Putting it in perspective

I don’t have the energy or time to write the summary of how I feel about the election, except to note that others have already done a pretty good job of summarizing for me.

From a campaign strategy perspective, 2008 will be discussed for many years, but a few things I found interesting in looking at what worked this time around are below:

Outperforming past Democratic candidates: Obama versus Kerry and Gore – War Room – Salon.com. By the numbers, it’s an impressive performance, but it’s more impressive if you visualize it, as one poster in a thread on Politico.com did:

the red states are states in which obama did worse than kerry
The red states are states in which Obama did worse than Kerry.

The red states are the states where Obama did worse than Kerry. That’s a pretty good illustration of the heart of social conservatism in the US.

That aforementioned thread suggests that there was some interesting gamesmanship going on in the end to bring the McCain campaign so deep into Pennsylvania, a state that it ultimately lost by a double digit margin.

Interesting that even after a blowout, there’s pressure from the media saying Obama needs to move to the center.

Both McCain and Obama’s campaign systems were hacked and compromised, and Palin took runaround money meant to buy three suits for the convention and bought enormous quantities of clothes for her family and herself, including some items that have apparently been lost.

Threats to Obama, as monitored by the Secret Service, were directly correlated to Palin’s feral rallies.

New mix: Funky President

  1. James Brown, “Funky President (People It’s Bad)”
  2. William S. Burroughs, “When Did I Stop Wanting to Be President”
  3. The Cure, “Primary (Morgan Studio Outtake 9/80)”
  4. Max Roach, “Freedom Now”
  5. Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come”
  6. Virginia Glee Club, “I shall not die without a hope” (Testament of Freedom)
  7. Jay-Z and Danger Mouse, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”
  8. Youssou N’Dour, “Hope”
  9. Branford Marsalis, “Freedom Suite: Interlude”
  10. The Flaming Lips, “Suddenly Everything Has Changed”
  11. Arcadia, “Election Day”
  12. Extra Golden, “Obama (Live, KEXP)”
  13. Funkadelic, “One Nation Under a Groove”
  14. Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed”
  15. Parliament, “Chocolate City”
  16. Lou Reed, “Voices of Freedom”
  17. Miles Davis, “Freedom Jazz Dance”

Fired Up, Ready to Go

I voted this morning at around 8:25 am. I was number 325 at my precinct; a line about 100 people long had been there at 7 am, so I was catching things at a brief resting point. There was a PTA bake sale on the way out. It was a traditional end to a most untraditional election.

This has been the most amazing presidential election I can remember. I followed 2004 closely but wasn’t too plugged into it–went into the general election behind Kerry but was never a huge fan. As I drove cross country the week of the Democratic National Convention listening to podcasted speeches on my iPod, the one that impressed me most was Barack Obama’s, and I didn’t know who he was then. I think we all do now.

Now we’ll see what happens. I’m “fired up, ready to go” but I’m also nervous as hell. It’s been too long a road and there have already been too many notes about dirty tricks for me to relax now. But we knew it would be a long road and I’m ready for a long night tonight if necessary.

There are things I can think of to pass the time–like a little online competition to see who guesses the electoral college split–but I don’t want to jinx the outcome. So for now, to work, and we wait.

And watch the early returns. By all indications this will be a huge turnout election, and it’s already breaking some precedents–like Obama becoming the first Democrat to win in Dixville Notch, NH since 1968.

By the way–when did they stop handing out “I voted” stickers?

Worth reposting: an open letter to American social conservatives

I don’t often repost entire blog posts, but this needs to be disseminated widely. Thanks to Estaminet for saying what I wanted to say. Take a look at this and spread it to your friends and family:

estaminet: an open letter to american social conservatives.

Please stop.

Please stop saying that Barack Obama is Muslim. He’s not. He, and his family, are faithful Christians, and have demonstrated that in word and deed. (And even if he were Muslim, that shouldn’t be a strike against him.)

Please stop saying that Barack Obama is an “Arab.” He’s an American, or he wouldn’t be qualified to run for President.

Please stop saying that Barack Obama seeks to destroy Israel. He doesn’t. He, like every other sane-minded person in this crazy world, wants to see an end to violence in the Middle East. In that vision, he supports Israel’s sovreignty.

Please stop saying that Barack Obama is the antichrist. First of all, the Revelation of John was written in a literary code, and no one can say for sure what the high-flung, apocalyptic rhetoric of that book really means. Second, one of the main points of the book is that, if and when the end of the world comes, we won’t know it’s coming. People have been looking for signs for ages now — since the book was written. You’re using the Bible to fit your own fears and prejudices, and that’s not right.

Please stop saying that, if Barack Obama is elected President, he’ll make everyone in the country do X, Y, and Z. Since when has any President ever been able to make Americans do something? (Not counting the draft for a minute — let’s focus on the so-called “family” issues.) No one will force you to marry someone of the same gender, no one will force you to have an abortion, and no one will force your children to be communist transvestite Phish roadies or whatever. You and your children will have as much ability to intelligently decide your lives’ paths for yourselves as you ever did. If other people in America have the freedom to live their lives as they see fit (which is, after all, what America’s always been all about), the country will be a better place.

