Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Actual Differences Between Barack and Hillary

This is a list of every single bill for which there was a difference, including those where only one of the two did not vote. These were taken from merged list of all votes by each candidate as listed by Project Vote Smart.

The first letter represents Hillary's vote, the second represents Obama's, and an X represents 'no vote.'
Y-N - Nov-05 - Tax Reconciliation Bill: Vote to Extend Tax Cuts
Y-N - Aug-06 - Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006: Vote to Expand Oil Drilling in the Gulf

N-Y - Jun-05 - Appoint Thomas B. Griffith, US Circuit Judge
N-Y - Jul-05 - Energy Policy Act of 2005: Vote for Clean/Alternative Energy Policy
N-Y - Jul-06 - USEMA Amendment: Vote to abolish FEMA, replace with USEMA
N-Y - Jul-06 - Firearm Confiscation Prohibition Amendment: Vote to protect right to bear arms in an emergency/disastor
N-Y - Sep-06 - Cluster Munitions Amendment: Vote to prohibit any funding from going to cluster bombs

X-N - Mar-05 - Bankruptcy Reform Bill: Vote to increase the difficulty of claiming bankruptcy
Y-X - Apr-05 - Future Military Funding for Iraq Amendment: Vote for non-binding agreement about how military funds are categorized
Y-X - Jun-05 - Appoint Richard A Griffin, US Circuit Judge
Y-X - May-07 - FDA Drug Import Certification Amendment: Vote for a certification of imported prescription drugs
Y-X - Jun-07 - Attorney General No Confidence Vote: Vote so that a fillibuster can't be used for the vote of no-confidence for Attorney General Gonzales
Y-X - Jul-07 - Sense of the Senate on Guantanamo Bay Detainees: Vote that the Guantanamo detainees not be released on American soil or transferred to American facilities
Y-X - Jul-07 - Student Loan Lender Subsidy Cuts and Student Grants: Vote for various improvements to the student loan regulations (and makes it unlawful to carry out a death sentence on a pregnant woman?)
Y-X - Jul-07 - Department of Homeland Security Appropriations: Vote to confirm budget for Dep't of Homeland Security
Y-X - Jul-07 - REAL ID Funding: Vote to fund the REAL ID project where a national identification card is required for every citizen
N-X - Sep-07 - Expressing Support for General Petraeus and All Members of the Armed Forces: Vote to show support for the armed forces
Y-X - Sep-07 - Expressing the Sense of Congress Regarding Federalism in Iraq: Vote to support the opinion that Iraq work toward a loose federalist state and that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard be considered a terrorist organization
Y-X - Sep-07 - Expressing the Sense of Congress Regarding Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: Vote to support the opinion that the United States should use its military, diplomatic, economic, and intelligence instruments to combat Iranian activities inside Iraq that are designed to destabilize Iraq
Y-X - Oct-07 - Border Fence and Customs Appropriations: Vote to appropriate 3 billion dollars to secure the Mexican border by means of a fence and electronic detection equipment

Bills that Clinton voted on before Obama became a Senator, but has since either expressed or implied disagreement with, or that do not typically represent the actions of a democrat:

Sep-01 - Military Force Authorization Resolution: Vote to allow the President to use force against nations that harbor or aid terrorists
Oct-01 - USA Patriot Act of 2001: "Vote to pass a bill that grants law enforcement more authority to search homes, tap phone lines, and track internet use of those suspected of terrorism for four years."
April-02 - Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) Act: Enhance energy conservation and raise auto mileage standards.
Oct-02 - Use of Military Force Against Iraq: The big one.
Jul-03 - Energy Omnibus Bill: Vote to enhance energy conservation and R&D and allow tax breaks for energy production and conservation
Oct-03 - Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003: Vote to authorize $760 million per year to prevent forest fires and limit judicial reviews of established protection rules.

To sum it up: Don't let the media tell you that there is no difference between the candidates. Many of these bills are quite substantial and the votes in one way or the other, (and sometimes the lack of a vote at all), are extremely telling.

Guiliani Backs McCain, Edwards Pays No Favors

Giuliani backs McCain hoping for a VP slot, Edwards Backs Neither Hoping Not to Burn Bridges

Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards have taken leave of their respective primary races, and each made a smart political decision in their endorsement or the lack thereof. Rudy wholeheartedly handed his voters to McCain, revising his earlier belief wherein the best man in the race was himself.

"John McCain is the most qualified candidate to be the next commander in chief of the United States," Giuliani said.

McCain and Giuliani are longtime friends, and the tip of the hat signaled no hard feelings, and maybe a hopeful ‘see ya later.’ Giuliani, although he made no real indication, may be lining himself up to be the Vice to McCain’s President. It’s not uncommon for primary race winners to choose earlier contenders to run with them, and Giuliani was once considered the inevitable frontrunner for quite some time.

