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Make Republicans Great Again

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

A lot has been written lately about the impending death of the Republican Party. I have remained skeptical of such eulogies. In fact, I think that the Republican Party could have a strong future in our national politics sooner than later, but it has to start right now.

In far too many words, I will lay out how the Republican Party can reclaim their status as a national governing power, improve the American electoral process, govern efficiently without compromising their (establishment) principles, exploit an impending divide in the Democratic Party to recruit pragmatic centrists, and win over the hearts of Millennials. The resulting country would be stronger, because each party would have empirical evidence that theirs is a viable path forward; each party would value responsible, responsive leadership; and the two parties combined would be more representative of the American electorate, whose center has been criminally underrepresented and whose politics and policies have been drifting left.

Personally, I should note that despite considering myself a moderate, many of the positions I advocate for the Republican Party embracing are not ones I would clamor for myself. I am not daydreaming about the perfect party for me, personally. But such a change would lead to the possibility that I would again be an undecided voter in many elections–a status I haven’t been able to claim for some time.

Step One: Become the Party of Electoral Legitimacy

I got the idea to write this post today when I saw an article about the Allegheny County (PA) District Attorney issuing a statement ensuring that they had no evidence of any impending wrongdoing undermining the electoral results. It struck me, that in an American democratic system, such a reminder needed to be issued. But it is needed; desperately. Because Trump has apparently given up on winning the election and has instead dedicated his time to questioning the legitimacy of the upcoming electoral outcomes. It should surprise nobody that there is a great deal of literature that indicates that the key to successful democracies is the peaceful and smooth transition of power after the votes are cast. That’s just common sense.

And so, yet again, Trump’s behavior is giving Republican officials an opportunity to disavow him. The last time a wave of un-support occurred, many on the left (including President Obama) said that Republicans get no points for distancing themselves now, this late in the process. Many were cynical about the fact that alienating Muslims, Mexicans, and all sorts of others were tolerated, but the electorally powerful block of women was enough to engender real dissent from Republican officials.

So again, if officials were to stand up to Trump, many would question: why now? Why only when it is clear that he will lose? But there is a good answer. Trump has disparaged people; he has disparaged communities; but now, he is disparaging democracy. He is calling into question the quintessential institution of a successfully-governed society. And Republican officials at all levels need to stand up and shut this rhetoric down. They need to show the country that there are two responsible parties; that our democracy can survive Trump; and that our country and some of its most vital institutions are not endangered by their party.

Republican state parties, national leaders, and elected officials should come forward and insist that they will uphold the electoral integrity of the process. They should speak out against voter intimidation. They should promise their support and acceptance of the outcomes of the elections. This message should come as soon and as loudly and as clearly as possible. Our elections are in good hands; their results are paramount and final. The Party will accept the results.

Step Two: Disavow, Disengage, and Re-Brand

When people think about re-branding, they usually think about re-branding themselves, or from within. I, however, am talking about re-branding ardent Trump supporters. I recently read a column that pointed out that in the general election, there are ~40% of people who will vote Republican every time. That explains Trump’s level of support. But in the primary election, the Trump vote, and even the more cumulative “outsider” vote, made up a smaller share of the Republican Party and American electorate. These people who so readily put party above country, or worse yet don’t understand the risks that Trump actually poses to the nation, deserve to be outcast by those in the party who wish to govern and to make progress in American policy rather than simply tear down the institutions that have been built over time. Repudiating Trump will cause an immense backlash from many within the party base, who by and large still want their leaders to support the nominee, but it’s time to officially cast out those demons.

This doesn’t require a great deal of shifting, honestly. Once Trump has been disavowed and a dedication to responsible transition of power has been announced, parrot Paul Ryan’s oft-repeated desire to govern responsibly and fulfill a conservative vision through implementation of the Better Way agenda. Then, simply add that those who stand in the way and do not support the implementation of the agenda are the ones abandoning their country and their party. Those who resist the loudest and most boisterously, then, should be branded as outside of the Republican Party. They key is to brand them in a way that they would also welcome and adopt–I’d pick something along the lines of Radical Nationalists; they might think it a compliment or at least a fitting and acceptable moniker. Tell them that they no longer stand with the party, and let them embrace that role. And in a simple but steady stream of rhetoric, the party has thus ousted those who seek to destroy it.

