Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, January 4, 2019 1:03 pm

Election 2020: I do not like the whole idea of likability

Ignore anything and everything you read about a presidential candidate’s “likability,” particularly if that candidate is a Democratic woman. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin left office Thursday with an honest-to-God favorability rating of 12%. During gardening season, actual cowshit is more popular.

On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts became the first Democrat to announce that she was forming a 2020 presidential-campaign exploratory committee. And just like that, the political press served notice that it was going to be just as sexist and idiotic as it had been in 2016.

Politico, whose reporting frequently is essential but whose analysis and opinion seems to be at least 50% pro-Republican horseshit, popped up noon Monday with “Warren Battles the Ghost of Hillary,” which suggested that Warren might be just as “unlikable” as Hillary Clinton had been in 2016 and therefore doomed as a candidate.

The anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative was written before the Massachusetts senator even announced she was exploring a presidential run.

She’s too divisive and too liberal, Washington Democrats have complained privately. Her DNA rollout was a disaster — and quite possibly a White House deal-breaker. She’s already falling in the polls, and — perhaps most stinging — shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton.

In the year of the woman, it adds up to one unwelcome mat for the most prominent woman likely to be part of the 2020 field. But it also presents an unmistakable challenge: How does Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?

Man, there is so much horseshit here that you probably would need dynamite to unpack it.

  • First of all, how is it that there is any “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” at all just hours after her announcement? Answer: People have been lying in wait for her for a while. And who would do that? People who are anti-Elizabeth Warren. Duh. There is no organic “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” at this point, only propaganda.
  • And how is it that there is an “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” that is similar to Hillary Clinton’s? After all, Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for 35 brutal years, whereas five years ago most Americans had no idea who Elizabeth Warren was. Answer? Sexism: The implicit message of this comparison is that no female candidate, or at least no Democratic female candidate, can be trusted.
  • Too divisive? How? How does one quantify “divisive”? Sophisticated polling can sort of, kind of get at that — more on that in a bit — but as of Monday, not very much had been done on Warren, and certainly nowhere near as much as has been done on Clinton.
  • Too liberal? First, there’s always the tiresome and mostly unanswerable question of how one defines “liberal.” And if you can’t define that, how does one quantify how much liberalism is enough vs. too much? And “too much” on what scale? An ideological scale? As opposed to other candidates? Of course, Warren being the first, there were no other candidates when this piece was written.
  • And who are these “Washington Democrats” who call her too divisive and liberal? I may have spent my career with daily newspapers and their admittedly stodgy websites rather than online creations of the Kewl Kids, but we didn’t let political opponents snipe at each other anonymously, for good reason: It isn’t ethical, and even more importantly, it adds nothing to the reader’s understanding. Half-competent journalists should make political opponents call one another out by name, with all agendas out where the public can see them. That enhances reader understanding, which is, or ought to be, the point of it all.
  • Warren’s “DNA rollout” was a forthright response to a libelous criticism from a sitting president of the United States. To call it a “disaster” is pure editorializing: I am in no way an expert on this, but to the extent that Native Americans themselves have criticized her for having had her DNA tested, they appear to be privileging custom over science, arguing that without her name on a tribal roll, a DNA test means nothing. (If I’m missing something on this point, I’m happy to be corrected.) In any event, given Donald Trump’s apparently being an agent of a hostile foreign power, his tax fraud, his serial violations of the Emoluments Clause, his history of serial sexual assault, to be suggesting that a DNA test fatally damages a candidate for president is to display both practical ignorance and moral stillbirth. I am somewhat sympathetic to the argument that her timing, during the Blue Wave, suggests she put self ahead of party, but 1) absent additional information that is hardly the only explanation, and 2) If you’re going to make putting self ahead of party a criterion (and you should), there are far greater offenders. Bernie Sanders and Corey Booker come immediately to mind.
  • “Shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton”? And what are they, pray tell? An electoral college founded in not just slavery but also in cosseting the whiny, bitchy, gimme attitudes of the slave states? A grossly bigoted electorate? Enemies in the Kremlin? Republican vote-suppression efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina? Third-party candidates secretly supported by the Russians? Because those are the “attributes” that sank Clinton. By 65 million to 62 million, American voters favored her.

