The last day in October, capped off by Halloween night and the massive surreal parade just down the street in West Hollywood, the largest gay community south of San Francisco. That’s always a hoot, but not the only news. The election was exactly one week away – Romney versus Obama. Key Senate and House seats, that will determine who controls Congress, are also up for grabs, and out here in California there are the endless referendums on the ballot, as the folks up in Sacramento can’t decide a damned thing on their own. Meanwhile, back east, everything from South Carolina to Maine and on out to Chicago was a mess – underwater or snowed in and no one seemed to have power – after the biggest and worst storm anyone has ever seen. That’s news, as was the visit of President Obama to New Jersey, the center of that mess and the worst off now – where Obama toured the damage with that state’s governor, the loud and crude and rude and oddly spherical Chris Christie, the bully-hero of the Republican Party. The surprising news was that they got along famously, with Christie repeatedly saying Obama and FEMA were doing a wonderful job, and insisting that Obama was a fine fellow and an impressive leader – with Obama saying back-at-you buddy. Democrats were pleased and Republicans flummoxed, and Fox News was stunned into silence. Ronald Reagan once said that the scariest words in the English language were these – “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Not this Halloween. This was about saving lives and fixing things – everything else was bullshit. It was kind of refreshing.
This was a time of big news, and at dawn, the morning Los Angeles Times arrived with a dull thump at the front door, with the big front page story of the day jumping out top-right – Disney is spending over four billion dollars to buy Lucasfilm – and they get Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound in the deal too. This is a big deal out here of course – this is a company town and Disney just became one of the big boys – and it seems we get a new Star Wars movie in 2015, the seventh in the series. It just seemed an odd choice as the big story of the day. Page layout is everything in the newspaper business, and this was front page upper right as the nation was in the throes of deciding what America should be, and with an ongoing epic disaster on the other coast. It seemed a bit parochial and more than a little shallow, or maybe the guys at the Times were fed up with politics, and with politicians playing mind tricks on everyone, especially the press. Screw them all.
That was the only cool thing in the Star Wars movies anyway, the Jedi Mind Trick – the Jedi Knight waves his hand and says what he wants someone to say and do, and like a fool the other person says and does just that.
“The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded,” as Obi-Wan Kenobi explains to Luke Skywalker. That’s probably as good an explanation of how politicians think things work as any. Wave the hand – “You think my ideas are wonderful and you think I am wonderful and you will vote for me.” The weak-minded respond appropriately and say and do just that. It works every single time, except on Jabba the Hut – “Your mind tricks will not work on me, boy.”
There was, however, only one Jabba the Hut, who some say looks a lot like Chris Christie – but then Republican mind tricks don’t work on him either. Unlike most other Republicans he was quick to join the calls for Romney to release his tax returns earlier this year, and his keynote speech in Tampa was all about him and hardly at all about Romney. Your mind tricks will not work on me, boy. Many hate his nasty politics, but at least the guy isn’t weak-minded.
The assumption is that the rest of us are, and the mind trick of the day came from another gut who looks a bit like that giant talking slug, Jabba the Hut, the always-wrong political consultant Dick Morris, who gave us this:
Voters have figured out that President Obama has no message, no agenda and not even much of an explanation for what he has done over the past four years. His campaign is based entirely on persuading people that Mitt Romney is a uniquely bad man, entirely dedicated to the rich, ignorant of the problems of the average person. As long as he could run his negative ads, the campaign at least kept voters away from the Romney bandwagon. But once we all met Mitt Romney for three 90-minute debates, we got to know him – and to like him. He was not the monster Obama depicted, but a reasonable person for whom we could vote.
Morris goes on to predict an absolute landslide for Romney, offering what passes for detail, even if he doesn’t seem to know which states have how many electoral votes –Romney will win all the swing states and maybe even New Jersey and Oregon, and Republicans will also end up with a 53-47 margin in the Senate. All the polling from everyone is wrong – he does his own careful analysis.
It’s a Jedi Mind Trick, and Ed Kilgore notes how it could backfire:
Many Republicans are going to read this stuff and begin their victory celebration quite early.
You might wonder if this sort of crap might run the risk of convincing some happy conservatives that they need not bother to vote, or can afford to indulge their resentment of Romney’s refusal (on occasion, at least) to back a Personhood Amendment or spend the remaining days of the campaign “vetting” the president’s background. But just as they did with the Iraq War, a lot of Republicans seem to think it is psychologically critical to protect Total Success in all their endeavors.
It’s an appeal to the weak-minded, but Morris is who he is:
Morris went on to become campaign manager of Bill Clinton’s successful 1996 bid for re-election to the office of President. His tenure on that campaign was cut short two months before the election, when it was revealed that he had allowed a prostitute to listen in on conversations with the President. Morris then turned his focus to media commentary. He now writes a weekly column for the New York Post which is carried nationwide, contributes columns and blogs to both the print and online versions of The Hill, and appears regularly on the Fox News for political commentary, frequently appearing on The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity.
