Something in the Air

Here’s something you can look back on with a bemused smile – what was being said the day before the presidential election, when there was no more to say. In a long item at the solidly conservative National Review Online, John O’Sullivan got all empirical on us – the polls showed Obama winning without all that much trouble, but too much was unknowable. O’Sullivan goes on to rip into those who say this is in the bag – one way or the other, as there are conservatives predicting a Romney landside. O’Sullivan chalks that up to both wishful thinking and to ignoring seemingly small factors that could change everything. O’Sullivan says let’s wait and see. He is an empiricist – the evidence of outcomes is what matters. He doesn’t like prediction itself – the rational mind should reject such efforts, as a silly waste of brainpower that could be used for more useful endeavors. He’s content to wait, and he also makes this key observation:

One of the more curious aspects of this election is the appearance that almost more passion has gone into arguments over who will win than into arguments over who should win.

That is curious, but that’s what separates political junkies – addicted to process and fascinated by what allows one candidate to win and another end up in shame and obscurity – and policy wonks – those folks primarily concerned with outcomes. It’s the difference between concentrating on getting there – in office – and caring deeply about what will happen when one candidate or the other actually gets there, about what governing decision they’ll make. These are not the same things at all, and as any campaign draws to a close, like this seemingly endless president race, almost all reporting is about process – the competition, the tactics, the public response to those tactics, the unexpected that derailed one guy’s messaging and not the other’s – and the national mood of course, if there really is such a thing.

That’s part of the nonsense you get on the day before a national election, but it’s clear that anyone yapping about the “national mood” on cable television or talk radio is obviously full of crap. They’re just guessing or hoping or got up on the wrong side of bed that day. How would they know? As many have said, the plural of anecdote is not evidence.

It’s easy to get this confused. If you’ve listened to Mitt Romney all these long months you now know Obama hates successful people and wants to take their stuff and give it to the nation’s moochers, that Forty-Seven Percent who will always vote for Obama, to keep getting that stuff. Everyone on Wall Street is said to believe this, and as they’re smart they ought to know. You may not agree with this cartoonish notion of Obama, but if you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich?

That’s the constant drumbeat on the financial channel CNBC too. They hammer that home, without evidence. It’s just a feeling, which makes it odd that in print they offer this:

A new study from WealthInsight, the London-based wealth-research and data firm (and yes, they are non-partisan), showed that the United States added 1.1 million millionaires between Jan. 1, 2009 and the end of 2011, the latest period measured. There were 5.1 million millionaires in America at the end of 2011, compared with around 4 million at the end of 2008.

That works out to more than 1,000 millionaires a day under the Obama administration. (They defined millionaires as people with total net worth of $1 million or more, excluding primary residence).

“It’s true that Obama has been good for millionaires, at least in absolute terms,” said Andrew Amoils, analyst at WealthInsight. “He certainly hasn’t been bad for millionaires.”

Amoils said that quantitative easing and financial bailouts especially helped the finance sector, which accounts for the largest share of millionaires. It also helped that markets recovered in 2009.

Yes, under Obama we’ve added a thousand millionaires a day, which is an odd item for these folks to publish the day before the election, and even odder given just who the new millionaires are:

Of the sectors adding the largest number of people worth $30 million or more, the retail, fashion, and luxury goods sector ranked first. That was followed by energy and utilities, then tech, telecoms and finance.

Anecdote, meet evidence – and process, say hello to outcome. On the other hand, there’s Reagan’s former speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, who simply feels things:

We begin with the three words everyone writing about the election must say: Nobody knows anything. Everyone’s guessing. I spent Sunday morning in Washington with journalists and political hands, one of whom said she feels it’s Obama, the rest of whom said they don’t know.

Ah, but she does know, as being an experienced insider of many decades, and superbly sensitive to the national mood, she now has a deeply intuitive sense of what’s really happening:

I think it is Romney. I think he’s stealing in “like a thief with good tools,” in Walker Percy’s old words. While everyone is looking at the polls and the storm, Romney’s slipping into the presidency. He’s quietly rising, and he’s been rising for a while.

Those of us who are fans of the late Walker Percy – one of the finest writers and thinkers America has produced in a long time – winced at that. That’s a literary thing however. The real last-day-before-the-election nonsense was this:

There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.

Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us? Maybe that’s the real distortion of the polls this year: They left us discounting the world around us.

The plural of anecdote is not evidence, my dear. And Andrew Sullivan is blunt:

Look: I don’t know, and I don’t, oddly, have a feeling at all right now… But I do try to check my feelings against data, as opposed to anecdotes from friends about yard signs.

