Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mock The Voter

The gangster stepped right up, kissed him on the lips goodbye.
Made him a cocksucker-by-proxy, yes he did, and he didn't even bat an eye.
-- Frank Zappa, Dickie's Such An Asshole

I'm still digesting the RFK Junior Rolling Stone article on how Bush, thanks to various and sundry machinations in Ohio and elsewhere, essentially stole the 2004 election. It's a good article, but I understand that some folks have some concerns about the exit poll methodology and statistics Kennedy cites. Even though the entire rest of Kennedy's article appears to be well beyond all but the most tendentious partisan refutations, the notion seems to be that since there may be some dispute as to the statistical merits of the sampling methods and standard deviations employed, it may perhaps undermine the validity of the rest of RFK's argument by being erroneously conflated with it.

I believe that that is a seriously flawed interpretation of the overall case Kennedy lays out, and it is not because I have some profound knowledge of statistical analysis. On that count, the methodology appears sound at first blush, but I am nowhere near an expert. I have also seen non-partisan analyses that seem to reliably debunk at least part of the overall validity of the '04 exit poll results, and how they ended up getting so incredibly turned around once the "actual" results came pouring in.

I would just say this about all that: Almost exactly the same thing happened in the concurrent Ukrainian elections, the statistically improbable discrepancy between exit polls and results, and we fell all over ourselves praising the ability of the Orange Revolution to rectify the situation. Take it for what you will, and let's set the contentions of the Kennedy article aside for now.

A contemporaneous article on electoral politics, well worth considering in conjunction with the RS article, is Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in the New Yorker. You may recall Goldberg as the fellow who authored a highly-praised (and apparently erroneous) article on Saddam Hussein's aflatoxin arsenal. That earlier article was utilized by several pro-war advocates in the run-up to the invasion, to bolster the rest of their still-unsubstantiated assertions that have cost a lot of people their lives, and cost the U.S. an incredible amount of money and respect. So Goldberg, while a skilled writer, might perhaps be taken with a grain of salt at times.

This new article is one of those times. It takes some real doing to unpack all the rehashed conventional wisdom Goldberg lards his anecdotes with, but it is well worth the trouble, for the same reason it is worthwhile to take the Kennedy article seriously. And to be fair, it is not entirely Goldberg's fault. Put simply, the socio-economic and political implications are far more important than whether or not the '04 election was stolen, or "what the Democrats should do to win".

Goldberg begins his article with an illustrative vignette:

An enduring predicament of the Democratic Party was revealed one day in August, 2004, when John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for President, and John Edwards, the nominee for Vice-President, visited a soybean-and-cattle farm outside Smithville, Missouri. The announced purpose was to speak about alternative energy sources (soybeans are an important source of biodiesel), but the goal was to express solidarity with rural white voters, who have been abandoning the Democratic Party in disquieting numbers. About a hundred and twenty-five people, mostly farmers, sat on hay bales in an orchard near the farmhouse. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri state auditor, was there, too; she was running for governor and was eager to appraise the two Senators, whose names would be on the ballot with hers.

Kerry reminisced about clearing fields on a Massachusetts farm and promised to side with small farmers in their struggles against agribusiness. Teresa Heinz Kerry handed her husband a note, and then stood up to speak, recalling a visit to an organic hog farm in Iowa. “It’s really inspiring to see the work that they did,” she said, and encouraged her audience to consider organic farming. “It can be done. It’s economical, and there is a huge market in America.”

At that point, Winston Simpson, a hog farmer from Clarence, Missouri, stood up and interrupted. “I said, ‘Mrs. Kerry, you’ve got to understand that hog farmers just freak out when they hear people telling them to go organic,’ ” Simpson recalled recently. “She looked kind of surprised. I was just there helping out, making a crowd, but I’ve got an adrenaline problem, and when someone pisses me off I jump up and tell them.”

Simpson is a grower-finisher; four thousand or so hogs come to him at forty pounds and leave their pens for slaughter two hundred and fifty pounds later. “I’d go broke if we switched to organic farming,” he said. His public advice was informed by tactical, rather than ideological, concerns. “I don’t have a problem with people raising food organically. If people want to eat that way, fine, but she shouldn’t have been pushing that as a solution to the farm problem. A lot of farmers think of those organics as some kind of √©litist lunatic-fringe thing.” For some, Mrs. Kerry’s performance recalled other moments of Democratic campaign obliviousness, like Michael Dukakis’s endorsement of Belgian endive as an alternative crop for Iowa farmers.

