Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What did we learn in Florida? Ugly politics work... And they don't.

With the results in and the pundits having a field day making wild claims on TV about what Florida means for the rest of the primary season, it's time to get down to brass tacks. The real question isn't what Florida means for the rest of the primary season, but what did we learn from it? Did Romney finally show he can unite the Republican party and beat President Obama? Is the style we saw in Florida from Gingrich and Romney going to continue? I offer my thoughts:

What did we learn?
We learned that Romney intends to win this process by any means necessary. He didn't just take off the gloves, he put on boxing gloves and wrapped them in barbed wire. He and his Super PACs spent an absolute fortune, pundits are saying he outspent Gingrich by $15 million in Florida (that means he spent a minimum of 4x more in Florida than Newt), and they spent almost 100% of it on purely negative ads trashing Gingrich. The attack ads (some of which were immediately disproved by Politifact and other sources, but people don't normally look into things that well) aren't a new tactic, we saw how well Romney's negative tactics worked in Iowa when he demolished Gingrich there. What was a new development was how personal he got on the campaign trail. We didn't see the Romney that promotes his business and leadership experience in Florida, we saw a new Romney that focused his energy on lashing out against Gingrich and pointing out his past in Congress and as a consultant and using that as a platform to make attacks against him. I wondered if Romney would go for the throat after being put on notice in South Carolina, but I underestimated how far he was willing to go with it. We also saw a different side of Gingrich than we've seen to date. The skilled orator who highlights his past as a political strategist and conservative while promoting his "grandiose" ideas was missing in Florida. We saw a Gingrich that appeared uncomfortable while under constant attack and failed to defend himself in an effective way against the attacks, whether they were true or false. He appeared frustrated, defensive, and angry and lost his focus on the issues and passion for his ideas we've seen so far. The other candidates, Santorum and Paul, barely register as having done anything in Florida. And before you start yelling at me, yes, I know both of them appeared at some events across the state and participated in the debates. Paul wisely skipped Florida to avoid wasting money and Santorum did what he could with the shoestring budget his campaign has been reduced to. We already knew Ron Paul was in this for the long haul, but it now appears Santorum is going to stay in the race as long as he can despite being flat in the polls too. I still don't think this can continue all the way to the convention despite his claim that it will- Santorum simply doesn't have the money or the loyal base of Paul to make it that far. He will have to win another state if he wants to build any momentum back up, and although that's possible, I don't think it's too probable. 

Did Romney show us he can unite the Republican Party and beat President Obama?
In a word- No. Romney had his strongest performance to date which is certainly important, but he still has a long ways to go to prove he can unite the Republican base and still appeal to any independents in a general election. Florida was a mixed bag for him. Yes, he won the primary and the delegates, but at a great cost. Not only did his campaign spend more than quadruple the amount of money campaigning in Florida than Gingrich (Santorum and Paul won't register on the spending scale compared to either in Florida), he also lost a lot of his appeal to independents and potential Democratic defectors with the way he spent the money. Polls now show Romney's likability numbers have been dropping since his scorched earth attack ad strategy started, and most surprisingly polls now show that Floridians would rather vote for Obama than Romney. This puts a whole new kink in the whole process. It has been assumed up until now that Romney was the most electable candidate and polls to date had shown him as the most likely to beat Obama, but that image of inevitability could be shattered if the way he wins the Republican nomination makes him so unlikable he can't beat Obama. Romney is going to have to find a new way to beat Gingrich if he wants to be the nominee, because his constant negative attacks are taking a toll on his electability and overall appeal. Jabs here and there are fine and are pretty effective, but his current plan is a two edged sword and it will end up cutting him as badly as it cuts his opponents if he isn't careful.

Is the style we saw in Florida from Gingrich and Romney going to continue?
No, I don't think so. Gingrich's concession speech (well, there wasn't really any concession going on in it but I'm not sure what else you'd call it) after the results were almost all in was probably a signal of how his campaign will be run from here on out. He knows he didn't handle the attacks well in Florida and that his own counter attacks failed to do any real damage to Romney and he needs to adjust his strategy if he's going to be the nominee come August. I think Gingrich will stick to what he does best: promote big ideas, rail against Obama and the media when it's beneficial to him, and lay out his vision for "rebuilding" America. He'll have to get some jabs in against Romney here and there, but he needs to appear to rise above the attacks to beat them and I think he now knows that. Romney's campaign machine is too big and well funded not to know that although they won the delegates in Florida, their current direction could cost them the election in November even if it succeeds in getting them the nomination. I think you'll see Romney focus more on railing against Obama and trying to paint himself as someone the "common man" can connect with, because right now he's still not making them believe he is the one that can make the economy work for them again. I think too many of his Gingrich attacks have been called out in Florida and Newt will theoretically be wiser from the mess of Florida and be better prepared for future grilling by the Romney ad machine, so there's no logic in continuing in the vein of relentless negativity. The Super PACs for both will probably keep the anger dialed up for the rest of the process though, and the candidates will of course claim there's nothing they can do about that.
So, like I said after South Carolina: Things are getting fun, and it will be interesting to see where things head. Luckily for my study habits February is a pretty slow month for the campaigning, but let me know what you think and I'll do my best to respond.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Will the Debates Matter in Florida?

