Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jason comments on the Presidential campaign

I swear this isn't becoming a political blog, I promise, promise, promise.

Originally, this was going to be a funny idea of reviewing the current campaign commercials from a purely cinematic view, ignoring the politics or the veracity of their claims. But I couldn't stop throwing up in my mouth whenever I tried to watch one. Honestly, I haven't seen a watchable campaign ad since Mike Gravel's "Rock" (screw you Paultards! I was a proud Gravelhead! At least, I was whenever I remembered he exists)

Anyway, everyone agrees, by a pretty wide margin, that McCain is running far more negative ads. However, this appears to have brought him even with Obama in the polls. I, for one, am not surprised. One thing pundits seem to never realize is that going negative is a good thing! And I don't mean that they're effective. They work exactly 50% of the time--both candidates inevitably go negative, and one candidate has to win. I mean negative ads are actually better than positive ads because they're more informative.

Imagine these two generic campaign ads:

Ad 1: "Candidate A loves America. See how American he looks standing in front of the American flag with patriotic determination on his face. He feels your pain, shares your values, and will fight for you!"

Ad 2: "Candidate B is wrong for America. His tax plan will bankrupt you and cause unemployment to skyrocket. His energy plan will make us Saudi Arabia's bitches. His position on crime will allow psychotic convicts out of prison with orders to rape your grandmother. Candidate A, on the other hand, will give you free money and create jobs out of thin air. He craps pure electricity and pisses gasoline, enough to power the entire nation. And if anyone even looks at your grandmother funny, he'll incinerate them with his heat vision"

Okay, I got a little carried away there. But my point is that Ad 1 tells you nothing. Even if the claims in Ad 2 are bullshit, you can research and find the truth behind the claims. It might not give you a completely accurate picture, but it gives you much more information. And since they can't really get away with outright lies, there's almost always a grain of half-truth.

The interesting thing about this is that at least McCain's first two negative ads--"Celebrity" and "The One", are remarkably negative while being completely uninformative. Here I am trying to defend negative advertising and McCain goes out and destroys my thesis by creating two of the most vacuous negative ads ever. McCain, by going negative and stupid you've actually sullied the reputation of negative campaigning.

Finally in his third try McCain actually puts some information in it, as he attacks Obama's tax plan. In this one, he moves from providing no information to providing misinformation...which I guess is a type of information? His claim that Obama voted to increase the taxes on everyone making more than $42,000 is based not on Obama's stated tax plan, but an earlier vote on a non-binding resolution to do away with the Bush tax cuts. Interesting aside, does this mean the McCain camp is tacitly admitting that the Bush tax cuts gave nothing to people making less than $42,000, since phasing them out doesn't affect them?

A quick comparison of their stated tax plans, courtesy of the Tax Policy Center and, can be seen in this graph:

I have no statement on which tax plan is better. I don't want to get into a debate about tax fairness or whether giving more breaks to the rich helps the economy. I will point out two things--first, Obama's stated plan does in fact give a substantial cut to people making $42,000. In fact, it gives a bigger break than McCain's plan, so McCain is clearly lying. Second, both plans are a net tax cut, meaning their promises to balance the budget (and both have promised this) are pretty much bullshit without some deep spending cuts. And don't give me crap about the Laffer curve--people who think lower tax rates result in higher overall tax revenue are idiots who don't understand their own argument.

More importantly, tax policy is not the only issue in the campaign. There's of course the war, health care, energy policy, and hot button issues like abortion or gun control.

I would like to meet someone who has studied both candidates stands on every issue and used that to make their choice in this election, because I have one question for them--are you fucking retarded!? Or, to put it a little more kindly, are you ignorant of--or willfully disregarding--the manner in which laws get passed? Our current unitary executive not withstanding, there are checks on the powers of the President, primarily that he has no power to write laws. Congress writes laws, and the President either signs them or vetoes them. Neither McCain nor Obama will have the power to change the tax rates by fiat. And given that Congress looks to not just stay in Democrat control but increase the Democratic margin, chances are any tax changes that come from it will look a lot more like Obama's plan than McCain's. And if you don't like that, work on changing Congress, because the President won't have a chance to change that. Same is true for all other legislative stances. The President can propose laws and draft bills and send them to Congress, but Congress has no obligation to act on any of his proposals. So why would you choose a President based on his legislative stances--the one thing he has virtually no control over? And that's if you even believe he'll keep his word when it's no longer politically necessary/expedient. I invite any of my readers to make an argument as to why the issues actually matter.

I submit to you that it actually makes more sense to cast their vote for whoever makes them feel better. Every election year, it seems there's a poll about who voter's would rather have a beer with (or invite to their barbecue, or have watch their pets while they're on vacation, or something equally insipid). Now I'm not saying "pleasant drinking partner" is a good quality in a leader (I wouldn't necessarily feel better if some of my closest drinking buddies were in charge of anything). But the one thing the President does have more or less unchecked control over is the national mood. And as much as some people lamented that George W. Bush won twice just because he was more folksy than his more qualified opponents, I still submit that it's not that bad of a reason to vote for a guy (for the record, George W. Bush never made me feel good). I also submit this is actually how people make their voting decision. As much as most people claim to study the issues and make their decision based on them, their decisions are based singularly on who gives them a better feeling, and they'll even change their stance on the issues to conform to this person. A couple of quick questions. Is anyone planning on voting for the candidate who will make them personally feel worse (e.g., they'd suffer more but it's better for the country)? Has anyone caught themselves "refining" their stances on issues as their candidates did (e.g., McCain on immigration or "running an honorable campaign", Obama on public financing or offshore drilling)? I will emphasize again that I don't think this behavior is a bad thing. I think not only that it's natural, but it's the best criteria available.

