How To Stop Worrying and Love the Polls

Two weeks to go, the polls are a freak zone, yet I can’t resist checking them. When one looks good for my candidate, I feel great. When one looks bad, I spiral into the vortex of anxiety, then plunge into the cross tabs to ferret out anything that will foster optimism. Failing that, I study the set-up for reasons the sample could be biased. Omfg, I sound like a Fox News host. But I’ve discovered a few principles for poll-tracking that are helping me stay sane while keeping an eye on the numbers.

1. Disregard national polls. That is, a poll that uses a sample from people all over the US is really not telling me anything I need to know. Why? Ultimately, as veterans of the bruising 2000 presidential contest results may recall, the election is not decided by the popular vote, but by the Electoral College. Yes, that means someone who has not received the most votes can win the presidency (I’m talking to you, George W. Bush). Thus:

2. Check how many electoral college votes your candidate has in the bag, calculate how many he or she needs, and then track polls in battleground state polls only. Such a relief!

3. Remember that pollsters have their own biases. Some are conservative, some are liberal, some are paid by interested parties. The main thing to remember is that polls, like politicians, have their own point of view, no matter what they claim.

4. Notice the dates the polls were conducted to see whether certain events had transpired (debates, gaffes, etc.).

5. Did you know every pollster has their own definition of “likely voter”? Yup. So if the poll is of “registered voters,” it’s a little less squidgy, in my opinion, though it’s interesting to dig into weeds and find out how the “likely” voters were selected.

6. When getting poll news from pundits and cable hosts, always remember their ratings depend on maintaining a “horserace” narrative: if it’s not depicted as “neck-and-neck” they think people will stop watching. Thus astute viewers will notice that sometimes a one point gain will be described as a “surge,” while a five-point difference described as a “hanging on to his slim lead.” Just depends on what stokes the horserace fable. In a great piece recently, Matt Taibbi suggested it should be illegal to publish poll numbers—for one thing, he said, it would “force the media to actually cover the issues.” Something to think about, along with his other splendid idea to limit the campaign to six weeks.

7. Keep in mind that one reason tracking the polls is so nerve-wracking and seemingly volatile this year is that, as with following the legislative process during health care for instance, our ever-more-real-time communication technology means we are privy to moment-by-moment changes in ways we have never been exposed to before. I’m not sure this is useful.

8. There’s polling and then there’s voting. Answering a poll does not ascertain or insure that the respondent will vote, or has voted.

9. Only votes count, so take a looooooog break from poll tracking and make some phone calls or knock some doors. At this stage of the race, polls mean nothing. The GOTV (Get Out The Vote) ground game means everything.

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Now What? A Post-Debate Pop Quiz for Progressives

What does it take to motivate disaffected progressives to engage in the democratic process in addition to whining about their disappointment in not getting a pony, especially when they get a pony? The president performed exceedingly well tonight in the second debate—I mean, how many people get busted by a fact-check on live teevee, after your opponent says “Please proceed”? Delicious. Still, the jury’s out if the myriad Dems and Progressives and Occupiers who have been so put out over the past two weeks will first make sure they themselves vote, and then volunteer for a few hours over the next 20 days to work for a Democratic victory on November 6th. Because we will have to work for it.

I am sure of one thing: the Republican/Conservative/tea partiers/Koch-heads will not rest until they have stolen, bought, or turned out all their voters while simultaneously suppressing ours. They see themselves as committed to a movement, while most progressives are lost in a fantasy bond with a non-existent wizard. If he doesn’t produce the pony every time, many progressives and Democrats take their little balls and go home—in fact, even when they get the pony, they take their little balls home. [Pause while I brace myself for flashbacks of the 2010 midterms. ] Unlike rightwing warriors, who work relentlessly regardless of whether their candidate wins or loses, Democrats and progressives elect and then abandon, ceding the practice of democracy to their elected officials, yet reserving the right to complain about how those mean old Republicans took over their state legislature or the House of Representatives, and now have the nerve to require vaginal probe sonograms or to deny birth control, for instance, or dismantle unions, or impose impossible restrictions on the voting process. How dare they?

But I digress.

What I’m looking for here are some couple o’ dozen energetic fired up canvassers in every precinct of every district of every state who will walk through their cities and towns and neighborhoods knocking on the doors of Democrats who need a little nudge to make the effort to vote. Canvassing is the essence of democracy: one person talking to another person about the importance of making your voice heard. And when you walk for the Obama campaign, you know you’ve got the most sophisticated Get Out The Vote organization in our country’s history behind you. They make it easy, much easier than facing down the Rombot for 90 minutes on live teevee.