With the days until the Florida primary counting down, the debates were once again being closely watched as a potential way for the top two candidates to steal momentum from the other, or even for one of the come from behind candidates to make their case to the voters. I missed Monday's debate (I know, for shame!) but I watched last night's performance with some interest and was a bit dissapointed that it seemed pretty balanced overall. Not that being balanced in performance is a bad thing, it just means that last night's debate, unlike the South Carolina debates, probably isn't going to significantly help or hurt any of the candidates, and that makes me wonder if the debates will even matter in Florida after being so critical in SC.
As far as who did well last night, it's hard for me to say anyone "won" since no one had a spectacular night and they were all a bit mixed.
Romney got some good hits in on Gingrich (hypocritical hits, but I count them as good since Newt didn't hit back effectively to point out the hypocrisy) early and then got back to stumbling over things when diverted from his talking points. is actual performance in questions was pretty mediocre, but his fake moral high ground card may help him out as long as people don't watch his ads or listen to him speak at events.
Gingrich was on the defensive all night and that's a weaker position for him than the offensive, but he seemed to handle the immigration and particularly Israel answers well and that gave him some momentum to close out on. There are two things Newt needs to do if he wants to keep momentum on his side though, and he's not doing them well right now. The first is he needs to stop making outlandish attacks he's not willing to back up. Calling Romney anti-immigrant was a risky play and it backfired. He needs to pay attention to Romney's style- make small numerous attacks that are difficult to counter and then pretend to be morally superior after your attacks. He also desperately needs to be able to counter Romney's attacks more effectively. Romney successfully countered Newt's attacks without having much more substance or any more truth to his statements than Gingrich's attacks had, and unless Gingrich can follow up Romney's attacks with some solid facts or an effectively pointing out Romney's hypocrisy on that issue he's going to appear to be the weaker candidate. I'm sure his debate coach or campaign staff are telling him this too, I just hope he listens or this won't be a two or three man race for long.

Santorum came across much stronger than normal because of his "get back to the issues" plea (you know he had that one up his sleeve waiting for an opportune moment- he's seen how Newt capitalizes off calling out media fluff questions and he wanted a piece), but when asked to explain his own views he stumbles around and doesn't appear prepared. It was also more than a little amusing to see him call for civility and ending attacks and then turn around and use his questions as an opportunity to attack Romney and Newt. He's desperate to do well enough in Florida to regain enough momentum to continue his campaign and it shows.

Ron Paul didn't have to do much defending and people still like his message about constitutional freedoms and the money supply and such, but he also didn't earn any new points or followers since it was pretty much the same old thing all over again. He has his strong anti-establishment young voter base, they're not going anywhere, but they're also not going to matter in Florida since it's an all or nothing state for delegates. The only thing that he might be able to do is kill off Rick Santorum's campaign, but he would need to build a bit more support in Florida to do that. I do think that his message will resonate with some of the elderly voters that remember the "good old days" of cheaper healthcare, not being groped at the airport, and retirement accounts that were solvent, but the elderly vote is probably more likely to gravitate to Romney (partly for looks/style and success in business) and Newt because they make more loud statements about how to fix things than Ron Paul effectively delivers. 

It'll be interesting to see how Florida plays out. I have no idea who will win- Newt has used debates to his advantage thus far, but his performances this week have just been average and that may not be enough to overcome the pre-existing Romney machine advantage in the sunshine state, which is what he needed to do. Romney has done well enough in debates and has been scathing enough in his attacks against Gingrich in Florida events that he may not be gaining new support per se, but he's not giving people a reason to vote for someone else and that's probably all it will take with the others fighting for whatever's left. Newt and Romney will be fighting each other, barring some miraculous Paul or Santorum performance in Florida, for at least a few more states, but Gingrich needs to stay pretty even with Romney in Florida to keep momentum on his side. I do think that Florida might be enough to kill off Santorum if he comes in last- he's out of money and out of momentum and he needs something to put some new life back in his campaign if he's going to be able to continue in Nevada and beyond. If Ron Paul, who's not even actively campaigning in Florida, beats him there then I think he'll have no other option but to drop out. Paul has the luxury of a pretty steady money supply and loyal followers, so he's going to be around as long as he possibly can. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Who's Really Not Paying Their "Fair Share"?

