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“Elizabeth Warren Is No Martha Coakely”: Another Imaginary Democratic Crisis, In Massachusetts

If you’ve been following either conservative or MSM coverage of the Massachusetts Senate race, you are probably under the impression that the recent brouhaha over Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren’s occasional self-identification as a Native American has taken over the contest and vastly boosted Scott Brown’s prospects for reelection.

Now comes a new poll from Suffolk showing (a) Warren making significant gains since the last Suffolk poll in February, and (b) voters not paying much attention to the “Cherokee” flap, despite saturation coverage in local and national media.

The Politico story on the poll by David Catanese notes that respondents adjudged it as “not a significant story” by a 69-27 margin. A lot of this sentiment reflects the usual partisan polarization, but if you look at the crosstabs, self-identified independents (over half the sample) called the story insignificant by a 66-29 margin, and even 40% of Republicans didn’t think it mattered.

That’s pretty interesting, since anyone reading the Boston Herald the last few weeks would have though the “controversy” doomed Warren, doomed affirmative action, and doomed Barack Obama, the supposed beneficiary of affirmative action.

As Catanese notes, the poll is generating sighs of relief from Democrats in Massachusetts and in Washington, particularly given the general impression that Warren’s campaign hasn’t handled the attacks terribly well:

The Suffolk poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, produced a result similar to an internal poll taken by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to quash speculation that Warren was hemorrhaging support due to the ancestry flap.

The DSCC survey, taken by Harstad Strategic Research May 8-10, resulted in a deadlocked race at 46 percent.

While Republicans argue that Brown has been outspent by Warren on advertising over the past month, Democrats are heartened by the pair of surveys showing the damage to their candidate to be minimal.

“When you look at the last month or so that Elizabeth Warren has had, you have to say she weathered the storm. The fact that she’s picked up 8 points shows she’s a better candidate than people think, a more resilient candidate than some would’ve thought,” said Boston-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh.

There’s a long way to go until November, but it’s increasingly likely that Warren will be able to get back on track and on message, promoting economic themes where she has a natural advantage over Brown. In the end, MA is a heavily Democratic state; Scott Brown is in the Senate thanks to a flukey victory in the general election; and as a candidate, Elizabeth Warren is no Martha Coakely.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 24, 2012

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Senate | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He Who Must Not Be Named”: Republicans Dissatified The Word “Romney” Has Passed Barack Obama’s Lips

Go ahead, name him.

As I mentioned the other day, reporters are both repulsed by and attracted to negative campaigning, and I think that probably goes for most of us as well. On one hand, we want to say, “Tut, tut, you shouldn’t be doing that.” On the other hand, not only can’t we look away, but we desperately want our own favored candidate to go negative, so we can get the visceral satisfaction from watching our disfavored candidate get assaulted. It’s analogous to the way we feel when watching a movie or reading a story: if the bad guy doesn’t get killed in the end, we’re left feeling unsatisfied.

But we also have a series of campaign conventions regarding what kind of behavior is acceptable that have little or nothing to justify them. One that has always mystified me is the idea that it’s impolite to mention your opponent by name. Instead, you’re supposed to say “my opponent” and speak of “the other party,” as if to make clear whom you’re talking about is somehow rude. This is supposed to be doubly true for the president, for whom it is perfectly acceptable to criticize the guy running to take his job, but unseemly to do so by saying the man’s name. So today The New York Times dutifully rounds up a bunch of people expressing their displeasure that the word “Romney” has passed Barack Obama’s lips in such a vulgar fashion:

But some veterans of past campaigns, particularly Republicans, questioned whether it would take some of the sheen off Mr. Obama’s stature as president. Rather than appearing above the fray, Mr. Obama may look like just another officeseeker.

Sara Fagen, an adviser to President George W. Bush during his 2004 campaign against Senator John Kerry, and later the White House political director, said the campaign was conscious to avoid that. “He almost never mentioned him and certainly not this early,” she said. “President Bush understood it diminished the office by going after his opponent directly.”

That does not mean Mr. Bush’s campaign went soft on Mr. Kerry. But the president largely left it to others to be so direct until summer. Vice President Dick Cheney opened the debate with a sharp speech criticizing Mr. Kerry in March 2004 at the same time the campaign began airing its first negative advertisements. When Mr. Bush criticized Mr. Kerry, he generally used phrases like “my opponent.” Only in July did he start naming him regularly.

That was the case for previous presidents like Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1996.