And that’s just three paragraphs. Holy shit. The piece goes on for many paragraphs more, laden with sexism and editorializing and almost unburdened by fact, all predicated on the notions that likability is real, that it matters, that it can be quantified, and that Elizabeth Warren has less of it than other Democrats and perhaps even less than Trump.

And that’s just one candidate. Multiply this bullshit across the dozen-plus likely 2020 Democratic presidents, candidates, many of them women, and you would be forgiven the urge to burn down every single U.S. news outlet.

Well, here are some facts.

“Likability” is incredibly subjective. It cannot be quantified or measured except in the most relative of terms. It is subject to pollution from bias, from lack of information, from lack of context. The closest we can quantifiably get to it is the favorability/unfavorability ratings of polls. The same recent Quinnipiac University poll that scored Warren’s favorability/unfavorability ratings at 33%/37% scored Donald Trump’s at 39%/52%, and yet somehow Warren’s “unlikability” gets all the attention.

And if you Google likability with respect to politicians, you’ll find that the subject comes up WAY more often in articles about women than in articles about men. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not a good one.

And here’s another fact, even more to the point:

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin left office Thursday with an honest-to-God favorability rating of 12%. During gardening season, actual cowshit is more popular. And yet our news media are convinced that Elizabeth Warren 1) is unlikable and 2) cannot be elected president because of it. That ought to adjust your attitude regarding any “analysis” you read about Democratic candidates for the rest of the 2019-2020 election cycle for offices at any level.

So what to do about it? I covered politics for 25 years, some years better than others, so here are my modest suggestions for consumers of news in general and people wondering which Democratic presidential candidate to support in particular:

  • For now, DO NOTHING. The actual voting doesn’t begin for another 13 months. As of this writing, Warren has formed an exploratory committee and Washington Gov. Jay Insbee has said he intends to. No one else is even close to being a formal candidate. If you were utterly undecided on a candidate a week or a month ago, there is no reason for you to even think about picking a candidate until 1) everyone who is going to run has formally announced and filed their paperwork, and 2) at least some of the Democratic presidential debates, which start in June, have come and gone. You can wait at least six months without sacrificing a thing, and unless you have some kind of personal attachment/connection to a candidate, you probably want to see how the candidates perform in several debates before picking one to support.
  • At least until the number of remaining Democratic presidential candidates is reduced to two, avoid the temptation to criticize a candidate or candidates you do not support. Instead, talk up the candidate you favor. Send him/her money. Find a way to volunteer for his/her campaign, even if it’s only making phone calls.
  • Whether you are talking up your candidate or talking down an opponent, do so with both factual and contextual accuracy. That’s harder than it sounds. You might mean quite well, but there are many, many sources of misinformation on the Web with respect to every declared candidate and plenty of potential ones. The Russians messed with what you saw on social media in 2016 and are likely to do so again in 2020. And conservative “news” outlets frequently take bullshit rumors that originate on conservative message boards and give them a patina of legitimacy, so be particularly careful not to amplify that bullshit. Check and double-check the information you choose to use. Factcheck.org and Politifact.com are excellent sources for vetting information, as is Snopes.com.

(And what do I mean by “contextual accuracy”? Remember that nothing happens in a vacuum. Where numbers are concerned, remember that one number is meaningless without at least one other number as a scale. Where facts about a political candidate are concerned, ask questions like, “What other candidate(s) is this fact true about, and to what extent?” Be wary of claims like “first,” “greatest,” “best” or “worse”: As one of my old editors used to say, there’s always a faster gun. Even mainstream outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post that are generally reliable with regard to factual accuracy frequently commit mistakes and omissions with regard to contextual accuracy. One big example: The Times’s 2016 focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails — yes, she made mistakes, but she did not commit a crime — while ignoring, for another two years, a long string of evidence that Donald Trump was a crook. And when a news outlet purports to examine any candidate’s “likability,” examine their methods for quantifying it and see to what extent they attempt to assess all candidates or likely candidates in the same manner.)