Please stop being afraid of people who are different from you, and thinking that, if Barack Obama is elected President, that “the blacks will take over.” (Seriously. I’ve read that you’ve said that. I’ll look up the source later.) Everyone’s afraid, in some way, of everyone else. Let’s try talking to each other, and treating each other as people. And, by the way, things are going to change in this country’s race relations no matter who’s elected.

Please stop objectifying Sarah Palin. Seriously. And yes, you so are. I’ve spent too much time denigrating her myself, in a mean-spirited way. I’ll stop being so mean, if you’ll stop fetishizing her.

Please, please, please stop being so afraid. Your anger and fear is scaring me. It makes me afraid for the future of this country, no matter who wins the election. My own anger and fear scares me, too. Can we both stop being afraid? Can we work together?

Should Massachussetts abolish the state income tax?

The endgame of the 2008 election season is interesting in a few ways. First, I find it interesting that Obama’s numbers go way up after people get to see him in action (e.g. during debates), and start to edge back down when robocalls and other personal attacks start to hit. In particular, it’s interesting to compare the projected electoral map from the beginning of the week to today, when Florida becomes a toss-up state again, as well as seeing the effect of ebbing Obama support in West Virginia and New Hampshire (and a gain in South Dakota).

But of more interest to me at the moment is a local question: what if Massachusetts abolished its state income tax? What’s interesting to me is not the question itself, which as I wrote yesterday is an idiotic response to crisis (and the New York Times agrees), but rather how loud the voices are about the question. The question isn’t drawing the same urgent public outcry as the effort to get the legislature to put marriage to a referendum, but it’s a pretty loud outcry nonetheless. And it makes me wonder: what’s really going on? Does being a social conservative in a state like Massachussetts just get more and more frustrating until one feels compelled to hold the recipients of critical government services hostage to get one’s demands met? I sometimes think that if I were conservative here, I’d feel effectively disenfranchised and thus would be inclined to grand gestures.

Nevertheless, there are quite a few people I’ve heard from who think it would be a good idea because it would make the legislature “pay attention” to their concerns about waste. To which I reply: there are more constructive ways to pay attention, and more constructive ways to reform. Specifically, I urge anyone who’s thinking about voting Yes on Question 1 to try making the cuts yourself first, with the Boston Globe’s Massachusetts Budget Game Calculator. The brilliant thing that you learn as you go through the budget item by item is just how limited the options are, and just how many challenges are in your way.

And there are challenges, because the budget is non-linear. Reducing spending in some areas leads to reduced state revenue and federal grants, making the job that much harder. Here’s an example: cutting 25% from the $32.2 billion state budget across the board (a chainsaw of a budget cut, if you will) nominally removes $8 billion in expenditures but only closes the budget gap by $4.9 billion, thanks to losses in federal funds and inability to get revenue. In fact, even a 50% cut across the board still leaves a $2.5 billion deficit.

The irony is that we’re already seeing big cuts in state government, thanks to the market meltdown, and we’ll see more. So even with a nationwide progressive sweep on November 4th (and that’s an unlikely scenario), the state is going to have to be fiscally conservative to make it through the coming recession. And that’s without a yes vote on tax abolition. Proponents of the abolition of the tax claim it will make the state a more attractive place to live and work, but the massive hatchet of Question 1 could ruin us.

What are they betting on?

My friend and undergrad classmate Erik Simpson has been following an interesting trend on Intrade, the prediction market that allows predictive “bets” on realworld events. Specifically, Intrade’s prediction results were diverging from other predictive models, specifically those of fivethirtyeight.com. More research dug up the interesting fact that Intrade doesn’t agree with other predictive markets either. Yesterday Erik followed up these posts with the logical question: why not simply arbitrage the difference? If Intrade and the Iowa Electronic Markets are really efficient markets, there should be no persistent price spread, but since there is a price spread there’s an opportunity to make risk free money by selling on IEM and buying on Intrade, then reversing the trades after the election, when the outcome is locked. (As of this writing, Intrade has a 70% probability of Obama winning, vs. a 74.9% chance on IEM.)

The persistent difference in value can be explained by one of two market frictions: either there are one or more irrational actors who are making trades based on something other than rational economic decisions, or there is information asymmetry: the trader knows something that we don’t about the outcome of the election. I’m inclined to think it’s the former. But I don’t rule out the latter, for the reason that the GOP and its followers are starting to scare the hell out of me (anyone else wonder why someone shouting “Kill him” at a GOP rally wasn’t immediately brought in for questioning by the Secret Service?).

