But a funny name is more likely to inspire uncontrollable laughter than terror.

If what Obama means is that Republicans are going to paint him as foreign or Muslim or whatever because his name is “un-American”, then, yes, I would consider that not racist, exactly, but certainly prejudiced.

To me, “Obama has a feisty wife” does not mean “Obama is black”. It means Obama has a feisty wife. If someone referred to me as “feisty”, that would be a compliment. I hope that if someone told my husband I was “feisty”, he’d take it as a compliment.

If what Obama means is that Republicans are going to hold him responsible for his wife’s less-popular statements, that’s another issue. But it’s not racist. After all, it’s certainly not unheard of for white candidates to be taken to task for their wives’ comments. (Cookies, anyone? I've been home baking all day.)

To me, “Obama is too liberal, one of the most liberal members of Congress” does not mean “Obama is black”. (Ever heard of Clarence Thomas? No? How about Ted Kennedy?) It means Obama wants to raise taxes and spend lots of money. It means Obama ranked most liberal in 2007 based on that thing the National Journal does when it ranks senators. Heck, coming from a Republican, it just means, “Obama is a Democrat.”

To me, “Obama is an elitist” does not mean “Obama is black.” (Although isn’t it nice we’ve gotten to a point where someone can claim it does? Black=elite - pretty cool.) It means Obama sounded like a condescending, ill-informed sociology professor when he made his bitter/cling comment.

To me, “Obama is weak in his support of Israel” does not mean “Obama is black.” It means Obama has said some things about the Palestinians that - in the overheated crucible that is the Mideast - sound less firm than Israel’s supporters would like. It also means Obama seems a little overoptimistic about the reasonableness of Israel’s enemies.

To me, “Obama is not a patriot dedicated to final victory in Iraq” does not mean “Obama is black.” It means that statement needs to be unpacked. “Obama is not a patriot” doesn’t mean anything - it’s just a standard campaign line like “My guy is dedicated, your guy is ambitious” or “My guy is trustworthy, your guy is a liar.” “Obama is not dedicated to final victory in Iraq” means “Obama is not dedicated to final victory in Iraq - like virtually every other national Democratic figure and literally millions of his fellow Americans of all races.”

To me, “Obama stole the election from a woman who was entitled to it” does not mean “Obama is black.” It means the speaker is an angry Clinton supporter. Trust me, they would have been just as angry at John Edwards.

To me, “Obama is one of the ‘boys’ beating up on the female candidate does not mean “Obama is black.” It means, “Obama is a sexist pig.”

To me, “Obama supports abortion” does not mean “Obama is black.” It means the Democrats have women’s votes locked up and there’s no way he’s throwing away that advantage.

And what about the remaining statements? “The country isn't ready for a man like that”; “Obama is black”, “Obama is Muslim, possibly the anti-Christ!” Well, those aren’t racist either. As they stand, they are - in order - ambiguous; how he has self-identifed; inaccurate; and really stupid. With a little of the right fluffing up, though, they might very well be racist:

The country isn’t ready for a man like that:
If the real meaning is, “The country isn’t ready for a President who’s black” that’s the statement Greeley himself was making - it means the speaker thinks his fellow Americans are racist.

If the real meaning is, “I”m not ready for a President who’s black” that’s racist.

Obama is black:
If the rest of the statement is “I won’t vote for Obama because he’s black” or “Don’t vote for Obama because he’s black”, that’s racist.

Obama is a Muslim:
If the rest of the statement is “Obama is a Muslim because he’s black”, that’s racist.

If the rest of the statement is “Obama is a Muslim because his father was a Muslim” that’s incorrect. And un-American.

If the rest of the statement is “Strict Muslims will consider Obama a Muslim because his father was a Muslim and therefore he’ll be considered an apostate and OMG!” that’s not my problem, Obama’s problem, or America’s problem. Around here, we don’t let religious fanatics tell us who to vote for.

If the rest of the statement is, “I won’t vote for Obama because he’s a Muslim” or “Don’t vote for Obama because he’s a Muslim”, that’s still inaccurate. And it is, again, not racist, exactly, but prejudiced. (It is also not unique to Muslims - not everyone was happy about Romney’s Mormonism or Lieberman’s Judaism - but I’m pretty sure it’s more pronounced for Muslims right now than for other religions. Although I do wonder how the electorate would react to a Buddhist or Hindu candidate. Or an atheist candidate.)

