Never has so much been written about so little that’s been read by so few

January 18, 2008

Most people would say that shitting on your own doorstep is a bad idea…but here goes anyway…

Steven Stark of the not-particularly-reputable Boston Phoenix has written a piece that (mostly) hits the target on something that’s been concerning me for a while now: internet punditry in relation to the 2008 US presidential elections. Frankly, many of Stark’s points could apply equally to the print and broadcast media (particularly in the UK, where coverage is for the most part just plain offensive to anyone with even a little in-depth knowledge of the candidates, issues and processes), but Stark is right – the sheer volume, novelty and speed of internet commentators makes them worthy of special comment.

The problem seems to be two-fold. Firstly, there simply isn’t enough ‘news’ going on (and there aren’t enough astute commentators either). Secondly, the constant need to report something drives the pundits to fixate about deeply unimportant events in an effort to sustain public interest. They may commission a new poll or sponsor a debate just so as to be able to report it. In the worst cases they simply make things up.

(a typical online pundit at work)

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Why Barack and Brown aren’t that different after all

January 9, 2008

barackindependent.jpg

There aren’t many things that connect Barack Obama to Gordon Brown. But Obama has just gone and made the same mistake in New Hampshire that Brown made at last year’s Labour conference. He believed the polls, and the hype, and he forgot the golden rule of politics: when deciding on your strategy, think, think twice, then downplay expectations.

1. Obama and his team looked cocky before the caucus. “The Obama Wave”: where did that come from? Even the famous Iowa speech sounds very hubristic now. Before Iowa, a two-point victory for Hilary in New Hampshire would have been a victory for Obama, one he could rightfully say was within the margin of error (as this post by the director of polling at ABC makes clear). Now, it looks like a big loss.

2. The print media went to town on an Obama win, and now they look like the biggest bunch of idiots this side of an Arsenal home game. Some will take it on the chin (Gerard Baker in The Times: grace in error). The rest will be looking at avenge their humiliation. At the moment, they’re turning on the pollsters. Will they also go for Obama and his over-confident team? That’s what happened to Brown; he’s still paying for his error.

Next week: why David Cameron is the new Hilary Clinton. (Hint: it’s all in the hair).


Panic On The Trail/Romney Speech Update

December 4, 2007

Overreactions, as Howard Kurtz cool-headedly point out in today’s Washington Post, are common on the campaign trail.

To read most accounts, it’s been a frantic few days. Hillary Clinton has been hitting back at Barack Obama now that he has (finally, some might say) stepped up his rhetoric against her. Mitt Romney is to give the long-awaited ‘Kennedy speech’ in an attempt to allay doubts (and fears) about his suitability for the highest office on the grounds of his Mormon religion. Both Clinton and Romney have been front runners (Clinton nationally and Romney is several early-primary states), but now the race is beginning to tighten as we approach the Iowa caucuses (less than one month to go). Is Clinton’s campaign machine floundering now that it’s being seriously tested for the first time? Is Romney lying awake at night haunted by visions of Mike Huckabee – the ghost of Christmas yet to come?

Panic

Kurtz paraphrases the media’s considered reaction:

“OMG they must be panicking!!!!”

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Romney confronts the religion question

December 3, 2007

News just in: Mitt Romney is to deliver a “Faith in America” address on Thursday.

The speech will undoubtedly be one of those rare “big, emotional campaign moments” – moments that, in an age where politics is so often reduced to pettiness and cold calculation, still make the heart beat that bit faster.

Far less certain though, is whether it will work. Can Romney stem Mike Huckabee’s inexorable rise in the early primary states?

My feeling, as I said a while back, is that it can. This speech could give Romney’s campaign the narrative it has lacked up to this point, and allow voters to get a (carefully managed) glimpse of the man behind the management consultant.

It’s a big risk though. Although all the press will focus on the Kennedy comparison, Romney cannot take the JFK amendment on this one, as this excellent post in Politico makes clear. He has founded his campaign on the belief that he can remake “the house that Reagan built”, reforming the Republican coalition based on the Christian right. He cannot come out now and say that a man’s religion should play no active role in his politics.

