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January 07, 2008

Debate Night: Pandering Against The Machine

Ye Gods. In a fit of insane boredom madness, the Blog Princess finally succumbed to the temptation to watch the presidential debates. Since her head is still reeling, an Unkind Fate has decreed that you must suffer too.

Until now, she eschewed the unending parade of pre-inaugural utterance fests on the theory that they offer about the same entertainment/intellectual value as feeding American Gladiator, ElimaDate and How to Look Good Naked into an underpowered Cuisinart with no lid and hitting "Snooze". Modern science is actually quite compelling on this point. Rigorous longitudinal studies have irrefutably established that for each presidential primary We the People endure, another 50 points mysteriously disappear from the average SAT scores of the year's crop of graduating seniors:

In 1992 voters elected a 46-year-old Arkansas governor as president, and in the spring of that year, if the polls are to be believed, they were ready to elect a Texas billionaire whose governmental experience included serving as a junior naval officer and running a firm that provided computer services to local welfare departments. In 1976 voters elected a one-term former governor of Georgia who'd served as a state senator and a naval officer.

The metrically minded will see a common thread. Every 16 years--in 1976, 1992 and now in 2008--American voters have seemed less interested in experience and credentials and more interested in a new face unconnected to the current political establishment.

Looks as though we could be due for a big shakeup this election season, and those are never fun. So why, oh why can't we look the other way? It's like watching your kid brother squish a particularly loathesome bug. You know the outcome will be messy and pointless but some primeval instinct keeps you riveted instead of stomping it (or better yet, him) quickly and doing something useful with the rest of your day.

Scary stuff, this science: a candidate flaps his gums in Iowa and, in a breathtaking display of the coriolis effect the collective IQ of the entire nation begins its inexorable slide down the tubes. Mindful of this, The Princess (operating on a well founded suspicion that egregious dumbassery was well nigh inescapable) opted for a timely dose of anaesthesia in the form of a meticulously crafted Cabernet, charmingly enhanced with hints of lush blackberry and currant. Still, even the mellowing influence of Alexander Valley's finest could not erase the feeling that - if Iowa is any indication - we are once more about to get the government we so richly deserve.

Two days and several wasted hours later, I'd like to believe the dull throbbing in my head is due to the aftereffects of that judiciously-downed bottle, and not the horrifying spectacle of the nation's best and brightest looking like participants on a particularly regrettable reality TV show penciled in during the Hollywood writer's strike. But maybe that's exactly what is needed here. I can see the first episode already:

PimpMyCandidate: As the rest of the candidates decide who will be voted off the podium, watch host EZbits turn ole' sleepy Fred Tee into a dope-ass vote magnet. Our tricked out pimpologists really know how to help a brothah out!

Or perhaps this would be more appropriate?

Queer Eye for the Change Agent Guy: the Fab Five can't *wait* to get their hands on the current set of candidates, because it takes a real artiste to make these guys look as though they have a hope in hell of winning an election (much less getting any their domestic platform through Congress) in a nation that is largely politically moderate if they high-mindedly promise the "base" never to compromise their rock-hard conservative principles.

...because, as we all know, compromise and bipartisanship are sure signs a candidate can't be trusted with pragmatic, real-world affairs.

At any rate, to minimize the shock of transitioning from the surreality of the debates (where candidates earnest assure us they can handle even the most dire economic or national security crisis by boring it to death) to the gripping drama of weekly, twice-weekly, and even thrice weekly updates on who's likeliest to win an election still nearly a year away, the Blog Princess brings you her Predictions for the Presidential Primaries:

1. At least one candidate will lay bare a shocking secret from his past.

2. Approximately midway through the primaries, a virtual unknown by the name of None of the Above will surge into first place in the polls, eclipsing both Unnamed Candidate and T. Front Runner. If the first half of the primaries are any indication, his or her vagueness on the issues and complete lack of executive and foreign policy experience will not be an issue with the electorate.

3. Shockingly, candidates will continue to accuse each other of flip-flopping on the issues:

McCain — the guy who was for amnesty before he was against it before acknowledging that it's the only solution and is not amnesty in the first place except it kinda, sorta is, except that he'd never be for amnesty — says Romney is the "candidate of change."

