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They've still got it.

the math (short update)

No graph today, but it is worth mentioning that the RCP average now has Obama up by more than 5 points in Ohio, which puts the president over the magic number of 270 electoral votes in the patented Super-Simple (ith) Model for the first time. Poll master Nate Silver analyzes this in excruciating detail.


against the lesser evil

Conor Friedersdorf has an excellent piece up at the Atlantic today making the left-libertarian* case against voting for Barack Obama. There is frankly not a great deal with which I can argue, there, but especially not this:

How can you vilify Romney as a heartless plutocrat unfit for the presidency, and then enthusiastically recommend a guy who held Bradley Manning in solitary and killed a 16-year-old American kid? If you're a utilitarian who plans to vote for Obama, better to mournfully acknowledge that you regard him as the lesser of two evils, with all that phrase denotes.

But I don't see many Obama supporters feeling as reluctant as the circumstances warrant.

The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans -- along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers -- just aren't valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama's tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man's transgressions, have done over and over again.  
Cue the quadrennial bemoaning of the inadequacies of the two-party system, and why if we will just get behind the most viable third-party candidate, it really will be the start of something different, this time.

To be sure, the game is rigged. It's rather hard to fault Gary Johnson for failing to break through into the public consciousness, when the Big Two so effectively control the structure and form of presidential politics, from the free media coverage of the "conventions" (read: three-day infomercials) to extremely restrictive debate access to ballot access itself.

I won't fault Gary Johnson, but I will lay some blame on the Libertarian Party.

The LP has been around for four decades. Local and state parties have had some success (according to the LP site, there were 154 Libertarians in elected office at the end of 2010), but in most of that time, they have expended an awful lot of time and money (for an organization its size) in running presidential candidates every four years. Candidates who, by and large, lacked credible experience in government. In the last two cycles, this has changed, in that they have nominated former Republicans.

Successful presidential candidates don't just materialize out of the ether. If the LP (or any third party) really wants to be a player in national politics, they have to take a longer view. No one is going to sue their way into presidential viability. They're going to have to work their way in from the ground up. To my mind, that means stop wasting time on symbolic presidential runs. For that matter, stop wasting time on symbolic governor and senate runs, too. What needs to happen is a focused, coordinated, and well-researched identification of cities, counties, and (maybe) congressional districts where the LP could become the second party. And with that, a focused and coordinated recruitment of good candidates to run in those races. Candidates that, if they actually won, might do a good job in the office to which they are elected. Candidates with an interest in actually governing, rather than just "getting the message out".

Cities like (say) Seattle, where the Republican turnout for caucuses was literally zero in some precincts, should be fertile ground for a well managed LP campaign. And I've no doubt that there are provinces in Red America where the Democrats are just as inconsequential. Get a Libertarian on the city council, the county commission, and maybe in a few years they make a run for mayor or congress. If they do a good job, maybe they find their way into the Senate, or a governor's mansion. And, then, the presidency looks a lot less like a long shot.

In a lot of ways, the LP could arguably be the greatest impediment to getting libertarian ideas infused into the political debate, because the small group of people actually inclined to put their time, energy, and lives into this stuff are all working on a model that doesn't work, hasn't worked, and is never going to work. And whinging about how the Dems and Reps have made it unfairly difficult--however correct that assessment may be--is pointless.

Which brings me back to Conor's point, that one who cares about civil liberties and peace should vote for the candidate that actually reflects those values, rather than the viable one who is only a hair better by comparison than the other guy. Fine and good. Like I said, I really cannot argue against that point. But I have to point out that by voting for Johnson, you are also giving tacit approval to the LP and its woefully inadequate approach to politics. Certainly, that is a lesser moral compromise than giving tacit approval to murdering children with flying killer robots.

But what good is the moral high ground, if you cannot reach the levers of power from it**? Sure, we get to feel better about ourselves, I guess, but that feeling isn't going to take any drones out of the sky.


*My description, not his. 
**Apologies for the tortured metaphor. 


the math: the big sort

Here's the good news for Mitt Romney: new numbers from Tennessee and Georgia indicate that those states aren't up for grabs (as though they ever were.) That's about where it stops.