So, to sum up, I don’t like “likability,” and you shouldn’t either. At this point in the race, and pretty much from now until November 2020, news outlets should be focusing primarily on candidates’ policy proposals — what they are, how they will work, what they will cost, how we will pay for it, and what their outcomes are likely to be. And if the news outlets on which you rely try to dabble in it, hammer them hard. It’s just a pity Facebook doesn’t offer a “don’t like” button.

P.S.: One more thing about likability. George W. Bush won in 2000 because a lot of reporters thought he was “the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with.” Screw that. On both literal and metaphoric levels, I am realistic enough to know that I will never have a beer with even a former president of the United States, let alone a sitting one. So I will vote for a competent, empathetic jackass over a charming sociopath for any office, any day. You can ask the people of Iraq and Puerto Rico and Flint what we get when we elect sociopaths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:34 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 4

The FCC comes out plainly in favor of ‘Net neutrality. That’s wonderful, but the devil will be in the details of the regulations, which have yet to be written.

Former Michigan attorney general Andrew Shirvell must pay $3.5 million in damages to a gay college student whom he stalked online and in real life. Dude, wouldn’t asking him out, getting shot down, and then moving on with your life have been  a lot cheaper?

A creationist theme park in Kentucky that wants both $18 million in state tax credits AND the right to discriminate on the basis of religion has sued the state, which is insisting on either/or. Guys, look up the Bob Jones University case, decided more than 30 years ago. Penguins will ice skate in Hell before you win this.

If you’re waiting on the Supreme Court to settle the question of mandatory vaccination, you can stop; it already did. In 1905.

Vermont’s new motto is in Latin. So what do conservatives do? Start bashing Latinos, obviously. Teh_Stoopid: It burns.

New York police commissioner Ray Kelly, whose fascistic tendencies already have gotten full display in cases of violence committed by his cops, now wants to be able to make resisting arrest by protesters a felony offense. Because there’s no way THAT would ever be abused.

Here in Greensboro, state Sen. Trudy Wade has introduced a bill to change the current city council election system (mayor and three other members elected at large, plus five district members, so that any one voter can vote for a majority of the council) to seven members, all elected from districts, plus a mayor, and to extend terms from two years to four, and other mischief. I’ll probably say more about that later, but the short version is that it’s a bad idea and Trudy should sit down and shut the hell up.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 6:30 am

It’s 6:30 a.m., North Carolina. Do you know where your ballot is?

Polls are now open in North Carolina, so if you haven’t already, VOTE! It annoys the bastards.™

Thursday, October 9, 2014 8:31 pm

No, both sides DON’T do it, Part the Infinity

Every time I or anyone else correctly points out the disproportionate influence of conservative spending on the American electoral process at both the federal and state levels, someone — either a liar or a useful idiot — usually pipes up with, “But the liberals do it, too!” In point of fact, a quick visit to OpenSecrets.org will show you that while both sides might do it, one side does it far more than the other, and that just happens to be the same side that also has been working for more private money and less transparency with respect to money in the political system. That money, in turn, leads to necrosis of our one-person, one-vote system.

In particular, every time I or anyone else points out the disproportionate influence of the Koch Bros.’ spending on the system, someone — either a liar or a useful idiot — usually pipes up with, “But … but … SOROS!” And, yes, billionaire George Soros does contribute a fair bit of money to liberal candidates and causes.

But nowhere near as much as do the Kochs. From an objective, mathematical standpoint, the comparison is just silly.

So, all you both-siders: You now know that you’re wrong. If you’re going to continue to insist on being a both-sider, I’d like to know: Which are you, liar or useful idiot?