This is pure speculation on the author’s part, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this dignified stepping down with copious blessings to the current leader is little more than a reminder that all of McCain’s other competitors are all sending attack ads and cutting remarks toward the venerable senator. If the grey haired maverick wins the nomination, he’s unlikely to choose his most formidable opponent, (Romney), or someone whose ideology is severely different from his own, (Huckabee). The potential VP field for a not-yet-nominated president is still wide open and full of senators and military veterans cum politicians, but Giuliani and McCain could corner the market on perceived national security. Of course, should Romney take the nomination, Giuliani just screwed that pooch.

Edwards, on the other hand, does not want to show his cards just yet, even if he has folded. He refrained from donating his votes to a specific cause, but wanted to make clear that he didn’t want to play the role of spoiler. Like the nice kid whose asked not to join in kickball because he doesn’t play mean enough, he left with the comment:

"It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path."

Well, he’s not going to get to play kingmaker, but he’s at least not burning any bridges, either. He may not be VP material again (although I think he would be helpful to either of them), but Attorney General would be a nice spot for him. Since he didn’t give his voters a preferred direction, the two remaining candidates will be contending that they deserve his followers, however there doesn’t seem to be a single direction that they will go.

My feeling is that he would prefer that Barack takes the nomination, but in the fairly likely case that he doesn’t, he sure doesn’t want to anger Hill-zilla. This way, he doesn’t make both candidates cater to him for his votes while secretly wishing he would just get out of the pool because kiddy hour is over.

To sum it up: It’s possible that two people simply dropped out of the race, but it’s much more fun to speculate why.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

McCain Wins Delegates Florida, Hillary Wins Scorn.

John McCain has cinched Florida, and thereby batted away the belief that he couldn't capture the hardcore republicans that are common in the state. Guiliani had put all of his chips in this strategic basket, but the bottom of that basket fell through when the republican party found itself in need of someone who could not only lead the party in an acceptable direction, but also had a solid chance at beating the likely opposing candidate, a feat that McCain seems capable of but Guiliani stands a strong chance of failing. Mitt Romney pulled in a close second to McCain, but second may as well be last in Florida since the winner gets all 57 delegates, the most delegates awarded to a republican by any of the contests so far.

Hillary Clinton was also the clear winner in Tuesdays round of voting, however it means much less to her since Barack Obama is still coming off of a strategically crucial win in South Carolina, and since Florida has no delegates to give away. The DNC decision was made when Florida tried to move up their primary to January 29th, a week before the earliest day allowed by the rules: February 5th. Michigan tried the same tactic and was awarded the same punishment, impatience resulting in irrelevance.

The date and the 4 states that skirt the rule (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and S. Carolina) are arbitrary, however a limit must be placed somewhere or else the primaries will simply move farther and farther back in an effort for states to increase their importance in providing pivotal momentum for candidates. Although the candidates signed an agreement last fall promising not to campaign in the states and to stand by the DNC's move to relieve the states of their delegates, Hillary is now challenging the decision, raising concern of her motives.

To sum it up: McCain has the back of the republican party now, and it's likely to carry him through Tsunami Tuesday. It's a good thing for his party, too, since RealClearPolitics has shown him to be the only republican candidate who could handle his own in the ring with either Barack or Hillary. Hillary, on the other hand, needs to watch herself. She's leading the pack as far as delegates go, but she's also riding a fine line with her political game-playing and ranting husband. Barack is also riding high off the fumes of a multi-Kennedy endorsement and is going to be gunning for as many delegates as possible in the chance that it's going to come down to John Edwards trading his delegates like baseball cards in return for political favors.

Parsing through the votes.

When most people say their votes don’t matter, they’re referring to the massive sea of votes that are counted, out of which theirs was but a mere drop. However, the cutthroat tactics of Karl Rove in the 2000 and 2004 election showed that some of our votes do matter very much. In 2000 Florida(and Colorado if you remember what Nader did) got the honor of mattering most, and in 2004 that dilapidated crown went to Ohio.

These emphases on each little vote, though, made our collective stomachs turn a bit since it seemed like the voting field had been minced and parsed until the weakest points were exposed, and then the more cunning candidate would harp on it until he got the needed amount of votes plus one.

This tactic isn’t entirely new, secure what you can, don’t worry about what you can’t, and then pander to the people in the middle. This election year is likely to see similar tactics, but now it has moved into the primaries with frightening vivacity. The republicans showed that they could do it best earlier this decade, but the democrats have apparently taken a page from their playbook, too.

strategist, Mark Penn, is known for his tactic of focusing in on ‘micro-trends’ and ‘micro-issues,’ and then offering a ‘micro-policy’ that could provide a ‘micro-resolution' With Rovian cunning, Mark has the moxy to win the election for the democrats but tear their playing field to bits in the process.

I personally don’t imagine Mark in the same way I do Rove, standing over a map of the country with a deep red marker, crossing off the loyalists that are in their pocket and drawing targets on the poor saps who he’s going to try to sway. However, according to his outlook, massive amount of statistical analysis and a bit of creativity not only highlight the areas subject to change, but how one could go about changing them.