It’s not hard to see why the GOP might be frustrated at this point. The Democrats have done a superb job of keeping their powder dry, waiting until McCain really stepped up the smears to point out that he has deep roots in banking and real estate corruption through his membership in the Keating Five. This campaign has refused to roll over and play dead while smears and attacks were directed at them, and while they’ve played hard in return, it’s been to point out how McCain and Palin have specific unsuitabilities to deal with the issues in front of the country right now.

The downside of this campaign–one of the few really well contested matches we’ve seen in recent years–is that it doesn’t leave much room for discourse on the issues. I’d love to see Obama clear enough of the smoke to start talking about how we get out of this mess, but I think he’s going to be facing enough crap for the next few weeks that we won’t hear substantive proposals for a while.

Keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times…

…because something tells me this race is going to be a rollercoaster for the next few weeks.

Screenshot below from the excellent Election ’08 iPhone App, from Pollster.com and Slate. For a more nuanced view, look to the fine folks at Electoral-Vote.com, which shows Obama’s lead 338 to 185 electoral votes, with 15 ties. This high margin is pretty new in the race–back in early September, the lead was only about 100 electoral votes.

For more context, check out the historical trends on Electoral-Vote.com, where you can see what happens if you don’t count the states with a less than 5% margin of victory (answer: we don’t have a clear winner yet).

Meta campaigning: what to do when the other guy won’t talk straight

American representative democracy is based on some non-intuitive principles–that we the people should care enough about how we are governed that we develop an informed opinion on it, that power is best when dispersed and checked–and on some non-obvious assumptions. The one assumption that is absolutely key is that the people will have access to enough information on the candidates to make an informed decision.

This election is testing that assumption. With one side, we had a bitterly fought primary that lasted almost eighteen months and went right down to the wire, a candidate who has written two books and multiple detailed position papers about his views and policy proposals, who has said all along that he wanted to get above politics as usual to address core issues. On the other side, we have a ticket that has played fast and loose with the truth about themselves, particularly about Palin, and about their opponent. In this environment, there’s information asymmetry and the voter loses.

So how do you get back to the point where a balanced and fair exchange of views is possible? Well, maybe you run an ad that calls the other candidate on the lies he’s been telling, and you do it by summing up all the independent press coverage across the political spectrum that’s been written about it. An ad something like this:

Will it move the base, who are hoping against hope that McCain and Palin, against all odds, will actually embody the small government principles they want to see in Washington? I don’t know. I just hope it moves some independent voters. But I’m happy to see the campaign going on the attack about this.

Preparing for the Obama backlash

Though the AP has called the Democratic nomination for Barack Obama based on its own private delegate counts, I think it’s too early–or maybe too late–to celebrate. Cause the weirdness is just beginning.

Aside: An email list I’m on recently sent out an article advising blog authors to focus on one thing only, and I’m about to break that rule in a big way by writing about the Democratic nomination. But it’s because of other things that I do–namely, genealogical research–that I have the perspective I’m about to share.

I have a distant relation who sends information about the family from time to time. We’ve never met, and aside from the family connection six generations or so back we have nothing in common, which is made abundantly clear from the right-wing emails bashing Obama (not HRC) that he regularly sends out. But getting his email is an interesting opportunity to see how the unofficial smear machine will take on Obama’s candidacy, because every one of them that pops up is getting forwarded.

Last night he sent one that consisted of a collection of supposedly inflammatory quotations from Obama’s books closing with this line and editorial:

And FINALLY the Most Damming one of ALL of them!!!

From Audacity of Hope: ‘I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.’

Now, it’s hard to imagine how this is supposed to be damning. To begin with, it’s incoherent as a standalone quotation, and it’s only damning if you think that standing with “the Muslims” is unequivocally bad. But if you put it into context, it’s even more puzzling. Here’s the quotation from the book, as sourced by “Right Truth”:

Of course, not all my conversations in immigrant communities follow this easy pattern. In the wake of 9/11, my meetings with Arab and Pakistani Americans, for example, have a more urgent quality, for the stories of detentions and FBI questioning and hard stares from neighbors have shaken their sense of security and belonging. They have been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly; they need specific reassurances that their citizenship really means something, that America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.

Now, I have some basic reading comprehension skills, and I have no problem parsing this: concern that the nation’s xenophobia unfairly penalizes immigrants during national emergencies, remembrance of overreactions of the past, and a recognition that immigrants want national leaders to help them and safeguard their rights. The quotation does not say “I will stand by the Muslims,” but that he sees that the immigrants want their adopted country to stand by them.

I sent an email back to the author pointing this out. He replied,”Thank you so very much for this statement. It does say that he will stand with the Pakiasttani and Arab Americans if the Political winds shift etc.”

Um, WTF? Not at all what it said, or I said. But this is the sort of “logic” that opponents of Barack will use to try to block his campaign for the white house.

We all need to be alert to this and help put out these smears as they come up. The stakes in this election are too high for our reason to be led astray by those who would manipulate our fears.