Viva Obama

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 1:43 AM EST

VIVA OBAMA....Great moments from the annals of debate prep:

For the second debate, a town-hall format, Obama was told to be careful to hold the mike by his side — not straight up in his lap — when he sat down. The same instructions had been given to John Kerry four years ago. It wasn't hard to persuade the candidates to mind the advice, said an aide; all you had to do was show them a video.

Roger that.

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Raw Data

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 8:03 PM EST

RAW DATA....Via Steve Benen, Steve Waldman says that Obama has shrunk the God gap:

Obama got 43% of weekly church-goers vs. 55% for McCain. In 2004, Bush got 61% vs. 39% for Kerry. What this means is that Bush beat Kerry by roughly 27 million among weekly churchgoers, and McCain beat Obama by only 15 million — a stunning 12 million person shift.

Hold on a second. I made a pain in the ass of myself over this subject in 2004, and I'm going to do the same thing this year.

First things first. In 2004, Kerry lost to Bush nationwide by 2.4 percentage points. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by 6.3 percentage points. That's a swing of about 9 points nationwide, which means that any group that also swung by 9 points in Obama's favor was doing nothing except following the national trend.

So how about those churchgoers? They went from -22 for Kerry to -12 for Obama. That's a swing of ten points, almost identical to the nationwide swing in Obama's favor. Weekly churchgoers just didn't do anything unusual, which means there's no reason to think that Obama did anything special to appeal to them. More than likely, they voted for him in larger numbers this year for the same reason as everyone else: they were tired of Bush, tired of Republicans, and trusted Obama more in tough economic times. There's really no justification for a special narrative to explain those 12 million extra voters.

But as long as we're on the subject, which groups did Obama do especially well with? That is, which groups did he swing by margins substantially more than 9 points? Based on the 2004 and 2008 exit polls, here are the groups that swung in disproportionate numbers this year:

  • Income $200,000 or more (+34)

  • First-time voters (+33)

  • No high school (+27)

  • Latinos (+27)

  • 18-29 year olds (+25)

  • Under $15,000 (+21)

  • Full-time workers (+19)

  • Urban (+19)

  • Non-gun owners (+18)

  • Non-religious (+16)

  • Parents with children under 18 (+16)

The swing in first-time voters (which overlaps heavily with 18-29 year olds) and Latinos was especially stunning. Also worth noting, just because they're such obvious swing groups, are Obama's large gains among moderates (+12) and the unmarried (+14).

And which groups did Obama do substantially worse with than his overall national trend? Here they are:

  • Gay/lesbian (-11)

  • Last minute voters (-8)

  • Union members (0)

  • "Other" religions (0)

  • Gun owners (+2)

  • White women (+4)

  • 45-59 year olds (+4)

Gays and last-minute deciders are the only groups where Obama performed worse than Kerry. The other five are groups where he did better than Kerry, but not by as much as he did with the country as a whole.

I don't have any special narratives or analysis to offer for any of this. Maybe later. For now, it's just raw data for your noodling pleasure.

The Hidden Cameras' Anti-Marriage Sentiments Way Ahead of Their Time

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 7:07 PM EST

mojo-photo-hiddencameras.jpgLike Jonathan, I'm profoundly disappointed about the apparent passage of California's Proposition 8. While he managed to look to the future, reminding us that this is a battle we'll eventually win, I'm ticked off right now, sick of having nuptials dangled in our face only to be snatched away again, pissed off that people get to vote on this. My fellow angry queers and sympathetic straights are already proposing a radical solution: ban marriage entirely. That seems like a fine idea to me--plus, if the movement takes off, we'll have a theme song all ready to go! Back in 2003, Canadian combo The Hidden Cameras released a wildly underappreciated album called The Smell of Our Own. The music was a celebratory cross between the Polyphonic Spree, the Magnetic Fields, and Neutral Milk Hotel, but lyrically, they crossed even more boundaries, refusing to hide their sexuality behind coy double-entendres or bland generalities. The song "Ban Marriage" whips the musicians into an uptempo frenzy, but the lyrics are complex, with the protagonist's wedding to another man disrupted by cries "to let coupledom die." Is it an anti-assimilation tirade in defense of promiscuity, a dream of equality, or an expression of hopeless isolation? Whatever it really means, it's great, and its joyous three-chord pattern is helping calm my fury. But you breeders aren't getting any more wedding presents from me until we get this shit worked out, I'll tell you that right now.

Video of a live show after the jump.

Kevin Drum Smackdown Watch

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 7:05 PM EST

KEVIN DRUM SMACKDOWN WATCH....Felix Salmon says we shouldn't be demonizing credit default swaps as the source of our recent financial turbulence. Earlier this morning I said I wasn't so sure about that. Today Salmon responds, and he starts out strong:

Add Kevin Drum to those who think that a bit of CDS demonization is not such a bad thing at all. Unfortunately, he's a bit shaky on the facts....