Saturday, November 3, 2012 7:43 pm

Memo to Mitt and the GOP

I honestly don’t know who’s going to win the presidential election on Tuesday. The New York Times’s much-praised and much maligned Nate Silver gives Obama something like an 80 percent chance, but as Silver himself will tell you, that’s probability only and the other  20 percent — i.e., Romney’s chances — is not trivial.

But I think that the Republicans think they know who’s going to win on Tuesday, and they’re acting like they’re pretty sure it’s not their guy. Consider:

  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott — who, in a nation governed by the rule of law, would have gone to prison for defrauding the government during his previous life as CEO of a for-profit health concern — has tried as hard as he can to limit and harass early voting in Florida. I’m sure the fact that early voters there — as in most of the rest of the country — are predominantly Democratic has nothing to do with it.
  • Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who already has gotten in trouble with the federal courts over his messing around with voting, has imposed new rules that essentially require the voter to act as his own elections official or else his vote won’t count. Voting rights activists sued last name night, claiming that Husted’s action violates a previous court order, statements by Husted’s own attorneys and Ohio state law as well. Were I the judge in the previous case, I’d have had his ass in jail on a 6-month contempt-of-court sentence before the sun set today, because this is exactly the kind of behavior that contempt-of-court citations — and impeachments — were created to address.

And that’s just government. Here in the Republican-exalted private sector, things are even peachier for representative democracy:

WASHINGTON — The Mitt Romney campaign and its business allies are driving home a final message unlike one we’ve seen in past presidential campaigns: Vote Romney, or you’re fired.

The pressure on workers in swing states to toe the GOP line hasn’t been restricted to any particular industry. Corporate apparel makers in Ohio, truck stop attendants in Ohio and Virginia, casino employees in Nevada, construction workers in Florida, gift-card purveyors in Colorado and Florida, car-parts makers in Michigan, software technicians in Florida and Colorado, coal miners in Ohio, dock manufacturers in Wisconsin, frozen-food packers in Michigan, resort staff in Florida, Virginia and Nevada, and people all over the country who work — or used to work — for Koch Industries or another Koch-owned company have all been given notice by their boss that an Obama victory could lead to layoffs or otherwise harm the company and its workers.

Even workers who’d already been laid off by the Kochs were mailed letters urging them to vote Republican or else “suffer the consequences” of Obama policies that would harm the company.

Romney himself urged conservative business leaders this June to “make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.”

Before the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision, it would have been illegal for a boss to tell an employee that “their job and their future” was on the ballot on Election Day. But the court now considers such electoral pressure an expression of free speech.

A few observations and opinions:

As I said earlier, this is not the behavior of a party that expects to win on the merits.

More particularly, if you have to engage in conspiracy to deny American voters their civil rights — which carries up to 10 years and a $10,000 fine, Rick Scott and Jon Husted — you’re not only acting like you don’t expect to win, you’re acting like you don’t want to be an American anymore. Well, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, because keeping legal voters from voting is about as un-American as it gets.

Americans let the GOP steal the election in 2000, and by a large majority, they think we got the worst president in modern times out of that deal. I doubt they’ll be so willing to let it happen again, particularly when, as is the case this time, it’s so blatant and out in the open.

And finally, for the moron CEOs who are threatening their employees if they don’t vote for Romney — despite the fact that under Obama they’ve posted record profits, amassed record cash reserves, watched the Dow double since this president took office, avoided any punishment for blowing up the whole economy in 2008 AND enjoyed the lowest top marginal income tax rates and corporate income tax rates since the Korean freakin’ War and the greatest income inequality since the days of Jay and Daisy — here’s our response to you:

  • We already had the feudalism-vs.-democracy argument. In 1776. Your side lost. Get the hell over it.
  • The U.S. abolished peonage a long time ago. Get the hell over it.
  • WE ARE AMERICANS. WE DO NOT NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 10:03 pm