To sum it up: This sort of hyper-analysis is only possible with the massive amounts of information we are now able to collect, and modern supercomputers to dissect it and make it meaningful. The broad access to incomprehensible amounts of information is supposed to disseminate knowledge and level the playing field. In this case, however, it’s allowing for the creation of corporate and political strategies that make us resemble pawns on a chessboard more than ever. I suspect that we’re going to get a whole new meaning to the phrase “each vote matters” in this election. Sure each vote matters, but some votes matter more than others.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Edwards imagines power in his role as Kingmaker

Article after article has tapped a sword on Edwards' shoulders and dubbed him kingmaker, apparently because there is little hope on deciding who will actually be the king. Polls still show Hillary to be well ahead of Obama, but Super Tuesday is a bit of a black box out of which anything could emerge. Hillary shows prominence in the major states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, however the Democratic primaries delegate delegates in a fair and orderly manner, each candidate receiving a number proportional to their winning. This means that the frontrunners will both be gunning for the 2025 delegates necessary to be crowned presidential candidate.

Where does John come in? Well, there are 4,049 delegates to pass around, and Edwards is expected to collect about 10 to 15% of them, or 400-600. This leaves approximately 3,500, which means that one of the two leaders needs to stomp the other by nearly 20% in order to win. The gap between Hillary and Obama is only 10% or so by most polls, which puts John in quite an interesting situation.

Sure, he could step back from the dogfight and do whatever it is candidates do with any unused money they raised. However, a candidate gets to spend their earned delegates how they want once they leave the ring, so why not stick it out and exert the power that he doesn't have a chance at earning as president? Moreover, if he gets to choose, it's almost as good as winning since he's basically securing a spot as vice-president, and this time to someone who could actually win.

To sum it up: The media is somewhat nobly trying to avoid being wrong after Super Tuesday and is refraining from giving a definite answer as to who will walk away with the blessing of the left. It's mainly the fault of the registered voters who have refused to fall in line and stick behind an obviously not-worst choice. Therefore, they are doing the next best thing to calling the race: calling who will call the race. John's making a brilliant move here, but the media is making the equivalent move in their own little game.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The question of Electability

Electability is always a strong consideration in the primaries. The French call the action 'vote utile,’ tactical voting or the useful vote. Don’t vote for the ideal candidate, vote for the candidate who can win. The notion is a little degrading, but wise nonetheless. If you compromise nothing and therefore gain nothing and your measly little protest counted for nothing, well, you may want to re-think your strategy.

To flesh out the strategy in a bit more detail, we aren’t just offering up the person who we think could win. Beyond that, we’re offering up the person who we think could win against the person that we believe the other side will nominate, i.e., the person they chose because they think that nominee could win against our chosen candidate. This presents difficulties since each possible match-up presents a different set of obstacles for either side.

The best defense, of course, would be a candidate that could beat anyone from the other side, but that’s a bit of wishful thinking. Next to that, we just need to deal with what information we have, and make educated guesses. I’m going to provide a few bullet points of information that will hopefully help clarify not who represents you the best, but who you think will have the best chance at representing you at all.

First, the polls. It’s been pointed out in an earlier post that both Hillary and Obama would lose to McCain if tomorrow were November 4th, even though Hillary is stomping Obama in the national democratic polls. However, Hillary creams Romney, the other likely republican choice, as does Barack. Beyond all of this, John Edwards is the only democrat who could beat McCain, but he sits last on the left-hand list.

Ok, enough of polls, let’s discuss the ought-to-be-irrelevant factors that no doubt will play a role here. There’s Obama’s race, McCain’s age, Clinton’s gender, and Romney’s religion. Obama also has an age issue, or rather a lack-of-age issue, which could come back to bite him, but many of the same people who would be considering the weight of the problem also considered it when Kennedy was running, so it could be overcome. In my opinion, not a single one of these should really be relevant when choosing your candidate. The religion issue comes closest to affecting how they will lead as president, but it’s doubtful that we’ll become ‘one nation, under Joseph Smith.'

Finally, there are the issues that matter, that is, the things these candidates have actually done in the past that could stifle their bid for presidency. Romney, besides being the farthest from the center, was by no means an indisputably excellent governor of Massachusetts, but his business acumen as a former CEO and his gift to America (or just Utah?) of saving the 2002 Winter Olympics could win a few hearts and a couple minds. McCain is undeniably a war hawk, but at least he knows what it’s all about and isn’t likely to make whimsical decisions based on bad evidence. He has been known for years as not necessarily a moderate, but someone who isn’t so ideological as to avoid crossing the isle, however he has been drifting farther to the right bank in previous years.

