I’m not sure what was more nerve wracking last night, the debate between Obama and Romney, or Andrew Sullivan’s mental state. Having taken the first debate rather badly, Sullivan had been close to the edge, writing off Obama’s chance at re-election and readying himself for the end of the world. It looks like Obama’s stellar performance last night has brought The Daily Beast blogger back from the brink, telling Chris Matthews in a phone call last night that he was ‘Bloody elated’ after watching Romney take a thorough shellacking:
This was Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to the bad poll numbers that came in yesterday:
Sullivan is a self confessed drama queen, but this really is taking it too far. He writes:
Look: I’m trying to rally some morale, but I’ve never seen a candidate this late in the game, so far ahead, just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week – throw away almost every single advantage he had with voters and manage to enable his opponent to seem as if he cares about the middle class as much as Obama does. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness: a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing statement?……Maybe if Romney can turn this whole campaign around in 90 minutes, Obama can now do the same. But I doubt it. A sitting president does not recover from being obliterated on substance, style and likability in the first debate and get much of a chance to come back. He has, at a critical moment, deeply depressed his base and his supporters and independents are flocking to Romney in droves.
I’m not sure whether Sullivan really does think Obama has blown the entire election because he looked bored at the debate, or he’s sending a plea for help directly to Obama to get his act together. The President is known to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog, so there’s a good chance Sullivan is being over dramatic in order to get his attention.
However, I don’t think this type of public panic from Sullivan is helpful. Sure, Obama looked pretty bad in the debate and Romney looked pretty good, but so what? It was one debate on one night with one week of decent polling numbers for Romney. It’s way too early to assess the long term effect of the debate, the good jobs numbers that came out on Monday and Romney’s brand new persona he’s rolled out 4 weeks before voters go to the booths.
The more panic that is spread the more excited the Republicans get and the better the chance they have of winning. Sullivan may think he’s being helpful here, but he’s only adding to the chaos of an enormously complicated process that requires level headedness and strategy rather than wild swinging instinctiveness.
I certainly think that the poll numbers should alarm the Obama campaign, and a strong performance from Joe Biden in his debate against Paul Ryan this Thursday is an absolute necessity. But Obama has most certainly not thrown ‘the entire election away’ as Sullivan believes he may have.
Nate Silver, who is generally regard as the authority on polls and how to interpret them warns against taking one or two polls from a specific day too seriously:
It’s one thing to give a poll a lot of weight, and another to become so enthralled with it that you dismiss all other evidence. If you can trust yourself to take the polls in stride, then I would encourage you to do so. If your impression of the race is changing radically every few minutes, however, then you’re best off looking at the forecasts and projections that we and our competitors publish, along with Vegas betting lines and prediction markets.
I worked as a boxing journalist for several years so understand exactly how accurate Vegas betting lines are when it comes to picking fights. To correctly pick a fight, you have to be able to match intricate styles, have a detailed understanding of the history of the fighter, the trainer he has, the type of training camp he’s had, who he has been sparring with, what weight the fight is taking place at, the size and brand of the glove, the size of the ring, the location etc etc. It is an intricate art that requires an understanding of many different and seemingly unrelated events that can often interplay and change the odds of a fight. It is sometimes incredibly difficult task, but Vegas odds are almost entirely correct. And if they can accurately assess odds in a sport as unpredictable as boxing, a Presidential election is pretty easy to figure out. The information available to Vegas bookies is astonishing – they have multiple national and local polls, decades of history, inside info on candidates, their team, their strategy, detailed demographics by age, race, gender etc etc. And as it stands, Obama is still the favorite.
Maybe it’s time for Andrew to take a break from the 24/7 Presidential election blogging cycle. It looks like it’s getting a bit much for him.
Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast encapsulates what most on the left have been thinking over the past two weeks:
What a fantastic last two weeks these have been. I don’t even mean Barack Obama solidifying his lead over Mitt Romney, although that’s perfectly fine. No, I mean the near-mathematically perfect joy of watching these smug and contemptible creatures of the right dodge and swerve and make excuses and, most of all, whine. There is no joy in the kingdom of man so great as the joy of seeing bullies and hucksters laid low, and watching people who have arrogantly spent years assuming they were right about the world living to see all those haughty assumptions die before their eyes. Watching them squirm is more fun than watching Romney and Paul Ryan flail away.