Feeling better, my little progressives? What now? Please go by your local Obama campaign HQ and tell them you have the president’s back, then sign up for a few shifts.

Or how about 90 minutes? A little democracy goes a long way.

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Breaking: Ignorant white chickenhawk to tell POTUS to “man up”

Buzzing around the internet at the moment is a rumor that at the town hall debate tonight, Mitt Romney will tell President Obama “to man up and accept his responsibility” for the attacks in Bengazi.

Linguist Ben Zimmer explains that man up covers a range of connotations, from “Don’t be a sissy” to “Do the responsible thing.” (I will reserve comment about the general attribution of responsible action to men for another post.)

Man up appeared to gain meme status in 2010 when Republican Senatorial candidate Sharron Angle used it against Harry Reid, followed by Sarah Palin using it against Republican leaders she deemed insufficiently supportive.

There is a bit of a jolt when man up is used by a woman challenging men, suggesting the woman is on power turf traditionally reserved for men. As has been observed, one never hears a man use the term “woman up” for reasons that should be obvious.

So the possibility of Romney using this meme tonight would serve to follow on his previous attempts to be “top dog”  by questioning the President’s “manhood,” and implying that he doesn’t mean what he says (that he’s lying), or he doesn’t take responsible action, or he isn’t “strong” like a “man.” One might remember at the first debate, Romney suggested the president of the United States reminded him of his “boys” when they didn’t tell the truth. Later, one of Romney’s “boys” recalled his father learned how to debate “an obstinate child.”

Further, for a white man to tell a black man to man up has white supremacist connotations I am sorry to say I am quite sure Romney consciously intends to employ. (Did everyone hear the dog whistle?)

The man up meme is pejorative. A man who can “up” is good. A man who cannot “up” is not good.

Well, that in itself is probably debatable, but I’ll move on lest I fall prey to phallic drift.

I’m tempted to claim that an understanding of complexity, nuance, diversity, subtlety, and diplomacy is characteristically female, but that would clearly be absurd. Barack Obama and many other mature, intelligent men demonstrate this is a quality human males can develop.

My point in this pre-debate missive is to remind you that the Romney campaign’s Bengazi obsession is not driven by a concern for national security, but a convenient vehicle to deliver juvenile insults intended to distract us from Romney’s many displays of ignorance on issues of foreign affairs—in this case, his continuing insistence on using the murder of a US diplomat for political gain.

Stay classy, Mitt. Whatever it takes to close the deal, right?

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The Truth about Bengazi: They Got Nuthin

You may have heard that Mitt Romney’s campaign is desperately trying to cover up a scandal concerning his intemperate comments during the attack on the US consulate in Bengazi last month, and that he’s trying to use the murder of Americans for political gain, and that the unraveling of the Romney campaign is evidence of his weak leadership in foreign affairs and national security. Oh, you thought the story was about President Obama? This is the propaganda technique of deflection: if you’re guilty of it, accuse the other side of it, and hammer away. The longer you do it, the less likely your mistakes will be noticed. What’s the truth about Bengazi? They got nuthin.

Every so often a story hovers over the news cycle for a week or two, until it either fades away or picks up traction. The past week, the Romney campaign and the Republican echo chamber have tried to stoke a meme suggesting that President Obama is deliberately misleading the American people about what happened in Bengazi, Libya last month when as-yet-unidentified people attacked the US consulate and murdered four Americans. This incident occurred on September 11, coincident with a protest in Cairo sparked by an anti-Islam video produced in the US that ignited protests throughout the world.

As evidence, the Romney campaign and its surrogates point to inconsistencies in the administration’s public statements as the event and the investigation has evolved and, as of this morning with Rudy Giuliani’s star turn on several morning shows, are using this language: the White house is “trying to cover up this scandal until after the election.”

This is—how would the veep say—malarky.

The more I read about the situation in Libya, the more I believe the Republican/Romney campaign charges are even more bogus than they seem. The complexities in Libya are so dense that they do not lend themselves to a live-stream Tweeted reportage, especially in a crisis such as the consulate attack. I’m not saying there weren’t mistakes. I am saying that to criticize the administration for reporting what they know as they know it is to misunderstand the downside of transparency. Would we prefer that the administration say nothing until the investigation is complete, or tell us what they’ve learned as they go along—knowing that early reports will be contradicted when hard facts are verified?