If I had to pick one thing that has been annoying me most about our President's speeches recently, it would have to be his use of classist rhetoric to blame our government's economic failings on the wealthy in our country. Last night's State of the Union, to no one's surprise, included his tagline complaint that some aren't "paying their fair share". Although on the surface it should be obvious that there is no logical reason to believe this anti-rich rhetoric, it hasn't stopped a lot of people from doing exactly that, so I decided to look into it a little more depth. In all reality, all of President Obama's anti-"rich" tax speech can be boiled down to two questions.
1- Who are the "rich" in our society? and 2- Do they pay their "fair share"?
1- The first question has had a few different answers over the past few years, but the only answer that matters right now is what the president thinks "rich" means. President Obama has been calling for a tax increase on all families making over $250,000 a year and an even more significant increase on people earning over $1,000,000 a year. The president has said this would leave taxes the same for 99% of families. Unfortunately, that's just false. $250,000 a year may sound like a lot to you or me, but it doesn't put you in the top 1% of taxpayers. It takes an annual income of $380,354 to be one of top top 1% (or $343,927 depending on the recent year of IRS stats you use). It used to be quite a bit higher before the recession hit hard, in 2007 it was $424,413, but it has been on the decline while the economy suffers. So here's my first big issue with the President's rhetoric: It's founded on one blatant lie and one implied one. The first is that it will only affect the top 1% of taxpayers, which as you can see is just not true. Are these people still in the highest brackets of income? Yes, but the impact of the tax increases will not be not near as isolated as the President tries to make it sound. The second, more subtle, lie is that the "rich" have not been affected by the tough times our country is going through and therefore can afford to pay more taxes while the rest of us are suffering. That's also clearly false, as is evidenced by the drastic decline in the amount of earnings it takes to be in the top 1%. There's also the underlying concern I have with saying that anyone that makes more than $250,000 a year is rich. You and I all know people, probably a lot of them, that make more than that and most of them don't qualify as rich in my book. They don't own private planes, drive Lamborghinis, or have a vacation house on the beach. Depending on where you live, $250,000 a year might not even cover a nicer than average house. The $250,000+ a year is a category that a lot of your friends may fall into. Many small business owners, attorneys, physicians, realtors, and other professionals may be in this income category. These people make a good living, but they're not isolated from the effects of a bad economy and they still have to go to work to make ends meet. They're not sitting around counting their money or living purely off investments, they put years into building their businesses and practices to make a good living and presumably work hard for their money. More importantly is that these are the people that hire the rest of us. They invest in their businesses and by doing so allow many of us to earn a paycheck. If we increase their taxes, do you honestly believe that is going to help create more jobs? Even if we only increased the taxes on the "wealthy" that make millions a year and are job creators on a much larger scale, the logic still stands: Business owners don't hire more people when you take more of their money away each year. Since many people agree that the most important part of getting our economy back on track is getting people back to work, why are we suddenly attacking these people as not paying their fair share?
2- Is it because there is some truth to the President's claim that they aren't paying their fair share? He has been quite willing to have Warren Buffett, one the wealthiest men in the world, use the media as a way to promote the "rich should pay more" message and build resentment against the "rich" that disagree with his view. If Mr. Buffett thinks the rich should pay more taxes those that say they already pay their fair share are just being greedy, right? Surely one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. wouldn't be offering to pay more taxes if there wasn't some system in place favoring the "rich" Obama is rallying against, correct? Wrong. Warren Buffett is the third richest man in the world with a net worth of $50 billion dollars. In 2010, he made nearly $63 million in income. He has said in the past his effective tax rate is around 19% and that he should pay more taxes. His lower tax rate, much like Mitt Romney's, is because his income doesn't come from a paycheck each year like most Americans, or even most of those earnign over $250,000 a year, but from investments. This is the first critical point that people need to understand- increasing income taxes won't affect Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or even Mitt Romney much at all, it will just hurt those that rely on paychecks to make a living. So why is President Obama using Warren Buffett to justify increases in income taxes? Well... I don't know of any reason that doesn't assume we're idiots or have purely political motives. But even if the tax increases were going to affect him, Warren Buffett has as little in common with someone earning $250,000 a year as a person earning $250,000 a year does with a homeless person. His annual income is 252 times that of what President Obama is classifying as rich. To put that in context, the family earning $250,000 a year makes five times the average household income of $50,221. Who do you think they feel closest to on the income scale- Mr. Buffett or the average family? To answer this "are they paying their fair share" question though we need to use some real numbers, not fight rhetoric with rhetoric, so here goes... In 2009, the top 50% of Americans, those earning over $32,396 a year paid 97.75% of ALL taxes. The top 10%, (>$112,124) paid 70.47% of all taxes. The top 5% (>$154,643) paid 58.66% of all taxes, and the top 1% (>$343,927) paid 36.73% of ALL taxes. So if you earned between $32,396 and $112,124, you make up 40% of Americans that pay 27% of all taxes. If you made less, you make up 50% of all Americans that pay 2.25% of all taxes. For the graph lovers among us, here's a pie chart: Total Taxes Paid by Income
So there you have it, a total breakdown of who pays the bulk of the taxes under current laws. The top 1% of people pay 37% of all our country's taxes, and the top 5% pay nearly 60% of all the taxes each year. But is what they're paying "fair"? That's a much more difficult question that has no objective answer, so I'll turn to historical data to give us a better idea of what these people have paid over time.  Below is a chart showing the effective household tax rates for the past 30 years:
Houshold Effective Tax Rates
As you can see, the highest earners have seen a mild drop in total taxes when compared to 1979 numbers, but they have not enjoyed as much of a drop in effective tax rates as any of the other quintiles over the past 30 years. Yet they're the ones being targeted. If anything, the nearly half of Americans who pay no net income taxes should look up the definition of the word "fair" in the dictionary before complaining about how much the rich pay. The highest earners pay the highest effective tax rates among American families and pay over half of all our country's tax income. So what gives?
If the President wants to increase taxes on the rich (a mistake, in my opinion), he shouldn't be doing it on the premise that they're not paying their fair share or are somehow eluding paying their taxes- the numbers clearly show they pay more taxes than the rest of us combined and have the highest effective tax rates. He also shouldn't be using billionaires who don't pay any significant amount of income taxes to justify raising taxes on those that do rely on a paycheck for a living. Investment income and paycheck income aren't taxed the same (the theory has always been that we like to encourage people to invest their money, not punish them), so why are Mr. Buffett and President Obama pushing these proposed increases on the working "rich" who pay income taxes using investment income as the example? If someone as unimportant as me can demonstrate his premise to be wrong, then imagine what his political opponents can do. Call it what it is- a "we're broke so we're going to punish the people that make the most money to pay for our lack of budget skills" tax increase. The use of anti-rich rhetoric and playing off the sympathies for the Occupy Wall Street movement is nothing more than an attempt to incite class warfare in an election year and the Obama campaign team knows it. The populist tone has been a theme of the campaign from day one, but at least it was based on happy, if somewhat empty, ideas like "hope" and "change". Now that they need someone to blame for the mess they and their predecessors have gotten our country into, they've decided to pick up their pitchforks and torches and go after the so-called rich under the illusion that it's somehow partly their fault because they're not paying enough right now. If the President thinks punishing the people that generally hire the rest of us and stimulate the economy is the best way to pay for our country's irresponsible amount of debt, so be it, but let's not pretend it's because they're not paying their fair share.
All tax data used in this post comes from the Internal Revenue Service. If you'd like to look at some of the data yourself, the IRS and the Tax Policy Center are good resources.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A psychiatrist thinks that being on wife #3 might actually be a good thing?