Obama is probably the anti-Christ:
If the rest of the statement is, “Obama is the anti-Christ because he’s black.”, that’s racist. (And idiotic. Everyone knows the anti-Christ has blond hair and blue eyes. Don’t these guys read the “Left Behind” series?)

If the rest of the statement is, “I won’t vote for Obama because he’s the anti-Christ” or “Don’t vote for Obama because he’s the anti-Christ”, that’s not racist. But it is still idiotic.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

If names are not correct ...

... language will not be in accordance with the truth of things. - Confucius

When candidates tell us about a bill they’ve sponsored or voted on, why don’t they give us the bill name and number? That way we can judge for ourselves if the bill really secures the borders or supports our troops or helps education.

A chill in the air

Observer at Strictly Anecdotal has up a post about “Old time politics, naivete, cynicism” - do read it. I started writing a comment in response and it grew like the proverbial mustard seed into this post.

Observer talks about how “two developments ... have made [her] feel the chill in the air.” The first development is the “Hillary forever” sites. Observer suggests - admirably, I think - that those involved in such sites consider channeling their energy into becoming a viable Third Party but finds they seem more invested in remaining unhappy and angry. The second development is Obama’s decision to skip public financing for his campaign. Although Observer understands why he made this decision, she wishes he’d been more upfront about his reasoning and seems to wish some of his supporters had called him on it.

Although Observer talks only about public campaign financing, Obama hit the trifecta of waffles this past week: public campaign financing; FISA; and NAFTA (although absolutely no one seems the slightest bit interested in talking about the last issue). There are even rumblings about a willingness to redefine “withdrawal”, as in “from Iraq”. (Perhaps a discussion about “is” looms on the horizon.) I have to admit that in a small (okay, not so small), corner of my soul I’m glad he’s proved beyond question that he is, shall we say, less than straightforward about what he’ll do. It means I can stop beating myself up for not feeling easy in my mind about voting for Obama. (“But his policies are JUST THE SAME as every other Democratic candidate’s!” “Well, they were. Once. Until about June 8.”)

First, angry Clinton supporters. In her wonderful article “Why Clinton voters say they won't support Obama”, Rebecca Traister talks about how women want to be heard and acknowledged. By not giving women an honest opportunity to air their grievances, the Democratic Party is just making everything worse. So perhaps the Clintonistas can’t move on to thinking about something like a Third Party until they accept that the party they have now is simply not going to listen to them. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen until the investiture of Obama at the convention. Until that moment, there’s always going to be that little, tiny ray of hope that Hillary will somehow yet triumph, that Obama will make some unrecoverable error, that the Party’s eyes will be opened and it will realize Hillary is the only true hope.

Which brings us to Observer’s second cold wind. Until a day or two ago I would have said that Hillary’s supporters’ hopes were doomed to disappointment. Watching the reaction to Obama’s position shifts, I decided there was no way Obama’s supporters would ever turn away from him, however egregious his missteps. And I could understand that simply because of the nature of much of his support.

Yes, there are rational, well-behaved Obama supporters whose support of Obama rests on “he’s not perfect but he’s the best candidate.” Supporters like that could change their minds if circumstances warranted. But an unfortunately large number of Obama supporters have committed two ritual acts that make it virtually impossible for them to deny him. First, they have invested Obama with messiah-like status: he is different, he is transformative, he is the only hope for a better future, etc., etc., etc. Thus, if they now decide he’s not really all that, they must also decide they were idiots who fell for a clever con. Very hard on the ego, so very hard to do.

Second, the Obamabot-type supporters have engaged in vicious, virulent, unconscionable attacks on Clinton. Thus, if they now decide Obama is anything less than a perfect vessel, they will have to realize they behaved disgracefully not in defense of a near god but in defense of a common or garden-variety slick politician. They’ve made their bones and the organization owns them.

As a result of these musings I had concluded that in order for Obama to alienate a majority of his supporters he would pretty much have to ax-murder someone on stage in front of a live audience with TV cameras running. And even then I figured Keith Olbermann would insist the victim deserved it because he was a Fascist; HuffPo would claim it was all a Bush-McCain plot; and Andrew Sullivan would blame it on Hillary. Somehow.