[I could go into the chronology and details about what happened in Bengazi, and the administration’s handling of it—and I may in a later post—but for now, that is not the big issue for those who want to understand the memes of the campaign. Also, to shift to an analysis of the Bengazi incident without calling out the deflection technique is accepting their frame, in Lakoff’s model. I refuse, and you should, too. Controlling the narrative is vital.]

Used to be, when the US was attacked, our elected officials and political leaders all pulled together (at least for a while). Romney violated this protocol in the most egregious of ways, making a political criticism of the president before it was learned that one of our diplomats was murdered. This brazenly craven behavior caused much distress in the Republican echo chamber, and was only the latest of many major misjudgments and gaffes Romney has committed in the realm of international relations. Something had to be done to staunch the campaign’s bleeding in this realm.

What we see in the “Bengazi cover-up” meme is their response. No doubt, Romney will find an opportunity in Tuesday night’s town hall debate to repeat it. Don’t be fooled. They got nuthin—and I’m not referring to the Bengazi charge. This campaign has nothing to run on—no vision, no policies, no record, no plans. They have nothing negative to charge the president with—the economy’s improving, the US stature in the world is improving, people like and admire the president. They got nuthin, so they have to fabricate sumthin.

So be on the alert for deflection techniques. Romney wants to distract us from his public demonstrations of ignorance when it comes to international relations, national security, and foreign affairs. He is attempting to use the murder of a US diplomat for political gain.

That’s the truth about Bengazi.


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Time to Rock and Roll

In my county, I am happy to announce that I was the 14th person to vote in the 2012 Presidential Election. To counteract the cloud of progressive dismay overshadowing the race this week, I decided to be at the county clerk’s office when it opened this morning at 8am, to be among the first wave of voters. The several dozen of us early birds apparently delighted the cheerful election workers, seemingly all women-of-a-certain-age, one of whom declared, “So many people want to vote early!”

(To find out when early voting starts in your state, go here.)

I filled out a card with my name and address, which the workers used to print out the appropriate ballot for my precinct, since early voters from all precincts in the county can vote at the county clerk’s office. After a short wait, one of the workers called my name, handed me my ballot, told me to fill in the oval bubbles completely (no checkmarks or Xs), and directed me to a voting booth. Which I occupied.

In my state, this is the first election that voting a straight ticket is not an option. That is: before, you could fill in one oval bubble to vote for all Democrats or all Republicans, a “straight ticket.” Now you must vote for each candidate all the way down the ticket. Some people will not know that, and after voting for the presidential candidate, they will think they have voted for all the candidates of their preferred party. (Call your county clerk to ask if your state offers the straight ticket option.) Here, the Republicans are hoping to suppress votes for the down ticket races this way, especially state legislature reps—and surely we are all becoming painfully aware of how important it is to have a Democratic majority in our state legislatures. State-mandated vaginal probe sonograms, anyone?

I started from the bottom. Constitutional amendments, bond issues, judges, state legislature representatives, public defenders, US Congressional representatives, US Senate representatives, and finally US President. So many oval bubbles to color in. Voting as a meditative act, especially on one cup of coffee.

Then I fed my ballot into the counting machine and applied my “I Voted Early” sticker to my shirt. It is done.

Now my vote cannot be suppressed, tossed into a bin and forgotten, lost in the mail, or sabotaged by an untimely onset of flu on November 6th. My vote is in the bank.

I highly recommend early voting, especially to those who like immediate gratification.

And yes, my friends, I hear those of you who are attached to  the sentimental tradition of voting at the polls on election day, and I share those sentiments. But in the current climate of suppress-the-Democratic-vote-by-any-means-necessary (I’m talking to you “True the Vote“), I suggest that the wiser course this cycle is to vote early, then volunteer to work at the polls on election day. That’s a twofer: you get to enjoy that special community ambiance for even longer and you get to contribute to the electoral process.

Other benefits of voting early:

The lines at the polls on November 6th will be one person shorter.

Volunteer time will not be spent reminding you to vote.

You’ll have more time to volunteer yourself.

Still not convinced? How about this: Your name will be taken off the call lists.

Maybe I should have started with that one.

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The Unbearable Weakness of Our Resolve

I just returned from a fundraiser for a local pol or, let me rephrase, I just walked out five minutes after I walked in. I dropped my sizable check and drove home, sans crudités and wine. Nothing to do with the guest of honor, everything to do with the exchange I had with a long-time progressive activist, someone I admire and respect a great deal. Yes, it was about her reaction to The Debate.

