The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One last link

Nate Silver: Why voters thought Obama won tonight.

-Obama talked to the voters, McCain talked to the pundits.
-Obama 'won' on the issues that matter most to the voters (namely the economy).
-Obama closed the readiness and leadership gaps.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

Two of the bigger CW-molders from Time, Joe Klein and Mark Halperin, give the debate to Obama.

First Debate Wrap-up

First of all, let's all agree that Jim Lehrer did an admirable job as moderator, mostly in a less-is-more fashion. He'd ask a question, then he'd let the candidates pretty much have at it, without butting in with warnings about time limits and so on. My lone complaint, though, was his Russert-ian question about what plans the two candidates would cut back on because of the giant banking bailout. Both candidates believe that all their respective plans are important, and neither was going to admit to making a real commitment to not pursuing something they've claimed to be a high priority to them for months/years, no matter how many times Lehrer pressed the question (4 times). McCain wildly proposed a "spending freeze" gimmick (a dumb idea), while Obama steered clear of the bait altogether.

All the talk on the network wrap-ups as to who "won" the debate, on "points" or whatever (boxing metaphors abound), is somewhat misplaced. The main issue here is with expectations, particularly for Obama. He has the "change" mantle, and people want to vote for him, but his big assignment for tonight's debate -- the foreign policy debate -- was to come across as a credible leader on international issues. Someone who spoke with demonstrable knowledge and expertise on the issues of the world (as opposed to, say, mentioning his home state's proximity to Russia). To do this, he didn't have to 'beat' McCain on what's supposed to be the old man's issue; he merely had to hang with him. And nobody who watched that debate could conceivably argue that Obama didn't do that tonight. In other words, Obama passed that "commander in chief test" Hillary put forth all those months ago during the primary campaign.

This was the night McCain was supposed to have a decisive victory, and that simply didn't happen. It doesn't matter if Obama won by a little or McCain won by a little. The only result that would have helped McCain would have been a clear win, or a mega gaffe on Obama's part, and neither of those things happened.

I didn't recall any one comment on Obama's part that was hissy-fit-caliber for the right wing echo chamber. I recall the first of the Bush-Kerry debates in 2004; the general consensus was that Kerry won handily that night, but the right-wing media seized on an abstract comment of Kerry's about how America's actions need to pass "the global test", interpreting it literally as some sort of international veto on the American military. I didn't hear anything from Obama's responses tonight that could be isolated like that. Certainly the McCain surrogates I saw on TV after the debate couldn't come up with anything.

Except for a stupid video montage of Obama expressing agreement with McCain at various points in the debate, but that's not really anything of importance, given that it was a deliberate disarming rhetorical tactic on Barack's part.

(Rachel Maddow, just now, made a good catch on MSNBC: McCain, in an almost throwaway manner -- "sure" -- said that yes, he would vote for the Wall Street bailout)

One superficial, but revealing discussion coming up... For those of you who watched the debate on a channel that kept the two candidates on a split-screen -- NBC did this for most of the debate -- you probably saw what I saw. McCain was, for lack of better words, rude and churlish. A variety of pundits noticed that McCain never once looked at Obama through the entire debate. His awkward and disrespectful smirk returned, sometimes coupled with a snicker. Let me put it this way: If Chris Matthews has to ask about McCain, "Do you think he was too troll-like tonight?", that pretty much seals the deal, doesn't it? I think McCain's posture gave us a preview of what we'll soon be seeing on Saturday Night Live.

And McCain's repeated talking-point-driven mantra that Obama "doesn't understand" and is "naive" is one of those things that falls apart when the very next thing an uncommitted voter sees is Obama explaining his position on a foreign policy issues in detail, with clear command of the facts and a full recognition of the stakes at hand.

Tonight's polls...

CNN: Obama wins on all fronts

CBS: Obama wins among undecideds

MediaCurves: Obama wins debate 61-39

No link, but longtime GOP pollster Frank Luntz's focus group on FoxNews leaned Obama as well.

But again, he didn't need to win this debate, he just needed to hold is own, and he did that and then some.

LATE THOUGHT: I wonder if the GOP's concerted attempt to ridicule Obama for not being able to talk without a teleprompter might have been the wrong tactic to employ.

