Blogs

The Campaign in a Nutshell

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 1:27 PM EDT

THE CAMPAIGN IN A NUTSHELL....This picture is a microcosm of the entire campaign. It's totally unfair, it could happen to any of us, it's just an unfortunate trick of timing and angle, but....well, nothing is going right for John McCain this year, is it? The guy is cursed.

Speaking of that, though, here is Jacob Hacker:

We political scientists generally subscribe to the "minimal effects" view of campaigns, in which both sides are savvy enough that their efforts cancel each other out. And this certainly seems like an election in which the fundamentals have swamped any campaign strategies either side has used. But I think it's time to recognize that Obama has done something more profound in this cycle than simply run a smart campaign; he is showing that the old Republican strategy on economic policy of calling for tax cuts and criticizing government, while thowing mud in every other area, has real limits when the other side directly confronts it with arguments for "investment" and more carefully targeted tax policies.

I really think this is off base. Yes, Obama has run a good, disciplined campaign, but I think Jacob was right the first time around: the fundamentals have dominated every step of the way. Sure, Obama's calls for investment might deserve some small credit for his success, but come on: every Democrat has learned to call their spending programs "investments." That's a no-brainer. What's more, this isn't the cornerstone of Obama's economic program anyway. His cornerstone is a platform of huge tax cuts, which he's been publicizing with massive advertising blitzes in every battleground state in the country. Joe the Plumber might not be happy with Obama's plan, but as Obama himself keeps hammering away at, 95% of the country should like it just fine.

Aside from all the other fundamentals pointing to a Democratic victory this year, Obama has been successful mainly because (a) he's fought tax cuts with tax cuts, and (b) the financial crisis has swamped everything else. I would really, really like to think that Obama has found the magic bullet for fighting the tax cut loonies at the Journal and the Club for Growth, but the evidence just doesn't back it up. Unfortunately for the cause of liberalism, he's chosen instead to cave in and fight entirely on their turf. This is almost certainly a tactically wise decision, but it's not something progressives should be very happy about.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Roe v. Wade

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 12:59 PM EDT

ROE v. WADE....I don't want to spend a ton of time rehashing last night's debate, but what did John McCain mean in this exchange about Supreme Court nominees?

Schieffer: But even if it was someone — even someone who had a history of being for abortion rights, you would consider them?

McCain: I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test.

First, he'd consider anyone "in their qualifications." Then he says that support for Roe v. Wade would be a qualification that would cause him to reject a candidate. But then he says there's no litmus test.

What did that mean? Just random incoherence? Or is there some subtlety I'm missing?

Do Debates Determine Election Winners? Only On Likeability

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 12:16 PM EDT

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the American voter can be pretty superficial sometimes, but I still find this disheartening.

Turns out, candidates who "won" past presidential debates didn't always win the elections that followed, but candidates who were found more "likeable" in the debates did. Andrew Romano of Newsweek points to unlikeable put well-prepared debaters who went on to lose in November and then says:

In 1984, Reagan struck voters as about 20 percent more likeable than Mondale. Bush defeated Dukakis largely because he "triumphed in the congeniality competition"--and later lost to Clinton largely because he didn't. After the Oct. 17, 2000 debate, voters rated Bush the more likable candidate, 60-30; four years later, Dubya whipped Kerry 52-41 in the same department. In other words, the candidate who won the debates may not have won the subsequent election--but the candidate who came off as most congenial almost always did.

Romano adds that all of this bodes well for Obama. "According to the CNN poll, viewers found the Illinois Democrat more likeable last night by a margin of 65 to 28 percent--a far larger spread than either Reagan, Bush, Clinton or W. ever enjoyed in similar surveys."

This information does not suggest a direct correlation between likeability in debates and election victories (ie people aren't saying, "He was a nice dude in that debate I remember watching three weeks ago, I'm voting for him."). Instead, it suggests that candidates who know how to appear friendly in the debates, regardless of their command of the issues, also know how to win voters over the course of a campaign.

I don't know why I'm startled by this. We lived through eight years of George W. Bush after all, a man who took the White House because his debate opponent sighed too loudly...

"Comrade Bush"

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 11:50 AM EDT

I know Hugo Chavez likes to get his rocks off by saying a lot of ridiculous things about President Bush, but this comment is pretty funny.

"Bush is to the left of me now," Mr Chavez told an audience of international intellectuals debating the benefits of socialism. "Comrade Bush announced he will buy shares in private banks."