Now as I was drafting this post, Obama announced his selection of Joe Biden as his running mate. I have no strong opinions one way or another about the guy, but the whole "veepstakes" brings up one other thing I'd like to know about the candidates. I'd like to know who their top advisers would be, especially their cabinet. Particularly, I'd like to see that they choose good, smart people, who are experts in their field, and who speak their mind (i.e., are not "yes men"). Biden seems to fit at least three of these--he seems like a good, smart guy and he's not afraid to disagree with Obama (most notably on voting for the Iraq War). I only reserve giving him "expert in his field" because I don't know how you show expertise in checking if the President is alive and then doing whatever you feel like (although our current VP seems to do a lot more, constitutionally that's the only thing he's required to do).

But the VP candidate is just one appointment, and I'd argue not as important as his cabinet secretaries, who should be his go-to guys (or gals) in their respective responsibilities. I would actually say that this would be my most important criteria in choosing who to vote for, except for the fact that we will never be given this information. For some reason, it's considered uncouth to even pretend that you're thinking about who you'd appoint. Why is it so forbidden to give me the most relevant information possible for my choice? And I know, they don't have ultimate authority over this either; their choices need to be confirmed by the Senate. But in all of U.S. history, only 9 cabinet nominations have been rejected (11 have been withdrawn prior to a vote), and it's fairly common to hear the argument 'I don't think he/she is a good choice, but I respect the President's right to surround himself with the advisers he wants.' That's reasonably close to a rubber stamp. And really, I don't need final choices, give me a possible short list of 3 or so names for each position so I can get a sense of your judgment. I won't hold you to any of them, and the first candidate to do this will score major points in my book.

Well, this ran on as usual when I start posting politics. Now I'm going to disappear for a week, I'm going to a land that's outside of the reach of the Internet. I'll be back on Labor Day to tell you whether or not I'm actually being serious.


Dadmaniac said...

Lies, lies and more lies. I've found that I am actually getting testy and on edge during this political season. I simply can't take any more of the 'Lying liars and the lies they lie.' As for my illustrious governor Sarah Barracuda, this is all I have to say:

She's a fundamentalist, right-wing, conservative, God quoting, small time politician with good looks. So of course, the Reps are going ga-ga over her. I didn't vote for her up here in Alaska and I certainly won't vote for her in November. True, she delivered a good speech...written by a man, to be delivered by a man, but instead delivered by a woman. It smacks of Karl Rove. If you look through the political blogs, you will see that she has energized the extreme right wing of the Rep Party, but that she didn't do much for Independents and undecideds. In fact, although she gets "credit" for having Trigg, her Down Syndrome baby, in Alaska she severely cut the budget for special needs programs for kids. She was "for" the Bridge to Nowhere before she was "against" it. She tried to use her influence to get her ex-brother in law fired, and as Mayor of Wasilla, tried to get books banned at the local library. She may appeal to the Rep base, but believe me, she ain't no friend of the middle class, and certainly no friend to women...especially the ones who like Hillary Clinton. Oh, and I almost forgot, she wants creationism taught in school. kind of woman...NOT.

For an interesting look at polling by state instead of nationally, check out

puppymeat said...

Hey, dadmaniac. I had written a follow-up to this post, where I reacted to the Palin nomination, but I couldn't post it from work (the network there sucks). It's up now. I didn't get into her partisan views as much as just commenting on how crazy Alaskan politics is (I kind of miss it, as entertainment). I have my political opinions, and I think they're pretty close to yours, but I try to leave them out of my blog.

And I love If you read enough of the blog, it's pretty clear that the authors are at least liberal leaning. But the poll analysis seem to be pretty much down the middle. They had an interesting post today about trying to extract "daily" results from 3-day tracking polls, that suggest the bump McCain/Palin is getting has more to do with a great Obama day dropping out of the 3-day tracking than a good McCain day entering into them.

Dadmaniac said...

Yes, fivethirtyeight has become my polling site of choice. I find that on the MSNBC and CNN news shows they mostly talk about only the national wow, man. It's a dead heat. Well, maybe so for the total vote, but as we all learned with W, that don't mean squat. What will really be fascinating is to see how close their predictive models correspond to the actual votes. The bloggers at 538 are leaning towards Obama and they state that...and go on to say that it doesn't change their methodology. Oh, and one one of the shows last night, someone actually DID show an electoral map and it did reflect pretty much what 538 was saying. Only difference is that they only listed the "sure thing" states in each candidate's column. At least one person is thinking. And I wonder if they do national polls on purpose so as to generate a feeling of a horse race when there actually may not be one. We do live in interesting times.

puppymeat said...

I also like Much more balanced, as it mostly links to stories, analysis, and opinion from both sides. But they keep an excellent aggregate average of all national polls. So while CBS trumpets their outlier showing McCain went from 8 points down to even in one day, RCP shows the average as Obama dropping from 6 points up to 3 points up. It takes a lot of the randomness and outliers out of the polls. They also keep an electoral map projection, both with and without the "toss-up" states. It shows Obama narrowly ahead at the moment. is also interesting, and last I look showed Obama ahead by nearly the same amount as I can't tell if they have a bias one way or another, but I don't think it could change their methodology. Their map only averages polls if there's more than one in the past week. So it can vary more rapidly. It's hard to know if you should count on the most recent poll to be accurate or if you should average in polls that might be out of date. Incidentally, during the primaries this site consistently showed Clinton would do better against McCain than Obama would, and it became a common source for the Clintonites to make their "electability" argument.

I think it's possible that the media focuses on the national polls because it makes it more interesting. But also there's just been a lot more national polling than state-by-state polling. So they report on the story that's out there.