Step Three: Be the Party of Electoral Reform

Of course, if it were that easy, wouldn’t the Republican Party have asserted its leadership over its unraveling base long ago? Yes, but they needed the fringes on the right to win elections. They needed to move even further right to survive primary challenges. But with the right set of initiatives, the need and fear of primary challenges could be eliminated. If there is one thing that 2016 has made clear, it is that the electoral system is in need of reform. The primary system has delivered two historically unpopular candidates and removed the credibility of the recently-coined edict: “the party decides.”

This is why becoming the party of electoral reform would be a hugely popular move. And through initiatives completely within party control (at the state level), the need to pander to right-wing voters could be greatly reduced or eliminated. How? By opening primaries. Republicans famously have full control over 23 state governments (governors and legislature), plus 8 more governorships (either with mixed or Democratic legislatures), and a legislature under an independent governor. This control gives the party a HUGE amount of leeway to implement electoral reform. This move would be popular among independents and political disaffecteds, but would also allow the large swath of Republican-leaning independents to have a say in the primary process.

These efforts should be targeted. Look to traditionally blue states with Republican Governors. Look for states where Trump did very poorly in the primaries. Look for states in which Senator and Congresspeople have felt safe and empowered enough to openly oppose Trump. A mass effort of strategically opening primaries across the nation could mitigate the prospect of far-right primary threats and create goodwill among political moderates in one fell swoop. This is an essential part of any plan to put Republicans back into play nationally without sacrificing the ability to govern effectively.

Step Four: Govern

This one is going to be difficult to swallow. The President is going to be Public Enemy #1, Hillary Clinton. One path would be to let the anti-Clinton sentiment unify the party into 4 more years of obstructionism–something Republican Senator John McCain has indicated is on the docket. This would be the easy path.

However, Speaker Paul Ryan has repeatedly said that he would look for areas of common ground and work to implement them. He usually follows that with some quip about there being very little common ground to work with. And so I took it upon myself to open up Hillary Clinton’s website, and open up Speaker Ryan’s Better Way website, and I looked for common ground. There isn’t a TON to work with, but there is enough.

Speaker Ryan and Clinton can improve workforce training initiatives. Both would like to increase early childhood development. They actually have a decent amount of room to work with on health care, if they can get past the dicey political rhetoric of Obamacare and repeal; simply putting forth several of the measures they view as a “replacement,” rather than continued focus on “repeal,” could uncover many overlaps. Crucially, after a thorough vetting, the Republicans in the Senate (likely to be in the minority) should confirm Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. That will hurt, but it is the responsible thing to do.

This is not a call from a political naïf for a kumbaya government. There are irreconcilable differences, such as the approach to addressing poverty, the approach to reforming entitlements, and upper income taxation. Republicans should not abandon their principles and let Clinton do as she pleases, but simply move government along, find areas of agreement, and try not to mention the word shutdown for a few years. When it comes time for subsequent elections, Republicans should be able to say that they fought Clinton on a number of issues, but that they also managed to accomplish some of their legislative priorities despite a hostile president.

There is one area of agreement that I have left out thus far, and this will be a crucial to a Republican plan forward. Clinton has acknowledged that the corporate tax code is among the highest in the world. She has called for reform and closing of loopholes. She has said proposed several measures through the corporate tax code to punish companies that leave the US for tax avoidance and reward those that bring money and jobs back. She has been rumored to be in favor of a repatriation holiday and possibly a lower corporate tax rate. She favors full expensing of investments, and a lower, simpler tax code for small businesses. Paul Ryan’s Better Way agenda calls for many of the same things. He prefers full expensing for all businesses, and likely a lower corporate tax rate than Clinton would prefer. But there is a LOT of common ground here. I can see very little chance that a Republican House, a split Senate, and a Clinton presidency would not result in a large-scale corporate tax reform. And doing so will likely benefit the country, while also being a huge victory for the Republican Party.

Step Five: Drive the Wedge

One of the most important developments for this plan is happening outside of the Republican Party and outside of their control. And that is the leftward shift of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders galvanized a new generation on the left. Elizabeth Warren is lionized. And while yes, the more center-left, pragmatic Clinton won the primary fairly easily, the Democratic Party platform, as well as the tone and content of the messaging from the left have undergone a sort of metamorphosis in the past several years. No time in recent history has the word “socialist” been as politically acceptable. No time in recent history has social justice so dominated the conversation. Clinton is an unpopular candidate who will win the election because Trump is an unacceptable candidate, but there are fissures on the left, and those fissures could create the opportunity to pilfer the centrists from a party they see moving left of them. And those fissures will crack wide open when Clinton partners with Republicans to pass corporate tax reform.