Obama, as everyone has pointed out at some point or another, is said to lack experience, but that claim is a specious one and unlikely to be a truly prohibitive factor due to his public service experience and golden oratory abilities. He’s also the only candidate on stage who didn’t vote for the war, and that could win serious points, unless, that is, you’re one of the Americans who do not believe that we should pull out so soon. Clinton, like McCain, has a strong history of policy, and an undeniable amount of influence in Washington, but she voted for the war and she brings a lot of baggage with her role in the Medicare makeover of 1993. She also highlights the issue of an autocracy since the history books would read Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush, Clinton, (Clinton?). This issue borders on the irrelevant, but it’s certainly not a trend we should be condoning.

To sum it up:Le vote utile’ in this election is not nearly as clear as it has been in previous ones, so I’m encouraging everyone on both sides to vote with their heart. We don’t get a lot of chances with so many honestly decent candidates asking for our support. Whether you personally like them or not, the four contenders left standing all bring something to the table and they’ll all put up a helluva fight. For that reason, screw the electability argument, vote for who you love.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Where do the candidates stand?

Not on actual positions, of course, but rather, where do they stand in rankings? How many delegates have the fierce competitors managed to win in sidewalk games of political marbles? We’ve heard about McCain surging ahead and Obama going neck and neck with Hillary, so where’s the proof in this pudding? Well, here we go:

Romney: 59
Huckabee: 40
McCain: 36
Total Of 1,191 Delegates Needed To Win

Clinton: 236
Obama: 136
Edwards: 50
Total Of 2,025 Delegates Needed To Win

If you think these numbers don’t reflect the pundit predictions and even if they did it’s way too early, then you would be right. I’ll grant that prior primaries have coughed up a clear front-runner long before Super Tuesday, but it’s not the case in this election, so just take a moment to savor the squirming journalists who have to come to grips with uncertainty.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

We promise to get the prediction right this time with Nevada, Trust us!

Oh, we've heard it before, and now we're hearing it again. With the bare minimum of polling and reporting precincts possible, Romney has been called to win Nevada and has already accepted the gracious outcome as fact. Why, I ask, do we feel compelled to know who 'won' before the results are in. No one likes a movie spoiler. No one likes the know-it-all who tries to give an answer before the question has been fully asked. Hell, I'll throw my book at a person who tries to give it's ending away.

This time, however, we're hearing it from the Associated Press. AP, you're such a respected and beloved source, why must you get into this? You were supposed to stand blandly aside, just giving us the facts, after they have transformed from prediction. It almost doesn't even matter if they are correct or not. The AP was calling the win with only a handful of the 1,789 precincts reporting and a few 'entrance poll' results (they couldn't even wait until the exited?). Is the temporary bump in readership really worth the possible humiliation and indignity that is risked? No one benefits from the early call, and I for one, prefer to watch the results as they develop.

If you would also like to watch for yourself how this state pans out, visit the Nevada GOP results live-monitoring page.

What Does A Close Race Do For Democracy?

With no definitive leader coming into the Nevada and South Carolina primaries, it almost brings a tear to the eye of we lovers of democracy. Citizens are more mobilized than ever, and people are getting out there and rocking the vote. Many experts are saying that this race could not only go through Tsunami Tuesday (formerly known as Super Duper Tuesday {formerly known as Tuesday}), but even all the way up to the last states to cast their vote (this could be your year, South Dakota!). These displays of passion and strongly held opinions are strengthening our decrepit system, awakening the apathetic, and providing meaning and legitimacy for the candidate who prevails.

On the other hand, do close races not dilute the effects of democracy? Since we have a winner takes all system, would we not prefer a leader who is able to rouse the vast majority of our spirits? The national elections have been decided by a few percentage points on either side for years now. 50.7% of voters stated their collective desire, and so their choice gets to rule over the remaining 49.3%. There are more fluctuating probabilities in a coin toss competition. I would actually be willing to bet that if everyone who voted also flipped a coin and wrote down that result on their ballot, the results of Senator Heads versus ex-Governor Tails would be more decisive.

Taken back a level, if we have two primary candidates, and one of them takes the sponsored candidacy by getting 51% of the registered democratic votes, and then goes on to take the national vote by 51%, then we've elected the first choice of no more than 25% of our people. Add on to that the fact that only about 50-60% of potential voters actually will roll out of bed and make it to the polls, we're left with a commander in chief who was preferred by about 15% of the population.

What's nice about the primaries is that it's not terribly likely to happen in that way. Since factors like momentum and a perceived ability to win it all play such a big role, it's expected that the final choice will have pulled away from their next closest competitor by a respectable margin. This is made even more likely when you consider the role of SuperDelegates. These mere mortals endowed with demi-god powers are a group of people whose opinion is counted as the equivalent of hundreds of people. They are given this awesome power by being heavily involved with the election process well before it got cool, and therefore they are believed to know what the candidates were like before they got all famous and sold out. Each state has a certain number of delegates to hand out based on population (rather than turnout), but the vote of each of these SuperDelegates is equivalent to one of the delegates. Since they are presumably less swayed by the ever-changing political winds when the primaries fan is on high, their steadfast vote based on sound evidence will often nudge one candidate to their cushioned victory.

