Forced Perspective

No, that lovable giant of a fellow in those Harry Potter movies, Hagrid, wasn’t really that big, and the four hobbits and the dwarf in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies weren’t really that small. That was all forced perspective – a basic optical illusion where what’s in the extreme foreground of the shot appears large and what’s in the background appears much smaller. It’s a matter of very careful framing. If it works right the viewer loses all sense of perspective. Peter Jackson took this to a whole new level with computer-driven movable sets so that it all seemed seamless. The camera could move and the actors could walk around and hit their marks and no one would be the wiser – the algorithms assured the apparent relative sizes of things were always uniform. What he came up with there was far better than what you saw in those hundreds of crap black-and-white science fiction movies from the fifties, the ones with the giant spiders or the giant ants or the giant lizards or that fifty-foot-woman – although she was pretty sexy. Those films were laughable and crude, and just as silly as that vacation picture where your girlfriend is holding her arm out straight, keeping the Leaning Tower of Pisa from falling over. It’s all in the framing.

Standing in line at the usual polling place in this neighborhood – the union hall down the street on Sunset Boulevard, the International Cinematographers Guild – it’s easy enough to muse about such things. Elections can also produce a kind of forced perspective. Someone is going to lose and be forced to change their perspective. It’s just not an optical thing. What they told the voters was so important – what they insisted was so important – will be something the voters will agree isn’t important at all. Losing candidates and losing parties can insist the voters have lost all perspective, except there’s the possibility those voters saw through the cheap optical tricks.

Yes, there’s a reason everyone talks about the optics of a campaign – how folks tend to see things in a general way, in spite of the specific words being said. Voters can take their cues from posture or tone of voice or what the candidate is wearing that day, besides the requisite flag pin. Smiling helps too, as long as the candidate doesn’t smile too much or at the wrong time – and frowning is deadly – and George H. W Bush shouldn’t have looked at his watch and Al Gore shouldn’t have sighed. Optical illusion plays a big part in politics, or putting it another way, perspective is everything. That’s what you’re trying to manage. After all, if you cannot change voters’ perspectives you might be forced to change yours. Maybe you were wrong about what was so important.

This time the Republicans lost big – Obama won the electoral vote and the popular vote quite quickly on election night and he gets another four years. The Republicans hoped to regain control of the Senate and thought it would be easy – but the Tea Party crowd forced them to run some very strange candidates in what were supposed to be safe seats, and the Democrats ended up with a net gain of at least two more senators. And the social conservatives lost big too – two states voted to make the recreational use of marijuana legal and three states voted to make same-sex marriage legal – with a fourth still pending as they count up late ballots. This was the first time voters – not legislatures or the courts – said same-sex marriage was just fine. All in all, it seems there was something wrong with the Republican perspective on America. Someone’s framing was off. The voters decided it was the Republicans’ framing of things.

Republicans spent election evening saying they never saw this coming, but maybe they also thought that woman in that old movie really was fifty feet tall, but Kevin Drum argues that they really should have seen what was happening:

Before everyone starts getting too enthralled with demographic time bombs and other in-the-weeds explanations for why Obama won last night, just remember this: most of the political science models, based on little more than a few economic fundamentals, predicted a modest Obama victory six months ago. Maybe Hispanics mattered, and maybe Benghazi and Sandy and 47% and the first debate and Jeeps in China all mattered too. But if they did, they sure seem to have conveniently canceled each other out and left us exactly where we thought we’d be back in the dog days of summer. Some coincidence, huh?

Someone’s eye was fooled, and that’s always distressing when it happens to you of all people. It’s best to say you weren’t fooled at all, that everyone else was, and Debra J. Saunders, that rare conservative columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, takes exactly that line:

President Obama’s re-election puts Republicans on notice. No matter what we do, the media will portray us as extreme, venal, stupid or anti-woman, if not as individuals, then guilty by association. The GOP nominee must bear the burden of admittedly medieval statements on pregnancy and rape – uttered by Senate hopefuls Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri. Mitt Romney renounced the statements – and still they tarnished the GOP brand.