The Final Debate: McCain Attacks, But He's No Longer in Control

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 1:38 AM EDT

A political campaign can be like a rock slide. At some point, it's just going to continue in the direction it's heading--and not much can stop it. After the final debate between Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, it may well be that the 2008 presidential contest has reached not the tipping point, but that rock slide point. This is not a prediction of a pro-Obama avalanche on November 4--though that's a possibility. It's merely an observation that the campaign may be done in the sense that there are no major inputs to come (barring a bolt-from-the-blue event) that will affect the final tally. Polls will show that there are still some undecided voters out there. (Who are these people?) But whatever's going to determine this election--economic concerns, a desire for change, racism, you name it--is probably already in place, and the candidates may not be able to alter this, at least not in a proactive manner. Certainly, at any time, either can turn the race upside down by saying or doing something particularly dopey.

Neither got dopey on Wednesday night. McCain even had his best (or his least unsuccessful) debate performance, but it was no--damn, I hate this cliché--game changer. McCain was more aggressive than in the previous face-offs, and he finally dared to challenge Barack Obama directly on the--drum roll, please--Bill Ayers Question. But there was this: viewers watching McCain's reaction shots during the evening could have easily wondered if the Republican presidential nominee would make it to the finish without his head exploding, for he seemed to be in the midst of an exercise in anger control.

Prior to the debate, there was much chatter about whether McCain would play the Ayers card. Judging from video of his recent rallies, it appeared that his base was demanding blood on this front. But polls indicated that these sorts of attacks have been hurting McCain with in-the-middle voters. So he faced a tough decision: ignore Ayers and upset the diehards or accuse Obama of being a pal of a domestic terrorist and alienate the indies.

McCain and his strategists came up with a hybrid approach: take a shot on the Ayers front and combine it with a traditional political assault. "I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist," McCain huffed, but then he went on to say, "we need to know the full extent of that relationship." Huh? If you don't care about Ayers, why do you care about the relationship? And why repeat the false claim that Obama launched his first political campaign within Ayer's living room?

This was essentially McCain's love letter to the GOP base. ("Now get off my case, okay?") More important, he attached it to his true attack of the night: Obama will raise your taxes. After quickly running through his Ayers index cards, McCain noted, "My campaign is about getting this economy back on track...I'm not going to raise taxes the way Senator Obama wants to raise taxes." In what was probably the last big moment of the campaign before Election Day, McCain offered this meta-argument: Obama is a liberal tax-and-spend Democrat, and I'm a conservative. (He left off the Republican part.)

Forget Joe. Long Live Josephine the Plumber

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 12:51 AM EDT

Just in case two MoJo liveblogs left you wanting even more microscopic coverage of Blinky McCain's excruciating plumber remarks, check out MoJo managing editor Elizabeth Gettelman's and my Tweets on tonight's debate, here and here. It's as off the cuff and detailed as you can get in 144 characters per Tweet (what can I say, we're experimenting with Twitter).

Here's a sample, the rest is on Twitter (first Tweet at the bottom):

LM_MOJO that's it. forget Rosie the Riveter. it's Josephine the Plumber time. #current about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo What about Josephine the Plumber, do you speak for her McCain? about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo Joe the Plumber is no Lilly Ledbetter. about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

LM_MOJO on Roe v Wade: Obama brings the Harvard Law down on McCain about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo McCain doesn't support equal pay for equal work! about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo Abortion a difficult, moral issue. Obama says WOMEN make the decision, not the STATES about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

Advertise on MotherJones.com

See and Hear Joe the Plumber

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 12:47 AM EDT

Here's why John McCain knew about Joe Wurzelbacher, now known to the world as Joe the plumber, in tonight's debate: Joe was interviewed on Fox News Tuesday. He doesn't much care for Barack Obama's tax plan and is already a mini-celebrity on the right-wing blogs. Here's the video:

Debate Miscellany***

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 12:37 AM EDT

DEBATE MISCELLANY....Some miscellaneous notes:

  • On CNN, John King just said "19 days is a long time." Really? Does anyone else think 19 days is really all that long a time?

  • Conventional pundit wisdom seems to accept that a vigorous attack shows strength. But that's not true. Think of all the genuinely strong people you've known in your life. What sets them apart is that they stay calm when other people are attacking. McCain doesn't seem to get this, and neither do the conservatives who were insisting that McCain needed to haul out the heavy artillery tonight. Obama does.

  • From Ezra Klein: "The angry energy showed on McCain's face as clearly as in his answers. CNN, at least, had the split screen, and McCain was grimacing, twitching, blinking, sighing, smirking, eye-rolling. Scores of YouTubers are, as we speak, constructing videos that will be nothing but a three minute collection of McCain's angry tics."

  • Here's a remarkable thought: John McCain was almost certainly the Republican Party's strongest candidate this year. Any of the others would be doing even worse right now. If Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani had won the nomination we'd be heading toward the biggest landslide in half a century.

  • Todd Gitlin asks: "If almost all the postgame pundits thought McCain had a good night; but the snap polls show that overwhelming percentages thought Obama "won"...what does the discrepancy tell you? Either (a) the pundits had some extraordinary insight denied to ordinary benighted Americans, or (b) the pundits' snap judgments are worthless — in fact, a negative indicator."