I'll be a bit more generous -- I think it bespeaks an inexcusable lack of preparation on Kerry's part. I keep hearing how much money gets spent on presidential campaigns every election cycle; it might be nice if perhaps a staff position was created for, say, fact-checking and researching industry-specific or region-specific policy proposals. How hard would it have been for an advance person from the Kerry team to go out to Missouri and talk to Winston Simpson ahead of time and learn a few things, before Teresa Kerry shows up with no idea of what she's talking about? I seriously don't get this.

Hog-farming is, to be sure, a rather unpleasant industry. It's not for the faint of heart or stomach, and it's not environmentally friendly. But it is the livelihoods of a lot of people, and if you're going to go out and tell people that their livelihoods are unsustainable (even when they are), you've still got to provide them with a viable alternative. This is the sort of cluelessness that transcends the usual tiresome "values" issues; a cogent policy platform on that subject could have very easily swayed some on-the-fence voters in that area toward Kerry, rather than making him look like he was talking about something he had no clue about.

But whatever. Shit happens. That's nowhere near the real problem with Goldberg's essay. Let's dig a little deeper, unpack a little more.

For the midterm elections in November, the Democratic Party does not need a Roosevelt. Some agree with Newt Gingrich, who recently told Time that if he were a Democratic strategist he would run a campaign that simply asked voters, “Had enough?” Many liberal Democrats would like to make Bush’s record the focus of the upcoming campaign. Centrist Democrats, though—particularly those running in states that have cooled to their party—think that something more is needed this year, and certainly for 2008, when Bush will be retiring. They argue that their party must speak in language familiar to, among others, the disaffected hog farmers of Missouri.

For once, the Democrats would do well to listen to Newt. "Had enough?" is an excellent slogan; this administration's record on every issue speaks quite well for itself, and no one can deny that they had a complaisant Congress that rubber-stamped their every whim, and overlooked every transgression. You'd think that would be quite enough for a sales pitch. The Democrats could perhaps rent Dr. Phil to show at campaign stops, recite the litany of botched Republican policies and efforts, and ask the crowd, "How's that workin' for ya?". Simple, right?

Apparently not. Because they are Democrats, they have to overthink it.

[Claire] McCaskill’s Republican opponent, the incumbent Jim Talent, has been hurt in the polls by aligning himself against a Missouri ballot initiative to protect stem-cell research. His stand has been inconsistent, which has alienated some of the evangelical Christians who are part of his core constituency. McCaskill, an ex-county prosecutor who believes in the death penalty and says that she worships, in the Missouri manner, “God and common sense,” has made her name as the state auditor by running uncompromising investigations of state government performance. Winston Simpson, the hog farmer, said of her, “She’s the kind of woman who could really jerk Donald Rumsfeld through a knothole.”


As we drove past strip malls and big-box stores, McCaskill talked about the Democrats she most admires. “I would say I go back before McGovern to find role models. Clinton was an exception in some ways, but certainly not on a personal level. Harry Truman, J.F.K.—those are the role models.” She added, “I’m not a liberal. When I was a prosecutor, I saw child murderers, people like that, and so I believe that there is such a thing as evil in this world.”


Referring to the Kerry-Edwards campaign stop, she said, “I’m sure Teresa’s motives were fine. But I think it’s a tone thing. It’s the ‘We know better’ thing. Some of it is completely unfair, but there’s a critical number of Missourians who believe that people from the East Coast or West Coast don’t think that people in the heartland are smart.”

Look, if McCaskill is the sort who can "jerk Donald Rumsfeld through a knothole", then she should do it already, rather than worrying about city folk, and how smart you think they think they are. Instead, she takes pains to distance herself from Clinton, implying he's not a "good" person. Well, he's probably not the kind of guy you want marrying your daughter, but that is a different matter than whether or not he's a capable, intelligent leader, or even whether he's simply a decent or indecent human being -- whether he's the sort of person who is spending his retirement traveling ceaselessly around the world to promote charitable causes and help desperate people around the planet, or the sort of person who taunts death row inmates, dares guerrillas to kill American soldiers, and whose vile minions think it's funny to wear Purple Heart bandaids and jeer at wounded war veterans like John Kerry and Max Cleland.

This is the scummy piece of shit you are up against, rural Democrats. You would do well to remember that, and act accordingly. Quit distancing yourself from The Clenis; the rest of the country has moved on, and the people who have not moved on, why the hell do you want to talk to them anyway?