On the other side, all Democrats are moderates. Party bigs need never explain why Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts senator-elect, padded her credentials as an American Indian. Likewise, how Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. coasted to re-election even though he says he is being treated for depression and hasn’t worked since June and won’t say when he plans to. Not only do the Democrats’ bad actors not stain the ticket, they win.

It’s just not fair. She and her fellow conservatives have the right and true perspective, and she’s getting damned tired of where that leads:

Democrats nag that Republicans must move to the center to win. Get it: Conservatives should not vote like conservatives, but liberals must be true to their core beliefs. When is the last time you heard that a Democrat lost an election by moving too far to the left?

There is this too:

I’ve long believed elections reflect which side voters hate more. To the extent that’s true, 50 percent of Americans hate Republicans and 48 percent hate Democrats. The polarization can only deepen. The media turned election reportage into a montage of Romney gaffes – “binders full of women,” 47 percent of America “dependent on government,” and “corporations are people…” This is how partisans change a country. They convince the public that a viewpoint is not only wrong but, worse, illegitimate, and the battle is won. They get what they want, and keep moving the bar.

She will not adjust her perspective. She’s too angry, but Kevin Drum points to some basic facts:

I know plenty of people have already said this, but the Senate is an even more impressive story for Democrats than President Obama’s reelection last night. Just a few short months ago it was conventional wisdom that Democrats would be lucky if they only lost three seats, and might very well lose enough to turn control over to Republicans. Instead, they gained two seats.

In 2004, I remember being dismayed by Democratic performance in the tossup races. Out of five close Senate races, Republicans won four of them. This year was the exact opposite. Democrats won every single close contest but one (Heller in Nevada), and in the end most of the races didn’t even turn out to be all that close. Heidi Heitkamp won by one point; Tester by four; Kaine by five; Baldwin by six; Donnelly by six; Warren by seven; and McCaskill by 16 (!). That’s just a helluva performance.

Drum argues that this was a failure of perspective:

Republicans could have at least retained their current numbers if they’d had the good sense to reject tea party nutballs in Missouri and Indiana, but even if they had they still would have underperformed expectations substantially. Obama’s victory wasn’t a surprise to anyone living outside the Fox News bubble, but the results of the Senate races constituted a pretty serious, pretty pointed rejection of Republican ideology in red states and blue states alike.

Someone is in denial, and then there’s Mary Matalin:

What happened? A political narcissistic sociopath leveraged fear and ignorance with a campaign marked by mendacity and malice rather than a mandate for resurgence and reform. Instead of using his high office to articulate a vision for our future, Obama used it as a vehicle for character assassination, replete with unrelenting and destructive distortion, derision, and division.

Again it’s not fair, but Digby reminds us that this is the woman who spent the nineties calling Bill Clinton a murderer and a child molester and drug runner, so Digby adds this – “Somebody needs a hug.”

Of course they do, and Digby in this item reviews how the Republican brand has been tarnished over the last several years – fewer and fewer want to be called one of those – and how this time the Hispanic and black turnout killed the Republicans, and the youth turnout killed them too, along with losing the Catholic vote in spite of all that talk about how sex is evil. Digby offers this perspective:

Some of this was living in their big bubble of discontent. But I also think they have to look to the last two years of governance and campaigning for the answer to why the Obama turnout would have been so good despite a lackluster economy and a deflation of hope for change. The answer is simple: from 2010 on they acted like a bunch of assholes and the people who were only mildly paying attention or who were feeling disillusioned realized that as bad as things are, these people had to be stopped.

That GOP primary, where the arrogant audiences behaved like barbarians and booed a gay soldier, cheered lustily for the death penalty and shouted “yeah!” when a candidate was asked if someone should die for lack of health insurance, presented a perfect picture of what the Party had become. The nomination of the quintessential plutocrat and a running mate known for his plan to brutally slash the modest American safety net was a perfect capper.