Now he hates the Clintons and wants revenge. The folks at Fox News find him useful. Here comes the Romney landslide? They’ll run with that, but it may be a Jedi Mind Trick, and not a very good one, although he’s not alone:
Mitt Romney’s top staff offered reporters an endless number of reasons they’re going to beat President Obama on a conference call Wednesday. Not included on their list of Romney advantages: a clear lead in the polls.
“Obama has a political environment problem,” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said. “He’s got an intensity problem, he’s got an image problem and he’s got a ballot problem – and they all add up to a challenging Tuesday next week.”
Say it’s so and it is so, but it isn’t so:
The call came as recent data shows Obama with a small, but persistent lead in enough states to win 270 electoral votes. Wednesday was a particularly rough day for Romney on that front, featuring new surveys in which Obama held a solid lead in Ohio, surged to an 8-point lead in Wisconsin, and even led by 5 nationally in one case. But Romney aides insisted things were on the right track.
“We feel we are in a very good place, that this race is exactly where we had hoped it would be a week out,” senior adviser Russ Schriefer said.
Yeah, we’re losing by four touchdowns with thirty seconds to play and the coach says we have them right where we want them… “Right now their firewall is burning,” political director Rich Beeson told reporters.
That’s a great metaphor – very dramatic and quite visual – but what does that mean? Here are the charts compiling all the statistical models – showing that sometimes a Jedi Mind Trick is just whistling in the dark, on Halloween night, to keep the ghouls and monsters away. Obama is more than likely to win.
How then can you respond to this? You can consider the most respected statistician working today, Nate Silver, and offer this rebuttal to his body of work:
Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the “Mr. New Castrati” voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program.
In fact, Silver could easily be the poster child for the New Castrati in both image and sound. Nate Silver, like most liberal and leftist celebrities and favorites, might be of average intelligence but is surely not the genius he’s made out to be. His political analyses are average at best and his projections, at least this year, are extremely biased in favor of the Democrats.
That’s it? Wave the hand and the Imperial Stormtrooper says these aren’t the droids we’re looking for – if you remember the first Star Wars movie. Not everyone’s that weak-minded and it’s no wonder the Los Angeles Times has taken to burying most of the political stories on page six or so. They’ve seen the movie.
One the other hand, Kevin Drum receives an email:
As much as I’m not surprised to see the recent attacks on Silver, et al., I welcome them. There needs to be a lot less confidence in those numbers, regardless of how strong they are.
Dems look for reasons not to vote and Silver and others – or “reality” – serves that up. Some superstitious fear now would be a good thing. I think Palin scared the bejeezus out of the left in ’08, but they lack that oddball character on the right these days.
This is a fairly common sentiment. And it makes sense. It’s entirely reasonable to think that projecting an air of confidence might make your supporters overconfident and decrease turnout on Election Day. Better to keep them running scared.
But there’s an odd thing about this: professional politicians apparently don’t believe it – at all. Oh sure, they’ll keep sending out the scary emails all the way through November 6. “Folks, there are a bunch of races that are simply too close to call,” screams the latest plea in my inbox from Dick Durbin. …
Publicly, though, presidential campaigns pretty much never do this. In fact, they usually go to absurd lengths to demonstrate that their campaign is a juggernaut that will sail to victory. They apparently believe – and so do I – that people are energized by being associated with a winner. Confidence in victory boosts turnout, it doesn’t suppress it.
It’s all a Jedi Mind Trick.
Jonathan Chait, however, was never into mind tricks:
I decided to support Barack Obama pretty early in the Democratic primary, around spring of 2007. But unlike so many of his supporters, I never experienced a kind of emotional response to his candidacy. I never felt his election would change everything about American politics or government, that it would lead us out of the darkness. Nothing Obama did or said ever made me well up with tears.
Possibly for that same reason, I have never felt even a bit of the crushing sense of disappointment that at various times has enveloped so many Obama voters. I supported Obama because I judged him to have a keen analytical mind, grasping both the possibilities and the limits of activist government, and possessed of excellent communicative talents. I thought he would nudge government policy in an incrementally better direction. I consider his presidency an overwhelming success.
Kevin Drum is fine with that:
It took me longer than Jon to decide between Obama and Hillary Clinton, but otherwise this mirrors my reaction precisely. In a way, though, all it shows is that both Jon and I missed something in 2008. I simply never took seriously any of Obama’s high-flown rhetoric – Hope and change, Yes we can! You are the solution, etc. – dismissing it as nothing more than typical campaign windiness. From the first day, I saw Obama as a sober, cautious, analytic, mainstream Democrat: a little to the left of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but fundamentally right smack in the middle of American liberalism. He’d get a bunch of good stuff done, but on other stuff he’d either never support a progressive position in the first place (Afghanistan, cramdown, etc.) or else he’d support it but fail to get his program through Congress (Guantanamo, cap-and-trade).
Apparently, though, a lot of lefties really did buy the hype. Or so it seems. To this day, however, I wonder just how many of the people who are disappointed in Obama are liberals who took the campaign oratory seriously vs. moderates who are simply worn down by the long economic downturn and hesitant to give Obama another four years.