Sigh. Story of my life when it comes to the credit crisis. Salmon's response is too long to excerpt, so click the link and read it. I find it disturbingly persuasive, especially this part, which is something I've been wondering about too:

It's not surprising that CDS desks haven't lost a lot of money, because CDS, like all derivatives, are a zero-sum game.

Well, yeah, what about that? Mortgage losses are absolute: if a homeowner defaults, then the noteholder loses a lot of money and nobody else makes any. But derivative trades always have two sides, so if banks have lost jillions of dollars on derivative speculation then there ought to be a whole lot of people licking their chops right now in anticipation jillions of dollars in gains. But as Salmon says, that doesn't seem to be the case. So maybe that means there aren't a lot of losses?

So....I dunno. As always, it bugs the hell out of me that there's so much disagreement even about things that strike a layman like me as fairly basic. I mean, recently the Minneapolis Fed published a paper saying that the credit markets were actually in fine shape, and a few days later the Boston Fed published a paper saying they were all wet. Hell's bells. A bunch of Fed economists can't even agree on something as basic as whether credit is contracting? WTF?

In the same way, I guess we really don't know how big the losses have been in derivative speculation related to the subprime crash — which, of course, isn't a bad argument for making derivative trades a little more transparent in the first place. In the meantime, though, I'd sure like to hear some other experts respond to Salmon's points about the CDS market. His arguments seem well formed to me, but then, if I was wrong once I could be wrong again, couldn't I? Are there any finance gurus out there to dive into this?

Video Roundup: M.I.A., R.E.M., Coldcut, Daniel Owino Misiani

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 3:55 PM EST


M.I.A. featuring Blaqstarr – "S.U.S. (Save UR Soul)"

First up, via Boing Boing comes this homemade clip produced and directed by the apparently-now-big-as-a-house M.I.A., made to accompany her and Blaqstarr's cover of Tom Waits' "Way Down In the Hole," the theme song to HBO's The Wire. Even though it uses the simplest of plug-and-play B-more beats and a single, ominous chord repeated over and over, it's got that old M.I.A. magic.

R.E.M. – "I Believe" (Live in Santiago)

If you couldn't be at the election night celebration in Grant Park, perhaps the second most fun place to be would have been an R.E.M. concert in Santiago, and Stereogum's got the video. The band's manager came out on stage with his laptop displaying the Huffington Post and announced the big news, and then Stipe and crew launched into "I Believe." Pretty cool.

Social Conservatism

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 3:40 PM EST

SOCIAL CONSERVATISM....David Frum on the future of the Republican Party:

Since 1988, Democrats have become more conservative on economics — and Republicans more conservative on social issues. College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats — but that their values are under threat from Republicans. There are more and more college-educated voters.

So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? This will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. It will involve even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarising on social issues.

Greg Mankiw on why McCain lost the youth vote:

Recent conversations I have had with some Harvard undergrads have led me to a conjecture: It was largely noneconomic issues. These particular students told me they preferred the lower tax, more limited government, freer trade views of McCain, but they were voting for Obama on the basis of foreign policy and especially social issues like abortion. The choice of a social conservative like Palin as veep really turned them off McCain.

Ross Douthat is right to warn that Mankiw's students are hardly a representative sample, but I'll bet he's basically correct anyway. Four years ago the big post-election meme was a warning that Democrats needed to get more socially conservative, but that didn't happen and they won anyway. Social liberalism is actually (surprise!) pretty popular.

On the other hand, there's certainly a place in America for an economically conservative party. Republicans have gone overboard on this during the past decade, but they might be able to get by with only a modest course correction on this score. The financial meltdown won't last forever, after all. On social issues, though, they're doomed if they continue to hitch their future to the hard edged conservatism of their evangelical base. They've mostly won the battle on guns, but on issues like abortion, stem cells, gay rights, immigration, and the environment (which most people view as a lifestyle issue, not an economic issue) I don't see how they survive if they don't moderate their positions fairly dramatically. The GOP is in danger of permanently losing an entire cohort of the electorate if they continue to be perceived as a party in thrall to xenophobes, bluenoses, and tent revival preachers. They created James Dobson; now they need to tame him.

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Reform Groups Call On Obama To Change Campaign Finance Laws

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 3:29 PM EST

Barack Obama has only been President-elect for 36 hours, but seven major government reform groups are already making demands. In a joint press release Thursday morning, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and US PIRG set out a "government integrity reform" agenda for the next Congress. And the groups are using Obama's own words to convince him to adopt their plans, pointing out that Obama campaigned on a promise to "fix Washington." Fixing Washington, they argue, means fixing campaign finance.

