Election Thoughts

It’s over. It’s finally over. Thank God. Next time I hear scary music coming from my TV, it’ll be an ad for 1-800-BAD-DRUG. I’m glad the election turned out the way it did, and I think it was a turning point for American politics for a number of reasons:

1. It Showed That Elections Can Survive Citizen’s United

In the Presidential race and the key Congressional races, the unlimited, anonymous outside spending did not majorly sway the results. In the Presidential race, $290 Million was spent by outside groups on anti-Obama attack ads; only $64 Million was spent against Romney.  A big contributor to that anti-Obama spending was Karl Rove’s SuperPAC, American Crossroads. It spent a total of $103 Million on attack ads against Obama and Democratic congressional candidates. However, according to a report by The Sunlight Foundation, which monitors political spending, it had a “return on investment” of about 1 percent (!) in swaying the races it invested in.  The rest of the report shows Liberal outside groups overall getting better “returns” than Conservative groups, even though Conservative groups spent more than double what Liberal groups did: Conservative groups had 66 percent of the total spent, compared to 31 percent by Liberal groups. Basically, the anonymous outside money enabled by Citizen’s United, money that heavily favored Republicans, had a negligible effect on the outcome of the elections; this election refused to be bought. That doesn’t mean that future elections won’t be affected, and Citizen’s United absolutely needs to be overturned or nullified by constitutional amendment.

2. It Showed That Good Organization Beats Big Money

Romney and the Republicans attracted more outside money. A lot more. The only problem was, these outside groups could only spend that money on ads; they are legally forbidden from coordinating with political campaigns, so they’d have trouble doing work “on the ground” like going door-to-door and making calls. The official campaign has to take care of that work, and Obama’s campaign did it better. Way better. They’d been organizing and preparing for this election since Obama’s first day in office. This NPR story says it best:

The planning started back in 2008 when Obama became the nation’s first African-American president.

“The Obama campaign realized better than any other campaign that elections aren’t about one big thing anymore,” says Sasha Issenberg, author of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. “Part of that is we have much better tools now to isolate the impact of individual interactions between a campaign and voters, and lots of data that allows us to segment the voters themselves.”

Issenberg argues that the Obama campaign took those tools, including the application of social science insights and experiments, and, with the gift of four years to perfect its operation, “used them better than any other political enterprise in history.”

So Obama, good Chicago politician that he is, builds a nationwide political machine. A machine unprecedented in scope. This guy, a political reporter who’s no fan of Obama, concedes that it’s “the greatest political machine in modern history.” To illustrate, he goes on with this anecdote:

During flight, a campaign official talked about the ground game on background . . .

In describing the ground game, the official told of a conversation he had with a top field director on Monday. The GOP had tweeted that they had knocked on 75,000 doors in Ohio the day prior. Not to worry, the director said, “we knocked on 376,000.”

I like The Atlantic’s take on it; Obama ran an organization as massive and complex as any corporation, and he did it better than the Corporate man himself. Obama had the edge in organization, and no amount of SuperPAC ads could cancel that out.

3. It Made Fox News Begin to Realize They Had Their Heads Firmly Up Their Asses

They’d been going strong, right up until election day, predicting a Romney win. They predicted strong Republican gains. They only looked at the polls they wanted to see, and read them how they wanted to read them. They were confident that “their” voters would come out stronger than Obama’s on election day. “Their” voters probably being Bill O’Reilly’s White Establishment (we always knew you were biased Bill, but thanks for confirming it). They scoffed at Nate Silver and his predictions for Obama, which were based on a thorough analysis of state-by-state polls. His method, being more thorough and grounded in fact, was obviously inferior. Thus they were blindsided on election day; a more demoralized “news” crew I have never seen. Obama crushed Romney in all the battleground states, the Dems picked up Senate seats, and the house remained unchanged. Karl Rove took it especially hard. Then, right there on the air, once it was clear Obama won, only then did they do some soul-searching; only then did they realize that they’ve had their heads quite firmly up their asses. They realized that Republicans can’t win without minority votes; they realized that the GOP were doing something to alienate non-white people. They couldn’t quite make the next logical leap: that the GOP has a reputation for things that non-whites just don’t like. Things like thinly veiled racism, the casting of minorities as moochers, and the complete disdain for facts and dignified debate, to name just a few. I can understand it’d be hard for Fox News to accept this, seeing as they do everything they can to perpetuate those things. But Fox finally, finally realized that a majority of the country is not inclined to vote for the GOP, at least as it is now; hopefully they’ll realize that their network is getting more unpopular by extension. Hopefully they’ll do something about the godawful partisan circus they call a “News Channel.”

