Friday, August 31, 2012

Dirty Harry on the Campaign Trail - The Sequel





The Joker

Everyone seems to be talking about Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican Convention, and opinion seems to be split right down the middle: either it was a stroke of genius, or a terrible embarrassment.

I myself am of both opinions, in a way. The first time I saw it, on YouTube, I had to cut away; it was too wince-inducing. Then I read a transcript. Impressive. The transcript is so good, especially considering that it was ad libbed, that I cannot believe Eastwood is really the doddering old man he pretended to be in the speech. No, he’s an actor. He was deliberately playing the part, and so well that at least half the audience thought it was real. Why?

Because old folks, like fools and children, have a special license to tell the truth. The problem is that because Obama is black, one cannot criticize him without immediately being accused of racism. Hence the entire Republican Convention had to be rather muted, lacking in oratorical “red meat.” Notably, Obama is never the butt of jokes among late-night comics. One does not dare.

For the same reason, many people may feel obliged to vote for him or at least say they are going to vote for him, or be accused of being a racist.

Eastwood got around that by pretending to be a senile old man, complete with disheveled hair. Can’t blame him for what he says, then, can you? But he took that issue on head-on, and he said it at the climax of his speech, showing this was all deliberate:

when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.

… we do not have to be … masochists and vote for somebody that we don’t really even want in office just because they seem to be nice guys or maybe not so nice guys, if you look at some of the recent ads going out there, I don’t know.

There you are. The emperor has no clothes. He gave folks permission to joke about Obama, and he gave folks permission to vote against him.

Sure, he made half the audience think he was a doddering old fool. Does that matter to him personally? Perhaps, perhaps not. As an actor, as an artist, it might well have been worth it to him as a choice role; he really is pretty old and probably past caring what people think of him; it is unlikely to hurt his box office, on the standard premise that no publicity is bad publicity in his business.

And that does not matter in the least to the political effectiveness of his message. It helps. Now everyone who is told Eastwood made a fool of himself is going to have to watch the speech for themselves, and discuss it. Damned effective for getting the message out.

The first iteration of the speech I find on YouTube already has over a half a million hits, and likes are outpolling dislikes 2 to 1. Looks like most folks got the joke.

 OK, we knew Eastwood was not only a pretty decent actor, but also a pretty decent director.

I’d say he’s carved himself a place in political history with this one.

Shy Tory Factor

Here's a British writer arguing that a combination of the Bradley effect and the "Shy Tory Factor" might mean Romney and Ryan are actually well ahead of Obama, despite the polls showing the race as achingly close.

Tom Bradley, original and eponymous victim of the "Bradley effect."


The strongest argument for this is, as he notes in his conclusion, the apparent aggressiveness of the Obama campaign recently. They really do seem to be acting panicky, with their over-the-top attacks, although this does not seem to be justified by the polls.

Neil Kinnock, original victim of the "Shy Tory Syndrome."

The Incumbency Advantage



It is common knowledge that it is hard to unseat an incumbent president. That's a big reason why the Republican field was rather weak this year. A lot of the biggest names in the party were keeping their powder dry for 2016. It remains one of the strongest arguments for pessimism among Republicans this year.

But is it true? It is true enough for the House, and for the Senate, but for the Presidency? We may be misled here by assumption. Perhaps the official stats do not, indeed, reflect the reality. Officially, through the postwar years, ten presidents have run for reelection, and seven have been re-elected. But that's not the whole story.

Hang down your head, Tom Dewey...

Nominally, Harry Truman was re-elected. Once. Barely. (This was technically not a re-election, but the first time anyone voted for him for president.) But constitutionally, in those days, he could have run again, and did not. Why? Because in his estimation, he could not have been reelected. He arguably belongs in the other column. 

Technically, retired undefeated.

LBJ would not show up on a list of presidents defeated for re-election, but really, one can argue he was defeated in his own party's primaries in 1968. He pulled out, apparently, to avoid the shame of losing the nomination, never mind the election to follow. Like Truman, he really belongs in the other column.