The conventional wisdom is that there are 8-10 swing states. At this point, it really looks like there are only 7, and they are all leaning towards Obama. Ohio and Virginia are approaching "likely" territory (RCP averages are 4.4 and 4.5, respectively.)

Note that Romney has to win FL, OH, NC, VA, and one of the other three (NH would get him to 270 votes, exactly, assuming that the votes from ME and NE are not split).

Right now, the electoral map looks like a near-exact repeat of 2008, with only Indiana [Ed: and Missouri] changing hands. This, along with the fact that Romney's lead in many of his safe state s in the neighborhood of 20 points, really points to how sharply regionalized our politics have become. I don't know what that means for the future, but it probably isn't good.

Anyway, if you don't like these results, you can still get different ones from opposite-land, at least for the next few weeks. 

UPDATE--I actually didn't realize exactly how much media attention Unskewed Polls is getting. Paul Constant makes a really good catch:

I think giving all this attention to Unskewed Polls is kind of dumb. The other sites advertised on Unskewed Polls—MittRomney2112, GOP 2112—are basically just click bait waiting for old people to mistype a URL. That doesn't make me believe they're very confident in their brave new polling model.
Me neither.


foreign policy still matters, a lot (still)

I've been saying this for years. Where is my NYT column, huh?

Most of the time presidents don’t pick the foreign policy issues they want to tackle — the issues choose them.
America remains the world’s pre-eminent power. This means that whenever something happens somewhere in the world, the expectation is that the United States will be part of the policy solution. When presidents are reluctant to intervene, they are attacked by domestic and foreign adversaries as being weak, passive or “leading from behind.”
It’s precisely because presidents have so much more leeway to do what they want in the global realm that I now vote based on foreign policy. Mistakes in international affairs can lead to incalculable losses in blood and treasure. Paradoxically, if Americans suddenly started to vote based on national security issues, presidents would have to start to care about the domestic political consequences of their overseas actions.
Who knows, they might just start redirecting their efforts to problems at home.

more coordinated actions in libya

But not the kind you are probably thinking of.

To borrow a phrase: know hope.


walter white, jennifer blood, and anti-heroic family values

In case you've been hiding under a rock for the last 5 years: Breaking Bad is the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a brilliant and underemployed high school chemistry teacher that learns he has terminal lung cancer. In a desperate attempt to provide long-term financial security for his family (wife, teenaged son with cerebral palsy, newborn baby daughter), he puts his chemistry background to work by cooking methamphetamine--the extreme profitability of which he learns about from his brother-in-law, a DEA agent.

The arc of the series bends not--as MLK would have it--towards justice, so much as towards the utter corruption of Walter, the feeding of his long-held resentments, and the destruction he visits on everyone around him, including the family that his love for supposedly put him on this path to begin with. By the end of of the fourth season, Walter has (spoiler alert!) committed murder and made hundreds of millions of dollars, and has no intention of stopping, even though his cancer has been in remission for nearly a year.

Less well known is the comic book Jennifer Blood, created by Garth Ennis (famous for a lot stuff, but mostly Preacher) which follows the story of Jen Fellows, a suburban housewife by day and brutal vigilante at night. The initial story arc (issues 1-6) by Ennis constitute a solid entry into the "hot badass chick dishes out righteous revenge" genre (see also: Kill Bill, Dollhouse, La Femme Nikita, et al.), in which Jen systematically murders her four uncles, gangsters who conspired a decade earlier to murder her father, leading to the suicide of her mother. It'd make a great movie with a Hollywood ending, in the right hands.

But it's what happens from issue 7 on that makes the story really interesting.

Unlike Kill Bill, in which the Bride (spoiler alert!) succeeds in killing everyone on her list, is happily reunited with her daughter (who gleefully hops into the car with the woman who just murdered the only parent she has ever known), and drives off into the sunset (Hollywood ending!), Jennifer Blood actually deals with the aftermath of the violence to which Jen has dedicated her adult life. Even though she has disposed of her (considerable) arsenal, and considered her "mission" complete, it turns out that one does not simply stop drugging her husband and children to venture out into the night on a murderous rampage cold turkey. When she feels her marriage threatened by her husband's ex-girlfriend moving in down the street--all the more so when it is revealed that she and her husband are swingers and they've invited Jen's husband to join them--Jen does what any devoted spouse would: she stabs the husband to death, ties up the wife, and sets her (and the house) on fire.