I’m not saying that the Democrats would run a primary opponent against her. I’m not saying that they would abandon support altogether. But I am saying that corporate tax reform would ramp up the rhetoric from the left in a hurry. It would provide a boogeyman to point to: “look at the Democrats lurching left! Opposed to working together and making compromises that better the country!” The American public forgets in a hurry. Two years of responsible Republican governance could quickly flip the script and make the Democrats the ones that sound unwilling to make a deal, such will be their discontent with yet another corporatist at the helm of their party. This is a recruiting opportunity. Show centrists that there is a responsible alternative now, dedicated to governing; willing to push out the extremists from their party. Show them how distanced you are from the Party of Trump.

Step Six: End the Culture Wars

Up until this point, I have laid out a path to oust the extreme and ungovernable right wing from the Republican Party and form a coalition of establishment Republicans, right-leaning independents, and centrists dismayed by the Democratic move to the left. Certainly, if all goes well, that might be enough to re-form the Republican Party into a viable party on the national level in a way that many couldn’t currently fathom. However, there’s an important voting bloc remaining that may be a secret weapon: Millennials.

Millennials are the largest generational demographic in the nation, having surpassed baby boomers in size. Naturally, young people don’t vote as often as older generations, but they also present an opportunity for a political realignment that this nation so desperately needs. Millennials are less likely to identify with either party. They are among the most likely to back a third party candidate this year, showing a vast discontent with their options and a big opportunity to be persuaded and recruited. They are also incredibly likely to favor gay marriage. And while some polls have shown them to be pretty hostile toward abortion, the same polls indicate that they do not identify as “pro-life,” primarily because the image has been so tarnished by Republican-driven rhetoric in the culture wars of the past.

I’m not saying become a pro-choice party. I’m not saying become a pro-gay rights party (ok, both of those would be pretty great to me personally, but I recognize that there is enough of an electorate out there who disagrees with me that reversing yourselves might cause more trouble than its worth). But at the very least, stop emphasizing them; stop talking about them. The Republican Party has already in theory rejected “culture wars” in matters of social justice, though the white nationalists supporting Trump have made that more difficult to believe. But in moving forward, it might be a great appeal to unaffiliated and undecided voters to just be the party that prioritizes economics and job creation and lays out a conservative vision to address poverty and just simply stops pushing and pushing back on the social issues. This is the one thing that prevents moderate democrats from ever crossing the aisle. And after years of harsh rhetoric, backing off from these topics could provide the breath of fresh air needed to legitimize the party for the next generation.

Conclusion

So that’s my blueprint to move forward. The result of these actions should over time lead to a center-right party battling more of a leftist party and leaving the right-wing nationalists relegated to the current role of libertarians–angrily throwing forth a longshot nominee every four years; exactly where the fringe of this country deserves to be.

But remember, it all starts right now. It all starts with ditching Donald Trump and making a strong, ardent case for electoral legitimacy and peaceful transfers of power.

On the Shutdown Blame Game

October 1, 2013 2 comments

If your social media experience today is anything like mine, you have some conservative or right-leaning friends crying “a pox on both your houses,” while your liberal or left-leaning friends are chanting “Down with the GOP!” Some could interpret this to mean that right-leaning friends are more fair, clear-eyed, and rational about the situation while left-leaning friends are being partisan nincompoops. In many situations, that could easily be the case. However, in this specific scenario, it’s simply that this whole shutdown is entirely the House Republicans’ fault. Let me explain the many reasons why this is true.

(For ease of writing, I’m going to refer to Republicans and Democrats instead of specifying “a large block of House Republicans including their leadership,” or “the Democrats in the Senate.”)

Play the Cards You Have

This is a fairly simple concept. How realistic is it for each side to secure that for which they are asking? Back when poker was a big television event, viewers always had the luxury of knowing which cards each player held. Well, in this situation the Republicans are waiting on a flush draw and the Democrats already have a full house. The only way Republicans can win is to convince the Democrats to fold a superior hand. I’m talking about vote counts. The House Republicans continually pass bills which have no chance of winning a majority in the Senate, where there are 54 Democrats who support Obamacare. Meanwhile, multiple reports have indicated that there are enough Republicans in the House who would vote for a “clean” continuing resolution that a vote would pass.

So the Republicans keep passing bills that will not pass the Senate. And the Democrats keep passing bills that will pass the House. All they have to do is put it up for a vote. The Democrats’ plan has the support of the majority in both chambers of congress. Clearly, on “winability,” it’s advantage Democrats.