So our more realistic tally is: 5 presidents defeated for re-election; 5 presidents re-elected.

Really, the odds are not all that bad. Straight-up even money. In other words, incumbents have no advantage.

On the other hand, historically, if a sitting president is going to run into trouble getting reelected, the trouble tends to show up first within his own party. Obama has seen none of that.

Dirty Harry on the Campaign Trail




Clint Eastwood apparently shares my perception of the way the current campaign is going, judging by this short bit in his speech to the Republican convention:


 we do not have to be metal (ph) masochists and vote for somebody that we don’t really even want in office just because they seem to be nice guys or maybe not so nice guys, if you look at some of the recent ads going out there, I don’t know.

That is, Obama's chief asset is the perception that he's likable, and his team is in danger of throwing that away by being too aggressive. And they are being too aggressive currently.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wonderful Things #2: A&W Root Beer




The way we were...



Thinking of current halfway stops like the Big Apple reminds me of our old family halfway pit stop between Kingston and Montreal, the A&W at Cornwall. A&W root beer is still a wonderfully cheap thrill--the simple genius of chilling the mugs is still genius, and root beet itself is a terribly folksy thing. It's a bit of Americana, originally flavoured from the root of the sassafras tree. There are other "small beers" worthy of mention: birch beer, sarsaparilla, burdock, ginger ale. In Quebec, we had spruce beer. But root beer is the best known of them all.

And I love the retro theme A&W kept in their outlets, as if just to please me. They’ve frozen everything in the 50s and 60s, the era when I first started visiting A&W. Again, the lack of pretention is part of the beauty of the thing. Incidentally, I’m speaking of A&W Canada, which is apparently completely independent of A&W USA. Your results may vary.

Truro, Nova Scotia, A&W




At Armageddon, Fighting for the Lord


Keynoter Chris Christie.

NRO’s The Corner suggests some folks are disappointed by the keynote and the general tone of the speeches yesterday at the Republican National Convention, because of a lack of “red meat.” Not that strong on the attack, more thoughtful and policy-focused.

But I think that has to be the approach. Most importantly, this is because any strong attack on Obama is going to be called “racist,” and divert attention from the real issues. It’s a tough situation; one reason why I wish they’d chosen Condoleeza Rice for the ticket.

I am hopeful that this is the best approach in any case, in these times, when voters are more informed than they used to be, and lies are more quickly found out, thanks to the Internet, Twitter, and smart phones. In any case, it contrasts nicely with Obama’s team approach, which is all bombast, all the time.

It also contrasts well with Obama’s last, “fairy tale” campaign, to use Bill Clinton’s term for it. There is a decent chance the American people are not in a mood to be lied to this time around.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wonderful Thing #1: The Big Apple



This posting introduces what I hope will become a new feature of this blog: a continuing list of wonderful things, for no particular reason but to feel good about life and to remember to thank God for them.

To qualify, these must not be things from the past, which cannot be gotten to and anjoyed right now. For that would not be cheering, but depressing. But they will, I think, tend to be older things, simply because when something is new and wonderful, people tend to notice it, and so to already be aware of it. The older things are more likely to be overlooked.


Let's to it:

The Big Apple.




Not New York City; this is a roadside attraction near Colborne, Ontario. It’s the perfect stop and stretch if you’re travelling with kids between Toronto and Kingston or Montreal. Besides the large apple, the best thing about it is the bakery, which specializes in apple pies. It is true what they say about apple pies. They are in themselves one of the great joys of life. You can also get burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches. There’s a petting zoo, go karts, mini golf. No big deal at all; just an unpretentious place, an unexpected little grace note in a day’s journey. Truth be told, I love roadside attractions of all kinds. They’re a genre of folk art. And this one is free.