This is an interesting take on the issue of Gingrich’s previous marriages by a psychiatrist writing for Fox News. I have to admit I’d never thought about it this way, but it is a line of thought that strikes me as particularly rational, even though I don’t like Newt’s past marital judgement issues. Check the link below to read the short article and see why this psychiatrist believes that having been married three times under those circumstances might mean Gingrich is an especially strong candidate for president. What’s your take?

Newt Gingrich’s second wife Marianne revealed Thursday to ABC News that her former husband wanted an “open marriage.” But here’s my take — when three women want to sign on for life with a man who is now running for president, I worry more about whether we’ll be clamoring for a third Gingrich term, not whether we’ll want to let him go after one.
Source: soc.li

Lobbying in Government Isn't All Bad

Politicalprof: SOPA/PIPA and Why Lobbying Is Not Corrupt

I have yet to post about my happiness that SOPA/PIPA were (at least for the time being) defeated, but more important than my own feelings about the bills and their demise is how they were killed. Politicalprof has a very good analysis of how the people that wrote, sponsored or co-sponsored, and pushed the legislation who were vilified by the twitter and blogospheres in the past week probably didn’t realize they were doing something “bad”. Even more interesting in his analysis is that he explains why lobbying is actually an important part of the democratic system and how everyone who tweeted, facebooked, sent letters, signed protests, etc. on the subject became lobbyists themselves for a day. I certainly contacted my Congressman and Senators about the anti-piracy bills, as I do so somewhat often on issues I feel are important, and was pleased to see two of them, both cosponsors of the respective bills, withdraw their support. What I hadn’t fully thought about is how millions of people who, unlike me, don’t frequently send letters or sign petitions on issues became lobbyists for the internet for a day, and reading this take on it certainly made me smile.
My turn back on the skewer: lobbying is not an inherently bad thing.
To make my case, let me briefly recount an under-appreciated part of the debate about PIPA and SOPA: the roles that lobbying played in both designing and killing the proposed bills (at least SOPA).
News flash: lots of bills…
Source: politicalprof

Do Endorsements Really Matter?

Wandering Reveries: Endorsements: What Are They Worth?

After seeing the total lack of effect (well, positive effect, anyway) of Gov. Haley’s, John McCain’s, and a slew of others endorsements for Mitt Romney, and the inability of the significant endorsements of major Christian conservative leaders for Rick Santorum to propel him higher in the polls, I was sitting here tonight wondering how much these kinds of endorsements matter at all. Turns out another blog, Wandering Reveries, looked at this a week ago and preemptively answered my question.
Both CNN and Washington Post have discovered that endorsements do not have much impact on the outcome of the election, i.e., they don’t influence voters choices significantly.
It’s something I’ve said before, but apparently a new survey from Pew has gotten the attention of the media.
Source: zachvaughn

Saturday, January 21, 2012

South Carolina thoughts: What Romney, Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum needs to do now..

South Carolina Primary Results
South Carolina results are in and Newt Gingrich didn't just beat Mitt Romney, he demolished him as effectively as Romney demolished the competition in New Hampshire. Some people on the internet are upset about this and claiming the Republicans are fractured and grasping at straws. I think this is where things get fun actually. The continuously shifting momentum isn't really a problem as long as it produces a stronger overall candidate in the end. I do have some thoughts on what each of the remaining candidates need to do now though:
Romney has to prove he can appeal to more than 20-30% of the Republican voters, something he has failed to do so far. If he can't, he's screwed. For that (and some other reasons), I personally think that the DNC would prefer to run against Romney than any of the others, but explaining that takes more time than I have right now.
Gingrich has to prove this win wasn't a fluke and that he can adequately counter the concerns about his past (whether those are political or personal) and improve his negative perception numbers. He has momentum on his side right now, and he typically gains the most from the debates, but there are a lot of people out there that still have very negative feelings about him and he needs to win some more of them over. I was one of them, so I know it's possible, but it takes effort on the voters part and that's not something I'd want to be relying on... Voters are lazy. He needs to find a way to make the Republicans that can't stand him now, for one reason or another, more comfortable with the idea of a Gingrich nominee.
Santorum needs money and organization to start doing better again, but I don't think he will. His stances are too extreme even for many social conservatives and he is possibly the worst overall speaker of the bunch. If he continues the tactics that failed him during the S.C. debates of lashing out at all his opponents with exaggerated (and occasionally false) attacks, I think what momentum he has will fade and his campaign will be over in the next few weeks. He would have to replace his attacks, despite his statement tonight that he is running a positive campaign, with real substance and plans, something that he has yet to really do. His pro-family views appeal to some conservatives and we all know by now that he wants to get manufacturing going again, but how any of that translates into policy or action has been poorly defined in debates or ads so far. Any chance for his campaign to survive requires fixing that issue.
As for Ron Paul... well, I don't know that he has to prove anything. He's done better than most early media assessments thought he could, and his message has appealed enough to the voters that all the other candidates are paying attention and adopting more and more of his principles. He seems very happy with that and I'm honestly not sure if Dr. Paul actually wants to be president or not. If he does, he needs to have a primary win and soon to allow him to get enough momentum to have a shot at the nomination. To do that he needs to focus on his strengths and shy away from the issues people aren't comfortable with, like his stance on Iran. Personally, I think he should start talking about how he would fix healthcare. As a physician this should be a strong point for him, but he hasn't used it to his advantage yet and I don't understand why. He also needs to stop rambling during speeches and debates because it's pulling him off his message and dilutes his natural passion. If he can do those things he's still very much in the game and I personally think he has a better shot than Santorum at remaining a viable candidate.
But those are just my ramblings, I'd like to hear your ideas on this one. Reply below and let me know what you think!