The Electoral High Ground

There was an exchange just before midnight during the Ted Cruz non-filibuster in which Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia conceded that Sen. Cruz was elected by a wide margin in both the primary and the general election on a clearly-stated opposition to Obamacare, and thus felt legitimately honor-bound to fight for its removal. Sen. Kaine then went on to explain that other representatives were equally honor-bound to do the opposite, and there were more of them.

You see, in the 2012 election, Obamacare was a pretty front-and-center issue. Yes, the economy was on everyone’s mind when they took to the ballots, but the outcome of Obamacare was clearly known to be a consequence of this election. The results were that Democrats received more votes for the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. They picked up seats in both chambers, expanding the Senate majority and narrowing the gap in the House. The American people weighed in, and the Democrats got more votes. The Republicans were able to maintain the House majority only due to a combination of geographic realities and some gerrymandering (more the former than the latter; sorry liberals). But the conclusion remains that more voters cast votes for representatives promising to uphold the law than to repeal it.

Moral High Ground

You’ll notice, thus far, that I have not made any arguments about the merits of Obamacare itself. That’s because I find them irrelevant to the issue of a shutdown. There have been numerous government shutdowns in the past, and while a handful centered on abortion issues, the vast majority of the times that the government couldn’t agree to funding levels before a deadline passed occurred because the government couldn’t agree on funding levels. This is a budgetary debate. There are many, many things that take place within the government with which I do not agree. I don’t think that there is a single one that I find worth failing to meet the obligations of elected office, governing, and funding that government. I think that to inflict real harm on the nation’s economy and several hundred thousand federal employees over an ideological agenda is simply wrong.

Survey Says

One point often made is that the American people are against Obamacare and therefore the Democrats should listen to them and give ground. While this flies in the face of election results, polling data speaks fairly clearly. However, very few of those polls ask the proper follow-up question. The CNN Poll does. When asked whether they disapprove of Obamacare because it is too liberal or not liberal enough, a solid 11% of the respondents say they disapprove because it’s not liberal enough (that’s 11% of the total population, not 11% of those who disapprove). Suddenly, those election results make a lot more sense, don’t they? If you assume that those who disapprove of Obamacare because it is not liberal enough are more likely to back a Democratic agenda, then suddenly the 10-12 point majority opposing the bill swings the opposite direction.

On top of that, every single poll out there indicates that shutting down the government is wildly unpopular under any circumstances, for any reason. So on the health care bill, the public is siding less with Republicans than Republicans seem to think, and on shutting down the government the public is adamantly opposed to the Republican tactics. Make DC Listen!

Negotiation 101

The Republicans are reprimanding Democrats for not negotiating. “The President will negotiate with [insert terrorists, Iran, Russia, etc] but he won’t negotiate with Republican leaders,” they cry! Well, let’s look at where both parties stand.

Democrats want: To fund the government (at previous levels)

Republicans want: To fund the government (at previous levels) and to delay/defund/weaken/cripple Obamacare.

So let me get this straight. You want to negotiate when only one side has any demands? Funding the government is good for everyone. Not funding the government is bad for everyone. The Republicans are not offering any concessions. They are simply offering fewer demands each time and calling it compromise, but they are still the only one with demands.

And guess what. Time just ran out. People today will begin enrolling in Obamacare. The default position wins the day. When one side is asking for major changes, and the other side is asking for, well, nothing, it’s tough to negotiate.

Precedent

Okay. Let’s say the Democrats go along with this and delay key aspects of Obamacare for a year. They won’t, but let’s say that they do. Now, a year goes by. A legislative body has to enact a new spending bill to keep the government open, and Obamacare is about to go into effect. The House has voted approximately 40 times to repeal this law, so the odds are that a simple delay is not their end game. What is to stop Republicans from, once again, taking a stand against the bill and holding the operational purse strings of the federal government for ransom? Nothing. There is nothing stopping them from using what leverage they have over federal funding to continue to attempt to derail this law. And if they succeed using this tactic once, why on earth would they not try it again in a year?

Wrapping Up

In closing, the Democrats have a more-achievable position; they have passed a funding bill which has the support of a majority in both chambers of congress; they have electoral results on their side; they have polling data on their side; and they have a stronger negotiating position. The only way this works out for Republicans is if the Democrats fold a winning hand. I don’t see any rational justification for them to do so. Hopefully, we remember these lessons in November 2014.