Change. You'd almost think of a resolutely, died-in-the-wool pro-lifer filing a brief in the Supreme Court to suppress the First Amendment rights of a pro-life group to help pro-abortion incumbents get elected ... not that Senator Straight Talk would ever do such a thing ...


4. In choosing the chief executive of the world's largest superpower, voters on both sides of the aisle will blithely overlook 200 years of history and resume requirements that would be considered mandatory for far less important positions.

5. Glenn Greenwald will cannily conserve the the time and energy it takes to write thoughtful, well researched posts by simply inventing things out of whole cloth whenever it suits him.

Inexplicably, the hapless victims of his paranoid delusions will Continue to Notice Him. But if his ravings produce ripostes like this, I think I we can all live with the pain:

...If Obama loses, people like Greenwald and Ezra Klein will hurl their Ikea throw-pillows with unbridled rage.

6. After several months, during which a waiting nation was deprived of the verbal stylings of one John Foregainst Kerry, John Edwards will finally bring an end to our national nonsequitur shortage:

Watching the New Hampshire Democratic debate. John Edwards, for the third time tonight, has launched into his denunciation of "corporate greed," complete with an impassioned rant that "corporations" have a "stranglehold" over "American families". Really? Does anybody believe that? And he says that for him "it is personal," again and again, because of the abuse his father allegedly took at the mill (which, apparently, we should all be delighted is closed because it was such a hellhole, but which we are not because the jobs went to China and now Chinese get to work in the hellhole)...

Update: Edwards strikes again! Mein Gott im Himmel, the man is everywhere at once!

Speaking of delusions, Edwards seems unaware that the world market sets the price of oil. He says a $100-a-barrel price is evidence of -- surging demand in India and China? unrest in Nigeria's oil fields? No, "corporate greed."

7. Ronald Wilson Reagan, who seemed eerily silent during the debates but maintained an 'unseen, almost ghostly' presence throughout will suddenly appear in a puff of smoke, body slam an astounded Rudy Guiliani, and claim a commanding lead. Tragically, this event will leave scores of stunned conservative pundits with nothing to complain about.

As for the Princess, she is laying in an extra supply of potent potables for that dark night of the soul known as Election Day. With literally months of the perfervid prognostication ahead, it's going to feel like Groundhog Day for the foreseeable future. In this case, forewarned is forearmed comfortably numbed. But if you simply can't resist peeking at the polls, try looking at them over time. Hint: it's called a trend. No one seems to be talking about this, and it never ceases to amaze the Princess. Does anyone else see what I see?

Always an interesting way to calm those pre-election jitters.


Posted by Cassandra at January 7, 2008 06:35 AM

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I'm still a "Fredhead"...he did well in the debates.

Posted by: camojack at January 7, 2008 08:22 AM

I know you are :) He has an ardent following, Camo so you are not alone in that. And he didn't do badly. My issues with Herr Thompson have nothing to do with his performance in the debates.

I think he comes off quite well for the most part. Frankly I think he or McCain would be great VPs, and of the two I'd rather see Thompson in the spot.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 7, 2008 08:27 AM

Why do I keep seeing the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote whenever I read about politics here?

I must have something Out Of Whack.

Posted by: Cricket at January 7, 2008 09:33 AM

Well, the charts might be a bit more useful if the person running RealClearPolitics, you know, actually defined/labeled the charts.

I mean, am I to understand that in Region A there were ~20 Republicans nominated in 2003 while there were 65, and 85 in 2004 and 2005 respectively?

And where the helk is Region A anyway? Are they the states that start with A or what?

If you can offer any help, I'd really appreciate it?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 7, 2008 09:48 AM

Huh. I wonder if you're getting shunted off to a different page?

I am looking at one that says "Election 2008 Republican Nomination Charts" across the top and shows time trends for each candidate by state primary (presumably by % of voters who said they supported the candidate). Did you drill down to the underlying data?

They're getting them (I think) by rolling up and avging these:


Posted by: Cassandra at January 7, 2008 09:56 AM

I like Thompson, but so far he doesn't seem to excite the electorate. I have problems with the rest of the field.