(And incidentally, just how do you think W will spend his dotage? Think he'll spend it as a rainmaker for humanitarian relief funds, like that terrible awful Clenis? I wager he'll mosey back to the tumbleweed farm for a spell, make sure to be seen at a couple dozen Rangers and Rockies games, have an intern ghost-write his boilerplate autobiography for Richard Cougar Melloncamp Scaife to line his attic with, then twist a couple arms at Rice or Baylor to name their poli-sci building after him, find a swamp to build his preznitential liberry -- and then, get this -- get hisself a pied à terre in the big bad city. Why? Same reason a useless back-slapper like Himself got into the game in the first place -- that's where all the money is.)

Pelosi, Dean, and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, recently issued a report called “Real Security,” which promises a “tough and smart” program of national defense. The report was met with some skepticism in Democratic foreign-policy circles. Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations (and a former State Department official in the Carter Administration as well as a onetime Times columnist), said, “Where I grew up, if you have to say you’re tough and smart, you’re not.”

I'm not sure where, um, Leslie grew up, but what he's objectively saying is that the Democrats can't win for losing. If they don't step up and respond to the incessant peacenik-baiting from the braying retards of the right, they affirm the charges of gutlessness. If they do respond, they're trying too hard, and thus affirming the charges also. That's the bottom line.

It's bad enough when Democrats allow Republicans and inbred neocon shills to circumscribe policy pronunciamentos with such tautologies, but when they allow each other to do it, it's unforgivable. Who do they think they're fooling with this bullshit?

Rahm Emanuel notes that nearly five years after the September 11th attacks Democrats still lack an authoritative spokesman on national-security questions. “What we need is a single credible voice,” Emanuel said. There is also a worry that the Party will confuse antipathy for the Iraq war with a desire to make national security less of a priority. “We make a mistake if we think that just because people are fed up with George Bush they want George McGovern,” Kathleen Sullivan, the chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said. Democrats in Republican-leaning states worry, in particular, that much of the Party’s national leadership underestimates the role of patriotism—the impulse to celebrate American virtues, even in difficult times. Brad Carson, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma, appears to see this as a benign sort of nationalism.

“The well-heeled New York, Northern California world of Democrats considers nationalism a very discredited concept, that nationalism equals Brown Shirts,” Carson said. (Carson lost his race in 2004 for Oklahoma’s open Senate seat. The winner, Tom Coburn, is among the farthest right members of the Senate.) “In most of the country, nationalism is as normal as breathing. I live in a blood-red state, I know”—sixty-six per cent of Oklahoma voters chose Bush in 2004—“but this holds true across thirty states. The Democrats have to look like they axiomatically stand up for America’s interests if they’re going to be competitive.”


Some Democrats fear any association with national Democrats, who are perceived to be too liberal. “I had this notion that I could convince people who were skeptical of national Democrats to vote for me because I could bring home the bacon, or because I could find some personal pitch to them,” Brad Carson, the former Oklahoma congressman, said. “But it was very hard for people to separate me out from Hillary Clinton. All their ads were Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, and me. They said I was more liberal than these guys, and that if I went to Washington I’d be supporting their agenda. I found that extremely difficult to overcome.”

Jesus H. Christ in spandex. Here we go again. You know who beat Brad Carson for that Oklahoma Senate seat? This fucking clown. Tom Coburn is notable for both advocating the death penalty for abortion providers, and admitting that he himself has performed abortions. He has publicly ranted about everything from Schindler's List to the supposed wave of lesbianism in Oklahoma's school system. Coburn may possibly be the dumbest sentient being to occupy a senate seat since Caligula's horse.

Brad Carson didn't have to overcome Hillary Clinton, he had to overcome the idiots that would actually cast a vote for a demonstrable cretin like Tom Coburn. I mean, we get it already, folks -- us eeeeevil, decadent blue-staters just don't git your superior moral stances and innate wisdom that living in the Dust Bowl confers to its inhabitants. (Which must be why my grandparents got the fuck out of Texas and Oklahoma during the Great Depression.)

Need further proof that the vaunted heartland just votes out of spite and ignorance half the time? How about Jim DeMint, who makes Rick Santorum look reasonable. Look, I understand all the arguments about "tribal identification" and such, as it pertains to results in the electoral arena. Digby has written powerfully and profusely on the subject of political tribalism, and I'm not even going to try to top it.