Defining lunacy down

Almost 20 years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then the senior senator from New York and then and now one of the smarter congresscritters ever to serve, published an essay in the journal American Scholar. In it, drawing on the work of Emile Durkheim and Kai Erikson, he suggests that social control is aimed not necessarily at eliminating things like crime, just keeping it within certain boundaries:

In both authors, Durkheim and Erikson, there is an undertone that suggests that, with deviancy, as with most social goods, there is the continuing problem of demand exceeding supply. Durkheim invites us to imagine a society of saints, a perfect cloister of exemplary individuals. Crimes, properly so called, will there be unknown; but faults which appear venial to the layman will create there the same scandal that the ordinary offense does in ordinary consciousness. If, then, this society has the power to judge and punish, it will define these acts as criminal and will treat them as such.

Recall Durkheim’s comment that there need be no cause for congratulations should the amount of crime drop “too noticeably below the normal level. It would not appear that Durkheim anywhere contemplates the possibility of too much crime. Clearly his theory would have required him to deplore such a development, but the possibility seems never to have occurred to him.

Erikson, writing much later in the twentieth century, contemplates both possibilities. “Deviant persons can be said to supply needed services to society.” There is no doubt a tendency for the supply of any needed thing to run short. But he is consistent. There can, he believes, be too much of a good thing. Hence “the number of deviant offenders a community can afford to recognize is likely to remain stable over time.” [Moynihan’s emphasis — Lex]

Social scientists are said to he on the lookout for poor fellows getting a bum rap. But here is a theory that clearly implies that there are circumstances in which society will choose not to notice behavior that would be otherwise controlled, or disapproved, or even punished.

It appears to me that this is in fact what we in the United States have been doing of late. I proffer the thesis that, over the past generation, since the time Erikson wrote, the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond the levels the community can “afford to recognize” and that, accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the “normal” level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard.

From such “exempt[ing] much conduct previously stigmatized” came the title of Moynihan’s essay, “Defining Deviancy Down.”

Now, keep in mind that at the time Moynihan wrote this, violent crime had been rising steadily for 40 years. Almost 20 years later, it has fallen off dramatically, and the reasons may have less to do with any sociological factor than crime-and-punishment types want to believe. (Doctors who wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992 that violent crime was a “public health emergency” were more right than they knew.) Certainly, it has nothing to do with whether we still consider violent crime to be, well, violent crime. We unquestionably do, even if some other behaviors widely considered deviant a couple of generations ago (e.g., homosexuality) no longer are so widely considered.

But this phenomenon, as Erikson predicted, has played out in other areas, most notably in this election year what is considered sane, rational political discourse. Consider, if you will, what Gingrich said this past weekend about stem-cell research: He called such research “the use of science to desensitize society over the killing of babies.”

Did anyone blink? Did anyone in a position of responsibility in the Republican establishment suggest, publicly or privately, to Gingrich that if he was going to suggest that scientists were in the business of whipping up some baby-killing fervor as an end in itself, he might want to offer some, you know, evidence? If so, there’s been no sign of it.

Take it away, Charlie Pierce:

You could argue that stem-cell research represents hubristic overreach on the part of the scientists. You could argue that those scientists are fundamentally amoral and that they are only in it for the pot of gold that waits for whoever finds a way to use stem cells to cure some horrendous disease. You could argue that you have come to oppose such research after long and prayerful consideration once you were no longer governor of a state that depends so vitally on bio-tech dollars and have only to give long and prayerful consideration to the question, “How will this play among the rubes in Florida?” (That would be Willard Romney’s position.) You could argue that you are opposed to it simply because every fertilized embryo is sacred. Period. (Hi, Rick Santorum!) You could argue any one of those. I would not agree with you, but I would not feel compelled to call the Nervous Hospital and have you picked up, either.