Heh. New drinking game: when watching the debates, every time a candidate says the word change, take a drink. After five minutes, you're too blotto to follow the rest of the debate ...

Posted by: WhoStruckJohn at January 7, 2008 10:59 AM

What is this "trend" you speak of?

I feel a disturbance in the Force, as if thousands of Republicans are crying out "Noooooo! Not Huckabeeeeee!"

Glad to see you got your snark back on, girlfriend.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 7, 2008 11:49 AM

I'm seeing a dark grey chart with "Region A" (with a Yellow box to it's right) and Region B (with a blue box to it's right) across the top.

The Chart Area is light grey, scaled from 0 to 120 in increments of 30. Vertical bars (in yellow and blue) for three years 2003, 2004, 2005.

I'll email you a screen shot if you like. Maybe it's the firewall that's killing it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 7, 2008 11:53 AM

The Force is strong within you, young Brouhaha!

Posted by: btSith at January 7, 2008 12:02 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 01/07/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at January 7, 2008 01:32 PM

Actually Don that disturbance in the Force is just the sound of thousands of Republicans, crying :p

Yu-ain, I think that must be what it is - the charts are Flash objects and they were spazzing out this morning even on my laptop (and I had it out from behind my firewall, so they're obviously tempermental).

I'll try to do screenshots later - I was just too busy.

Posted by: Just Shoot Me at January 7, 2008 03:25 PM

How is it that the black line is creeping upwards in most of those polls? I'm with you - not looking forward to an entire year of politics where the end result will undoubtedly be defined by who did not get elected rather than who did.

Posted by: Steve at January 7, 2008 06:12 PM

I definitely saw that, but also saw a slightly different effect (perhaps b/c I look at data all day).

I saw Huck as a 'shooting star'. The question is, is such a rapid rise sustainable? Looking at the L/T trends for the other candidates suggests it is not. Take a big step back and try looking at all of the at once. Maybe it's just me :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 7, 2008 06:16 PM

Watching the Republicans is like trying to decide who should lead the Rebellion against the Death Star when your only choices are Jar-jar, C3PO, Fredo Corleone, Niedermayer from Animal House, Frankenberry, or Jim Bakker (the televangelist of the Pass the Loot Club, AKA Mr. Tammy Faye).

Posted by: a former european at January 7, 2008 10:32 PM

Yeah, I was tossing around a few ideas for NH primary games earlier in the day.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 7, 2008 10:36 PM

When I finally got home last night, I could see the charts.

And I agree, Huckabee's meteoric rise could just as easily flame out. The question is whether or not he can hold his position while the increased exposure let's everyone know that he's running for the wrong POTUS (Paster of the United States).

That's not to say he's a theocrat, just that his entire campaign seems to be "Vote for me because I'm a good Christian, not a pagan like that Romney feller".

Romney on the other hand does show a very long term (if slight) consistant rise. He doesn't rise very fast, but he doesn't fall fast either, he just plods along making small gains.

As for Thompson (and this may very well be wishful thinking) he seems to jump up then bleed off, jump up then bleed off, jump and bleed, jump and bleed. Given what little I know of his past campaigns, this seems to play into his SOP as a 'come from behind' victor. I.e. It doesn't matter what the polls say prior to the election. In the run-up you don't campaign to win, you campaign to stay in the game (don't bother spending money to win CNN's polls 1 year prior to the election, it doesn't matter. This would also explain why he got in 'so late'.). When the actual election is near is the time for a big push and get that spike that puts you over the top.

It's a dangerous gambit as you have to be within your 'spike' distance to make it work. However, given how fickle the American public is, is spending the money to 'take the lead' in lap 1 of a 500 lap race really all that important?

But then again, it may just be wishful thinking.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 8, 2008 09:57 AM

That's what I saw.

This isn't a series of sprints. It's one long race.

And when you stand back and look at the big picture what I saw was almost every other candidate's numbers *falling* over time.

You have Paul and Thompson coming in relatively late and doing the meteoric rise thing. But as relative unknowns they also have 2 issues: can they sustain the initial excitement and can they overcome the lack of name recognition on a national vs. a statewide scale? Because that will be an issue. Paul's campaign is, I think, a fluke. Thompson is almost certainly the VP candidate, but he could surprise me still.