Does media bias exist against Ron Paul, for Romney, and for Obama? My response to Beer Barrel Politics:

Today another political blog called Beer Barrel Politics posted a graph and short reflection about the Media "Bias" in politics. I enjoy reading their posts and though it would be interesting, but their take on this troubled me simply because the way they interpreted that graph is part of the problem with our country right now. We like to jump to snap conclusions based off very little information or just enough information to agree with what we want to believe regardless of what more adequate information would actually show us. You can view their post and graph here: http://beerbarrelpolitics.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/media-bias-in-one-chart .
The quote that they summed up their graph with was:
"Here are some common perceptions that this graph dispels:
1) Ron Paul gets abused by the media, is treated unfairly, and does not get the respect he deserves.
2) The media loves establishment politicians like Romney.
3) Back Obama is beloved by the media, and gets disproportionately positive coverage."
This graph is interesting, but it doesn't dispel any of those perceptions simply because the sample size is far too small to claim those perceptions are false or unreasonable. One week of coverage is not nearly enough to claim people that believe any of those perceptions are wrong. I don't necessarily agree or disagree with any of those perceptions, but let me give three quick reasons you don't address with a one-week graph that those things might be true:
1- Ron Paul has received much more positive coverage in the last few weeks since his strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire than I've ever heard before. However, I, like many others, have heard him repeatedly dismissed as a "fringe" candidate and "unelectable" by a variety of political media pundits.I was actually a Paul supporter back in the 08 primaries and all I heard from the pundits and anchors back then was how he wasn't a realistic candidate, if they remembered to mention him at all. Being ignored totally in a process where name recognition is so crucial could certainly be considered negative by some people. In fact, until recently, was notorious for being ignored at debates. I think a graph showing the amount of time each candidate spoke at a debate, or the number of questions they were asked, would be more relevant to the Ron Paul perception, otherwise you need data going back pre-2008 showing the same information.
2- During the last couple weeks the Bain Capital stories and issues about Romney's taxes have been hot topics, so of course the press about him is mostly negative recently. That doesn't mean it always has been. Romney has long been viewed as the "inevitable" candidate by the media due to his resources and name recognition, and I find it hard to believe that having almost all of the media calling you the likely nominee and talking about your future campaign against Barack Obama like the primaries have already been decided isn't positive coverage. Based off what I've seen about Romney in the press over the last several months, the media has spent a lot more time talking about the strength of his campaign than they have criticizing it. Having major news networks proclaiming you the likely/probable/inevitable/etc. nominee is certainly good news for your campaign (although the Romney camp has done a very poor job at capitalizing off of that), but more importantly it is bad news for all the other candidates who then have to spend time proving they're still competitive to undecided voters. Causing his opponents to have to spend extra time and resources explaining how well they've actually been doing in the polls compared to Romney and trying to tear down that aura of inevitability surrounding his campaign is certainly a good thing for Romney, regardless of whether you consider that positive coverage or not. That doesn't mean they "love establishment politicians", but it does seem to indicate they don't find a lot to criticize about Romney himself that they can turn into media friendly soundbites.
3- For your Obama perception you would need media coverage that covers the last four years. President Obama's level of media appeal and charisma have been declining pretty much since he took office and as such the media has much less incentive to talk about him in a positive light. With his current approval ratings and an upcoming election, I wouldn't expect there to be a lot of positive press for Obama this year, but that doesn't mean you're correct in saying that the perception that the media likes Barack Obama is false, just that the energy, passion, and rhetoric the media seemed to like so much in 2008 is gone and as such they don't spend time talking about it. I don't know if the media is pro-Obama or not, but I think that he's going to have a much harder time in 2012 campaigning on warm fuzzy feelings and completely abstract (and I'd argue mostly empty) promises of "hope" and "change" when the media has spent the last few years reminding Americans how bad the economy is and running stories about his promises that didn't happen or didn't work like he'd hoped they would. I think the media will actually be a stumbling block to his reelection campaign, but that has more to do with current events than the way they have portrayed him in the past. There's simply not enough information in the graph to have any influence on that perception.
The bottom line is this: I don't have the necessary data to go through and counter your graph or I would out of curiosity, but a graph covering six days of data has little to no bearing on any of those perceptions. If you visited Little Rock this past week and saw it was in the 50s and 60s all week, you might say "Well that just dispels the perception that it actually gets cold in the winter down here." and although your observation is true for this tiny window of time, it's certainly false overall. I appreciate the time you put into your posts and the graphs are always fun, but making blanket statements based off too little data never leads to good results. You may think those perceptions are illogical, but your attempt to dispel them is equally so. You can't put sanity back into politics without being informed, and you just don't have enough information here to tell all these other people they're wrong.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ron Paul gets a raw deal from the pundits...