Digby also cites Ari Melber:

Republicans presented the coldest, most concentrated pitch for selfish individualism since Barry Goldwater. Historians may marvel at how Ayn Rand and the assault on “takers” became such mainstream themes in the year 2012. Or how nationally televised primary debates devolved into attacks on government obligations that were once located firmly in the zone of bipartisan consensus. National disaster response used to be an obvious government project, but Romney felt the need to pretend that states should pick up the tab; several Republicans disputed the duty of hospitals to provide emergency care to poor people, a humane tradition that was codified into federal law by, yes, Ronald Reagan.

If there was a moment that crystallized what we were dealing with, it was that amazing video of Romney standing before a group of vastly wealthy socialites derisively describing 47% of the American people as dependent losers.

No amount of fancy camerawork could fix any of that, and Digby adds this:

If the Republicans want to know why the turnout among Democrats was so high, all they need to do is look in the mirror. America is a complicated place, but most people in this country are hard-working straight arrows who still believe that America is a fairly generous and decent country. That ugly GOP vision clearly isn’t one that most of them want to live with.

Consider that forced perspective of a sort. A new perspective is being forced on them, although Conor Friedersdorf suggests that they will resist it:

Barack Obama just trounced a Republican opponent for the second time. But unlike four years ago, when most conservatives saw it coming, Tuesday’s result was, for them, an unpleasant surprise. So many on the right had predicted a Mitt Romney victory, or even a blowout – Dick Morris, George Will, and Michael Barone all predicted the GOP would break 300 electoral votes.

That wasn’t to be, because framing is everything:

Conservatives were at a disadvantage because Romney supporters like Jennifer Rubin and Hugh Hewitt saw it as their duty to spin constantly for their favored candidate rather than being frank about his strengths and weaknesses… Conservatives were at an information disadvantage because so many right-leaning outlets wasted time on stories the rest of America dismissed as nonsense… Conservatives were at a disadvantage because their information elites pandered in the most cynical, self-defeating ways, treating would-be candidates like Sarah Palin and Herman Cain as if they were plausible presidents rather than national jokes who’d lose worse than George McGovern.

It was almost as if they were watching crap black-and-white science fiction movies from the fifties:

On the biggest political story of the year, the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media. And movement conservatives, who believe the mainstream media is more biased and less rigorous than their alternatives, have no way to explain how their trusted outlets got it wrong, while the New York Times got it right. Hint: The Times hired the most rigorous forecaster it could find.

It ought to be an eye-opening moment.

There was no fifty-foot woman – your eye was fooled by a series of cheap tricks – and Kevin Drum adds this:

I agree that this should be an eye-opening moment but probably won’t be. The direct audience for conservative news, after all, may be small, but it’s fervent. There’s just too much money to be made pandering to them, and the folks who do it don’t care much about the fact that this pandering has effects that ripple far beyond the true-believer base. Unfortunately, failing to be reality-based eventually catches up with you.

Maybe it doesn’t. At The Hill, Erik Wasson reports this:

Conservative leaders on Wednesday lashed out at Mitt Romney, saying his attempts to paint himself as a centrist and hide his principles cost him the presidency. They vowed to wage a war to put the Tea Party in charge of the Republican Party by the time it nominates its next presidential candidate.

“The battle to take over the Republican Party begins today and the failed Republican leadership should resign,” said Richard Viguerie, a top activist and chairman of

He said the lesson on Romney’s loss to President Obama on Tuesday is that the GOP must “never again” nominate “a big-government established conservative for president.”

There were no lessons learned:

In the meantime, conservatives will work to ensure that congressional Republicans do not compromise their principles in fiscal talks with Obama, he said.

“Conservatives and Tea Partiers are just sick and tired of Republican leaders compromising on the state and national level with Democrats that grow the size of government,” Viguerie said. “We are going to hold their feet to the fire.”

They’re going to up their pressure on establishment Republicans unless they agree to a series of demands, including “again vowing to approve of no tax increases for anyone.”