On Republican Victories that Weren’t

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

I often like to think about what might have been. I’m not going to contemplate a world without partisanship. I’m not going to ponder a world where everyone works together and sings kumbaya. Those are nice ideals, but within the reality of one-upsmansmanship and party message control, I can still see clearly a very different political path from 2009 to now; a path that starts with Republicans claiming a victory that was rightfully theirs, and would drastically change the political landscape in which we currently live.

It starts with a simple story of an idea: the individual mandate. As outlined here by FoxNews, the individual mandate made it’s way from the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation in 1989, into Republican-sponsored health care bill proposals in 1993 (by current mandate opponents such as Chuck Grassley), enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2006, and finally into another congressional bill proposal in 2007 co-sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat. Mitt Romney even referred to the rule as his “personal responsibility mandate.” In short, this idea was entirely of Republican origin and remained a popular means of reforming health care and reducing costs within the Republican party until very recently.

Let’s now think back on the 2009 health care debate. The Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, but did not quite have a filibuster-proof majority. They desperately wanted to have a public option in their health care legislation. Ultimately, the death of Senator Ted Kennedy and the strong opposition and threats to join Republicans in a filibuster by Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman crushed that plan. The end result is that a massive health care bill focused around Republican ideas and modeled after a Republican governor’s plan passed through the Democrat-controlled congress without having a public option attached. Just imagine if that’s how the story played out in the messaging.

Imagine that Republicans, seeing the embrace of a conservative ideal, participated in the framework and negotiations structuring the law. Imagine that upon the failure of the public option, a bipartisan bill was passed with Republicans claiming victory for the bill and their role in its success. Their idea had won the day. They had defeated the public option. They had, in effect, hijacked the President’s attempt at a signature piece of legislation. They had brought him along to an individual mandate he opposed in his primary against Hillary Clinton. What if what is now the signature polarizing piece of legislation of Obama’s administration was instead spun, messaged, and ultimately viewed (Republicans are pretty good at message control, after all) as a strong Republican minority exposing the President’s weakness. What if Obamacare was Boehnercare? What if, in 2012, Mitt Romney ran partly on the platform that the President’s greatest accomplishment was simply piggybacking off of his largely successful Massachusetts legislation? Might he have looked stronger? Maybe even won the election? Would Democrats still be clamoring for enough seats and votes to add a public option to the bill?

Certainly, we would not be here. Certainly, Republicans who embraced health care reform and undercut the President by taking most of the credit for it would not be orchestrating a government shutdown as a last-ditch effort to defund a bill based on a long history of their own conservative ideas.

Then again, if the Republicans didn’t shift the current debate to Obamacare, Democrats would probably be pressing them to undo the “sequestration” cuts in the new fiscal year. As it is, the Democrats are offering a “clean” continuing resolution, accepting the funding level reductions enacted by sequestration as the new status quo…. yet another Republican victory for which they are too partisan to notice and accept credit.

On Race and Elections

November 8, 2012 3 comments

I lost a friend on Tuesday (and no, it wasn’t America). To be fair, it was more of an acquaintance; I barely knew her. But we’ve been in touch on a superficial level for quite some time–facebook friends, IMs, text messages. She often checked in on me while I was deployed, and just last week I frequently checked in on her while she was stranded in a flooding, powerless house in New Jersey. Our communications were more frequent than they were deep, though, and we almost never actually saw each other. Still, I considered her a friend on some level and planned to visit her soon. That was before election day.

I have to start out by explaining that I really hate when race is brought into conversations. I know that it is still more of an issue than many in America want to admit, but I also feel that it is less of an issue than many people allow it to become. I think that frequently, race is brought up in conversations where it has little or no place–such as recent assertions in the sports world that the “only” grounds for comparison between rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and 2nd-year quarterback Cam Newton is that they are both black. The fact that the two both accomplished a statistical feat that hadn’t been done since the 1940s obviously is no basis for comparison. But I digress. The point is that I don’t like it when race is made to be a central factor on topics around which I think race is probably only a fringe factor. And that’s why I’m so reluctant to say that this election–and elections in general these days–really are a racial issue.

That brings me back to my friend–well, the girl who was my friend. The morning of the election, she wanted to talk about how I was voting. She’s a registered Republican, so I knew that she would be disappointed with my choice. But I had absolutely no idea what was coming next. It started with quips such as “Obama only won because he’s black.” I believe strongly that the only way to draw people out of a bubble of ignorance is to engage them–and to do so tactfully and peacefully no matter your disagreement. The next hour of my life challenged that notion of tact and restraint to the core.