Oh please. Here’s the thing: this is a democracy. If the president wants a second term, he has to campaign for it. And the idea that the “stature” of his office is intact if he says “My opponent is wrong,” but terribly damaged if he says, “Governor Romney is wrong” is just ridiculous. Nobody ever explains why one is supposed to be preferable to the other, and there is not a shred of evidence that voters react negatively to the president using his opponent’s name. No one out there in the country thinks it’s weird or beneath the office. The only people who ever say that are people from the other party pretending to disapprove. Voters may be stupid, but they aren’t that stupid.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 25, 2012

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bracketing Racism”: White Resentment, President Obama, And Appalachia

Steve Kornacki tries to do the math on Obama’s unpopularity throughout Appalachia:

A majority of Kentucky’s 120 counties voted against Obama in the state’s Democratic presidential primary, opting instead for “uncommitted.” Big margins in Louisville and Lexington saved the president from the supreme embarrassment of actually losing the state, not that his overall 57.9 to 42.1 percent victory is anything to write home about…

Chalking this up only to race may be an oversimplification, although there was exit poll data in 2008 that indicated it was an explicit factor for a sizable chunk of voters. Perhaps Obama’s race is one of several markers (along with his name, his background, and the never-ending Muslim rumors, his status as the “liberal” candidate in 2008) that low-income white rural voters use to associate him with a national Democratic Party that they believe has been overrun by affluent liberals, feminists, minorities, secularists and gays – people and groups whose interests are being serviced at the expense of their own.

I think that “Chalking this up only to race” is a strawman, and its one that I often see writers invoke when talking about white resentment and Obama. Here’s another example from Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake:

But although no one doubts that race may be a factor, exit polling suggests that the opposition to Obama goes beyond it. And seasoned political observers who have studied the politics of these areas say race may be less of a problem for Obama than the broader cultural disconnect that many of these voters feel with the Democratic Party.

“Race is definitely a factor for some Texans but not the majority,” said former congressman Charles W. Stenholm (D-Tex.). “The most significant factor is the perception/reality that the Obama administration has leaned toward the ultra-left viewpoint on almost all issues.”

The presumption here is that race can somehow be bracketed off from the perception that Obama is “ultra-left.” Thus unlike other shameful acts of racism, opposition to Obama race as a possible “factor” but goes “beyond it.” Or in Kornacki’s formulation Obama, presumably unlike past victims, is facing a complicated opposition which can’t be reduced to raw hatred of blacks.

The problem with these formulations is that they are utterly ahistorical. There is no history of racism in this country that chalked “up only to race.” You can’t really talk about stereotypes of, say, black laziness unless you understand stereotypes of the poor stretching back to 17th century Great Britain (Edmund Morgan again.) You can’t really talk about the Southern slave society without grappling with the relationship between the demand for arable land and the demand for labor. You can’t understand the racial pogroms at the turn of the century without understanding the increasing mobility of American women. (Philip Dray At The Hands Of Persons Unknown.)

And this works the other way too. If you’re trying to understand the nature of American patriotism without thinking about anti-black racism, you will miss a lot. If you’re trying to understand the New Deal, without thinking about Southern segregationist senators you will miss a lot. If you’re trying to understand the very nature of American democracy itself, and not grappling with black, you will miss almost all of it.

In sum, there is very little about racism that can be chalked “only up to race.” Chalking up slavery, itself, only to race is a deeply distorting oversimplification. The profiling that young black males endure can’t be chalked up “only to race” either. It’s also their youth and their gender. Complicating racism with other factors doesn’t make it any better. It just makes it racism. Again.

I don’t mean to come down on Kornacki or Cillizza. But I think this sort of writing about race–and really about American politics–as though history doesn’t exist is a problem. Specifically, journalists are fond of saying “racism is only one factor” without realizing that any racism is unacceptable. It is wrong to believe Barack Obama shouldn’t be president because he’s black. That you have other reasons along with those–even ones that rank higher–doesn’t make it excusable. Likely those other reasons are themselves tied to Obama being black.


By: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Senior Editor, The Atlantic, May 23, 2012

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Known Unknowns And Unknown Unknowns”: What We Don’t Need To Know About Bain Capital

We’re asking the wrong questions about private equity.

The debate over Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital has moved through a number of phases, from “Did Mitt Romney do awful things at Bain Capital?” to “Should the Obama campaign be criticizing Mitt Romney for what he did at Bain Capital?” and now, “Is private equity a good thing or a bad thing?” Shockingly, people in the private equity business think the answer to the last is that it’s quite good. The predominant opinion from other people is that it’s sometimes good and sometimes bad, which from what I can tell it’s a pretty good summation of Romney’s PE career. At times, he helped start companies that went on to thrive, or helped companies perform better and survive. And at other times, he acted as what Rick Perry called a “vulture capitalist.”

But while it may be an interesting discussion for economists and economic writers to mull over, “Is private equity good or bad?” really isn’t a question we need to answer in the context of this presidential campaign. The question we need to answer is, “Does running a successful private equity firm mean you’ll be a successful president?” Mitt Romney’s answer to this question is, “Yes, because running a successful private equity firm means you know how to create jobs.” Barack Obama’s answer to this question is, “No, because being president is nothing like running a private equity firm. And also, Mitt Romney is a jerk for profiting while all those people got pink slips.”