Thought of the day

If McCain does indeed give in and get his butt to Mississippi tonight for the debate, when I think he'll do, then this whole drama was about something else, too:

Lowering the expectations for his debate performance to a level somewhere between Earth's mantle and outer core.

UPDATE (10:45): Debate back on!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I are serious candidate. This is serious suspenshun.

So John McCain is supposed to be Mighty Mouse, coming in to save the day on the bailout plan, which is something only he can do.

Yet as of Tuesday (the day before his "suspension"), he had not yet even read the Paulson bill? It's only three pages long.


Like I said, this is about the debates.

UPDATE: Jake Tapper has more on today's Bush-McCain-Obama meeting:

The White House's official list of those planning to attend the hastily-convened meeting called by President Bush this afternoon to discuss the Wall Street bailout bill includes a senior policy adviser to the campaign Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., had been told not to bring any campaign staff. He will be bringing a member of his Senate staff, Ian Solomon, a legislative assistant focused on economic issues.

His campaign adviser's presence notwithstanding, McCain announced Wednesday that he was suspending his campaign activities to focus on getting the people's business done.
Obama brings a Senate aide, McCain brings a campaign adviser. Remind me who's claiming that their campaign is 'suspended' again?


Nate Silver of the invaluable has a post on McCain's suspension stunt in which he faults McCain for wanting to put off (or even cancel) one or more debates:
Let me digress for a moment. One of the reasons I probably turned out to be a Democrat is because of Ronald Reagan and Bugs Bunny. When I was a kid, once every now and then, they had Bugs Bunny specials scheduled for prime time ... I looked forward to these for weeks. But invariably, invariably! -- or so it seemed when I was six years old -- they'd be preempted by Ronald Reagan giving a speech. I was sure what Mr. Reagan was saying was very important ... but I absolutely hated him as a result.

Americans feel about the debates they way I felt about Bugs Bunny. The cumulative audience between the three Presidential debates will likely significantly exceed that of the Super Bowl. They like watching them, and look forward to them. If McCain denies them that pleasure, they are likely to be angry with him, perhaps in ways they have difficulty expressing.
I will admit, that's about right. I felt the same way about Pee Wee's Playhouse when I was eight years old, and when CBS interrupted it to show live coverage of the Tienamen Square massacre, I was practically in tears. But look at me, now I'm digressing.

My problem with this analysis is the following graf:
Imagine instead if McCain had called on Obama to return to Washington, and also called on him to meet him at Georgetown University on Friday night for a "civil discussion" (a.k.a. a High Noon showdown) on leading America's economy forward. That could have been brilliant. Obama would probably have had to agree to the change of venue and subject matter. McCain would have needed to follow-through by actually winning the debate, but if he had, that would almost certainly have been a game-changer. But that's not what McCain did.
And of course this could have happened... but it's not a matter of what McCain did, it's a matter of who McCain is. The simplest explanation tends to be the correct one, and when you sift through everything that happened today, only one conclusion can be drawn:

McCain wanted out of the debates, at least for the time being, and he wanted out at any cost. This was his way of trying to get out of them.

Yes, some of this move was about attempting to "white knight" the Congress on the big banking bailout (ahh, malignant narcissism), but in the eyes of the campaign that was little more than a potentially positive by-product of his greater need. The economy itself -- something he has repeatedly confessed he "doesn't understand as well as [he] should" -- was little more than a useful circumstance to help him try to accomplish his wussification.

McCain and his people made a calculation very similar to the one that produced Caribou Barbie: Running Mate.

Status Quo: 100% odds of losing by 2-5%
Do Something Crazy: 90% odds of losing by 6-10%, but 10% odds of somehow pulling it out.

It was this calculation that gave us Sarah Palin, which looks pretty dumb now -- did you hear about her interview with Couric? -- but people could understand why he picked her from a political standpoint at the time.

What's absolutely startling about today was that McCain and his campaign decided that the status quo of the rest of the race meant certain defeat, and this included holding a debate, which are supposed to be his chance to change the game, put the young and inexperienced Obama on his heels.