But consider, for a moment, what Gingrich said. He accused these scientists not of hubris or cupidity, and he did not accuse them of idly casting aside the philosophical considerations of their work. He is saying that these scientists, and their work, are deliberately engaged in a campaign to make the “killing of babies” easier in American society, that their grand design is not fame and fortune, nor ridding the world of terrible illness, but, rather, that they are in service to a dark agenda to turn America into some kind of futuristic child-killing dystopia. I’m sorry, but this is just nuts. I mean, I’ve heard the argument that climate scientists have invented the “hoax” of global climate change in order to get rich, but that’s a nursery rhyme compared to what Gingrich is dealing out here.

Tell me again that Ron Paul is the crackpot in this race.

(Full disclosure: Both my brothers have Type 1 diabetes, and if stem-cell research offers them the hope of a cure, which it might, then I support it. For that matter, if scooping Gingrich’s guts out with a rusty spoon offered them the hope of a cure, I would at least strongly consider it.)

I’ve argued before that the GOP primary voting base responds most strongly to hippie-punching, and that people like Newt Gingrich succeed by punching hippies. But cui bono? Moynihan had a suspicion on that, too:

Our second, or opportunistic mode of redefinition, reveals at most a nominal intent to do good. The true object is to do well, a long-established motivation among mortals. In this pattern, a growth in deviancy makes possible a transfer of resources, including prestige, to those who control the deviant population. This control would be jeopardized if any serious effort were made to reduce the deviancy in question. This leads to assorted strategies for re-defining the behavior in question as not all that deviant, really.

Newt Gingrich has made it very clear that he wants to dismantle the New Deal and Great Society, and in this he is not alone in the GOP. Indeed, some of the party’s wealthiest, most powerful backers — corporatists, if not fascists, and people whose beliefs are inimical to American ideals — stand to get even wealthier and thus more powerful if Gingrich or anyone like him gains political power.

Does it matter that these candidates defy the laws of nature by pushing creationism, casting unfounded doubt on a proven means of reducing disease and dismissing climate science that might be essential to the survival of the species? Does it matter that these candidates make the grossest of moral accusations without evidence or accountability? Does it matter that these candidates’ proposals are plainly and simply unconstitutional as well as economic and social suicide?

It does not.

And so they define lunacy down. They hear the batshit and do not think, “How can I make this stop?” but, rather, “How can I make this work for me?” And so the nation bungee jumps into the Canyon of Crazy without a cord.

Moynihan, speaking in the context of violent crime and single-parent households (statistically associated with many social ills), concluded:

As noted earlier, Durkheim states that there is “nothing desirable” about pain. … Pain, even so, is an indispensable warning signal. But societies under stress, much like individuals, will turn to pain killers of various kinds that end up concealing real damage. There is surely nothing desirable about this. If our analysis wins general acceptance, if, for example, more of us came to share Judge [Edwin] Torres’s genuine alarm at “the trivialization of the lunatic crime rate” in his city (and mine) [New York — Lex], we might surprise ourselves how well we respond to the manifest decline of the American civic order. Might.

One large subset of the people who would govern us has taken leave of its senses. Our “liberal” news media treats this phenomenon as unremarkable. And those Americans who haven’t had to sell their TVs and gaming sets because their unemployment insurance has run out are, by and large, taking comfort in “Call of Duty” and “NCIS” instead of doing something about it.

Monday, December 5, 2011 8:02 pm

Quote of the Day, democracy edition

From Digby at Hullabaloo, a better political analyst than anyone now working for The New York Times or Washington Post:

Both parties are woefully corrupt and inept, but only one of them is engaged in systematic vote suppression. It doesn’t make the other side heroes, but it does show one important distinction between the two.

When the Republican Party is running around trying to keep legally entitled people from voting, I think it’s fair to ask why they hate freedom and why they hate America.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 6:37 am

It’s Election Day here in the ‘Boro …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 6:37 am
Tags: ,

… so vote. It annoys the bastards.

Polls in N.C. are open ’til 7:30 p.m.

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