To sum it up: The current symmetrical divide in this country that rears it's head once every four years seems to lead to a result that, were it a poll, would be considered statistically insignificant. We have figured out a way in our primaries to lessen the chance of having to blindfold ourselves and pin a tail on one of the donkeys, so how can we apply this lesson to the national election? After all, almost every state considers the number the delegates and SuperDelegates (it can differ for republican and democratic primaries) so why not apply this method to the national election?

Having a national pool of 'trusted experts' who could have a heavy say in the result of a national election may sound like a plea for corruption, however, if we choose respected community leaders, elected officials, and intellectual giants, then we might be able to actually do something good with this. They wouldn't be in charge of the entire vote, but when there is a statistical tie, wouldn't we prefer to have the final push for a solresult be decided by people who know what they are talking about? Too many of us admit that we aren't fully educated about all or even our preferred candidate, so why not leave the tie-breaker to the people who make it their job to know what these people are about? Let's make a deal, if we all shout it out and still can't come up with something better than 50/50, we'll call the revered professors, the respected journalists, and the people who know a thing or two about these people on the stage, into the room and let their votes weigh a little heavier. If it's still a near-even split, then it won't matter which one we choose so we might as well choose the one who got a little more rather than a little less.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Who Would Weather Vote For?

Apparently John McCain, according to a Balitmore Sun article:

"One wild card that could influence the [South Carolina] outcome on Saturday: Forecasts call for bad weather statewide, and especially in the "upstate" portions of the Piedmont plateau, where social and religious conservatives are concentrated. That could work to McCain's advantage, his supporters say."

With so many superfluous factors influencing opinions, I'm going to add this to my list of people who shouldn't be allowed to vote. If such a decisive state is going to be swung one way or the other literally by the direction of the wind, then I'm fairly sure that we should lose all faith in those peoples political beliefs.

The Magic of Polls

The most recent polls still show Hillary beating Barack pretty handily if we all had to vote for a democratic candidate today. They also show McCain stomping Huckabee and the rest of the gang if we had to pick a favorite republican out of the barrel. Therefore, one would think that if you pit McCain against Hillary and then have him square up against Barack, then Hillary would have a better chance than Barack, right? Moreover, they way the republicans have been acting, either of the lefties would smack ole' McCain around like a disobedient dog, would she not?

Wrong, on both points. Polls show that McCain would win either competition. Here's the magic part, though: Barack would stand a better chance against McCain than Hillary would. Tack onto that the 'fact' that Barack and Hillary would get the same percent of voters according to the RealClearPolitics numbers: 44.5%.

How can this happen, you ask? Let's put it in terms of elementary level math. Hillary is taller than Barack. John is taller than Hillary. If John were standing in the middle of Hillary and Barack, who would have a smaller difference in height, Hillary or Barack?

Answer: Barack, because Hillary would stand about the same height when next to John, but Barack would snatch John's step stool of independent voters. In this way, Barack gets taller and John gets shorter and America gets to keep a male as president.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

It's almost over?

In order to maintain some perspective on this primary race, it is worthwhile to note where we are actually standing as we come into South Carolina.

First, we’ve only completed two states that matter for each side (Republicans were more concerned about New Hampshire and Michigan than Iowa, Democrats about Iowa and New Hampshire over Michigan), three states that the media has cared about (combine above list), and four states total to have voted (Wyoming, we hardly knew ye).

And yet, out of all of that activity, after waiting all this time, we still don’t have a clear front-runner. Four states that clearly are the lifeblood of all 300,000,000 of us have not been able to give a resounding answer to who the rest of us should fall in line and vote for.

"This the definition of a hard-fought race," pollster John Zogby said.

In comparison to an easy-fought race, which I presume would be something like an incumbent waiting to be re-elected, this three way tie for the dems and four way tie for the ‘pubs is like the race to the World Series: politician edition. Every news outlet has been burned at least once this election, if not multiple times, and yet they keep trying to convince us that it’s okay if they put their hand on the stove because it’s no longer hot. And we allow them, even believe that it’s cooled down a little bit. The public gets a sick pleasure from the media being dead wrong in their evaluations and predictions, we feel righteous in our indignation over their audacity. We assume that they are right but want them to be wrong.

I will grant them that South Carolina will be an important state on either side, but they want to coat each step with a layer of finality. If they can’t predict which politician will jump ahead, they’ll try picking which state is the final nail in the coffin. That way, they can look back and say, “see, we knew it all along.” With arguments full of neglected holes and statistics riddled with mathematical errors, they convince us that they know just what’s going on. Apparently, the last five primary decisions in South Carolina have resulted in a winner who just so happened to be the nation’s choice as well. However, looking at the story behind each of those decisions reveals that it started with Regan and each subsequent candidate has been some sort of mini- or quasi-Regan. Even if five calls in a row meant that South Carolina had some sort of mystical predictive power that allows them to foreshadow the Republican candidate for president, it apparently rubs off by the time they vote for the actual president.