What I will say is that perhaps rural Democrats need to cut the "city mouse/country mouse" shit, and get to work on convincing their fucking constituents that the business of running this country is a bigger issue than whether they feel affirmed or respected by uppity city folk. This is fucking crazy -- the heartland put George W. Bush back into office, and now apparently they don't like him anymore either. So why exactly are we supposed to continue genuflecting to people who not only have been proven wrong about this, but tacitly admit that they were wrong?

And I don't say "they were wrong" in a spiteful, resentful way. I wish that they had paid attention and grabbed a clue when it would have mattered more; it would have been nice if they had put their backs down long enough to listen to reasoned argument, instead of constantly fretting over whether we respect NASCAR and deep-fried twinkies enough or not. (And truth be told, no one really gives a shit about those things one way or the other, just as you don't give two shits about what the upper crust do with their leisure time. But you shore don't mind being subsidized by the tax dollars from the nuts 'n' flakes in Californy, do ya?) But the fact of the matter is, they were wrong, and if the polls are to be believed, they acknowledge that fact.

So. Since we began this post by talking about sampling methodology and standard deviations and such, if we bitch about the veracity of the '04 exit polls, how about the weekly approval polls? Are they valid or not? Yes or no? If yes, then there should be no need for Democrats to continue pretending to be Republicans, because right now the Republicans and their agenda are in the proverbial dumper. There should be no need for Howard Dean to appear on the fucking 700 Club with that foaming lunatic "Pat" Robertson. The pool of disaffected non-voters that want to vote for someone is far larger than the puddle of possibly disaffected evangelicals who maybe just might allow themselves to be converted for this election cycle if only we do and say the exact right things and affirm their fucking feewings.

Monday morning, George W. Bush is going to use valuable face and news cycle time, in the midst of all the serious challenges America currently faces, to promote amending the Constitution of the United States of America to "protect" the institution of marriage from homosexuals. He knows it's an exercise in futility, and he knows he has a huge list of better things to do with his (and the nation's) time and attention. Yet he is doing it anyway. Why? To shore up his vaunted base, to cater to mouth-breathers who have nothing better to do than get their hate on for faggots.

Well, I don't want the leadership of my party (by default, admittedly) wasting valuable time and resources trying to plow that field. These are serious times, and those are profoundly unserious, ignorant people, and it is a monumental waste of time trying to convert or appeal to them. They will not change until and unless they have to. There's a saying about gas prices and driving habits -- people who drive gas-guzzlers don't start to think about driving a more economical car until gas prices have simply forced them to a point where the cost of not changing is greater than the cost of changing.

Call it behavioral inertia; call it what you will. The point is the same, and if we believe in the polls regarding Bush and the Republican Party, then the Dems' political energy is much better spent adding to existing momentum, rather than futilely trying again and again to overcome the social inertia of mossback ignorance and paranoia. Again, there's a vast pool of people out there who would vote if they just felt that it mattered; seeing Howard Dean take on The Man, rather than show up on the 700 Club hat in hand to kiss the redneck pope's ring, is far more likely to incite those people to finally act.

I was one of those supposedly apathetic people once, long ago. Now I vote even though I know it really doesn't matter. Don't believe me? Do a quick little quantum events calculus in your mind, and imagine that in Ohio, everyone got to vote, the machines worked the way they were supposed to, there were no official efforts to suppress Democratic voters, and Kerry won the state. What do you think would have been in store for President Kerry, without some truly fundamental changes in the way the message gets out? There's a big fucking right-wing machine out there that lives to dig through liberals' garbage and make shit up if need be, and there's no left-wing counterpart. Kerry would have faced a foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Republican Congress led with slavering glee by Tom DeLay. Kerry would have started in a hole, having to clean up Junior's mess with an opposition congress and a braying propaganda machine ankle-biting him the entire way. He would have had to deal with the perennially put-out, resentful attitude of dust-bowl red-staters who project their inferiority complex on to everyone else, when the fact is the rest of us really don't give a shit one way or the other -- we're too busy openly fornicating and burning flags.

No, seriously, we have allowed media humps like Jeffrey Goldberg to condition us to this stupid red-state/blue-state paradigm. Almost every state is purple, a great deal of the supposedly solid south was within five points of going Kerry in '04, and the "values voters" -- precisely because they are single-issue and thus largely useless -- are wildly overrated in terms of political utility.

Let us, once and for all, cease being led around by our dicks on this stupid "values" nonsense, that one side might know something profound that escapes the other side somehow. Here's what happened in 2004 -- a few million more goobers voted for one Skull-and-Bonesman over another Skull-and-Bonesman, because they had somehow managed to convince themselves that their Skull-and-Bonesman "shared their values". We can parse all the arcane memetic and heuristic theory we want, but that's essentially what it all boils down to.