Believe it or not, it actually gets worse from there.

The thread running through both stories is that the nominal protagonist justifies the evil that they do with a willingness to do "anything to protect [their] family." It would be easy to dismiss both Walter and Jen as simply being much more selfishly motivated than either is willing to admit. When asked by his partner whether he is in the meth business or the money business, Walter replies that he "is in the empire business". A long way from a meek chemistry teacher, indeed. For her part, Jen's violence creates problems for herself that the only way she can see to solve is with more violence...with ultimately devastating results. But really, I think there is more at work here than obvious morality plays.

One could argue that there is a subversive undercurrent to these kinds of stories: not that a noble impulse to protect one's family is warped by...something...but that the absolute nature of that devotion is, in and of itself, quite dangerous. At the beginning, Walter simply wants to provide for his family. But he is not stealing bread to feed his starving children. He is manufacturing a dangerous drug to maintain a very cushy upper-middle class lifestyle that includes a pool, a nice house, new cars, and full tuition to (presumably) the universities of his children's choosing. (That's nice and all, but there is such a thing as financial aid...) His obligation is not to his family's well-being, but their comfort. For her part, Jen is so devoted to her dead parents (whom we meet through her childish eyes in flashbacks) that she is oblivious to the fact that her father was every bit the violent psychopath that his brothers are, and that she has become. To avenge him is to merely add a few more tributaries to the family's river of blood. There is no balancing of the moral scales.

Are Vince GIlligan and Al Ewing (who took over from Ennis after #6) trying to tell us that family is overrated? I doubt that either would put it quite that way. But it is difficult to refute the notion that the Whites and the Fellows would probably have been a lot better off with a somewhat less devoted patriarch/matriarch, respectively.


the math: live free or die

This is getting trickier, as polls are becoming more frequent in some heavily contested states. Case in point: three polls in VA alone in the last 24 hours, putting Obama up by 8, 4, and 3 points. (I've averaged that to 5 which qualifies as "likely" but only just. If you go one poll back, the advantage was also 5.)

The biggest mover is NH, where Rasmussen has Mitt Romney up by 3 and ARG has Obama by 1. I'm calling this a tie rather than +1 for Romney, because I'm handicapping Rasmussen polls by 2 points. Simply put, they are literally the only polling outfit that consistently shows Romney with an advantage in national polls, and often the only one that shows him with an advantage in certain states. I'm not the only one to notice this. You may chalk this up to bias on my part if you like. I don't really care to parse their methodology, but the simple fact is this: either they are wrong, or they are the only ones who are right.

Anyway, whether we call NH a tie or +1 for Romney, it's a big shift from likely for Mr. Obama. And who knows...4 electoral votes might actually mean something this time around.

Most of the movement, however, seems to be in how much of an advantage Obama has in states that are leaning his way. Romney's not losing ground in GA, NC, or TN, and certainly not in any of his safe states (as predicted), but he's not picking anything up, either. That doesn't rule out precipitous movement in the weeks ahead, but I think Obama on cruise control is a much safer bet than Romney digging out of a hole. Also, if this distribution holds, note that Obama could lose FL, CO, and MI...and still win.

hit 'em where it hurts

Well, whadaya know?.

We learned the news by way of Chicago's The Civil Right Agenda (TCRA) an LGBT-rights advocacy group, who report that Chick-fil-A has penned a letter saying, "The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas." That letter was addressed to Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno, who along with Boston mayor Thomas Menino, said they would block the chain for its anti-gay views. WinShape is the chain's not-for-profit charitable arm that had previously donated to groups opposing gay marriage. TCRA adds, "In meetings the company executives clarified that they will no longer give to anti-gay organizations, such as Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage."
This comes quietly, in that the news is coming from TCRA, not CFA itself. And to be fair, if WinShape has a long-standing "philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas", they are simply bringing their policy in line with their own stated goals, rather than making an about-face. (Kind of like the US deciding to take that "all men are created equal" stuff seriously in about 1863 or so.) Though I think the notion that they were somehow unaware of the political activities of FotF, FRC, et al. prior to this year strains credibility.

In any case, I welcome a world in which giving money to those troglodytes becomes just a little less appealing.