House Speaker John Boehner was on that right away, telling reporters that in order to forge a bipartisan agreement Republicans are willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions:

While Boehner suggested that Republicans would still oppose Obama’s plan to take “a larger share of what the American people earn through higher tax rates,” he said the party is open to “increased revenue … as the byproduct of a growing economy, energized by a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code, with fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all.”

It was not immediately clear whether Boehner meant that Republicans would acquiesce only to fresh revenues generated through economic growth rather than actual tax increases.

That was a trick, a bit of optics, which Kevin Drum exposes:

That wasn’t immediately clear? I’d say Boehner was being crystal clear: he won’t accept higher tax rates on the rich, and he won’t even close loopholes unless they’re accompanied by lower tax rates on the rich. In other words, his offer is: nothing. After all, it’s not as if there’s anyone who opposes the prospect of getting more revenue as a byproduct of a growing economy.

It was just bluster:

Boehner knows full well that his caucus will eat him alive, with Eric Cantor leading the charge, if he wavers on taxes, so he’s adopting the same hardline position as he did last year but trying to pretend that it’s some kind of kinder, gentler proposal. It’s not. This is precisely the position that Republicans offered during the debt ceiling showdown and precisely the position they’ve stuck to ever since. There’s not even a hint of a difference.

The election did not change John Boehner’s perspective and he will pay the price:

On January 1st, the Bush tax cuts expire. They’re gone. At that point, Boehner & Co. can agree to a deal that lowers taxes for everyone on all income under $250,000, or they can hold out for a deal that lowers taxes for everyone and lowers taxes on income over $250,000 back to Bush-era levels. However, if they refuse to make a deal, then no one gets a tax cut, and they’ll be crucified by public opinion for protecting the rich.

Drum points out Slate’s David Weigel saying that the voters have made this quite clear:

Barack Obama ran on one consistent tax promise, in both 2008 and 2012. Vote for him, and you’d see middle-class tax rates stay the same while the rate on income over $250,000 increased to 39.6 percent. In 2008 and 2012, Republicans whaled on Obama for that message. If you flipped on TV in a swing state, you heard all about Obama’s “trillion-dollar tax increase.” Last month, in a comment that Republicans derided for its gaffitude, Joe Biden repeated the claim about tax hikes and leaned into the mic, drawing out his promise: “Yes. We. Will.” For months, Republican strategists told me that they’d beat Democrats on the tax issue just like they beat ’em in 2010.

They didn’t beat Obama. Twice, in four years, a majority of voters have picked Obama for president, knowing full well that he’ll raise upper-income tax rates.


And that’s not all: poll after poll shows big majorities in favor of higher rates on the rich. Opposing a broad, bipartisan tax cut because it’s not friendly enough to the rich is a losing hand and Boehner knows it. He just can’t admit it yet, so instead he hauled out the same tired talking points from a year ago and did his best to dress them up a little differently. Nice try.

What does it take to get someone to change their perspective? Voters saw this trick shot here long ago, and Drum adds this:

Losing a presidential election is always tough, but this one was presented to them in unusually apocalyptic terms. Obama was a closet socialist. He was un-American. He wanted to destroy capitalism. He’s been responsible for endless economic misery. He’s left America open to attack from foreign enemies. He wants to immiserate small business owners in order to distribute goodies to poor people. He engineered a total government takeover of the healthcare industry. He deliberately allowed four brave Americans to die in Benghazi and then ruthlessly covered it up. He wants to outlaw churches. He wants to take away your guns. Etc. On Fox News last night, there was palpable disbelief from right-wing pundits that he could possibly have won. They thought Mitt Romney should have been able to blow Obama out of the water in a massive defeat, and the fact that he didn’t meant the Republican Party ought to commit ritual suicide to pay for its world historic incompetence.

And you know, if you immerse yourself in right-wing media, it all makes a sort of sense.

It really is like losing yourself in one of those fifties science fiction movies, when the rest of the audience has walked out, because they have better things to do:

What happens when churches continue to thrive, the economy recovers, Obamacare turns out to be a fairly benign expansion of healthcare coverage, taxes don’t change much, and America doesn’t find itself under foreign occupation? I don’t know. … But a big part of the conservative base has been told that another four years of Obama will literally result in America no longer being a free country, and their fear of what that means is quite real.