The reform groups are calling on Obama to repair the existing presidential public financing system and create a new public financing regimen for congress. But there's one problem: Obama's campaign is largely responsible for the presidential public financing system's collapse. Obama, who initially promised to "pursue an agreement" to opt in to the public financing system, instead became the first candidate to turn down public financing for the general election. That decision allowed Obama to dramatically outraise and outspend John McCain, his Republican opponent. McCain was limited to $84 million in public financing during the general election campaign, while Obama raised over $150 million in September alone. The day after the election, McCain aides cited Obama's spending advantage as one reason their man lost. But Obama did promise to fix the system. "I am firmly committed to reforming the system as president, so that it's viable in today's campaign climate," he said this summer. The reformers are now pushing Obama to make good on that vow.

Does John Boehner Have a Point about Rahm Emanuel?

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 3:22 PM EST

Does Republican Representative John Boehner, the in-the-dumps House minority leader, have a point when he criticizes President-elect Barack Obama for tapping Democratic Representative Rahm Emanuel to be his White House chief of staff? Boehner says:

This is an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center.

Boehner misunderstood--or is now, for political gain, misrepresenting--Obama's call for cooperation and productivity in Washington as a vow to govern from the center. The policy proposals Obama presented during the campaign were mostly progressive. Hey, doesn't Boehner remember that Obama was blasted as an anti-American liberal and socialist by Boehner's fellow GOPers? They didn't seem to believe he was going to govern from the center.

Despite the isn't-he-supposed-to-be-a-centrist spin, Boehner is not incorrect in noting that Emanuel is not known as a nonpartisan agent of change in Washington. As the leading fundraiser for Democrats in the House in the 2006 election, Emanuel, a fierce partisan, did do much to change Washington by winning the House back for the Democrats. But he's a walking advertisement for how Washington does business (see here and here)--as is the less-successful Boehner.

By selecting Emanuel as first big appointment, Obama teed up the this-ain't-really-change ball for Boehner. And Boehner whacked it down the fairway. On Friday, Obama is slated to hold a meeting with his top economic advisers. The speculation is that afterward he may have something to say about other appointments. Obama believers ought to hope he doesn't again make it easy for Boehner.

The Great Persuader....Part 2

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 2:54 PM EST

THE GREAT PERSUADER....PART 2....Yesterday I argued that although Barack Obama had campaigned on a platform of "change," he hadn't really campaigned on a platform of specifically progressive change — and because of this, he might have missed a chance to really move public opinion in a liberal direction. As an example, I suggested that the public face of his economic policy "was almost entirely based on tax cuts, a distinctly conservative notion."

Over at RBC, Andy Sabl demurs:

Obama, as most readers of this blog probably know, ran on repealing the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year, and using the revenue raised by doing that to give a tax cut to everyone earning less than $200,000....This is, quite simply, the core of left-liberalism: straight-up redistribution.

....Obama did a great job during the campaign of re-framing the Reaganite meme that spending is simply bad and tax cuts simply good — that spending "costs the taxpayers money" while tax cuts "let you keep more of your money." Repeatedly, especially in the debates, Obama used, and made stick, the language that tax cuts for the wealthy "cost" money that we as a country need for urgent purposes.

This is an interesting counterpoint, but one that's hard to resolve because it's difficult to know what message people were really reacting to. My guess is that most low-information voters were reacting solely to Obama's surface message, which was clear as day: "Tax cuts for me! Hooray!" Via email, Andy agrees, but says, "My point was not that the tax proposal sounded redistributive but that it was redistributive: if Obama were able to get it through Congress, that itself would be a huge progressive victory."

Maybe so. I need to noodle on this some more. For one thing, the empirical evidence is unclear: large majorities of voters thought both Obama and McCain would end up raising taxes regardless of what they said, so maybe most people just tuned this message out completely. What's more, although I originally thought the "share the wealth" attacks at the end were gaining a bit of traction, the tracking poll numbers over the final week suggest that, in fact, they had no effect at all.

So....I'm not sure. Taxes have been hated since the dawn of time, so that's a tough place to make a big progressive stand in the best of times. But it's a worthwhile conversation. For a long time Obama's fans have been saying that he's a guy who can sound more centrist than he is, which makes him a very electable candidate. And obviously that turned out to be true. Now we get to find out if it also gives him a platform to become a persuasive cheerleader for a public turn to progressivism. We'll see.

Alaska's Senate Race***

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 2:13 PM EST

ALASKA'S SENATE RACE....So what's the deal with all those "questionable" ballots in Alaska? Nate Silver speculates here.