So he has to tread a fine line, maintaining on one hand that his religious background qualifies him to represent “values voters”, while downplaying on the other the significance of his particular faith.

Early comments from advisers make clear that Romney’s goal is to de-legitimize criticism and suspicion of his faith by stressing the broad themes of religious liberty, the grand tradition of religious tolerance, the role of faith in public life. “It won’t be Mormon 101”, an aide said.

Fair enough – no one wants a bible studies class. But big themes alone aren’t enough. Voters are worried about specific issues: if he is to capture the public mood, to appear as bold and decisive, then Romney has to address them directly. Not all the way down to his choice of underpants, but at least to the point where he says “I am a Mormon. if you don’t like that, then tough”.

Voters value candour. For Romney, it’s now or never.


Elephants never forget – Are Republicans just smarter?

December 1, 2007

According to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls, Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and just 38% of Democrats.

What is more, this relationship between party identification and reports of excellent mental health is evident even within sub-categories of income, age, gender, church attendance, and education.

gop elephant 

How can this be explained?

Does mental health improve on joining the GOP? Does a healthy psyche predispose an individual towards becoming a Republican? Or perhaps, are Republicans just more likely to be convinced of their own virtue and sanity?

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All that glitters is not gold

November 16, 2007

I note with interest that Ron Paul attributes his dizzying recent fund-raising performance to his opposition to the Federal Reserve and support for the gold standard.

The dubious economic merits of a return to the gold standard have been discussed in detail elsewhere. Two facts are worth mentioning here. One: there’s not enough gold in the world anymore. With China and India expanding global wealth to levels never before seen, a relinking of money supply with existing gold stocks would require a massive global contraction of prices, severely retarding economic growth and development. Two: a gold standard system means workers have to accept periodic bouts of recession or deflation. The very reason most developed countries operate floating rates is that imposing such costs on labour became politically unfeasible in the latter half of the 20th century. Nothing suggests this has changed.

This notion of bearing costs leads us to the real problem with Ron Paul’s position. It’s statist and repressive. Libertarian philosophy tells us that the laissez-faire operation of the market (as would happen under a gold standard) is preferable to government intervention, because it preserves peoples’ natural freedom and keeps the state at arms length. Mr. Paul needs to pick up his Karl Polanyi; the association of laissez-faire with freedom is a myth. In its supposed heyday in the 19th century, laissez-faire was never so: it was a planned system designed to support a particular set of economic interests. And it involved significant statecraft to assert itself. Workers don’t enjoy sudden bouts of mass unemployment; farmers don’t relish the prospect of increased import competition; neither celebrates when entitlements to assistance are unilaterally cut. Making ordinary people bear the costs of the system requires repression; the state, far from giving people back their freedom, imposes its power over them even more.

If repression was needed to make 19th century workers – who had no labour representation, no unions, and no sympathetic ideology – adjust with the gold standard, what kind of state power would it take now? As far as I can see, Ron Paul’s libertarianism would mean the grossest intereference by the state in peoples’ lives. So no thanks Ron, I’ll keep my worthless piece of paper. And my freedom.


A long way from Camelot

November 14, 2007

James Piereson’s new book on the grassy knoll and all that eloquently describes how JFK’s assassination shattered American liberalism.

“It did this in two decisive ways”, he says in an interview with National Review. “First, by compromising liberals’ faith in the future. Kennedy’s assassination suggested that history is not in fact a benign process of progress and advancement, but perhaps something quite different”.

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“Second, by undermining their confidence in the nation. The thought that the nation itself was responsible for Kennedy’s death suggested that the United States, far from being a “city on a hill” and an example for mankind, as Kennedy had described it, was in fact something darker and more sinister in its deepest nature”.

Forty-five years later, Camelot’s great scribe intervenes in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Gore Vidal’s endorsement for Representative Dennis Kucinich appeared in The Nation last week.

How swiftly tragedy turns to farce…