Sullivan was also reminded of what the loneliest gay group in the world, the Log Cabin Republicans, said in their deeply conflicted endorsement of Mitt Romney – “We don’t listen to what a candidate actually says. We try to feel where they seem to stand.”

What? Something is going on here. See George Will Predicts Romney Win with 321 Electoral Votes – that prissy and precise fellow really can spin a tale of multiple but unlikely what-if scenarios each unfolding in succession. Sullivan, on the other hand, cites Michael Tomasky with this:

Wingers seem to know, or think they know. Of course they don’t know, and deep down they know that they don’t know, which must be a kind of psychological torture to them, and so they compensate for having to endure that torture by putting up that front of absolute certainty, which in turn brings its own rewards whatever the result. Their guy wins, they get to say, “Ha! I knew it all along.” Their guy loses, they get to be outraged and blame the blacks, the media, the pollsters, Nate Silver. In a weird sort of way I suspect many of them prefer the latter outcome.

Sullivan adds this:

“That front of real certainty.” It’s a good phrase for what I have long called the “fundamentalist psyche.”

Fundamentalism is not about belief; it’s about the rigidity required because of faltering belief. It’s not faith; it’s neurosis. And it’s at the heart of the GOP problem; it’s why they cannot look at things empirically, refuse to acknowledge nuance, and cannot trust anyone who might be in touch with the reality fundamentalists secretly fear may be true.

That means trouble is coming:

In some ways, if this election does end in an Obama victory and a solid Democratic gain or hold in the Senate and minor GOP losses in the House (as now seems the more probable polling conclusion), then the cognitive dissonance might break. Even they will have a hard time arguing that Romney, who picked Ryan, has not been “conservative” enough. They’ve got Sandy to blame, but I’m unconvinced. Then they’ll blame minorities, whose votes they will eventually conclude they need. It’s a process.

I long argued it would get worse before it got better on the right. It did get worse. But if Obama wins, it just might get a little better. If the GOP greeted 2008 with denial about the Bush legacy and denial about Obama’s potential, they then ran, Kubler-Ross-style, into the 2010 elections with anger; then they bargained their way toward a debt ceiling fiasco (whose terms of resolution are about to bite them in the ass); then they got depressed – and then they went right back to Stage One after that first debate, and went right back into denial again.

There is that elusive final stage of acceptance. Few reach it, but Sullivan notes that James Fallows shows that this already may be happening with a select few:

Republican Governors Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, by praising President Obama, and New York’s formerly Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, by endorsing him, are not leading their supporters to Obama; they are following them to protect their own political futures because they believe Obama will win. Bloomberg wants to preserve his centrist credentials, and there is no easier way to separate from Romney then by emphasizing the urgency of dealing with climate change. Christie governs a state in which the president is popular; his sudden admiration of Obama benefits both of them at the expense of Romney, who will have no way of paying Christie back if he loses. McDonnell was an early supporter of the Ryan budget, but now is backing away from the devilish details in that budget – like slashing FEMA.


As I said, I don’t know. But if reality is what the state polls are overwhelmingly indicating, then we are going to get a psychic break on the right later this week and year. And that, if it occurs, will be extremely healthy – and long overdue.

Sure, but if Romney wins all bets are off. As for Nate Silver and his amazing compiled statistics, the day before the election Obama’s chances of winning rose to 91.5% – with a projected 314.4 electoral votes and 50.9% of the popular vote. There’s Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center with Why the 2012 Election Is the Closest In Recent History – but that’s about how angry everyone is with the other side, not about the extensive data at hand. At Yahoo, the Signal also agrees with Silver – this isn’t about the national mood or yard signs. There’s also this – Polls Suggest Undecideds Won’t Help Romney (If They Show Up) – so there’s little hope.

In short, Romney could win, but the day before the election that seemed beyond unlikely, and Politico gives us the rundown of what the Republicans will say if he doesn’t win:

Mitt Romney was a historically bad candidate: If Romney wins on Tuesday, he’ll be president of the United States. If he loses, he’ll be the fall guy for the entire Republican Party.

Republicans weren’t overjoyed about nominating Romney in the first place, partly because he was a shade too moderate for their taste, but also because he was such an inept competitor in the 2008 primaries.

Win or lose, Romney has validated many of those fears, careening from misstep to misstep throughout the 2012 race. If Romney wasn’t fumbling his response to the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act ruling, he was offending the British on the eve of the London Olympics or getting caught on tape bashing Americans who don’t pay income taxes.