It would actually help us understand this better if Mitt Romney talked more specifically about what exactly he learned at Bain that he’ll bring to the Oval Office. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get into much detail about his time there. If you asked him the question, he’d almost certainly say he learned that taxes should be cut and regulations should be scaled back, and that will create jobs. In other words, he’d repeat the standard Republican economic arguments, which really tells us nothing. But maybe I’m not giving him enough credit. Maybe there are some surprising insights about the working of the economy that he could only have gleaned at Bain. If there are, he hasn’t shared them yet.

And that’s really the rub. President Obama is right when he says that the presidency is a very different job from being a private equity CEO. Just when it comes to the economy, creating the right conditions for widely shared growth is not only a matter of wanting to do the correct things, it’s also about being able to accomplish them–convincing Congress to go along with your agenda, insuring that it’s implemented properly, balancing the competing interests that press on a president, and so on. Romney says he knows what to do because of his time at Bain (even if the substance of what he wants to do is the standard Republican wish list) but he hasn’t explained how his time at Bain taught him how to do it. He might argue that he learned that being governor of Massachusetts. But he almost never talks about his time as governor—it’s his time in the private sector that he says is the reason he can be a good president. And that’s not even mentioning all the other aspects of the presidency, like foreign policy, that I assume not even he would claim you prepare for by buying and selling companies.

Chances are slim that Romney is going to get too far into the details of what a private equity firm like Bain does, because the picture is mixed. Yes, he can point to some successes, companies Bain helped build or saved from decline. But that means he’ll also be asked about the failures. And as Tim Noah explains, the whole genius of private equity is that guys like Mitt Romney win either way. If the company they buy succeeds, they’ll get spectacularly rich. But if the company fails, they’ll still get rich, because the money they used to buy it was borrowed, and they were raking in huge management fees all along the way. That’s a story Romney would rather not tell. So he’ll stick to simple assertions, like “I know how the economy works.” Which leave us not knowing what he really knows, or doesn’t.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 23, 2012

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Conservative Neurosis”: The Right’s Fixation With “Vetting” President Obama

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has a devastating vivisection today of’s “The Vetting” series, which purports to give Barack Obama’s background the thorough scrubbing that conservatives feel the media failed to before the 2008 elections.

“The Vetting” represents a peculiar species of conservative neurosis, which I discussed last week in the context of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Many conservatives are convinced that somewhere hidden in Obama’s past is a magical key which will unmask him to American voters as the villain which heretofore only the fringe right has seen him to be.

This theory, while ostensibly an attack on the media for failing to do its civic duty is actually pretty insulting toward U.S. voters. Despite what conservatives seem to think, there hasn’t been a media conspiracy to avoid talking about Jeremiah Wright. I ran a Nexis-Lexis search for the phrase “Obama and Jeremiah Wright,” for both the period before the 2008 election and for all available dates. In each case, it returned more than 3,000 results—the limit at which Nexis requires you to cut down your search. Similarly I ran a Google News search for “Obama and Jeremiah Wright” and it returned 17,600 results, including 9,400 from before November 4, 2008. There was plenty of information available about Obama and Wright, the public just didn’t think it was all that important. That’s not a failing of the media or even of the public—it’s a failing of the unhinged right.

And as Friedersdorf persuasively argues, it’s an obsession that is holding back the right.

For, the decision to commit substantial editorial resources to the president’s past had an immediate opportunity cost: there’d be fewer pieces on his first term in office and less opportunity to present arguments about why conservative policies would better serve the country. The decision seemed strange to me. Conservative media was around during the 2008 election. Was there really relevant information that they’d failed to uncover at the time? And while President Obama surprised civil libertarians with his governing choices, weren’t the things conservatives hated about him—the health-care bill, the Keynesian stimulus, the “green jobs” program—basically exactly what you’d expect from the campaign he ran, or from any liberal Democrat?

He then runs through the “The Vetting” series citing example after weak example of what has, umm, found. I won’t recount the whole thing here—the piece is worth a full read—except to note that as he points out much of what they deduce about Obama is hardly secret or surprising. One example: “Charles C. Johnson broke the news that as a community organizer, President Obama worked with leftist Catholics to undermine conservative Catholics. This might’ve prepared us for Obama’s position on the Catholic Church and birth control … except his position itself was already clear!”

What’s the point after four years of Obama governing of trying to deduce from his distant past how he would govern? It’s a natural extension of this neurosis: If you’re convinced that the president is a secretive figure with a hidden past who must be unmasked before a duped public, it then becomes logical to think that he must be readying really, really, really sinister plans for his second term when he will no longer have to worry about facing voters.

And no doubt four years from now we’ll be treated to a raft of stories from the far right regions of the blogosphere frantically warning of how Obama’s hidden past foretells the ominous, secretive plans he has for his presidential library.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 24, 2012

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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