I was informed that Obama “bussed the monkeys and apes out of the ghettos” in 2008. I was told that the only people who vote for Obama are “ghetto trash, white trash, the Spanish, and the Jews.” I personally was told that I was “nasty” because a girl I dated in high school was half-black. And of course, I was fed the line “I have plenty of black friends.” I attempted at great length to get to the root of how she could say such things and then work with and socialize with black people. I tried to find out if she ever shared any of these views. She told me that she knows that she is racist, she doesn’t care, and that “plenty of people” feel that way–they just don’t admit it.

We’ve all seen the racist anti-Obama Twitter feeds (do NOT follow that link unless you want to see very offensive, NSFW language), but this was the first time I have ever experienced such things first-hand; things said not just to draw attention to yourself or to be “funny” on the faceless internet, but as a core belief unshakably being hurled at me by someone I actually know. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever been to being speechless. And the story ended when, before I regrouped, she ended our “facebook friendship” out of contempt that I am not a racist. This last step fully blew my mind. I had just lost a friend–one that I would have cut from my life anyway–because she decided that she could not carry on a relationship of any kind with someone so tolerant.

Alright, I know. This is all anecdotal. I am in no way asserting that this is the dominant rationale of people voting against Obama. There are plenty of legitimate reasons not to vote for Obama. But a friend of mine currently in Europe informed me that in Ireland, the election is being covered largely on the basis of race. And then the aforementioned conversation happened. And then I watched the election results and reactions. More and more, I could not avoid hearing about and thinking about race–but in a wholly different context than outright racism. The dominant discussion about electoral math has now become one of demographics. And while women had their day in the sun during the election, the Hispanic vote and the “minority vote” are winning the conversation about the future, most famously summed up by Bill O’Reilly’s statement that “the white establishment is now the minority.

What shocks me about these conversations is how taken for granted it is that racial voting blocs will remain in tact. The idea that Obama might help usher in the beginning of a post-racial society–even by the most conservative estimates of what that phrase means–are all but a joke now. Lost in the conversation is an effort to level the field to an extent that ethnicity ceases to be an electoral fault line. Conversations about “getting the Hispanic vote” seem to revolve around how best to pander and which issues are most welcoming of the group–as a whole. It all leads me to believe that in regards to race relations–both structural and social–we not only aren’t moving ahead but may even be taking a step back.

A very wise, close friend of mine often reminds me that it was only one generation ago that segregation and civil rights and race riots were the norm; that expecting the nation to heal from these fissures this quickly might have been too much. Maybe it’s not surprising when they bubble to the surface again from time to time. But my reaction to that (my hope, maybe) was always that it should be expected to subside within another generation as the last remnants of such a divisive era move on leaving behind a more tolerant, less wounded society. Given the discourse surrounding the election, I worry that we may be keeping alive these strong divisions for another generation. It’s rare to hear me say this, but… I hope I’m wrong.

An Open Letter to Fox News Viewers/Readers

November 7, 2012 4 comments

Hello readers,

This is not intended to be a post preaching to the choir. If you are here to laugh at Fox News, then I don’t need you to keep reading. There are many people who I know and love that actually do get the bulk of their news from watching Fox News, reading their website, reading Breitbart.com, listening to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz, and other similar methods (but no differing). If this sounds like you, please keep reading. I’d like to talk to you. This is not about the content of the election or the issues espoused by different candidates, but about the information you received. Most of you seem relatively surprised with the results of Tuesday’s election. Many of you professed a great deal of confidence in Governor Romney’s chances on Tuesday night. This troubles me greatly, and I think it opens up an opportunity to understand just how cut off from reality reaffirming media bubbles can become.

You see, this election was not much of a surprise. In fact, according to those who paid a great deal of attention to what was going on in state polls and early voting, the election went almost exactly as expected. Take this quote from The New Yorker’s John Cassidy Tuesday morning:

The vast majority of pundits, academics, and forecasters agree that Obama will win. Indeed, there is a broad consensus about his likely margin of victory in the electoral college: 303 to 235. In addition to myself, a number of prognosticators have settled on these figures. They include the Democratic strategist Joe Trippi; the Slate blogger Matt Yglesias; the Huffpo’s Pollster tracking model; the Web site PredictWise, the consulting firm CabPolitical. Most other forecasts are grouped around the 303-235 projection. Early Tuesday morning, Nate Silver’s 538 model was predicting Obama 315, Romney 223; Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium had it at Obama 309, Romney 229. Larry Sabato and his colleagues at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics were predicting that Obama would do slightly less well but still win. Their figures for the electoral college: Obama 290, Romney 248.