“I’ve never been a huge Obama fan, I voted for Hillary,” she reminded me, “and I was upset that people felt it was more important to elect the first African-American than the first woman. But I got over it, and it seemed like the right thing in the end. But after the debate, I’m really reconsidering. I think we made a mistake. I really do.” Her tone was all “I told you so” in that confidential self-satisfied way that Democrats reserve for such moments.

The other woman in our little circle of chat then brought up today’s Pew Poll—a snapshot of Romney’s bounce that excludes Obama’s lead from both before and after the debate—and shook her head in dismay. I realized I was about to be trapped in a pity party, and decided I should drop my check in the basket and slip out the door before I climbed up on the bar to shout “How ’bout those jobs numbers, people?”

I am not going to make excuses for the president’s poor performance. I am as disappointed as the next person. But it is our response to this incident that disturbs me.

What do the Republicans do (ahem, the conservatives, or is it the tea party? anyway, the other party) when their candidate makes a gaffe, a misstep, a fool of himself? When the headlines are not going their way? They say the polls are skewed, the numbers are fixed, the media is biased, climate change is a hoax, he’s really a conservative, he’s really a moderate, he’s really…whatever we need him to be. And they keep working to elect Republicans, no matter what.

I am not saying that making excuses for bullshit is the proper course. I’m saying that the Republicans understand the game, keep the long view, and don’t get hung up on personality cults—at least until the person in question is long-dead and can be properly reformatted, like Reagan. Their objective is to elect Republicans, and they don’t let the flaws of their candidates distract them. (Have you seen them fall in line behind Todd Akin—Mr. Legitimate Rape—for instance? Can I get an OMFG?)

Their objective is to elect Republicans. They do not let anything get in their way.

In this one area, they are quite rooted in reality.

Democrats, on the other hand—or rather “progressives” who have the highest of principals and no pragmatic strategy to accomplish whatever long view they might have—withdraw their support in dismay when the politician du jour does not live up to their perfectionist standards every minute of every day. Like my friend at the fundraiser, they’d rather be right than to win.

I do believe in principles, and I have some.

I believe the electoral system in the patriarchal imperialist corporatocracy that we call the USA is wholly inadequate to accomplish the radical feminist utopia of my dreams and my ambitions.

I believe many women and men have fought and died for my right to vote.

I believe there is more human suffering under Republicans and less under Democrats.

I believe the ultimate goal of the current “Republican Party” is a theocracy for the masses and an invitation-only skybox for the Chosen.

I believe Barack Obama is, without question, the best president in my lifetime—and that starts with Eisenhower.

I believe the first term of Barack Obama will prove to be a time of historic advances for progressive, liberal, and even radical values, and I spend not an insignificant amount of time daydreaming about what might happen with a second term, and a Democratic House and Senate.

Therefore, even when Barack Obama fails to satisfy my need to publically kick Mitt Romney’s ass during one particular 90-minute infotainment episode, I remember that my mother needs Medicaid, and I need for my country to not send combat-weary men and women to Iran. Or Syria. Or Turkey. Or [FILL IN THE BLANK].

Barack Obama is a Democrat. We need Democrats. We can negotiate with Democrats.

The Republicans cannot win this election, they can only buy it or steal it.

But they cannot rig a landslide. Now is the time to get out the vote.

Channel your angst, your whining, your “I wish we’d nominated Hillary” superiority, into the next 28 days of getting out the vote for all the Democrats in your state. Believe me, Obama may have disappointed you at the debate, but you have never in your life seen a ground game like this. He believes in organizing communities to participate in democracy, and he’s making sure we have every opportunity to do so, and to help our neighbors do so.

So occupy a f#*king voting booth.

Then meet me in the streets on November 7th.

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Lesser of Two Evils

While I digest the awesome emptiness of Mitt Romney’s major address on his foreign “policy” this morning, let me pass on the useful, inspiring, timeless insights of Rebecca Solnit:

“This statement that gets aired every four years: that in presidential elections we are asked to choose the lesser of two evils. Now, this is not an analysis or an insight; it is a cliché, and a very tired one, and it often comes in the same package as the insistence that there is no difference between the candidates. You can reframe it, however, by saying: we get a choice, and not choosing at all can be tantamount in its consequences to choosing the greater of two evils.

“But having marriage rights or discrimination protection or access to health care is not the lesser of two evils. If I vote for a Democrat, I do so in the hopes that fewer people will suffer, not in the belief that that option will eliminate suffering or bring us to anywhere near my goals or represent my values perfectly. Yet people are willing to use this ‘evils’ slogan to wrap up all the infinite complexity of the fate of the Earth and everything living on it and throw it away.”

(Click the link above for the full article.)

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