What I also see, by the way, is that Romney is doing what he's doing while under heavy fire the whole time. He's like Microsoft - he's the guy everyone is hammering away at and yet he continues his steady, slow incremental rise. All of which doesn't mean he is inevitable.

I think the prejudice thing may well kill his candidacy. I think a Romney/Thompson slate would be a stunner. Romney brings the executive competence and Thompson bolsters confidence with the base but doesn't rile up the opposition.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 8, 2008 10:38 AM

I like the idea of the new drinking game, one drink for each time candidate says the word "change". I heard Hillary say she's been making change for 35 years. Were her years with Walmart behind the cash register or in the boardroom?

Posted by: Sloan at January 8, 2008 05:09 PM

I doubt the Mormon thing is going to be much of a factor at this point. It's not as if a lot of people are ignorant about it.

They know, and seemingly (as is appropriate) don't care.

As for Romney/Thompson: If only Thompson could keep Romney honest. Quite frankly, the problem I have with Romney is the same as Rudy. They both have been successful at executing plans, I just don't like a lot of what they've executed and/or propose.

So we'd end up with a president that is very good at executing plans I don't like.

Would Thompson have enough of Romney's ear to convince him to govern from a small gov't, ferderalist position or would he just be a show pony to drag out and placate the base.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 8, 2008 06:12 PM

Actually I disagree on the Mormon thing not being a factor. There is a profound anti-religious bias anyway in this country and people are weird on Mormonism on top of that. I wouldn't be too quick to credit people with your own openmindedness :p

However, I am honestly confused about exactly how much "governing" you (and many Republicans) think the President of the United States does on domestic issues?

There is an old saying: the President proposes. Congress disposes.

A profoundly BIPARTISAN Congress.

Even if we have a President and Congress with the same party in the majority, the President cannot get proposed legislation through Congress without the support of at least part of the opposing party. Period.


I am utterly mystified at the talk I keep hearing from candidates (and many Republicans and Democrats) who blather on about staying true to "principles" as though this were not the case. The name of the game in politics is COMPROMISE. Senate rules are set up to make it easy for the minority to block legislation. TRANSLATION: You just cannot get everything that you want without promising things that you profoundly DO NOT WANT in return for the support of those who disagree with you. What in the holy hell is wrong with people?

Are they not paying attention? Mitt Romney understands this, but he is "slick" and a "liar".

Yeah. All of what Thompson says sounds fine ... in principle. But that ship sailed at least 50 years ago. The world he describes doesn't exist and he as President has exactly ZERO power to effectuate any of the fine-sounding things he talks about. That is why I profoundly distrust him. If he were running for the professorship of a class on federalism I'd hire his ass in a heartbeat. But he isn't.

I need a man who can deal in the real world. And he ain't it.

Posted by: Sorry, I just lost my temper at January 8, 2008 06:28 PM

...and by the way, that was NOT aimed at you.

You just happened to catch the tail end of a rant I have been biting off for about 4 weeks and you suffer from a surfeit of rationality so naturally you were punished :p

Sorry for the heat with which that was expressed. I am having an unusually shitty week.

Posted by: Sorry, I just lost my temper at January 8, 2008 06:34 PM

It seems like there should be a vast number of similes to cover the idea of Trial Lawyer of the Ages John Edwards pontificating on any type of greed, but I just don't no where to start. The idea is so gobsmackingly appalling that my mind is completely boggled.

Posted by: Daveg at January 8, 2008 06:44 PM

No, I understand your position on this and I sympathise. I really do.

It is true that compromise is the only way that things actually get done. Perfect cannot be made the enemy of the good. That is why I can't support Paul (even if he weren't fantastically wrong on the war). By opposing the good because it isn't perfect, you achieve the bad. And while Paul can feel superior while riding his moral high horse for never compromising his ideology while the rest of us are marched of to hell, it doesn't mean I have to like him for it.

I just like to start the negotiation process from a better position.