The sooner Democrats -- urban and rural alike -- realize this, cast off the chains in which they have wrapped themselves, in this delusional dichotomy of noble savage vs. diffident swell, the sooner they can just be themselves, and give their constituents some honest choices about policy and the business of running the country. It's so much simpler and more sensible than trying to be everything to everyone. As Bush (of all people) has said, you may not like him, but at least you know where he stands. People can't get behind someone that's constantly scrambling to get behind themselves.

Here's the message (you can thank me later for handing you some balls and brains, Democrats):
Vote for me, and I will do my damndest to fix what they fucked up. I will stay out of your bedroom and your church, and your neighbor's bedroom and his church. I think a nation of people that mind their own business is happier and more productive than a nation of busybodies. Rather than pander to people's baser instincts, I will appeal to their better angels.

I will make sure that everyone has opportunity for jobs and education, and that regular people don't have to worry about losing their house if their child gets hurt or falls ill. I will make sure our friends realize that we are a good friend, and that our enemies realize that we are a bad enemy to have, but that we're reasonable and value dialogue and negotiation over brute force. We do not have to operate outside the norms of law and decent behavior to protect ourselves from our enemies, nor should we give away our ideals for a false sense of security.

It really is that simple. Quit treating people like they're children, and some of them might just stop acting like children.


Ueberscheisse said...

Solid advice except for a minor detail- the press. No matter what a Democrat does, the press will insist that it's a pose. Democrats posture, try to straddle fences, etc. Only Republicans are genuine.
Viz Media Matters, Bob Somerby et al. Figure out how to counter *that*.

Heywood J. said...

Ueberscheisse (great name, by the way):

I've certainly thought and written a lot about that subject over the last year or so. The librul media have definitely been no help to either actual or fake libruls. They are too busy showing everyone how evenhanded and objective they are to actually do their jobs.

But the "good" news is that at least some of the Democrats' problem is of their own making, and is thus under their control. A lot of the perception problems that get constantly recirculated by the media can be brought under control with consistency and discipline.

You look at the things that have made the Republicans successful -- discipline, money, organization, and repetition of message -- and they have worked. They took a long-term approach and built a machine, while the Democrats nervously try to cobble together a coalition to squeak through one more election cycle.

I think the Dems will gain some ground this year, if only because the GOP is in such disarray. But I also can't shake the feeling that the Dems will seize the tremendous opportunity granted them by an electoral victory, and instantly decide not to ruffle any feathers. It is that timorous lack of vision more than anything that holds them back time and again, not some supposed inability to speak in tongues with Kansans. There is no trick to any of this, but the Democrats have convinced themselves that there is, rather than understanding that they really don't want or need to cater to the evangelical vote, if they just went for the enormous non-voter bloc and motivated them with real ideas and passion.

Once they get solid on that, other things -- including that damned media -- will fall into place, I guarantee you. Everybody in the media wants to be the freshest trend whore, so it's just a matter of exploiting that herd mentality and generating some momentum.

jj said...

c.o.r.p.o.r.a.t.e m.o.n.e.y

nice thot tho.

Heywood J. said...


True, but at the end of the day, regardless of the political inclinations of upper management, corporations operate in the real world. They are not distracted by "values" issues. They do not see "red" or "blue", or even "purple", but green.

Corporations contribute to both parties, but right now they favor Republicans for a reason -- they keep winning. I'm not saying it's going to be easy for the Democrats to turn the tide, but they definitely can do it, if they quit wasting motion on these tiresome "values" issues.

Distill the message, pound it into the fucking ground, make sure that anyone who talks out of school to some asshole reporter ends up selling oranges at the freeway off-ramp, and watch how quickly things fall into place and Democrats start winning in places they hadn't.

And at that point, the money will start to come in as well. I'd like to be idealistic and say "let's do our elections like they do in France" but we all know that will never happen. Politics is the art of the possible, as they say, and a focused, motivated Democratic Party could really undo some of the changes the McKinley -- uh, I mean the Cheney -- administration has enacted.

I don't know why they keep having to be told to take their thumb out of their asses, but they do. They are incredibly distracted by nonsensical pieces such as Goldberg's, and get themselves locked into these no-win situations, where they are foreveer trying to win the hearts of people who are already psychologically predisposed to dislike them.