That’s one possible excuse. Politico does mention that Haley Barbour said in August that Democrats had branded Romney as a “wealthy plutocrat married to a known equestrian” – which was clever and stuck, even if not in those exact words – and the man was also too vague about everything all along anyway. He was a bad candidate or the wrong one.

Of course Republicans were already pointing to Hurricane Sandy to explain a Romney loss, and little more needs to be said about that. Obama took charge and did well and the effusive praise for Obama from Chris Christie, a top Romney surrogate, didn’t help. That damned hurricane ruined everything. It just wasn’t fair.

Or maybe Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, was just too much of a jerk – but that’s insider stuff. However, that Romney is getting blown out with Latino voters wasn’t insider stuff at all:

As early as September 2011, when Romney was running to Rick Perry’s right on immigration – Romney’s most memorable line on the subject was that illegal immigrants should choose to “self-deport” to their native countries – Republicans privately fretted that Romney was digging himself a demographic hole.

They were right: Romney’s likely to lose Latinos by a wider gap than McCain’s 36-point margin of defeat.

Goodbye to Nevada, Virginia, Florida and Colorado, and goodbye to the Romney presidency.

Or maybe it was a mistake to run a moderate again:

For much of the Republican base, the past four years carry a straightforward lesson: When you nominate an ideological squish like John McCain, you lose. When you run on big, bold, conservative ideas – as the party did in 2010 – you win.

Rick Santorum called Romney the “worst Republican” to put up against Obama – the Massachusetts moderate who created the model for Obamacare – and maybe he Santorum was right, or not.

No one will ever know but then maybe it was all the media’s fault:

Claims of media bias from both sides are nothing new in presidential politics. But the Romney campaign has long lamented that the press is out to get them, with the candidate, his wife and top surrogates openly complaining that they can’t get a fair shake.

Romney and his campaign have viewed their press coverage as routinely savage, feeding into the Obama campaign’s caricature of Romney as a non-mustachioed Snidely Whiplash. Reporters, the Romney team has complained, are more interested in gaffes than in policy, even if that means taking Romney out of context.

They blew that too:

The reality is Romney also did little to make an affirmative case for his candidacy and his character until late in the game. When the Obama team attacked, Romney and his spokespeople resisted responding to the press, declining to comment on stories and then attacking them as biased and factually flawed only after they appeared in print. For most of the 2012 cycle, Romney’s campaign invested little energy into making its case to and building relationships with the national media. Romney conducted relatively few interviews, favoring softball appearances on Fox News and interviews with radio hosts like Hugh Hewitt. His spokespeople didn’t reliably answer press requests, even benign ones. The assumption was that the press is either irrelevant or simply trying to cause trouble.

But treating the media as a hostile force can be a self-fulfilling prophecy…

That’s all fine and dandy, and if Obama loses, the Democrats will whimper and slink away – they’re used to losing, and Obama gave it a pretty good shot, doing good things in his short four years.

Yes, but if he wins, Senator Lindsey Graham has a more condensed message for his fellow Republicans:

If we lose this election there is only one explanation – demographics. … If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts. We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.

That’s one hell of a parting shot, but Graham is frustrated, and Peter Beinart argues here that if Romney loses, Republicans will now have to have that long-overdue fight over their party’s immigration policies:

If Romney loses, it will also be hard for Republicans to escape the fact that their inability to win Hispanics represents a mortal threat to their political future. The GOP put virtually every major Republican Hispanic office-holder on stage at this year’s convention, but it didn’t matter. And even if they put Rubio on the ticket in 2016, it still won’t matter all that much, so long as Hispanics feel the GOP’s policies are anti–Hispanic immigrant.

If Romney loses, at least some prominent Republicans will recognize that he lost the Hispanic vote because he was pushed far to the right on immigration during the primaries. And they’ll demand that the next GOP nominee avoid that trap, which will put them in conflict with the party’s activist base. As one GOP strategist told the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein this August, referring to the Romney campaign’s bid to win the White House on the back of the white Anglo vote alone, “This is the last time anyone will try to do this.”