Monday, August 27, 2012

And the RNC Chair Agrees

No sooner have I posted my perception that Obama's campaign is losing the all-important likability factor, than I read a quote from Reince Priebus (try getting that through your spell-checker), RNC chair, showing his perception is the same:

I’ve got to tell you, the brand of Barack Obama, hope and change and bringing us all together, it’s completely broken. When people come to realize that you’re not real anymore, you’re not who you said you were, that’s a big problem for Barack Obama.

Of course, it is his job to claim the Obama campaign is floundering, no matter what, but it is interesting that he says it is floundering on this particular basis.

Is Obama Throwing It Away?




Here it is, almost 24 hours later, and the Romney-Ryan momentum seems to be holding. Another thought as to why: perhaps Obama has damaged his own vital likability factor by telling too many whoppers recently about the opposition. These tactics, of course, call his personal ethics into question, and that matters. Because of his background, he is in danger of recasting himself as a Chicago machine-style pol. But, perhaps more importantly, they speak of contempt for the average voter; of an assumption that we can all be manipulated, lied to without being smart enough to know different.

Richard J. Daley Sr., the archetypal Chicago politician. Last machine in America. 



A modern spiritual heir.


Obama has always appeared at least a little contemptuous and elitist. His speaking style somehow implies it; he does not appear to feel what he says. There was his “clinging to their guns and religion” comment in 2008. He has made suspicion on that score worse with his “you didn’t build that” comment earlier this summer. People don’t like being talked down to.



And who can hear the world "Chicago" without thinking of ...

More, his 2008 “Hope and Change” campaign, in being ridiculously over the top in what it seemed to promise—“this is the day the oceans stopped rising…”—almost demanded a cynical reaction now. Just as George Bush Sr.’s “no new taxes” and Carter’s “I’ll never lie to you,” while winning strategies in one election, led to an inevitable backlash in the next. I have a friend, quite to the left politically in general, who mentioned in passing yesterday that, while he supported Obama enthusiastically last time, he would never vote for him now—because he felt he had been swindled.



"Read my lips. Hope you can't recognize the 'f' sound."



"I'll never lie to you. Sucker."

So the Democratic campaign takes big risks now by doing anything that looks clever, manipulative, or cynical. And they are blind to it—they are acting very clever, manipulative, and cynical. They are killing Obama's winning card, his likability.

Granted, Romney is not the ideal candidate to run against Obama on this score. He too seems remote from the everyday guy, God knows, unfeeling, and he has been ruthless and unprincipled in his politics throughout the primaries, both this time and four years ago. But what might do it for him is having previous Obama voters stay home in disillusionment, rather than switching their vote to Romney.

Moreover, Ryan, and the selection of Ryan, may have helped Romney out a lot on that score. It now looks as though he really does have a principled reason for wanting to be president, and an actual programme. Ryan, if not Romney, seems terribly sincere. If Ryan stays prominent in the campaign, it could make the difference.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

US Presidential Race Tied

Good looking, but not too good looking.



The US Presidential race seems for the moment to be uncannily close. The latest polls show a tie nationally, a tie in Ohio, a tie in Michigan, a tie in Virginia. This is a move up for Romney, who was trailing slightly.

Looks like a “Ryan bounce.” Will it last? Perhaps. Romney should get a bigger bounce from the convention than Obama, because he is less well known. It might be enough to take a slight lead.

In retrospect, Ryan seems to have added something crucial to the ticket that I did not foresee: likability. The importance of this cannot be overestimated. In my experience, the guy who wins the election is almost always the guy the voters feel most comfortable with, the guy they feel best about having appear in their living rooms regularly over the next four years.

Obama is strong on that score, and Romney has been weak—too perfect, too moral, too handsome, too rich, too self-controlled. But Ryan seems to be pretty good here. A lovable jug-eared geek. Good-looking, but in a goofy way. If he can remain a big part of the campaign, and Romney sits back as a kind of Chairman of the Board, or CEO to Ryan’s COO, it may be just what the Republicans need.