Anyway, fear not, culture warriors: you still get to complain about good Christians being "bullied" by Chicago politicians. And I know you love that...



At this point I am actually troubled by the fact that Mitt Romney is turning out to be such an abysmally awful candidate. Because when he gets his ass handed to him  in a few weeks, Republicans will be able to blame him for it. And they should be blaming themselves. Contra Sullivan, I fear that they aren't going to learn a goddamn thing from this.

Speaking of the sorry state of the GOP: it occurs to me that the only way one can successfully fuse Christianity with Randianism is to select the worst elements of both: the nonsense metaphysics and moralism of the former, and the economics and social ethics of the latter.

I am still disappointed with Mr. Obama on a number of fronts. I would hardly call the choice in November a good one. But it is not one that I find particularly difficult.


the math: romney losing ground in the west?

(Just call me a poor man's Nate Silver...)

North Carolina and Florida traded places in the last couple of days. It is probably much too early to take either seriously. However, Obama's slight advantages in Ohio and Virginia seem to be holding.

Of possibly more significance: Obama seems to have gained just enough ground in Colorado to qualify for the "likely" category, which moves his probable electoral vote count (in our super-simple model) to 250. In what may constitute a regional trend, Romney's leads in Arizona and Montana have fallen below the 10 point threshold for "safe". If I were a younger man, I'd blame Gary Johnson.

Romney's path to victory: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconcin.

Obama's: Don't fuck it up. 

(Latest data gleaned from RCP. Where there are multiple recent polls with different results, my general approach is to split the difference. This is art, not science.)

quote of the year

"You can be a religionist in a secular government. But you can't be a secularist in a theocracy."


I cannot improve upon that.


The murder of our ambassador to Libya (and other members of the State Department mission there) is an act of violence with no justification.

That Mr. Stevens was by all accounts a friend to the people of Libya, and the wider North African and Middle Eastern world, makes it all the more sad. That this was apparently the work of religious fanatics who worship a god with the fragile ego of a fawned-over starlet makes it all the more infuriating. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That partisans in our country would argue that this constitutes an indictment of Mr. Obama's policy in Libya is--confusing. Or at least, it is not immediately clear to me what their preferred course of action would have been. There really are only a few options, so let's examine them.

1. We should have intervened on the side of M. Qadaffi. I look forward to hearing this argument advanced. Really, I do.

2. We should have simply taken over Libya. We should have intervened to help overthrow Qadaffi, then commenced a long-term occupation to nation-build and wipe out the various (and predictable) Islamist insurgencies that would arise--including the ones to whom we had just rendered assistance. The precedents here are, in a word, problematic.

3. We should have stayed out of Libya completely. If this is what you think, may I be the first to welcome you into the non-interventionist camp! We sure could have used your help 10 years ago or so, but I guess later is better than never. I'm sure you seeing the light has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that there is a Democrat in the White House.

(Lest you think I am engaging in revisionist history, here, Libya is probably the subject on which I've levied the most criticism against Mr. Obama, for example: here, here, here, and an excellent guest post here.)


foreign policy still matters, a lot

The most important context for this:

An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.
is this:
Out of Romney's 24 special advisors on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration. If Romney were to win, it's likely that many of these people would serve in his administration in some capacity -- a frightening prospect given the legacy of this particular group.


the math, ct'd (convention bounce?)

New polls over the weekend swing both NC (though just barely) and OH (rather dramatically) into Obama's favor. However, the latest from NJ and NM have moved those states from "safe" to "likely" for the president.

A lot can (and likely will) happen in the next 57 days, but still...if I'm Mitt Romney, I'm getting nervous.


the math (or florida, again)

(Because I am a sucker for data...)

I know some people make their living at this, and have more sophisticated models. Me, I prefer to keep things simple, because you're nearly as likely to arrive at a good result in much less time than it will likely take to come up with a slightly better result.

I looked at aggregated poll data (primarily here...though it is not likely the most up-to-date, it is among the easiest to sift through quickly). I broke the states (plus DC) into seven categories: those that are "safe" for each candidate (leading by a margin of 10 points or greater), those that are "likely" for each candidate (margin between 5 and 10 points), and toss-ups favored one way or another by a margin of less than 5 points. One state--North Carolina--is currently considered a dead tie. 