The Dems start from -5 the Reps start from +5 and we end up somewhere +/-1. This isn't great, but if you can get more +1s than -1s, you make progress for your side. It's good, even if imperfect. And I'll take that and build on it.

When you start with Ds at -5 and Rs at +1 (the compromise position) you end up at -4 to -2 and you can't ever make ground because +1 is the best you can ever hope for.

There's an old saying in negotiations, "He who names (his price) first, loses". And most of the Republican field are screaming out their prices.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 8, 2008 06:49 PM

Also, as an aside, I think you underestimate the power the President can have on domestic issues. While I agree that the President proposes and congress disposes, the President has the veto. This is no small tool. It's not as good as getting to write legislation, but it's not insignificant either.

The other factor is the power to make judicial appointments. And this is the place where the President has a lot more lattitude to be less 'moderate'. This is also no small power.

But I guess it all sums up to:
The Primary is where you run to the right (or left for Ds) and the general election is when you run back to the left (or right for Ds). This is how it should be.

If this *is* the candidates run to the right, when the general election comes around and they run leftward, will they end up on the other side?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 8, 2008 07:02 PM

Oh, and one last thing, most of those with an anti-religious bias were never going to vote R anyway.

I guess, if the anti-Mormon thing was going to sink his campaign, wouldn't it have done it already?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 8, 2008 07:05 PM

All of that is true, but by the same token what we've seen (especially with an R President) is that the attention of the press is focused like a laser beam on the oval office. Congress can do all kinds of things and get away with it but the President is only one person. There is an accountability that is just not there, just as there is a fear of abuse of power that isn't there with Congress. So things like vetos, signing statements, etc all raise the specter of a brouhaha every time they are used. There is always a political cost. You never hear the press talk about Congressional approval ratings, do you? :p

You rarely hear the press talk about anything else BUT the President's approval rating. And re: judicial appointments, yes he can make them... and the Senate minority can block them. And they do. With great regularity. Just look at the 4th Circuit right now. They are in dire straights.

I think you have a good point about the primaries vs. the general election and also about bargaining position. Perhaps I should be more open to Thompson but he just does not convince me he has the capability to run a large organization. He has not run his own campaign effectively enough to make a strong showing and that has nowhere near the complexity of running a bureaucracy the size of the federal government.

People keep hitting on Romney, but he has been a phenomenal success now in several venues: business and government. And his money is hardly a drawback: since when in America do we DISLIKE capitalism? :p I find it really amusing to hear Republicans slamming a man for being *good* at earning money. What a bunch of hypocritical losers - if they honestly believe that, they are in the wrong party.

Posted by: Sorry, I just lost my temper at January 8, 2008 07:16 PM

Yeah, that's my delimma right now.

Romney/Rudy would likely be good at implementing a lot of things I don't like.

Thompson would likely be bad at implementing anything that I do like.

Which one is better? I haven't a clue.

But the primary is where you vote your philosophy/conscience, the general election is where you vote your trade-offs.

I'll vote for Fred in my primary, if for no other reason than as a protest vote (which it increasingly looks like it will be, but the primary is the place to do that). It may also help secure him the VP slot which does at least give him an advocacy spot.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 8, 2008 08:02 PM

Oh, man; "None of The Above".

I'd love to see that on the ballot. If "none of the above" wins a majority, then we hold new elections. The election would have to happen within 10 weeks of the previous one, and no one who was on the ballot for the first election could be on the second one.

I'm going to have a new T-shirt made up.

"My candidate always loses in the primary".

Posted by: RonF at January 9, 2008 03:51 PM

Here's what I'm hoping for; that no one candidate gets more than about 40% of the delegates they need, and the conventions become more than just a TV show.

Posted by: RonF at January 9, 2008 03:53 PM

..on the "otter heiney", if Obama wins, we get an "Obama-nation".

I know I should apologize, but I won't.

Posted by: socialism_is_error at January 9, 2008 03:57 PM

Fine, then. Don't. See if I care. :-(

Posted by: P-A Chick at January 9, 2008 04:17 PM

Ma'am...I just got back off of a vacation, and I'd like to say....thank you for coming back.


I missed you.

Posted by: Foxfier at January 16, 2008 12:10 AM