To sum it up: What are we actually asking for from the media? Do we want this play by play of a large scale game of chinese checkers, or do we really want to know and pin down what these candidates stand for based on their voting history and what they have said in the past. Thank god for the Associated Press, if nothing else, for really digging into our candidates records. You know you’re reading from a good source when their comment on the status of the race so far is:
THE DEMOCRATS: The top Democratic candidates — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards — campaign in Nevada. Obama heads later in the day to an economic roundtable in Van Nuys, Calif.
THE REPUBLICANS: Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Fred Thompson campaign in South Carolina. Rudy Giuliani campaigns in Florida.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Voter Donations - Good to the Last Drop

It's no secret that presidential campaigns have long been funded in the back hallways, behind closed doors, over $2,000 dinners. The candidate best able to rub elbows with generous donors is the one who has what it takes to get into the Office, and all the money they've made along the way will help buy the votes of the populous. We, the people, complain about Washington fat cats and the slimy lobbyists that feed them a calorie-rich supply of cash, but their win seems inevitable so long as they have all that money behind them.

The internet, it seems, is beginning to turn that notion on its head. If a candidate can't fleece the rich white men of this country in order to run their campaign, then he'll just turn to the people who will actually be voting for him. Yes, I know that it's no longer definitely just a 'he' that solicits the voters, but it is in this case. Barack Obama has done an amazing job at nickel and diming his supports to the second best-funded campaign on the ballot. He has twice as many under $200 donors as any other candidate, and often it's thrice as many or more.

What does this mean? Well, it means the funding is coming straight from the source, and that the phrase "vote with your dollar" has become that much more poignant. It also means that campaigns are taking a tip from modern business practices, namely, going after the long tail. This strategy consists partly of high-volume/low cost-per-return gains, where the organization exploits a massive participating population combined with a heretofore unseen ability to reach them. The open invite to take part, however, can result in a scattered and difficult to maintain user base. It's a little more risky when you

Candidates are using every method they can dream up to extend that beloved email list, and then bombarding it with rousing updates coupled with personal, desperate pleas for just a little more scratch. Kerry's recent endorsement of Obama may have been great fodder for late-night talk show hosts, but the fact is that it comes packaged with a long email list of people who have found politics a worthy cause at some point or another. Obama will assuredly take full advantage of the fresh new wells to pump. Even it comes drop by drop, sheer volume will help make that trickle into a respectable stream.

To sum it up: If Obama takes it this November, it could be a revolution for civic duty. Normal people may feel like their actions and their votes matter. In the end, it could be that the inexperienced Illinois senator may not be as good for this country as the well connected former First Lady. However, if the questionably effective capitalist tactic that flung him into the limelight results in the empowerment of the American public, then I'll take it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Forcing your vote to matter

It's not a stretch of the imagination to think that the whole presidential race is just a matter of numbers. Dollars and polls, nothing more. More dollars means better polls. Better polls means more dollars. With the strategies of major players exposed to analysis like a Risk board waiting for the game to resume the next night, you console yourself by arguing that the game is not over before it's begun. That blasted human element comes in handy at unexpected times, and despite clear examples where certain candidates, or at least their future deputy chief of staff, whittle an election down to the last little districts, there is still the possibility that we can resist the pull of the statistically inevitable, even if just a little. We can do so by playing our own strategy in response.

Two wrongs make a right-wing attack ad

John McCain. Tireless, bedraggled, poor ‘ole McCain. He was supposed to be the one taking the high road. He knew all too well the disgusting tone that attack ads bring to the political cacophony from his experience in 2000 when then aspiring evil-political-mastermind Karl Rove posed a hypothetical question that left South Carolinians wanting to lynch the venerable senator. He was supposed to be above that, staring stoically into the wind from the conductor’s seat in the Straight Talk Express. It may be true that his excrement, in fact, does not smell like roses, however we must give some credit to the undoubtedly most moderate candidate on the republican primary ballot. He is a man of (seeming) integrity and (partial) honor, and he, of all people, would not stoop to using attack ads, at least certainly not in the primaries.

We were mistaken, it seems, since it has come out that his campaign released it’s very own attack ad LINK, replete with out of context, sloppily researched statistics about his main opponent, Mitt Romney. Mitt’s campaign has had no shortage of turds LINK flung from it’s monkey hand, but our public is over political attack ads, aren’t they? They’re tired of hearing about the bad things that other candidates may or may not have done in the past, they want to know what this candidate is going to do now, right?

Leaving that painfully moot rhetorical question aside, I love the details of this showing of poor taste. The letter was nowhere near as harsh as some of Mitt’s attacks LINK on McCain. McCain, however, feeling a little guilty (he’s obviously not a politician at heart), tried to justify and excuse the malicious mass mailing.

