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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Monday, October 29, 2012 7:12 pm

Pierce on Sandy and who we are as a nation

As I write, I imagine that all kinds of hell is breaking loose in the Northeast, the kinds of hell that, among other things, make it difficult to report in real time on what kinds of hell are breaking loose. I’ve covered hurricanes before, and believe me when I tell you that it is No Damn Fun, from getting sandblasted by what used to be that dune over there to living on Lance Toastchees and bottled water from your trunk for four days while wearing the same clothes and being unable to bathe to trying to navigate a car that don’t float when half or more of the bridges are underwater. People, including myself, joke about the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore as the Angel of Death, but I’ve done Cantore’s job (albeit for a different news outlet), and I would have to think very, very hard before doing it again, for love or money.

It’s bad enough in any one location. But when all hell breaks loose in a huge region, and when that region is the most heavily populated of its size in the country … well, we have no precedent for this. And when it happens a week before a presidential election, the potential for feces to hit the fan is shattering the glass on every meter in the boiler room.

And yet there also is likely to be an enormous point of clarity coming out of this event, as Charlie Pierce explains:

However, as to the campaign itself, and taking as axiomatic that almost anything can “impact” an election as close as this one apparently is shaping up to be, there’s absolutely no telling what the effect of massive four-day weather event in the middle of this week will have on the events of the middle of next week. Certainly, in situations like this, the president has several trump cards he can play simply by virtue of being the incumbent. He can act as president. He can engage FEMA and the rest of the federal disaster apparatus to help those governors, Republican and Democratic, who are in the path of the storm. (He just might be in more pictures with Chris Christie over the next week than with Joe Biden.) He can demonstrate, top to bottom, by example, why “leaving it to the states” and, worse, “the private sector can do it better” are empty platitudes. The storm is hitting 12 states. This is something we need to do as one country. …

The problem, of course, is that a good piece of the political opposition doesn’t recognize this president as president when the sun’s shining. The people who will tell you that disaster relief is best left to the states, or to the private sector, are going be howling at the White House if some cat isn’t brought down from a tree in Cape May in less than five minutes. There are a thousand things that can go unavoidably wrong in a situation like this. It is the most fertile environment imaginable for unpredictability. The good news for the president is that he’s in charge. The bad news for the president is that he’s in charge, and the opposition is still truthless, and demented.

(Pardon this interruption from your host for this illustration of just how demented that opposition is:)

(We now return you to Pierce:)

Here’s the last thing that I’d like to throw out there before we all go 1856 all over for a while. This entire campaign has been fought out over the issue of whether or not we are all members of a viable political commonwealth with implicit mutual obligations to act through our government — a self-government that is, or ought to be, the purest creative project of that commonwealth — for the common good, or whether that government is some sort of alien entity repressing our fundamental entrepreneurial energy. Over the next few days, I believe, we are going to see that argument brought to the sharpest point possible. If you want to see how this event will “impact the election,” look to what answer to that question emerges from the storm. It will tell us a lot about the election, and about ourselves.

When the Framers put the phrase “general welfare” into the preamble to the Constitution, things like Sandy were what they had in mind. And whether we remember that fact over the next week and more will determine whether we keep, and whether we deserve to keep, the “Republic, if you can keep it” that Benjamin Franklin and his compatriots bestowed upon us when that document was signed.

Friday, October 26, 2012 7:43 pm

Republicans and rape; or, zygote fetishization

The recent comments on rape from a long list of Republicans including Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, along with the fact that the GOP’s national platform has opposed safe, legal abortion since 1980, have brought “social issues” to the fore in a national election that ordinarily would have been almost entirely about the economy. (Not arguing that it should have been almost entirely about the economy — I’d’ve loved some discussion of global warming, Afghanistan and using drones for extrajudicial assassination, to name just three topics — just that it ordinarily would have been.)

I won’t rehash the moral arguments about abortion, but I will offer this quasi-theological observation: The people who argue that their faith dictates that a woman who is raped and becomes pregnant must carry her rapist’s baby to term are not worshiping God, or any god. Rather, they are fetishizing a zygote. Their “culture of life” has become the idolatry of a cargo cult. It is nothing that Jesus would recognize as God’s love here on Earth.