4. It Showed That Many Conservatives Believe That Obama is Practically the Anti-Christ

When you have people like Donald Trump encouraging revolt, you know something’s not right. When you have a Red Scare in 2012 (“We are threatened by socialism from within! Obama is a communist!!!”), you know something’s not right. Judging by the post election hyperbole, it seems like a Conservative’s capacity for rational thinking is inversely proportional to their media visibility: more attention, more crazy! Here you have the Whole Sick (Conservative) Crew running the gamut of dramatic reactions, from despondent to predicting the Death of America: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Donald Trump, Karl Rove, Ted Nugent, Bill O’Reilly, and so on. Then you have a much lesser-known fella getting 15 minutes of fame (more like shame in this case) for his hateful and infantile proclamation of a lifelong vendetta against Democrats. Then you have petitions for secession from several states. When it comes to that, the people have spoken: in the petition with the most signatures, about 46,000 people requested that Texas secede from the Union. That’s 46,000 people out of a state of… 25 million.

All this in reaction to our election system doing exactly what it’s supposed to: electing the candidate that the majority of Americans want. The “Death of America,” ironically, stems from America functioning correctly. If Obama were truly as terrible as the pundits make him out to be, a rational populace would never have elected him. Therefore, because they voted for Obama, the majority of Americans are irrational, stupid, immoral, socialist, lazy, God-hating moochers. At least, that’s the argument that many of the loudest Conservative voices are making. They’re fervently trying to get everyone else to think the same: why accept reality when you can create a comforting fiction?

Luckily for them, our governmental system was designed to resist the “tyranny of the majority.” The victimized Conservative minority can take solace in that, as the actions of the Republican party of the past 12 years have shown just how resilient to the desires of the majority our system can be. Hopefully the GOP will change in response to America as it is, instead of trying to hold on to a vision of America that’s becoming less and less palatable to the public. If they don’t, it’s going to be a long 4 years.

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My Legs Hurt

Unless I’ve actually strained them in some exercise-related way (hah!) this means one of two things: either it’s raining or I’m hung over. I don’t know why, but without fail it always happens. Today it rained and I was hung over, so I’ve been doubly sore and ambling in a geriatric way around my workplace, trying to inconspicuously massage my knees at every opportunity. This has been, and probably will be, the most interesting part of my day, and this day itself will be abnormally interesting compared to most other days.

For the past couple months I’ve been sequestering myself with either a good book or a good video game, as a way to avoid being crushed by the sheer weight of my own mediocrity. Pretty soon I will have read most of the books I should have read in high school. I just finished the Great Gatsby, and it’s weird trying to talk to people about it because everybody except me has already read it. Like 10 years ago. Thus, however profound, intriguing, or evocative someone might have found the book, they got over it a long time ago, making meaningful discussion about the book a bit hard to come by anywhere outside a high school English class.

In addition to catching up on the classics, I’ve spent a lot of time shepherding a virtual civilization towards greatness by way of a game called Civilization 5. As opposed to the real world, where there is poverty, ignorance, and war which an individual can do little about, Civ 5 gives you a virtual world where you can do things differently; you can do right where historically we have gone wrong. So I start a game and I try to build an ideal civilization, one that values peace, prosperity, tolerance, and scientific progress; through diplomacy, mediation, and others following my shining example, I hope to lead my fellow virtual civilizations into a glorious golden age for all mankind. Once that’s done, I can trick myself into thinking that, having done it in a game, I could help fix the world (should I ever come to any position of power).