Tonight's CNN debate was a mess. I thought Fox News did a mediocre job (they normally do) with the debate earlier this week, but tonight CNN managed to make that one look like it had substance. I don't know if you could call anyone a winner tonight, no one really excelled they were so bogged down with personal background garbage, but watching the comments/"scorecards" going up on twitter and facebook I think Ron Paul is getting a raw deal. 

Everyone seems to have Dr. Paul as the weakest performer tonight and I think that's incorrect. In my view, Santorum (who admittedly is my least favorite of the remaining candidates) was the weakest tonight simply because his entire strategy rested on throwing attacks, many of which were completely irrelevant to the issues at hand, at the others and attempting to play a consistent conservative high card with each attack. All three of his opponents put him back in his place repeatedly with answers or stats to counter his attacks and his strategy reeked of desperation and an overall lack of substance. You don't play the "I'm doing well in the polls and I can take on Obama" card and turn around and pout or throw petty personal attacks at your opponents the next second and then not be able to adequately back them up. He did succeed in bruising Romney a bit, but I thought Romney had a pretty good first hour when he managed to inject some passion and excitement in his ideas for the first time I can remember since I started watching the debates. The rest of the night wasn't as great for him, and he did a pretty poor job answering the tax and abortion questions, but I don't think he did badly overall. Likewise, Gingrich has a very strong opening exchange, but you could tell he was a little off his game overall tonight compared to previous debates and I think this personal stuff going on with his angry ex-wife is taking a toll on his concentration regardless of how much of it is true. Paul didn't do a very good job of delivering real answers to several of the questions tonight, which is a bit unusual for him, but his style was smoother than normal and he got some hits in on Santorum simply by countering Santorum's statements against him.  It's the first debate I wish I hadn't watched, but I was curious to see how things played out with Rick Perry off the stage. The dynamic was certainly different, but it's impossible to say how much the field has changed when a debate centers around unimportant personal history and petty attacks instead of the biggest issues facing whoever our next President will be. 

With that said, I think Ron Paul did a lot better tonight than the media is giving him credit for and he deserves to be placed ahead of Rick Santorum in any evaluation of the debate. Paul was able to counter every one of Santorum's attacks and in my opinion did some damage to Santorum's credibility in the way he handled the issues. I may not have Dr. Paul as my top pick in this race anymore, but I won't ignore it when the media ignores his strengths. 

I'm a Ron Paul Defector, but Let Me Explain...

In the second South Carolina debate this week, Rick Santorum said he was the best person for the presidency because he could get results in Washington. While doing so, he criticized Newt Gingrich for the "grandiosity" of his ideas and said that Newt rarely gets results. Although I think that's just factually incorrect, I found it interesting that with the candidates whittled down to the final four, they're finally getting more serious about who can actually accomplish what they preach. Although I explained in my last post why I think Gingrich is the most logical person to get results as President, I want to explain why I think Ron Paul, my other favored candidate in the race, isn't the right choice for the nomination. 

My concern with Ron Paul is exactly Santorum's concern with Gingrich. Ron Paul has a good talk and a lot of pro-liberty/freedom rhetoric, and I do like quite a bit of what he says, but he can't get results out of any of it because he has little to no interest in working with others. I voted for Ron Paul in the 08 Primary, and I do like him as a politician (which is rare for me), but I can't get over the feeling he'd be an incredibly ineffective president. He has been in Congress a very long time and his record reflects his beliefs, which I like. Unfortunately he's largely ignored by both parties and spins his wheels when trying to push for or implement any of his ideas. This is actually a large part of why (other than the intelligence, etc. mentioned previously) I currently favor Gingrich- I think he would actually get results simply because of his history. No, I don't think he sticks to his beliefs as hardline as Paul does, but I don't think you can actually be that inflexible and get anything accomplished in Washington D.C. No, I don't really like parts of Gingrich's personal background, and no, I don't agree with everything he has done (this goes for both though), but he did get results in the 90s working with both sides and I think he could do it again.  Gingrich was instrumental in reaching a bipartisan balanced budget even after his very aggressive campaign to put Republicans into Congress in 94 and he actually got Bill Clinton to sign it eventually. I'm sure there were compromises made along the way, but I can't think of any American right now that doesn't want their government to get back to a balanced budget and put the ridiculous partisan politics aside long enough to actually get some work done. 

Ultimately, I think that's what we need this election, whether Republicans realize it yet or not. You don't need a leader with great ideas that can't get anyone else to support him- the Presidency is not a bubble of total power. We need someone who can get results out of a dysfunctional government and start getting things back on track. Unfortunately I just can't find a way to convince myself that Paul is that candidate. Based off his track record of largely standing alone on issues and being known as "Dr. No" even in his own party, I don't think Paul can get any bipartisan traction going or get many (if any) of his bigger reform goals accomplished. The president can't stand alone and get anything done, and that is exactly what Dr. Paul has done with his time in Congress, no matter how much I respect him and his views. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why Newt Gingrich Dominates Debates

Tonight's Fox News debate may have been the worst one I've watched from the perspective of loaded or "gotcha" questions. Juan Williams was far from the only one asking loaded questions, but his questions really seemed hell bent on creating racial tensions and judgments out of statements or policies that had little, if anything, to do with race and the audience was getting fed up with it too judging by their noises and twitter. The other moderators were no better, their questions were just spread over more issues. I don't know if that's a Fox News thing or what, but it was quite irritating. 