With her gracious permission and without additional comment, I offer this take from my mother’s cousin Edith Hay Harris of Houston, Texas* Durham, NC:

My two cents: I was a volunteer for Greenville (SC) Rape Crisis Council for 8 or so years, some time back. I don’t think anyone can imagine what these women and girls endured. I think a lot of people don’t realize victims come in all ages and from all walks of life. I still remember a woman with a husband and children who became pregnant from the rape and had to have the baby; a 68 yr old grandmother who was nearly beaten to death by her attacker who put her grandson’s training pants over her face while he raped her; and a 12 year old who was impregnated by a homeless man. In the last case, we took her to Atlanta for an abortion, since no one in Greenville was providing that service then, and United Way dropped us from their funding for doing so. So, yes, I still feel that rage so many years later. I think these Republicans actually have contempt for women and need to control them. Sort of reminds me of the Taliban.

*Oops. Cousin Elsie lives in Houston, not Edith. I knew this.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012 8:00 pm

Why tonight’s debate matters; or, Quote of the Day, What the GOP is Good At Edition, cont.

From DougJ at Balloon Juice:

The American right’s real genius lies in [mess]ing things up, then using that [mess]ed-up-ness as the crisis that necessitates the implementation of the right’s policies. I don’t claim that the [mess]ing up of things is always deliberate—they’re incompetent enough to [mess] a lot of things up by accident—but the reaction is very cynical and very carefully thought out.

DougJ considers what the GOP is up to in this instance analogous to the Reichstag fire. But if you’re going to go Godwin, given how clear Romney/Ryan have been about their plans for government spending right up until Romney shape-shifted into Moderate Mitt during the first presidential debate, a better example than the Reichstag fire might be the Nazi blitzkrieg  of Poland. And Jon Chait at New York magazine believes the Romney campaign/would-be administration plans just such an assault on the American social-welfare structure. In a piece titled “November 7,” to which DougJ also links, Chait writes:

Let’s first imagine that, on January 20, Romney takes the oath of office. Of the many secret post-victory plans floating around in the inner circles of the campaigns, the least secret is Romney’s intention to implement Paul Ryan’s budget. The Ryan budget has come to be almost synonymous with the Republican Party agenda, and Romney has embraced it with only slight variations. It would repeal Obamacare, cut income-tax rates, turn Medicare for people under 55 years old into subsidized private insurance, increase defense spending, and cut domestic spending, with especially large cuts for Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs targeted to the very poor.

Few voters understand just how rapidly Romney could achieve this, rewriting the American social compact in one swift stroke. Ryan’s plan has never attracted Democratic support, but it is not designed for bipartisanship. Ryan deliberately built it to circumvent a Senate filibuster, stocking the plan with budget legislation that is allowed, under Senate “budget reconciliation” procedures, to pass with a simple majority. Republicans have been planning the mechanics of the vote for many months, and Republican insiders expect Romney to use reconciliation to pass the bill. Republicans would still need to control 50 votes in the Senate (Ryan, as vice-president, would cast the tiebreaking vote), but if Romney wins the presidency, he’ll likely precipitate a partywide tail wind that would extend to the GOP’s Senate slate.

One might suppose that at least a handful of Republicans might blanch at the prospect of reshaping the entire face of government unilaterally. But Ryan’s careful organizing of the party agenda has all taken place with this vote as the end point, and with the clear goal of sidestepping any such objection. When Republicans won control of Congress during the 2010 elections, Ryan successfully lobbied the party to take a vote on his budget plan the following April. The plan stood no chance of passage (given Obama’s certain veto) and exposed dozens of vulnerable House members to withering attacks over its unpopular provisions. So why hold a vote carrying huge potential risk and no chance of immediate success? So Ryan could get the party on record supporting his plan, depriving quiet dissidents of any future excuse to defect should the real vote come in 2013.

And if this were only a policy difference, that would be one thing. But the fact of the matter is that if these planned changes happen, a nontrivial number of America’s most vulnerable citizens — the very old, the very young, the chronically ill, those most hampered and hammered by the past four years of insufficient-bordering-on-indifferent action on unemployment — will die prematurely. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not an idle prediction. It is, rather, an absolutely foreseeable consequence of cutting social services, particularly Medicaid, in a time of great need and want. And if you don’t care about that, you’re a sociopath, pure and simple.

There are many things at stake in tonight’s debate and this year’s presidential and congressional elections, not the least of which are the fate of the globe’s environment and the fact that both my children  will be of military age before the end of a second Romney term. But for a combination of big and fast, the GOP plan to destroy what remains of the social safety net and give the proceeds to the very wealthy tops the list, and it simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 8:01 pm

Memo to Simpson-Bowles fanboys/-girls, the New America Foundation, Paul Ryan groupies and everybody else who thinks the deficit is our biggest current problem:

You cannot slash taxes AND slash spending AND still reduce the deficit. It’s mathematically impossible. You can no more reduce the deficit this way than you can walk to the moon or skin-dive the Marianas Trench.