Being hard-ass feels so right and righteous, and it could be the end of the party. Think about it. They’ve made it clear they don’t want the Hispanic vote – sneer at the friends and relatives of that bloc long enough and you get no votes at all. They don’t want the black vote either – all that birther stuff and saying Obama doesn’t understand America and that he’s inherently lazy, as John Sununu has said, will do that, along with Donald Trump’s efforts to somehow prove Obama only got into Columbia and Harvard because he was black, and Ann Coulter recently calling Obama “a retard.” It all adds up over time, and the youth vote is gone too – no one really gets Mitt’s love of the Ozzie and Harriet fifties and he is kind of living there. Starting every other sentence with “gosh” will do that, along with getting all worked up about icky gay people, when almost everyone under thirty sees no problem at all and never have. There’s the anti-science thing too – evolution is just a stupid unproven theory and climate change is a hoax, and as Glenn Beck has said, universities are just socialist training camps. Don’t trust people with college degrees. Yes, and if you think science is pretty cool and you like learning new things you won’t be voting Republican. The women’s vote is long gone too – it’s not just saying women cannot be trusted with decisions about their pregnancies and even contraception, but the general stance that the little ladies need sensible strong men to tell them what’s what and what to do. Hey, you know how women are. That doesn’t go down well.

Who’s left? Angry white men over sixty who dropped out of school in the eighth grade and a scattering of corporate officers? That won’t win a general election. Being hard-ass, or what Romney called being “severely conservative” at one point, only makes you severely irrelevant. He stopped saying that, but Slate’s Fred Kaplan puts the lingering problem nicely:

There’s the argument that if Romney wins, it will only be because he moved to the center and that, therefore, in order to be re-elected four years from now, he will govern in the center as well. This logic makes no sense whatever. If Romney wins, it will be because, in addition to the near-majority (say, around 47 percent) that would have voted for him had he remained a “severe conservative,” another 4 or 5 percent were swayed his way by his moderate assurances in the campaign’s final weeks. Which constituency would he serve in the Oval Office: the base he’d long been cultivating or the last-minute converts, a group barely one-tenth the size with no organized pressure group behind it? The question answers itself.

That’s a moot point. The question of who will win had answered itself too, except for Peggy Noonan, who felt something in the air. Everyone had to get in their parting shot, before everything noted here becomes no more than a curiosity. At least now it’s on record.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to Something in the Air

  1. Dick Bernard says:

    Here’s how I look at today forward, as posted early this morning, before any polls open: for Nov. 6, 2012. This goes to the unruly scrum that is family (mostly conservative) and friends (many who think the Democrats are worthless – almost as bad as if not worse than Republicans). In other words, my little ‘village’ is a pretty broad swath of humanity. A few will read it. I hope you do, too.

  2. Rick says:


    I like it!

    I like the fact that you went out on a limb and did a “pre-mortem”, even if it’s not a done deal. So if Romney wins tonight, you will really have something to write tomorrow. Some of my reactions:

    John O’Sullivan: “One of the more curious aspects of this election is the appearance that almost more passion has gone into arguments over who will win than into arguments over who should win.”:

    That’s always true, of course. And while it’s obviously so, still, everybody just breezes on by and goes back to the horse race. Maybe the cable networks should have debates between non-candidate supporters, but not from the campaigns, who just nit-pick the policies of each side.

    Log Cabin Republicans: “… the Log Cabin Republicans said in their deeply conflicted endorsement of Mitt Romney – ‘We don’t listen to what a candidate actually says. We try to feel where they seem to stand.'”:

    And where is it, please tell me, that Mitt Romney “seems” to stand? To me, Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to stand at all, he seems to lie.

    Politico: “Republicans weren’t overjoyed about nominating Romney in the first place, partly because he was a shade too moderate for their taste…”:

    Don’t be silly. Democracy is about compromise, and, like McCain before him, Romney was the best compromise of all those candidates. Can you imagine if Gingrich were the candidate? Herman Cain? Maybe Michele Bachmann?

    But just because Romney’s the best of the Republicans doesn’t mean he’s going to be the best candidate in the race. The Republicans will never admit it but it’s not enough to be a moderate candidate, you have to be a moderate candidate who appeals to more voters than your opponent does. It’s as simple as that.

    Politico: “Reporters, the Romney team has complained, are more interested in gaffes than in policy”:

    So is Romney, it seems, since he makes so many of them. If Romney were really interested in policy, he’d answer reporters’ questions about his policies instead of saying he’ll discuss the details after the election.

    Politico: “But treating the media as a hostile force can be a self-fulfilling prophecy…”:

    Although blaming the media for all this may be a case of rearranging the deck chairs, it’s certainly true that you can’t go poo-poo all over the press and then complain that the media stinks.

    Lindsay Graham: “If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts. We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”

    Bingo! Whoda thunk, coming from Graham? But I especially like that he equates conservatism with being “hard-ass”!

    Which, itself, may be part of their problem.


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