However, after about 5000 years pursuing my glorious vision, the entire world hates me. Perceiving my enlightened philosophy as a sign of weakness, every nation I met declared war almost immediately. Every principle my virtual civilization once stood for was violated to ensure its survival. It looks like I’d be lucky to finish the game with just one nuclear war. The game designers did a very, very good job at making their virtual world resemble the corporeal. So unless I suddenly find inviting the prospect of repeating the depressing mistakes of world history in a virtual arena whose theoretical purpose is to be fun, my virtual escape has been effectively thwarted.

I’d like to say that I’m actively trying to find things more interesting to do than play computer games, but that would be lying. I’m glad Obamacare passed, and at one point in my life I would probably spend a lot of time arguing its merits with complete strangers online; I would have thought that these people, many having a virulent personal hatred for Obama that’s beyond ridiculous, could be swayed by reason. Now, experience has taught me that these people can only be mocked, relentlessly, and even then the satisfaction and feeling of self-righteousness one gets in doing so is fleeting and often accompanied by the realization that you could be doing better things with your time. Still, for me, going on an arch-conservative forum and pretending to be the ghost of Reagan is always good for a chuckle every now and then 😉

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Andrew Breitbart is Dead

This was pretty much the last thing I expected to read yesterday when I was browsing the news. I figured he would be around for a while, long enough for me to possibly get more conservative with age and actually want to read his stuff. I haven’t really read anything he wrote, haven’t patronized his websites, and haven’t had the highest opinion of those things that I did happen to read in passing. I definitely didn’t like what he did to Shirley Sherrod. However, people of all political persuasions say he was a devoted husband and father, and I don’t doubt it. Just like all the other vocal, opinionated, antagonistic pundits that dominate political commentary in American media, once he leaves the political media arena he’s pretty much just a normal guy.

It’s far too easy to forget that fact in the American political climate; people on both sides of the spectrum want to paint their political rivals as not just politically flawed, but personally flawed. And not just the pundits; that particular poison has spread far and wide, and I personally have seen too many reasonable and rational people fall into that trap.

In today’s political media, too many are content to go beyond political discussion and do this, personally attacking their opponents; Conservatives are labeled as “Greedy Heartless Racists,” and Liberals are “Godless Communist Traitors.” It’s the same inflammatory tactic that’s been used all throughout history to shore up one’s cause with a minimum of proof and evidence; make one side out to be moral and the other side to be the opposite and you have an easily understandable and attractive paradigm:  “Right” vs “Wrong,” “Righteous” vs “Wicked,” “Patriot” vs “Outsider,” etc.

It seems to me that Americans buy into this because, honestly, which way is easier? A: Putting in the work to objectively prove one’s viewpoint and discussing it reasonably with one’s political opponents, or B: Saying one’s political opponents are evil and crazy and have to be stopped, and parroting the loudest voices of one’s “side” to prove the point? I wish A were easier. But since it’s not, we have almost all the most vocal and opinionated figures on both sides of the aisle choosing option B. I get the impression that Breitbart was one of the big players fanning these partisan flames. However, I haven’t read enough of Breitbart’s stuff to really know, and in my opinion his political antics are not the most important thing when discussing his death. Whether loved or hated in the political arena, he was loved by his family and friends, and personally important to them. At the end of the day, he’s a guy who died young and left behind a lot of sad folks, just like most other people dying young will do, and that’s what’s most important to remember.

The sad thing is that this savage political culture is going to keep on going, and his passing will be just more fodder for the political flame wars. What I’ve tried to read of Conservative news coverage has pretty much confirmed this. Liberals apparently can do no right when it comes to his passing, being portrayed as celebrating his passing, only sarcastically memorializing him, or being disrespectful if they even mention anything about the controversies he created during his career. Conservative and Liberal news sources will appropriate his death for any number of agendas, and any mention of the kind of man he was outside of political media will quickly fade into the background.

So RIP Andrew Breitbart, my heart goes out to your friends and loved ones. While some are celebrating, and some are already attributing your passing to a Liberal conspiracy, the rest of us are just shaking our heads… The monster that is American political media, a monster you probably helped to create and did nothing to hinder, is already feeding on your bones, quicker and more thoroughly than any Vulture could.