In the simplest scenario, we take both safe and likely votes for granted, and assume that only the middle three categories are really up for grabs. In this scenario, Obama starts with a huge advantage: of the 133 votes up for grabs, he only needs 29. Romney, on the other hand, needs 106.  To pass that mark, he needs all of the states currently leaning his way, plus North Carolina, plus at least two states (totaling at least 17 votes) of those currently leaning towards Obama.

Here's why I think the race is actually much closer than those numbers would indicate. 

1. Romney's "safe" states really are safe. Only one state--South Dakota--falls in Romney's "likely" category. He has a comfortable lead in the rest. He doesn't really need to worry about Obama making any inroads in states he can take more or less for granted. He doesn't need to spend a dime or any time there, really.

Obama, on the other hand, really can't afford to take CT, MI, MN, OR, and PA (his "likely" states) for granted.

2. Romney's "toss-up" votes are geographically concentrated. Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are contiguous, and in the Chattanooga and Jacksonville areas, even share media markets. And of course, North Carolina is right next door. I'm glad I don't live in any of those places right now. (Naturally, Ohio is always in contention in presidential races.)

3. My gut. I just have an easier time imagining CO, IA, NV, NC, VA, and/or WI breaking Republican  than I do imagining GA or TN breaking Democrat.

The only prediction I'm really comfortable making at this point: if Obama wins Florida decisively, it's going to be an early night. Otherwise, it will be very, very close, and probably will come down to Colorado and/or Ohio.

Update/footnotes: I have the above data in a spreadsheet, so that when newer/better polls become available, I can update as needed. If you are aware of any I should look at--especially in the 10 current "toss-up" states--please feel free to put a link in the comments section.

Also, it is worth mentioning that ME and NE apportion their electoral votes by congressional district. My sense is that any deviation from the rest of the state in one is likely to be cancelled out by the same thing happening in the other. So I'm just treating them like the other states for now. But...if you've got data, I am happy to plug it into the model.


"All this stuff I thought—you vote, and your vote is counted—it's a fa├žade. It doesn't happen."

There was a lot of ink spilled covering the Republican National Convention last week, but I would like to draw your attention to this piece in the Independent Weekly written by Barry Yeoman (who, in the interest of full disclosure, I must point out is a friend with whom I've spent many pleasant evenings chatting at the dog park in Durham). He spent a lot of time with North Carolina's Ron Paul delegates, and got the story you most likely didn't hear in the mainstream coverage. To wit:

The convention would vote on these new rules. But first it had to approve or reject the decision to unseat the original Maine delegates. "All those in favor will signify by saying 'aye,'" said national committee chairman Priebus.
The hall erupted with ayes.
Priebus smiled. "Those opposed, 'no,'" he said.
This time it erupted with shouts of "no." Standing on the floor, I couldn't tell which side sounded louder.
"In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it," Priebus announced, officially unseating the original Maine delegates.
Under the RNC's rules, any delegate can call for a formal vote, in which each side stands up to be counted. Rufty, the Army veteran, jumped up, cupped his mouth and shouted, "Division!"—the official word for this procedure. He was joined by delegates from around the country. When Priebus ignored their calls, much of the Texas delegation stood and started chanting, "Point of order! Point of order!" The majority drowned them out with a counter-chant of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"
Rufty shouted again. Hayes, the state party chairman, turned to him.
"It's over," Hayes said. "Don't embarrass us."
"I'm calling for division," Rufty said.
"We don't need division," Hayes replied.
"It's not debatable," Rufty said. He was correct. But the convention rolled along.
An identical sequence happened with the rule changes: a too-close-to-call voice vote, shouts of "Division," drowning chants of "U.S.A.," and a chairman (this time House Speaker John Boehner) who didn't acknowledge the dissent.
Later, Rufty would show me a video someone had taken of the teleprompter during the rules vote. It said, in part, "In the opinion of the chair, the 'ayes' have it." Speaker Boehner was just reading a preordained outcome.
The whole piece is well worth your time. 

UPDATE--Vote results on teleprompters appear to be a thing at the DNC, as well. Villaregosa, to his credit, at least seemed troubled by it before being told by the parliamentarian that "you gotta let them do what they're going to do."

"They" do know how to get things done, don't they?