Yep. See Robert Stacy McCain in the American Spectator with Doomed Beyond All Hope of Redemption:

What is left to hope for? That the American people will soon regret their choice? That another four years of economic stagnation and escalating debt will cure them of their insane appetite for charismatic liberals? If four years of endless failure have not rid them of this madness, the disease may well be terminal. Perhaps others will still see some cause for hope, and in another few weeks my friends may persuade me to see it, too. But today I will hear no such talk, and I doubt I’ll be in a better mood tomorrow. At the moment, I am convinced America is doomed beyond all hope of redemption, and any talk of the future fills me with dread and horror.

No, no, no – you’re confusing a bad fifties science fiction movie with real life. Those aren’t really giant spiders. Dread and horror are not appropriate. It was only forced perspective, an optical trick. And no, you can’t have your country back. The idea that it was exclusively yours in the first place was just another optical trick – you’ve been fooled – someone was messing with you. Get a grip. Get some perspective.

Or don’t. You can always stay in the darkened theater. Hagrid is cool, and those cute little hobbits are amazing, and Bill O’Reilly will tell you what’s what – there in the dark. The rest of us will be elsewhere.

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 Forced Perspective

  1. Just brilliant! I’m so glad Charles Pierce links to you because I never would have found you otherwise.

  2. Rick says:

    If someone wants a hint of why the Republicans lost, they need look no further than the fact that so many of their “brightest lights” — Peggy Noonan, Karl Rove, Dick Morris, George Will, and Michael Barone — were, right up through election night, so sure the Republicans would win, some even believing it would be a landslide, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

    Those people haven’t a clue, not just about the political horse race but about everything else in the world.

    Republicans’ biggest problem is that, being clueless, they tend to see Obama voters the way Rush Limbaugh does — as quintessential “takers”, with no initiative, no job, living off their unemployment insurance that is constantly being extended, who think rich people don’t really deserve their riches, having done nothing to earn them. So many of the postmortems I’ve seen from right-wing pundits essentially boiled down to, “Well, I guess this is it. We’ve finally been outnumbered by the people who want Obama to give them stuff.”

    And therein lies a problem for them: They look at most of America and see lazy moochers. What they really need to ask themselves is, Why would the rest of America vote for a party that sees them as lazy moochers?

    They thought America would fall for a whole laundry-list of silly lies. An example: Republicans were convinced they could shut down Obama’s early attempts at bipartisanship, yet still get away with blaming him for not “bringing us together” as he’d promised to do. And they ignored any polls that showed America wasn’t buying any of that, just as they later ignored Nate Silver’s dead-on poll numbers that predicted an almost inevitable Obama victory.

    Yes, there is that Republican demographics problem — not enough women, blacks, Latinos, young people — but that’s only a symptom of their dilemma, which is not so much who agrees with their beliefs, it’s what those beliefs are. As I heard Limbaugh say yesterday, what are Republicans supposed to do to appeal to these groups, just throw open the borders to illegal immigrants? Start believing in legal abortion? Start handing out free contraceptives?

    He has a point. The Republicans have a set of beliefs that they can’t necessarily just abandon in order to attract people who disagree with them. They’ve painted themselves into a corner, and they can’t get out.

    Their problem, I think, is that the perspective that Republicans cling to, especially that forced on them by their “fringe” constituencies, identifies them as being from Planet Wackadoodle (a word I’m borrowing from Republican strategist Steve Schmidt), whereas the Democrats, maybe by default, are more and more being perceived as from Planet Normal.

    Their downfall was not because of their candidate. Mitt Romney was the best of the lot. He won the title of “King of the Wackadoodles” fair and square.

    Romney’s problem was, having finally earned that title, he found himself up against “King of the Normals” in the general election, which is exactly who the majority of Americans, at least for the time being, want as their leader.


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