    Guess #1: Pundits really like fireworks, and they think sharp attacks show strength and vitality. But the public, outside of the hardcore base on both sides, mostly views them as petty and mean. Guess #2: The pundits gave McCain way too much credit for the quality of his attacks. Sure, he delivered them with a sort of crotchety energy, but most of them were actually pretty lame. Guess #3: They all felt sorry for him and were just trying to think of something good to say about him before they declared the race irrevocably over.

Debate Liveblogging - 10.15.2008

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 9:59 PM EDT

DEBATE LIVEBLOGGING....Finally. Our last presidential debate. After the last debate a reader emailed to warn me against being so grumpy, and I'll try. After all, I don't turn 50 for another few days yet. So on with the show!

Wrapup: I know I'm partisan, but McCain seemed completely out of his depth tonight. He was flitting from point to point all night without ever putting together a coherent argument, and then grabbing miscellaneous attacks from the rolodex in his head whenever some bright idea popped into his mind. His energy level was weirdly erratic, tired at times but then suddenly perking up whenever he got annoyed by something and remembered some zinger that he wanted to fire off.

McCain also interrupted a lot, and when he did he seemed clearly upset. That really didn't sound presidential. I'm sure McCain thought he was "scoring points" all evening, but his points were disjointed and often inappropriate. I really don't think this kind of thing goes over well, especially when it's sustained for 90 minutes.

Finally, McCain's facial expressions were truly bizarre. He went from angry to annoyed to smug to laughing to grumpy to grinning and then went through the cycle all over again. It was very, very weird.

As for Obama, he was fine. He didn't break through in any way, but he didn't need to. He held his own and that's probably all he needed.

UPDATE: CNN insta-poll says Obama won the debate 58%-31%. CBS poll of uncommitted voters says Obama won 53%-22%.

In the CNN poll, McCain's unfavorables went up four points after the debate. I'm not surprised. The CNN panel seems to think that McCain showed a lot of "energy," but I just don't think it came across that way most of the time. I think it came across as jumpy, seething, and, yes, erratic. Not good.

10:25 – McCain's plastic grin is totally weirding me out.

10:23 – Now McCain is talking up vouchers. Whew.

10:21 – This is the second time Obama has dissed teachers unions. I guess that's his version of a Sister Souljah moment or something.

10:19 – McCain is promoting charter schools but not vouchers. What kind of conservative does he think he is?

10:17 – I haven't really been watching the audience-o-meter during this debate. I guess I'm already bored with it. But everyone sure loves Obama's education plan!

10:14 – Who is McCain looking at while Obama is talking? He really seems like he's exchanging looks with someone in the audience. It's weird.

10:11 – McCain frequently talks in a sort of code. Obama just mentioned the Ledbetter case, and when McCain's rebuttal came up he very quickly said something about "statute of limitations" and "trial lawyer's dream" and then immediately moved on. But did anyone watching know what he was talking about?

10:09 – Now a strong defense of Roe v. Wade from Obama. Obviously he thinks this is a winning stand.

10:07 – I think McCain just said he'd be willing to nominate a judge who supports Roe v. Wade but then ten seconds later said he wouldn't. But I'm not sure.

10:06 – The average cost of a healthcare plan is $5,800? Maybe for an individual it is, but McCain's $5,000 tax credit is for an entire family. After that misrepresentation McCain then moves on to a spiel about big government big spending you should choose your own plan yada yada yada.

10:05 – Back to Joe the Plumber! Enough!

10:02 – Obama's discussion of McCain's plan started out slow, but improved when he just made a straight comparison of $5,000 and $12,000.

10:00 – McCain is now going on about fines and single-payer. I don't think most people know what he's talking about.

9:58 – Obama's response on healthcare is pretty effective. He told a very coherent story in just a minute or two. McCain, in response, is jumping from one unrelated point to another. It's like a completely random collection of healthcare points lifted in random order from his website.

9:55 – Now McCain jumps from the Colombian trade agreement to Obama wanting to sit down with Hugo Chavez. Then suddenly Obama is Herbert Hoover. I'm suffering from whiplash listening to him

9:51 – McCain is bashing Obama for opposing the Colombian trade agreement. Then he rattles off some stuff about Obama never traveling south of the border and Colombia being our best ally in the war on drugs. This does not strike me as an effective line of attack. Joe the Plumber just doesn't care.

[UPDATE: A friend whose husband is a plumber emails to say that plumbers do indeed care about Colombia. "Chuck says that his local has been diligent about informing the members about the murders of union organizers in Colombia." I stand corrected!]