"The McCain campaign says that the contrast piece is accurate and fair in light of Romney's use of negative ads against their candidate throughout the primary season. 'We've been attacked enough times by Mitt Romney to justify getting out front to set the record straight,' said McCain spokesman" [source]

Earlier that week, McCain had formed a league of superheroes known as the Truth Squad, whose mission is to defend the honorable moniker of John McCain. Much like our current president, Senator McCain apparently believes that the defense against possible attacks includes preemptive strikes on those who may possibly be attacking.

As an aside, I don't want to leave the delightful dems out of this. Barack and and Hillary have been playing badminton with allegedly racist comments for the past few days. Attack ads are as common to Hillary as lead in Chinese toys but many were a surprised and quite frankly a little disappointed in our beloved Barack when his campaign went on the offensively defense regarding the twisted statement. He, like McCain, had the dignity to feel undignified and openly apologized for the nasty remarks he had been trading with Mrs. Hillary.

You have to wonder if these two are just diving into the ongoing barroom brawl only to jump back out with a little dirt on them and excusing ourselves to our humiliated girlfriend. In one fell swoop they were able to show their authority and conviction, be absolved of the abomination, and make those still throwing punches look even worse.

To sum it up: Much like every other presidential race in recent history, this one will have no shortage of attack ads. One difference this time, however, is the use of the meta-attack. Indirectly attacking the opponent by attacking one's own use of attack ads. If we can't vote for someone who refuses to use the demeaning tactic, I guess we should at least vote for the one who uses them with remorse.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Is Hilllary Racist? Was Hillary Dismissing MLK?

The answer is no, you flipping idiot. The media has been in a tussle over this race card, jumping on whatever they can to get someone to play it, and they finally got what they wanted with a quote from Hillary that could act as a spark.

>Political Punch (January 7): "Said Clinton, 'Dr King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done.'"

This does not mean that Hillary thinks Dr. King's work was fruitless. This does not mean that Hillary believes that Obama would be impotent in the White House because he is black. If you have honestly even slightly bought into the ridiculous notion that this woman whose husband is loved by the black community and who is a viable candidate for presidency of the United States is racist, then you should simply be denied the right to vote (just one qualification on a long list of people who shouldn't be allowed to participate, in my not-so-humble opinion). Does anyone really think that a politician could make it is far as they have in today's p.c. world and become an extremely likely next President if they were racist? Granted, Ron Paul has had his issues in the past, but chances are he wouldn't do anything outwardly racist if he were in office (and are we really going to go so far as to say he's a viable candidate?).

Well, founder of B.E.T. and "billionaire Clinton backer Bob Johnson," agreed with that general argument (though not in so many words) according to a FOX News article, an organization which is, as we all know, a bastion of fair and balanced truth. "'I think that’s taking it way too far,' he said while campaigning with Clinton in South Carolina. 'I think Barack understands clearly what the senator was saying.'” Even if the Clinton advocate turned out to be a patsy of the Republican Party, Mrs. Clinton, or FOX News itself (all of whom seem to have it out for Barack), I'd still be glad someone is pointing out that this is a worthless claim to belabor.

Let's drop this non-issue and talk about something with substance. For example, the fact that Barack's Economic Stimulus plan would include "an immediate $250 tax credit to workers that could double if the economy worsens," among other components, while Hillary has proposed her own plan that I would argue is more realistic and effective.

To Sum It Up: If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck... Any argument that involves a claim that doesn't seem to make any effing sense if it were interpreted in a certain way, probably shouldn't be interpreted in said way. Instead, let's turn away from over-simplified arguments and irrational claims this political season. Let's look at important issues and actual beliefs that our candidates hold.

The Night of the Living Hillary

National Ledger - Hillary Clinton Campaign Back From the Dead (Jan 9, 2008): "The Hillary Clinton campaign was supposed to be dead this morning, figuratively speaking that is. According to nearly all political wizards, the Hillary campaign was destined to be over and mowed down by the Barack Obama campaign juggernaut in the hinterlands of New Hampshire... Down by double digits in polls just a day earlier, Hillary was able to parlay a flood of tears and sobs into a stunning upset victory over the inexperienced, but (as Joe Biden would say) the "clean and articulate," senator from Illinois. Pundits were thus sent scrambling for answers to this post-Christmas miracle."

Watching a story like this develop from the beginning was a painfully clear example of how the media influences the decisions of the public. First, they were just coming off a wave of accusations that Hillary's campaign, the most well-funded one on the Democratic side I might add, was over after Iowa. Give up, folks, she lost the first of 50 primary races in a non-representative sample of the country, she may as well stop trying. In just four years, we have gone from calling the results of crucial states too early, and therefore getting it plainly wrong out of nothing but childish impatience and a 'me first' reporting style, to calling the results of an entire primaries battle based on the non-final opinion of less than 250,000 people whose judgment I wouldn't trust anyway.