I thought Newt did a very good job tonight because he took his aptitude for these debate settings and injected enough passion into it to make him come across as the most genuine in their views tonight by a good margin. He normally does well in debates, but pretty much everything I've read tonight felt he "won" tonight with his performance and the feedback was surprisingly positive from people that I know don't care for him. Romney had a rare "bad" performance, which is probably what allowed Gingrich to steal more of the show, mainly because he let himself get thrown off his normally smooth style by the others and their questions, most notably Santorum. It wasn't all bad of course, but he was all over the place tonight and I think it might have actually hurt him a little as far as SC is concerned. Santorum had his best debate performance tonight by a good margin and I think probably scored some points off of Romney by being able to appear more knowledgeable on some policy issues and calling him out on his redirection in how he somewhat avoided questions. Perry did surprisingly well tonight, which I guess is nice, but I think he may almost be a non-issue at this point. Paul had a hit or miss night, he did pretty well until foreign policy and once again let himself get side tracked and preachy, which isn't helping him out any. I think Paul normally comes across as one of the most genuine and straightforward, so appearing a bit disjointed and indirect tonight was a bit unusual for him from what I've seen.

The reason Gingrich's performance tonight was so powerful isn't because it was just that much better than all his other performances, it wasn't. It's because he has been top dog in the debates since this whole circus started. He may not always have the flashiest one liners (although now that Herman Cain is gone he's had the most) in a debate, but he stays on message, he answers the questions, and doesn't waste time with empty rhetoric or loaded questions meant to stir up trouble. He doesn't lose composure like some of the others and can keep his train of thought when others throw a curveball, unlike Mitt Romney or Rick Perry. Tonight was just chaotic enough to show the American people how competent Gingrich actually is, and although I've been warming to him over the past several weeks and I researched his platform and watched the debates, I think tonight solidified his position at the top of my list for the Republican Nominee. Newt Gingrich's intelligence, history of getting results in a bipartisan way, and overall speaking ability make him a powerful leader and I think that would translate into him being a very effective president. I know some won't agree with me and there are many (I've received messages from more than a few) that think I'm nuts for this viewpoint, but I think that the Republicans, Independents, and defecting Democrats that want to get this economy and this country back on track should be listening to what Gingrich says. Not just because it sounds good, all of the candidates have some very nice sounding ideas, but because he actually has the history demonstrating an ability to get his ideas done, and that is what sets him apart as the most logical candidate to get results.

Friday, January 13, 2012

No Newt, Positive Campaigns Don't Work

As much as I liked the idea of a "positive campaign" from any presidential candidate, I knew from the start that there was no hope it would actually work. People like positive messages, but they remember negative ones. Any when you're the candidate with the most political and personal history for your opponents to pick apart, you can't afford to sit back and send out happy thoughts while you're being pummeled with negative ads. Newt Gingrich certainly learned this the hard way in Iowa and has now been forced to defend himself and go after the others to knock them down a notch too. The latest such attacks are against Mitt Romney and how he led Bain Capital. For whatever reason people are now upset for him questioning the ethics of how Romney made his money at Bain (they seemed less upset when people questioned his ethics of working at Freddie Mac or Santorum's career in D.C., but logic doesn't play a big role in this process), and he has to pretend to be nice again. . What I'm better though is the SuperPAC supporting him won't.

The PAC almost certainly will spend a ton of money flinging mud. It's more than a little amusing this is the same thing he got frustrated with Romney for doing in Iowa, but it definitely worked for Mitt there, so I guess it's his turn. The bottom line is he just shouldn't have attempted to play the high ground/victim card in Iowa, because it's making it hard for him to stay consistent now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Romney Isn't the Inevitable Nominee

I've had to defend my view recently of not caring for Mitt Romney since he's potentially the least polarizing of the current candidates. Let me explain... It's not that I find any one thing especially discouraging about Romney as a potential nominee, it's that I find everything about him mediocre as a potential nominee. The sense of inevitability the media is using to talk about his campaign simply isn't logical, and I'll try to explain why with a few statements I've had thrown my way. 

"Romney is the only one with a chance to win against Obama"
I think that's a foolish assumption, especially since I remember people saying back in 08 that the Democrats better nominate Hillary if they wanted anyone with a chance of winning the election. Romney's "strength", in my opinion, is the general feeling of ambivalence most people have towards him. Unlike Gingrich, Paul, Santorum, Perry, etc. there isn't a lot of reason to hate the guy, just as there isn't a whole lot of reason to love him. He's just "okay" in most ways and doesn't do much to make people love or hate him it seems. That's a recipe to get elected if your opponent has a lot of reasons to be hated I suppose, (makes you seem like the lesser of the evils at the very least) but it's not realistic to say that it's the only way to win this election. 