Now I’m not so sure. Yes, NAFTA is being ignored. Okay, that’s not really a hot-button topic for the New Democratic Base. Yes, campaign finance is kind of being waved off - there’s some chatter about it but basically the consensus is that Obama is being understandably pragmatic. However, there may be a little crack in the monolith - there are some attempts to justify this decision as something other than straight common sense and those attempts trip over each other a bit. They hold both that it’s vital Obama win because he’s such a perfect vessel (new politics focused on Obama’s innate goodness) and that Obama would be crazy to give up such a huge competitive advantage (old politics favoring expedience over principle). So far that conflict can be smoothed over by invoking the dreaded Republican 527s and by claiming Obama tried to negotiate with the McCain campaign over this issue. The patch is shaky, though, because it looks like Republican 527s were outspent by Democratic 527s in 2004 and because the “we tried to negotiate” line doesn’t seem to be universally accepted. (Apparently Obama was not speaking ex cathedra when his campaign made the negotiation claim.) So there’s a little, tiny fault line there. Add Hillary Clinton's big money donors to the mix and the fault could widen.

FISA seems to be a much bigger deal. This is not money; this is the Constitution. And Obama has a big-time commitment on this one: he promised to filibuster if the telecom immunity was in the final bill. Now he’s saying he can live with it? Beyond that, the FISA bill is anathema to progressives even without telecom immunity. And Obama’s invocation of a scary, scary world to justify supporting the bill sounds kind of, well, Republican. I’ve seen suggestions that campaign contributions be directed away from Obama to the DNC - an interesting if unintentional linkage between FISA and private campaign financing.

Not all Obama supporters go along with this, of course - there are those who insist no one should even criticize Obama much less penalize him financially for FISA. Even most of those supporters, though, acknowledge Obama is wrong on FISA - it’s just they believe we desperately need him as President anyhow. FISA is is a hot-button issue for the New Democratic Base and Obama is on the wrong side.

Last, but not least, if Obama continues to back off on Iraq withdrawal, that’s really, really a hot-button issue for the New Democratic Base. Based on a conversation with a friend at dinner a couple of weeks ago, some Obama supporters still believe Obama will start pulling all the American troops out of Iraq on January 21. As reality seeps in, this might be a very big issue that Obama is on the wrong side of.

Of course, one can argue that Obama is just moving to the middle in the time-honored fashion of party nominees. Like them, he figures he’s got the nomination tied up, so Democrats will just have to live with him. Or, to put it more crudely, Obama figures he’s got Democrats by the short hairs: Sure, I now support NAFTA, FISA, private campaign financing, and a somewhat leisurely withdrawal from Iraq. So what? I’m still much better than McCain.

In other words, just as the Democratic Party believes it owns women because of the Republican stand on reproductive rights, Obama believes he owns his New Democratic Base because of the Republican stand on most other issues. And he might be right. If the only choice was between him and John McCain. But is it?

The Democratic National Convention is two long months away. A little more mutation by Obama and he might start to look like a regular old politician. And if his supporters can’t make the leap from following a messiah to supporting someone from the Chicago machine, they’re going to be just as mad as the Clintonistas - and their anger will be directed at Obama. It’s possible they’ll turn to Al Gore for salvation - especially if it’s hot in Denver in August. But if they’ve wised up enough to swear off messiahs, Clinton might look darn good to them. Sure, she’s a regular old politician, too, but at least she never conned them by claiming to be anything else.


This post was based on information and ideas from the following sources:

Obama's support for the FISA "compromise" by Glen Greenwald (Do click through to the Greg Sargent article if for no other reason than to read Greenwald’s comment about the “theater” of Obama working to get amnesty out of the bill)

Shields, Brooks Discuss Obama's Fundraising Shift, McCain's Energy Proposal - PBS transcript

Barack, We Hardly Knew You! by Mark Shields

Patriot Games: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Bundlers by Ruth Marcus (via The Anchoress)

Obama: NAFTA not so bad after all by Nina Easton

Obama under fire over Iraq troop pledge by Edward Luce (via TigerHawk)

Yes, You Can (do something more than protest on the FISA Cave) by Bruce Wilder

Obama Camp: We Opted Out Of Public Financing Because McCain Won't Discuss Reining In 527s by Eric Kleefield

McCain Campaign: Obama's Public Finance Decision "All About Money" by Eric Kleefield

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Facility With Hope

[This is Old News. Chronistic Date is April 23, 2008.]

In Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Sam is trying to strike a bargain with Taraka. Sam asks:
“What assurance do you give, Taraka, that this bargain will be kept?”

“My word? I shall be happy to swear by anything you care to name--”

“A facility with oaths is not the most reassuring quality in a bargainer.”
Similarly, a facility with hope is not the most reassuring quality in Obama:

Video: Barack Obama Tries His Hand At Telemarketing
(Relevant portion begins with just over a minute left in the video.)

Popular Caucuses

[This is Old News. Chronistic Date is April 24, 2008.]

Writing at Slate about Clinton’s attempt to claim she is winning, has won, or can win the popular vote, Christopher Beam says:
Lastly, there’s the fundamental problem with the popular vote: It’s wrong. As we’ve pointed out before, the popular-vote tally includes only the roughest estimates of caucus turnout, since many caucus states only report delegates, not individuals. Moreover, because caucus turnout is low relative to primaries, the popular vote ends up underestimating the candidates’ popularity in those states. So whoever does better in caucuses—in this case, Obama—ends up getting underrepresented. (You could argue that this is divine retribution for Obama’s skewed performance in caucuses, but hey, that’s the system the states chose—and the candidates agreed to.) So the “popular vote”—an authoritative-sounding phrase—is really just a shoddy estimate that underrepresents Obama’s caucus performance and therefore favors Clinton.

There is no reason to be sure that whoever does better in caucuses is underrepresented in the popular vote. That may be the case but we can’t know that. Certainly in the case of Obama, I would argue that his supporters are incredibly highly motivated (actually I’d argue they’re verging on the fanatic) and are therefore more likely to show up at caucuses and, once there, more likely to vehemently argue for their candidate thereby convincing other caucus attenders who might have come in undecided or only mildly Clinton-leaning.

A couple of versions of this argument circulated after New Hampshire. One claim was that closet racists were afraid to come out in the open in the Iowa caucus but happy to vote against Obama in the secret ballot New Hampshire primary. The other was that Obama supporters in the caucuses had practically strong-armed Clinton supporters into voting for Obama but couldn’t exert that kind of inappropriate pressure in New Hampshire.

This gives us three plausible scenarios under which Obama’s caucus performance actually overstates his true popular vote support. So Beam’s flat statement that a caucus winner gets shorted in the popular vote count simply can’t be known to be true.

Oh, and for the record. No way do I think Florida or Michigan should count when it comes to delegates. I’m real big on playing by the rules. As for popular vote, Florida and Michigan can't count because we simply don’t know how Clinton would have done in those states if there had been an actual contest.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comment Policy

I am NOT responsible for the content in comments and the comments do not necessarily reflect my views.

Comments will not be moderated before being posted. I will moderate all comments after they’re posted and reserve the right to delete them as I see fit.

When you post your comments, you are giving me the right to use and modify them as I see fit.
That’s all the legal stuff I can think of. When posting comments, play nice. In general this means civil discourse. The specific guidelines that come to mind right now are:

Don’t insult me. Don’t insult other commenters.

You can post anonymously but I’d prefer you didn’t. Using a handle rather than your real name is fine but I’d like it if “Vixen08” on one post stays “Vixen08” on all posts.

Watch your language. Mild profanity is fine but if you absolutely cannot write without using the f-word, find a synonym: “freak” or - if you’re a Battlestar Galactica fan - “frak” are fine. Similarly, I have no trouble with “crap” but avoid its less socially acceptable equivalent.

Don’t call people names. By that I mean not just the more vulgar names but also epithets like “racist”, “sexist”, “ageist”. Don’t use ugly nicknames for people.

I will delete comments if I find them objectionable but I will tell you if I do so and why. The “why” may not necessarily relate to one of these guidelines. I’m new to running a blog so I’m sure I’ll come across issues I haven’t covered here.

UPDATE, June 26, 2008
I've realized I didn't credit the sources that helped me form my comment policy:

Easy Rules and a look from The Anchoress

OptiNiche Comment Policy

Developing a Blog Comment Policy by Teli Adlam at OptiNiche

Welcome to FireBrand

I’m starting this blog because I have stuff to say. Since I’ve been thinking about blogging for quite a while, some of that stuff - especially at the beginning - is going to be Old News. I have posts, emails, jotted notes, and bookmarks about a lot of topics going back years.

I welcome comments. My comment policy is here.