9:47 – McCain thinks Canadian oil is OK. Good to hear! Then he jumps suddenly to a weird attack related to NAFTA. McCain seems completely unable to mount a coherent statement on a single subject. He just flits from attack to attack.

9:45 – McCain responds with a rambling, irritable attack on Obama for always wanting to increase spending. Lame.

9:43 – Obama managed to turn a question about Sarah Palin into an observation that we should increase spending on autism research but we can't do it if we have an across-the-board spending freeze. Pretty slick.

9:40 – McCain says we need to know the real truth about Bill Ayers but he himself isn't going to bring it up. No sirree. Jeebus. He's really lame at attack politics when he's face to face with Obama.

9:38 – McCain just can't seem to wipe that weird smug smile off his face while Obama is talking.

9:35 – Now McCain suddenly interrupts to say that he doesn't care about Bill Ayers but that Obama should address it anyway. ACORN too. Obama is obviously eager to have this brought up.

9:33 – Obama is now trying to bait McCain into bringing up Bill Ayers. Instead McCain is telling us that the people who come to his rallies are the most patriotic Americans around. Huh?

9:31 – McCain could hardly contain himself while Obama was talking about Congressman Lewis. Looks bad. Looks cranky and angry.

9:27 – Bob Schieffer just practically begged McCain to bring up Bill Ayers. But McCain isn't taking the bait.

9:23 – Obama giving "credit" to McCain for his position on torture, whether it's deserved or not, was a very good debating move. It makes him the alpha monkey at the table.

9:20 – McCain: "We can take a hatchet and a scalpel to the budget." Not only doesn't this make sense, it really, really doesn't make sense.

9:17 – On the other hand, McCain is just incoherent on the subject of program cuts. But then he changes gears and goes full bore for an across-the-board spending freeze. (Though he forgot to say "except for a bunch of stuff I don't want to freeze.") Then he's back to earmarks, including the projector for the planetarium in Chicago. Sheesh.

9:15 – Only 15 minutes in and already Bob Schieffer wants to know what programs we're going to cut since we're headed into a recession. Shades of Herbert Hoover. Unfortunately, Obama appears to be unwilling to fight back against this nonsense.

9:12 – McCain is lying about the corporate tax rate again. And he's doing it with the creepy smile he pastes on whenever he knows he's lying. (For the record: no, we don't have the 2nd highest corporate tax rate in the world. Our official rates are high, but there are so many exemptions in the corporate tax code that the actual rate is about average.)

9:11 – Is "Joe the Plumber" going to be the new "Joe Sixpack"?

9:09 – Now Obama is back to tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. I guess that's politics, but I really hate seeing a liberal campaigning that way.

9:07 – What was with McCain's little eyebrow raise when he mentioned the name "Joe Wurzelbacher"?

9:06 – I've been less than thrilled with the fact that Obama has been campaigning so heavily on tax cuts, and I'm happy to see that although he's still doing it, he's also emphasizing other aspects of his economic plan fairly heavily too. That's the right place to be.

9:04 – Right off the bat, McCain is blaming Fannie and Freddie for the subprime crisis. What a douchebag.

8:59 – CNN has their squiggly lines again, of course, which are designed to measure the reaction of their focus group participants to the debate. But that's not good enough. In 2012 I want 30 volunteers watching the debate from inside an MRI machine to find out what they really think about the candidates.

Debate III: The Live Blog

| Wed Oct. 15, 2008 9:38 PM EDT

Hello internet! Nick and I are back with another liveblog — sadly, it's likely our last until election day. Tonight's key questions:

(1) Does McCain raise Ayers? If so, does he find a way to do it without crippling his reformer image and without making it appear he lacks the necessary focus on the economy?

(2) Will moderator Bob Schieffer ask John McCain about a report that broke this afternoon detailing cell phone towers the McCains had installed at their ranch (free of cost) by telecom companies under McCain's jurisdiction on the Senate Commerce Committee?

(3) Will the Dodgers or the Phillies prevail in sunny Los Angeles? Current score: Phillies 1, Dodgers 0. Ichabod Crane Cole Hamels is on the hill for Philadelphia.

Here we go...

8:58: Chris Matthews, wearing a sweater, is talking about how the candidates can persuade male voters by appealing to men's need to provide for their wives and children. He admits that this is an old-fashioned view of the American family.

9:04: McCain says Americans are hurt and angry. And they want this country to go in a new direction. I think he has to go stronger. I think he needs to break with the last eight years of Republican leadership cleanly and clearly. He adds that the catalyst of the economic crisis was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

9:06: Obama recites the new economic policies he unveiled Monday. You can see them here.

9:08: John McCain somehow knows Barack Obama's plumber friend named Joe, who wants to run a small business. He actually calls the guy "Joe the plumber."

9:10: Now Obama calls this guy "Joe the plumber." Officially the most famous pipe cleaner in America.