(the whole article is worth a read)

I’ll note that Sam Wang and Nate Silver’s projections stem from expected value models, which are averages of different possible outcomes, not state-by-state projections added up. Looking state-by-state, Nate Silver got everything correct right down to Florida being too close to call with a slight Obama lean. What you see here is a consensus prediction around the exact outcome that occurred. By nearly every detailed, analytical prediction, the only source of disagreement was generally around Virginia and Florida’s results. In addition to human projections, betting sites and market forecasts such as Betfair and Intrade gave Obama strong odds as the favorite.

This information is not meant as a means of gloating. This is just some evidence that the information available regarding this race led to a very easily-predicted outcome. Even as a novice non-pollster, I read enough to feel very confident in the outcome of the election. When I posted a reactionary blog post at 11:23 Tuesday night–just eight minutes after the earliest call of the race (NBC followed shortly after by Fox News)–it wasn’t because I am a very fast typist, and it wasn’t because I wrote a reaction post for either result. It was because I was so sure of the outcome that I planned ahead for it, accused by some of my more worrisome or superstitious friends as possibly jinxing the whole thing.

The reason I want to be clear that this outcome was predictable is that you should by now be wondering why you didn’t see this coming. Why were you fairly sure that Romney would emerge victorious? I think we know the answer. The answer is that Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, and Ben Shapiro told you that Romney was heading for a win–some said a landslide. Unskewedpolls.com explained that the polls (which proved right) were inherently biased and presented its own, very different results (which proved wrong). Any prognosticator or pundit who projected an Obama win–or even a toss-up–on the airwaves that you watched or listened to or in the articles you read were instantly countered with hard theories about why those predictions would prove incorrect. Every poll they chose to report was an optimistic, right-leaning poll while ignoring that it was often a statistical outlier. You were inundated with information about this election that pointed to a Romney win–and maybe even a big one.

And that brings us here. In the information age, you can pick and choose where you get your information. There is more knowledge and data available than ever before. The sources that you have chosen were wrong. They weren’t even close. Many, many other sources got this right. The correct sources were ignored or discredited in your world. This leaves me wondering: is there any such thing as information accountability? Is there a reward for getting things right? A punishment for getting things wrong?

The truth is that the election is not the only issue in which this happens. However, the election provides the clearest opportunity to point out the discrepancy between what you’re being told and what is actually happening. This discrepancy is real. This is not an attack from the “lame stream media.” If you found yourself caught by surprise–both by the Obama victory and by the relatively easy margin of the electoral victory–then you now have the evidence right in front of your face. If I found out that all of the news I had been receiving for the past several weeks was completely tainted by an ideological desire to promote a false version of reality rather than reporting the information that was readily available about the true situation, I would cease to use that source. I’m left wondering, will you?

Gingrich has already admitted that “the whole group of us” got it wrong. Was it a coincidence? I leave you with this admission from Byron Allen of WPA Opinion Research, and a final thought:

As a researcher, I’m sad to admit that I let my hopes overtake the data.  The facts, based on well-conducted survey research, always pointed to an Obama win.  But many Republicans, me included, tried to find a way to argue that the data didn’t mean what it said on its face and that Romney would still win.

(emphasis added)

The election coverage by the right-wing media outlets was deliberately misleading and was proven incorrect. In a world with information at your fingertips, don’t make the same mistake again. Look for different sources. Yours are failing you.

Sincerely,

Max

An Open Letter to Elected Republicans

November 6, 2012 1 comment

Hey guys,  I know it’s been a little bit of a rough day/night for you, and I want to be sympathetic, but I won’t pretend I’m not pretty pleased with the outcome. We all know that you and I have our differences. I imagine losing the presidential election to the incumbent despite poor economic conditions is pretty sobering. You’re probably looking in the proverbial mirror wondering what went wrong. More importantly, you’re probably wondering where does the party go from here. You tried the maverick in 2008. You swung right with the Tea Party in 2010. You went with prototype president version 2.12 in 2012. And yet, Barack Obama is still the president.

There are a number of possible reactions. Was Romney too moderate? Should the party push farther to the right? Maybe the party should continue to blur the lines between being a Republican and a Libertarian. There’s always the option of using a vast media propaganda machine to undermine the legitimacy of the 2012 elections, thus undermining the legitimacy of the Obama administration (thus also undermining the entirety of the American political process, but that’s collateral damage deemed worth it to many). Of all the reactions that you could have, however, I would like to offer one simple suggestion.