And if you try it, we’ll be in another recession in a heartbeat. Hell, with three straight months of falling consumer spending, we might be heading into another one even if you don’t.

This really is the era of lowered expectations. I used to pray for deliverance from extremist ideologues. Now I just pray for deliverance from people who can’t count.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 8:00 pm

That’s going to leave a mark

Paul Ryan, who gets way more credit than he deserves for even being able to count, let alone devise a deficit-reduction plan that actually, you know, reduces the deficit, says something remarkably ahistorical here:

We wonder if we will be the first generation in American history to leave our children with fewer opportunities and a less prosperous nation than the one we inherited.

Paul, son, never leave a curve ball hanging out over the plate like that, because if you do, Charlie Pierce is going to take you downtown:

Can this possibly be true? Didn’t parents in the depth of the Depression wonder the same thing? Didn’t the mothers and fathers who worked in the coal mines in the early years of the 20th century see pretty much the same future for their children and grandchildren? Didn’t the farmers ground up in the Panics of 1873 and 1837 — to name only two major events that occurred while the country pursued the policies that Ryan’s “budget” so deeply flattered — feel pretty damned hopeless of what would happen to their kids? Didn’t we ship kids west from the cities on orphan trains? Wasn’t this the normal state of affairs for generation after generation of African Americans?

You know when people began to feel that they could leave their children with more opportunities than they had? When government got involved, that’s when, and when common people began to feel that the government was on their side, and not the wholly owned subsidiary of the wealthy and the privileged. The farmers started to feel it when the Morrill Act established land grant colleges. The miners began to feel it when unionization fought to make their jobs slightly less hellish and when government got behind that effort. The farmers began to feel it when the Progressives began to force change at the beginning of the last century. Everybody felt it with the election of Franklin Roosevelt and the defeat of Hooverian economics, for which Paul Ryan seems overly nostalgic. And that feeling really took off in the 1950’s, when government passed the GI Bill and built the interstate highways, and made college affordable generally to the children and grandchildren of the people who won World War II like, say, me. And when we recognized that the death of a parent need not blight the hopes and dreams of his children, who would be allowed the opportunity of an education through the survivor benefits provided by Social Security, like, say, Paul Ryan was. The notion that we will leave a brighter day for our kids is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it is one that was not possible without the intervention of the government, and it is one from which Paul Ryan profited so handsomely that he is now in a position to claim a “moral obligation” to deny it to everyone else. What a country.

Man, that felt almost as good as hearing about bin Laden.

Monday, April 9, 2012 8:03 pm

Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion, but not his own math

Dean Baker eviscerates both James B. Stewart of The New York Times and Rep. Paul Ryan’s massive tax cuts for rich folks disguised as a federal budget:

What Stewart tells us is reasonable is that the budget calls for cuts in entitlements and tax reform. He then asks who could disagree with this.

One has to wonder whether Stewart has looked at the Ryan budget. First, on taxes the only specifics are cuts in the tax rates paid by rich people and corporations. None of the offsetting tax increases are specified.

If this sounds like a sensible opening gambit, let’s imagine the equivalent on the opposite side. Suppose that we proposed to increase Social Security benefits for the bottom two income quintiles of retirees. Suppose that we also proposed increased spending on infrastructure, research and development, and education.

Suppose the left-wing Ryan budget wrote down that these spending increases would be offset by unspecified reductions in government waste. We then told CBO to score it accordingly. Is this a good starting point for further discussion? …

Even more to the point: Is there anyone who has been paying attention for the past 20 years who believes that if some leftist proposed such a budget as Baker hypothesizes, the mainstream media (forget Fox) wouldn’t go utterly batshit calling out the many problems, miscalculations and flawed assumptions contained therein, including but not limited to some that were not flawed or miscalculated at all (Politifact and Factcheck, I’m looking at you)?

The Ryan budget is proving to be a wonderful Rorschach test. We have people who want to be part of the inside Washington conversation who praise the budget’s courage and integrity. Then we have people who believe in arithmetic who call it what it is: a piece of trash.

Why does this matter? Because people who ought to know better are running round calling Paul Ryan a serious thinker, when in fact he is either unable or unwilling to do fifth-grade math, and because there’s a nontrivial chance he will be Mitt Romney’s running mate.

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