"Romney is presidential and good at debates"
From a perception standpoint this may be right. I don't find Romney likable and I really don't think most people that actually pay attention to what he says will either. He is a skilled politician in the sense that he can speak for hours and hit his highlighted talking points without saying anything of real substance or actually answering any questions. Clinton was skilled at this too (more skilled, I'd argue) but being able to speak well or redirect a conversation in your favor isn't the same thing as being likable. I like Paul and Gingrich more from a speaking standpoint simply because they don't bullshit as much and talk in circles. They answer a question and tell you what's on their mind (whether it's the truth or not I have no way of knowing, but that's true of anyone) in a no-nonsense way and that's much more likable to me than the "better" speaker Romney. Romney does have a more presidential look to him for intangible reasons I can't explain, but I don't find anything about him likable. I liked him more when I hadn't listened to him in debates and interviews, but like Obama, his speaking ability is a lot less impressive if you're actually paying any attention to content and I think Romney won't appeal to the more attentive/educated electorate for any other reason than the general ambivalence I mentioned earlier. That's just my theory though, maybe I'm alone on this. 

"Romney dominates debates"
I read this, and I agree that he is possibly the most skilled speaker, but what this guy generally fails to point out is that he uses the same techniques that the author claims lets him "dominate debates" to avoid answering most of the questions he is asked. Stephan-however you spell his name-oppolus had to ask him the same question several times in one instance during the New Hampshire debates and still couldn't get a straight answer out of him. I respect a candidate who answers a question with substance much more than one that's skilled at craftily evading it.

"The Republicans don't have anyone else electable to run against Obama"
Well, I think Perry and Santorum are doomed eventually due to lack of substance and polarizing statements, and I haven't liked either of them from the start, but that doesn't mean I'm necessarily right or that they can't somehow pull it off. I really don't think the statement is believable though, simply because the Democrats don't really have a lot in Obama either. The shiny rhetoric and marketing of the 08 campaign has lost all luster simply because it was pretty much a one-time-use tagline and when you get down to substance he doesn't have a whole lot going for him either. I still think his reasons for getting elected (other than a very unfortunate Republican ticket) have nothing to do with his overall personal strengths or platform and that re-election will be much harder for him because of that. Obviously it's still anyone's game at this point, and as such it's shortsighted to rule out the rest of the republican field. Most people weren't expecting a McCain nomination or an electable Obama at this point in 08.

Of course, I may be totally wrong about all of this, but I think it's pretty logical to say nothing is near decided yet.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Iowa Caucuses... What the heck happened?

Like most people not living in Iowa, I was baffled last night to see Santorum come out on top in the Iowa Caucuses. He hasn't been in the news, hasn't had strong performances in the debates, and hasn't been all that successful in promoting himself. So how the heck did he end up winning? 

I've been doing some reading today and he was actually pretty ingenious in his methods in Iowa. He didn't have much money so big time advertising wasn't possible, and he didn't make much of a splash in any debate (I thought he seemed like a combative jerk with no real substance in the debates, but his rants were brief) or national polls so his opponents ignored him and fought among themselves. While they were busy lashing out at each other and doing damage to the "big" candidates that were supposed to do well, like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, he was visiting every county in the state and having small meetings with social conservatives/Christians/etc. every day and building a strong grassroots network of people that had actually met him and talked to him and were therefore theoretically more loyal. It obviously worked. He got a huge chunk of the "evangelical" vote and no one landed a real blow on him before the primary to scare any of those social conservatives away from his ticket. I think it'll be a different game now and the increased visibility will lead to his campaign imploding (like Rick Perry), but it was a clever and cheap way to make a lot of noise in the early primaries. 

As far as where this is headed, I was glad to see Bachmann close up shop after Iowa, and I really expected Rick Perry to do the same. I'll be surprised if he survives until February, there is just too little substance to his platform and too many missteps to allow most people to take him seriously as a candidate. I think Santorum will fade simply because he also doesn't have anything really going for him other than a clever campaign strategy in Iowa that he can't really repeat in other states now that he is in the spotlight, and he doesn't have the funds or the overall appeal to survive the whole process. He might raise a ton of money due to Iowa I suppose, and he might get a good portion of the hardcore evangelical crowd until a good smear ad comes out about him, but I can't see him being a serious contender for the nomination. Huntsman seems to be betting it all on New Hampshire but I don't see that working out well for him. He's also just not particularly likable when he is on debates or interviews, and isn't very well funded, so I don't see him lasting long either. That's where things get interesting though, because The Romney-Ron Paul-Gingrich line up it a lot harder to get a feel for. 

-Romney has been consistent in his level of support but consistent also means he's been stagnant overall. I think this is because he's just not that exciting or interesting. He doesn't appeal to the social conservatives due to some past stances and recent "changes of heart" and people like me don't like him much because he comes off as just another slippery politician that says very little of substance. But he's a favorite of the cynical Republicans who just want someone they think can beat Obama and find him as the least objectionable overall, so he's not to be underestimated. 

-Ron Paul has a very loyal following and a high anti-establishment appeal due to his views and voting history, but isn't loved by the social conservatives due to his hands-off approach to some issues they feel strongly about and he alienates some that might support him with his foreign policy views and near fanatical rants about gold and the Fed. 

-Gingrich is an interesting candidate simply because he's been through every kind of political trial by fire I can imagine over the years and yet still somehow survived and evolved to become a contender. He comes across as the most rational and intelligent in debates and has a relatively interesting platform, but his past also makes him really easy to run a smear campaign against as the last few weeks in Iowa has proven. 

I have no idea how this will all play out of course, but I think it will be interesting to see how New Hampshire and South Carolina play out and who gains support when people like Rick Perry and possibly Santorum or Huntsman close up shop.