But nope, that's not what happened. Instead we have McCain concluding that any debate right now is a huge political loser for him. If his people felt confident that he could best, or even hold is own with, Obama in a debate setting, today's events would not have occurred.

And you can't really blame them, can you? McCain has been on a different side of the economic crisis issue every day since Lehman's collapse. (First he said the economy was still strong, then he called for a commission, then he called for the firing of the SEC head, then he suddenly became a pro-regulation populist, and now we have today's silliness) McCain's actions do not suggest either the seriousness or readiness required to support his own position in verbal sparring. On the latter issue, remember a couple a days ago, McCain was railing against the so-called "golden parachute" severance packages received by disgraced CEO's, but when confronted with a question about the $42-million parting gift his top economic advisor, Carly Fiorina, received when she was booted by Hewlett Packard, the Senator's response was essentially a non-response, as if he had no idea that this ever occurred.
McCAIN: I don't think so. ... Because I think she did a good job as CEO in many respects. I don't know the details of her compensation package. But she's one of many advisers that I have.

Q: But she did get a $45 million dollar golden parachute after being fired while 20,000 of her employees were laid off.

McCAIN: I have many of the people, but I do not know the details of what happened.
This could have come up in a debate about the economy. It seems like the simplest thing to prepare for, the most obvious question that could be posed to McCain were he to take a strong stance against giant severance packages for CEO's. Couple this episode with McCain's recent confusions in areas ranging from Iran's relationship with Al Qaeda to what continent Spain is on, and the reasons why the McCain campaign is chickening out of the debates begin to come into focus.

And as an added bonus, this could give McCain an out for the one person who could perform worse in a debate environment than him: Sarah Palin.

He'll have to come around though. America likes debates, America wants them. We just need to find someone to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on McCain's dog, so the candidate can have his homework back.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We now have an answer

A massive Wall Street crisis, and an equally-massive bailout proposal, are what it takes to get John McCain to actually consider doing his day job for the first time since April.

Well, that, and today's polls.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dispatch from Bizarro World

A piece from Associated Press writer Charles Babington, released Saturday:
Obama looks to regain momentum in debate series

For Democrat Barack Obama, the three presidential debates that begin Friday are a chance to halt John McCain's momentum, re-establish his image as a refreshing political force and make his case against a third straight Republican presidential term.

For McCain, they provide an opportunity to reinforce voters' doubts about Obama's experience and readiness, and to demonstrate that he's still on top of his game at age 72.

With polls showing the race tight, and the debates expected to draw millions of TV viewers, they could tip the balance on Nov. 4.
Now I understand that the wire services put out bland "expectations" stories in advance of major events in the campaign (the debates, in this case). But nowhere in this article is there any hint of what has transpired in the past week (the bank failures, the government bailouts, McCain's streak of telling gaffes on the economy, the precipitous decline of Sarah Palin's favorability ratings in the polls, and the steep increase in Obama's standing in the polls vis-a-vis McCain). Surely being in the middle of the largest financial crisis in America in a generation (perhaps longer?) would serve to alter the dynamic of the campaign somewhat?

This article could've been written last week. Hell, it might've been. I'll score this as "lazy" over "mendacious".

Still, the "expectations" tidbits in the article are very telling:
Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who backs McCain, agrees that Obama carries a heavier burden. Obama has not been on the national stage as long as his opponent, Thune said, and voters have a flimsier grasp of who he is.

"Obama really has to score a punch," Thune said. "He hasn't closed the deal with a lot of American people."

Thune thinks McCain may benefit from low expectations, because Obama is seen as a great orator, a skill that some voters might associate with televised presidential forums even if the comparison is questionable.

Obama's less-than-overwhelming performances against Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats during the primary season showed that the format "was not his strength," Thune said. On the other hand, he said, McCain "is wily, he's effective, he carries questions well," and may exceed many viewers' expectations.
Emphasis mine. Uh, John? I wonder if you have it backwards. Isn't the idea of massaging expectations to scale back those or your own candidate and inflate those of your opponent?

Add that to the phenomenon of Republicans and their ilk frequently mocking Obama for supposedly being teleprompter-dependent, and you wonder if these people have any plan at all.