Tomasky is spot on – it is incredibly satisfying to watch the Republicans melt down so dramatically given the incredible hubris they’ve displayed. The Republicans believed the American public would buy into Romney’s vision for the country, buy into the xenophobic, Darwinistic philosophy that divides the country along racial and economic lines, and it simply isn’t working.
The Romney campaign understands they are in deep, deep trouble and you’re going to see a lot of ‘image makeover’ appearances from their candidate in the weeks preceding November 4th. Barring an alien takeover of Romney’s body, it isn’t going to work and we can just look forward to more awkwardness and uncomfortable appearances from the former governor. Romney is incapable of connecting on an emotional or sympathetic level with voters because, well, he can’t. As Tomasky points out “Americans like Barack Obama. They don’t like Romney.” Pretty simple really.
By Ben Cohen: The fallout from the bitter recall election in Wisconsin is reverberating around political circles and the media. The Right is claiming victory in an election that they believe should never have happened, and the Left is busy licking its wounds and crying foul play. Depending on who you listen to, the election was a major affront to the Democratic process, or a brave attempt to stop the disintegration of worker’s rights.
Former Bush Republican turned Obama Democrat Andrew Sullivan is taking an interesting and basically centrist position on the election that on the face of it looks reasonable, but really betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about workings of the modern American economy and just how serious Walker’s transgressions were against organized labor. Sullivan’s take on the events in Wisconsin is an important one as he basically represents the intellectual center in America and helps define the parameters of acceptable debate. Given his transformation in recent years, Sullivan’s analysis is usually very astute, but this time his argument is misleading and factually wrong.
In a post on The Daily Beast, Sullivan argued that despite Walker’s extremism, it was wrong of the Democrats to wage war on an already elected official. He wrote:
The Democrats refused to allow Walker to serve his full term and then seek the judgment of the voters. They acted throughout as if he were somehow illegitimate. They refused the give-and-take of democratic politics, using emergency measures for non-emergency reasons. And in this, they are, it seems to me, a state-based mirror-image of the GOP in Washington.
Sullivan contended that the war fought against Walker was a ‘case study in the complete breakdown of our political system, and of public trust’ and accused the Democrats of being just as partisan as the Republican Party.
The first major flaw in this argument is that the Democratic Party largely disavowed the recall election. Obama barely mentioned it at all, and did no campaigning on Democratic candidate Tom Barrett’s behalf. The best the President could do was to send out a solitary tweet the day before the election:
Not exactly a massive show of solidarity. The establishment Democrats clearly sided with Obama on this, allowing Barrett to be seriously outspent and heavily reliant on grassroots campaigning – clearly not enough to defeat the well oiled, corporate funded Republican Party.
The second and most serious flaw is Sullivan’s argument is his comparison between the grassroots campaign that tried to protect workers rights and restore collective bargaining in the state, and the Republican efforts to dismantle organized labor and buy elections.
There is no doubt that the modern Democratic Party has sold out to corporate interests and engages in underhand manipulation to win elections, but compared to the radical incarnation of the Republican Party that no longer disguises its complete subordination to corporate America, they still resemble a functioning political organization. I outlined in a piece yesterday Walker’s radical legislation against working people in Wisconsin. In short, Walker’s budget repair bill in 2011 saw government workers rights slashed, their salaries decreased, collective bargaining rights vanish and mandatory yearly votes for unions to continue representing government workers.
Andrew Sullivan wrote:
While I don’t see the harm in allowing public sector unions to retain some collective bargaining rights, especially in an era when unions can be seen as institutions putting a break on soaring economic inequality, I also believe there’s a difference between public sector and private sector unions, and that curtailing the massive collective costs that public union benefits place on the public is a perfectly legitimate way to cut spending. It may be vital if we are to regain some fiscal balance.
Taking a mild position on the role of unions in America may seem reasonable, but only in the context of American political culture which is far to the Right of any other industrialized nation. Sullivan’s support of public sector unions retaining ‘some collective bargaining rights’ amounts to nothing when compared to bargaining rights in other countries. Just check out this fascinating report by Krissy Frazao on the RT network that highlights the stunning difference between unions in the US and in Europe. Some key points:
* At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week. The US does not.
* In the US, 85.6% of males and 66.5% of females work more than 40 hours per week.
* Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours that British workers and 499 more hours than French workers.
* There is no federal law requiring sick days in the United States.
America does have a deficit crisis, and it does need to be addressed, but to further strip the rights of public sector workers is absolutely criminal. It should be remembered that the deficit came at the hands of the banking system that blew a multi-trillion dollar hole in the economy by speculating on real estate, not government workers getting paid too much. Sullivan is buying into the whole ‘shared responsibility’ meme floating around political punditry that equates the behavior of casino style gambling on the stock market with school teachers educating the next generation of Americans. It is grossly unfair and a complete distortion of the economic fraud coming from the top down, not the bottom up.
Sullivan does a great job of exposing the nihilistic culture of the Republican Party and has forcefully argued to keep them as far away from government as possible. And that is why equating their lunacy with the collective efforts to preserve long fought for labor rights is so troubling to read.
In an article on The Daily Beast that is well worth reading, Andrew Sullivan takes apart myths perpertuated by the Right (and Left) about President Obama. Here he is on Obama's fiscal policy:
In retrospect, they [the decisions made after the economic crash] were far more successful than anyone has yet fully given Obama the credit for. The job collapse bottomed out at the beginning of 2010, as the stimulus took effect. Since then, the U.S. has added 2.4 million jobs. That’s not enough, but it’s far better than what Romney would have you believe, and more than the net jobs created under the entire Bush administration. In 2011 alone, 1.9 million private-sector jobs were created, while a net 280,000 government jobs were lost. Overall government employment has declined 2.6 percent over the past 3 years. (That compares with a drop of 2.2 percent during the early years of the Reagan administration.) To listen to current Republican rhetoric about Obama’s big-government socialist ways, you would imagine that the reverse was true. It isn’t.
Sullivan's article goes on to discredit Republican critiques of his foreign policy and slams the Left for projecting 'onto Obama absurd notions of what a president can actually do in a polarized country, where anything requires 60 Senate votes even to stand a chance of making it into law'.
I don't completely agree with Sullivan's rosy picture of Obama and his brilliance as a strategist, but it is a coherent and well argued piece that puts in perspective some of the President's achievements against truly massive odds.
French philosopher and serial rapist defender Bernard-Henri Levy has made a career out of pretending to be smarter than everyone else. His writing (at least his english language work) is a mixture of pompous moral posturing, pretentious word play and unbelievably bad sentence structure. In a recent piece on The Daily Beast, Levy turns his supposedly formidable intellectual prowess towards defending recently deposed IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Khan of rape. The article is an astonishing attempt to exonerate Strauss-Khan by virtue of his friendship with Levy, and by essentially accusing the accuser of lying. Writes Levy:
What I know even more is that the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd.
I certainly do not want to assume that Strauss-Khan is guilty – far from it. He deserves his day in court, and has every right to defend himself. As the law dictates, Strauss-Khan is innocent until proven guilty. But for Levy to hurl accusations at the alleged victim is beyond reproach. He writes:
It would be nice to know, and without delay—how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.
Implying that Strauss-Khan is innocent because, well, Levy knows him and thinks a chambermaid could not have possibly cleaned a hotel room by herself is not just maniacally egotistical, it is patently absurd. Seeing as Levy wasn't with Strauss-Khan at the time, there is no way he can know what happened, so like the people he rails against for assuming his guilt, he should keep quiet and wait until the evidence is presented.
Levy has made a career out of injecting himself into debates he shouldn't have anything to do with, a common trait of narcissistic self promoters who make money from their 'enlightened' ideas. Levy is France's version of Christopher Hitchens – a man concerned only with himself and his relevance to society, who will defend the indefensible for the sake of self promotion and disguise his intellectual vacuity behind bravado and insatiable snobbery. At least Hitchens writes well, unlike Levy whose work resembles that of a precocious teenager turning in his first philosophy paper. Just check out this hilariously badly written sentence:
I do not want to enter into considerations of dime-store psychology that claims to penetrate the mind of the subject, observing, for example, that the number of the room (2806) corresponds to the date of the opening of the Socialist Party primaries in France (06.28), in which he is the uncontested favorite, thereby concluding that this is all a Freudian slip, a subconsciously deliberate mistake, and blah blah blah
A cash prize for anyone who can work out what Levy means here. But then that's the point – you're not supposed to.