From there, stories abounded of Obama's unforseen (really? I always thought he was a viable contender), absolutely unstoppable momentum and Hillary's demise. Barack dominated the New Hampshire polls, his words were treated like gold, young girls swooned as he got off airplanes. Then came the waterworks. As drops of pure emotion fell down Hillary's cheeks, the women of America (or at least New Hampshire) had a collective bonding moment and decided to stand with solidarity with this generation's equivalent of Rosie the Riveter. Their points of disagreement, their distrust of a heavily embedded politician, their yearning desire for someone fresh and inspiring (the reasons they were intending on voting for Obama in the first place), all were put to the side as they held hands in a strength circle and nudged Hil (as they now call her) to victory.

The news outlets were so prescient in their coverage of this event. They claimed that even though it was a barely a day and a half before the vote took place, that this could turn the unturnable tide and get this struggling candidate back in the game. Day and night they showed the image and retold the humanizing tale to emphasize how this could be the moment that changes everything. This could be the pivotal point that brings her "back from the dead." Lo and behold, the votes come in and while Barack got the 37% he was predicted to receive in the now worthless poll projections, Hillary had jumped 9 points to receive the blessing of a state that only weeks before had been considered in the bag, and had slipped out of her grasp for an excruciating 5 days.

"Did the the tears win the people back?" some journalists asked.

"This was obviously a ploy," certain pundits demanded.

"The polls said that Barack was clearly in the lead, Hillary cried, and then Hillary won. The event was undoubtedly staged and is clearly the cause for the win," an imaginary commentator was quoted as saying.

* * *

The problem with the entire situation is that every source was inundated with an overstated, and often false claim. Namely, that Hillary Clinton was bawling at that diner. However, because the aforementioned claim was spouted from any reporter who wanted to keep his damn job, people believed the statement even if they wouldn't have come to that conclusion by watching the video on their own. She didn't cry, she got slightly choked up. Granted, it was a show of some emotion, but a mere whimper doesn't qualify you as a particularly emotive person. If that widely-held opinion could be swayed that easily, then it certainly shouldn't have been something that determined their vote so vehemently in the first place.

Most people report that their opinions are not shaped by the news. Rather, they believe that they take in bits of information from numerous sources and come to their own conclusion. Psychological studies have indicated in more than one instance, however, that a person may perceive an opinion to be more widespread if the claim is repeated often, and that an opinion that is believed to be widespread is more likely to be considered true.

Therefore if the major media outlets incessantly repeat that Hillary's tears [sic] will influence the vote in New Hampshire, and if one believes that many understand the purported event to be an acceptable reason to sway their vote, and if the actual conclusion is that the vote was swayed to Hillary, then the reporting of the event should be considered a main definable cause for that sway.

The counter-argument is that you can't be sure that it was Hillary's sniffles that swung it over. Well, I suggest you look at the video yourself and determine if it warranted the massive, simultaneous change of heart.

To Sum It Up: Barack's final percentage was 37%, the same number in pre-election polls that show him winning as was in post-election results that proved him lost. Hillary was predicted to win New Hampshire for weeks before the Iowa caucuses, so the actual results could, in a way, be seen as a correction of the overblown impact of Barack's win.

Hillary got about the same results as pre-Iowa polls predicted. Barack got the more than pre-Iowa polls predicted, but the same as pre-New Hampshire polls predicted.

Conclusion: All Iowa served to do was boost Obama's popularity at John Edward's expense, while Hillary remained scathed but relatively stable.

Into the Political Maelstrom

I have resisted the call of the current events for almost a year now. I cut out the addicting news feeds and constant background of publicly funded radio stations with something near vengeance. The stream of brief details on the ever-eroding decency and goodness of society was starting to make me sick. I developed TMJ at the age of 24, and I wasn't even living in DC, nor did I have anything to do with politics. It was as if the world were on an ever so-slightly downward slope, but since things were also constantly on the rise, everything remained balanced yet still made you queasy.

The state of things in our nation had left me feeling empty and isolated. Surrounding myself with reminders of that had worn down my resistance to apathy and cynicism. I saw my opportunity to pull myself away from it all, to leave it behind for a while and pretend I didn't care, so I took it. I stopped listening to the radio. I stopped reading news articles. I even stopped asking the guy at the pizza shop to change it to CNN for five minutes while I waited for my slice to be heated. I could sleep again.

Then came the primaries.

I didn't just rush back into the thick of it. Media outlets had been covering the 2008 election since November 3rd, 2004, so I didn't exactly feel like I had been missing something. I would come across a few words here or there about how the pre-pre-announcement potential candidates were doing and that finger in the pool was enough to satisfy. A few articles seeped in as the end of 2007 approached. I left for a couple weeks over the holidays, and by the time I was back, the winds had picked up. I could no longer resist. If there was one thing that could drag me back into the fray, it was election season. So back I go, into the Political Maelstrom.