Yes, the Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded, making them see things that aren’t there. Chait, however, suggests seeing things that are there:
I can understand why somebody who never shared Obama’s goals would vote against his reelection. If you think the tax code already punishes the rich too heavily, that it’s not government’s role to subsidize health insurance for those who can’t obtain it, that the military shouldn’t have to let gays serve openly, and so on, then Obama’s presidency has been a disaster, but you probably didn’t vote for him last time. For anybody who voted for Obama in 2008 and had even the vaguest sense of his platform, the notion that he has fallen short of some plausible performance threshold seems to me unfathomable.
Andrew Sullivan couldn’t agree more:
I have no idea what standard people are using to declare Obama’s first term a failure. To save us from a Great Depression, rescue the auto industry, re-regulate Wall Street, decimate al Qaeda, kill bin Laden and Qaddafi and provide universal healthcare? That’s failure?
Unemployment is lower now than it was when he took office, and moving downward. Next year’s IMF-predicted US growth is higher than any other developed country. Compared with austerity-ridden Europe, where unemployment is still climbing, Obama’s, Geithner’s and Bernanke’s leadership has been stellar. The US has never exported as much as now as a percentage of GDP ever. Given the catastrophe Obama walked into, and the froth-flecked obstructionism of his opposition, he’s had a remarkably successful, historic first term. His long game also makes much of the progress promised durable only if he gets a second term.
Sullivan says he can understand why the Tea Party disagrees with Obama’s policies, but there’s more going on here:
What I cannot understand is how those who voted for him in 2008 because they wanted real change can explain why they may vote against him now. It makes no sense. He has carried through almost every election promise, and those he hasn’t can mostly be attributed to the GOP House. If you voted for Obama in 2008 and don’t in 2012, you never really voted for him in 2008. He told us it would take two terms; he predicted obstruction and setbacks; yet he has persisted – and succeeded. But take his second term away? Back to ballooning, rather than shrinking deficits, millions left without access to private health insurance, a guaranteed war against Iran, climate change policy handed over to the oil and coal companies, and massive spending on defense we don’t need. Not to mention torture.
There is also what Chait says about the alternative:
The reality remains that a vote for Romney is a vote for his party – a party that, by almost universal acclimation, utterly failed when last entrusted with governing. Romney may be brainier, more competent, and more mentally nimble than George W. Bush. But his party has, unbelievably, grown far more extreme in the years since Bush departed. Unbelievable though it may sound to those outside the conservative movement, conservative introspection into the Bush years has yielded the conclusion that the party erred only in its excessive compassion – it permitted too much social spending and, perhaps, cut taxes too much on the poor. Barely any points of contact remain between party doctrine and the consensus views of economists and other experts. The party has almost no capacity to respond to the conditions and problems that actually exist in the world.
In fact, it has become a party of Jedi Mind Tricks, and now with Romney continuing to run ads in Ohio about how Chrysler is moving all Jeep production to China – with every newspaper in the state and Chrysler and even GM saying there never was and now is no plan to do any such thing – it only gets more absurd. The New York Times’ Charles Blow finds the whole business appalling:
Romney wouldn’t acknowledge the truth if it kissed him on the cheek. In fact, Romney seems to have decided that the only things standing between him and the White House are stubborn facts. He continues to roll right over them.
The question is: will this scurrilous tactic have negative consequences?
Unfortunately, there is some evidence that facts and the people who check them don’t carry the same weight that they once did.
First, the right’s disinformation machine is, explicitly and implicitly, making the argument that facts (science, math, evidence) are fungible and have been co-opted by liberal eggheads. They have declared war on facts in response to what they claim is a liberal war on faith.
This is an utterly false and ridiculous argument, but it works on some people.
It works on the weak-minded – only Jabba the Hut and Chris Christie are immune, and some reporters and most Democrats. Still the polling is disheartening:
According to a Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News Swing State poll released Wednesday, President Obama has a 9 percentage point lead over Romney in Ohio among likely voters on the question of who is honest and trustworthy (most people thought that the president was honest while most would not say the same about Romney). But that same poll found that the president only had a 5-point lead in the horse race numbers in Ohio.
The president had a similarly large lead on the honesty question in Florida in Virginia, but in those states the poll found the race to be virtually tied – the president had a small lead that was within the margin of error.
How is it that so many people are willing to support a man who they don’t believe is honest or trustworthy?
Such things are only supposed to happen in blockbuster science fiction movies, as a convenient plot device, but it seems such things happen in real life:
The poll also found that most voters didn’t believe that Romney cared about their problems. On the other hand, at least 60 percent of voters in each state said that they believed that the president cared about their problems.
Who votes for a man who doesn’t care about you over a man who does?
Tune in in 2015 for the next Star Wars movie, where you’ll no doubt once again see how such things work – or wait until next week to see how many vote for Romney. Remember what Obi-Wan Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker about the weak-minded. But also note this about Mitt Romney. The Force is not with him. That was only a movie.