Govern. I know, it sounds crazy, right? But after 4 years of trying tooth and nail to limit the actions of the government and the administration, you’ve received a loss. The plan did not work. In 2014, and again in 2016, if you want to make gains and see results, perhaps you should consider giving the people something concrete for which they can vote. Show us that you can work with others and not just against them. We understand that you’re really good at obstructing. We realize that the congress elected in 2010 passed the least amount of legislation of any in recent history by a long shot. Well done.

Now, in a center-right country with a weak economic recovery, you still lost to a Democrat. Maybe what’s missing is the “center” in the center-right. Maybe the rigid adherence to ideology at the expense of results is holding you up. Maybe, over the next two to four years, you should try to give the people something to vote for instead of someone to vote against. Move on from this loss quickly; don’t dwell on the election and try to undermine its results or question its mandate. And when you move on and return to legislation, don’t point fingers across the aisle, but instead look inward and ask, “what can I do within my principles and within the legislative reality that will improve my country?” Try for collaborative accomplishments. I promise you, this strategy more than any other will lead to the results that you want. Until/unless that happens, look for more of the same: a center-right country begrudgingly electing Democrats.

Good luck,
Max Gross

On the 2012 Election: Prediction Time

November 6, 2012 1 comment

With elections coming tomorrow, I think it’s time for me to put my predictions down in writing for all of cyberspace to consume. I’ll get right down to it:

Electoral College: Obama – 294; Romney – 244

I come to this result by giving Obama Virginia, Ohio, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania (if you want to call that a swing state). Romney then gets Florida and Colorado. Basically, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado are the ones I view as the truest toss-ups, so I sent Romney two and Obama two. I gave Romney the biggest and third-biggest of the four because a) he has a good shot at Florida, and b) I wanted to make up for possibly overestimating Obama’s chances elsewhere.

Popular Vote: Obama 49.4%; Romney 48.2%

This is pretty much a guess. I know that it will be close. And I suspect the third-party candidates (especially Gary Johnson) will pull a hair over one percent.

Senate: 51 Democrats, 2 Independents, 47 Republicans

The Senate has 37 Republicans and 30 Democrats holding their seats (not up for re-election). The other 33 races will determine the balance of power. The Independents are both safe and Sanders will caucus with Democrats, while King has been non-committal on his caucusing preferences, but he is popular with Democrats. State-by-state, here are my picks.

Arizona: Flake (R)

California: Feinstein (D)

Connecticut: Murphy (D)

Delaware: Carper (D)

Florida: Nelson (D)

Hawaii: Hirono (D)

Indiana: Donnelly (D) (Thanks to Mourdock’s rape comments)

Maine: King (I) (Yay!)

Maryland: Cardin (D) (And I think Sobhani (I) will be second)

Massachusetts: Warren (D)

Michigan: Stabenow (D)

Minnesota: Klobuchar (D)

Mississippi: Wicker (R)

Missouri: McCaskill (D) (Thanks to Todd Akin’s rape comments)

Montana: Rehberg (R) (Much to my chagrin; I heard their debate recently)

Nebraska: Fischer (R)

Nevada: Heller (R)

New Jersey: Menendez (D)

New Mexico: Heinrich (D)

New York: Gillibrand (D)

North Dakota: Berg (R)

Ohio: Brown (D)

Pennsylvania: Casey (D)

Rhode Island: Whitehouse (D)

Tennessee: Corker (R)

Texas: Cruz (R)

Utah: Hatch (R)

Vermont: Sanders (I)

Virginia: Kaine (D) (toughest call to make for me)

Washington: Cantwell (D)

West Virginia: Manchin (D)

Wisconsin: Baldwin (D) (another toss-up)

Wyoming: Barrasso (R)

House: 235 Republicans, 200 Democrats

Another guess. I’m not breaking down 435 elections, but if you couldn’t tell by now, I’m thinking that there’s some breaking toward the Democrats in general as of late, as I’m giving most of the close calls to the left.

I also am a big fan of Nate Silver of www.fivethirtyeight.com. My Senate projections are basically to agree with Silver, which is a cop out in a way, but it’s just because I believe it to be the most complete, best information out there. So I’m trusting it.

I hope everyone enjoys election day. And if you’re going to brag about your predictions on Wednesday, please at least put them in writing by early Tuesday. Otherwise, it doesn’t count.