Archive for October, 2008

The complex of a liberal

An interesting story in the Times about how Democrats are sweating this election, convinced by the fiascos of the last two presidential elections that they’re in line for another round of doom and gloom.

Ordinarily I’d understand their anxiety, because it’s long been one of my maxims that a person should never underestimate the ability of the Democratic Party to crap the bed and blow a presidential election. After all, allowing George W. Bush to win not once but twice makes it pretty apparent that the Democrats are quite adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Still, on a more rational, detached level, it’s hard to see justification for all the hand wringing and finger crossing liberals are doing these days.

Richard Schrader, a senior staff member for a national environmental organization, lives in Amherst, Mass., where politics start liberal and traipse left. He is fairly liberal, but his neighbors worry that he does not worry nearly enough. “They wake up, drink that pot of coffee and hit the polling Web sites,” he said. “Too much good news has to be a lie.”

Recently he sat down with a friend who was sweating about Minnesota.

“Minnesota?” Mr. Schrader told his friend. “What, are you kidding me? Obama’s up 14 points there.”

The friend shook his head sadly. Take off seven points for hidden racial animus. Subtract another five for polling error. It is down to two points, and that is within the margin of error in sampling and that could mean Mr. Obama could be behind.

“It was perversely impressive,” Mr. Schrader said.

Now, let’s deconstruct this apocalyptic line of reasoning.

  1. Hidden racial animus, a.k.a. the “Bradley effect,” relies on the presumption that polls for races involving black candidates can overstate support for the black candidate because whites are self-conscious about divulging their putative racial prejudices to pollsters, but can act on them safely in the anonymity of the voting booth. The term originated in a California gubernatorial race from 1982, when L.A. mayor Tom Bradley lost to the Republican George Deukmejian after several polls predicted a Bradley victory right before the election. Problem is, the evidence suggests there was no “Bradley effect” for Bradley in 1982, and the pool of undecided voters where the Bradley effect would come into play isn’t large enough to swing the presidential election in 2008. And that doesn’t even take into account the possible evidence two researchers from the University of Washington have highlighted as evidence of a possible “reverse Bradley effect” where Obama’s polling numbers understate his actual number of votes. In either event, latent racism among undecideds isn’t going to tilt the election significantly, and it’s certainly not enough to cost Obama the presidency.
  2. It’s not clear how 5 percentage points could be deducted for polling error in addition to 2 points for sampling error. For one thing, poor sampling is a big cause of polling error, but this is one of those cases where adding all these error margins is overstating the overall effect because there’s going to be so much overlap. In fact, poor polling is also what’d be behind any ostensible Bradley effect.
  3. By any reasonable estimate analysis of state polls, Obama easily has 270 electoral votes sewn up. Whether you like to get your data from the Times (291 votes solid or leaning Obama), Real Clear Politics (311 solid or leaning Obama) or FiveThirtyEight.com (way more than 300 solid or leaning Obama), the math just doesn’t look good for McCain. Depending on whose projections you trust, there don’t appear to even be enough toss-up states left for McCain to get to 270. And even worse for McCain, most of the toss-up states still remaining appear to be tilting toward Obama. Realistically, the only way McCain wins is probably if someone attacks America between now and Election Day, and even then, with the high numbers of early and absentee voters, it may already be too late. This game is over.

It seems irrational to me to agonize over the election and this point, but I can understand where a lot of liberals are coming from. They identify with the Democratic Party, and consequently they place a lot on its fortunes. That’s understandable, given the realities of the two-party system. But I’ve never shared that attachment to a party, and I doubt I ever will. I suppose I’d feel differently if a third-party alternative could become viable one day — if only the Greens could improve their fortunes — but I also think it’s important not to be wedded to a particular party in order to try to pressure parties like the Democrats to come to me. I watched Al Gore and then John Kerry largely ignore the concerns of progressives, taking their support for granted as they pandered to Republican voters unlikely to support a Democrat, and it bit them in the ass. I’m heartened somewhat by the prominence Obama has given to more bread-and-butter progressive issues — he’s far from perfect, but at least he’s not shamelessly trying to out-Republican McCain — but I know I’m likely to be disappointed. I do think Obama winning the election would make history, and not in the cliched manner in which every election is described as “historic,” but I doubt he’d prove to be much of a socialist, despite Comrade McCain’s rhetoric.

Anyway, I’m not exactly going out on a limb here and calling the election for Obama, but I’m also not going to be sitting on pins and needles come Tuesday. Instead, I’ll be going about my business, watching the Comedy Central special with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and enjoying a good old-fashioned rout.

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This is perhaps long overdue, but I’d like to say something nice about Sarah Palin.

At least her grand appearance to drop the ceremonial puck in St. Louis provided the Kings with an assist that helped to get them going en route to a 4-0 route.

St. Louis Blues goalie Manny Legace left after one period Friday night with an injury that might have occurred when he tripped over the carpet placed on the ice for Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

The Alaska governor dropped the ceremonial first puck before the Blues hosted the Los Angeles Kings. A narrow carpet walkway was placed from the gate at the Blues bench for Palin, her husband and two of her daughters to walk to center ice.

Just before the ceremony, Legace was the first player onto the ice for St. Louis. A team official pointed to the carpet, but as Legace stepped onto it with his skate, he fell, then gingerly made his way to the crease.

Legace played the first period and gave up two goals on 12 shots before giving way to Ben Bishop, who gave up two goals in his NHL debut.

Of course, the Kings played impressively well despite taking aim at a moose-wounded goalie and a complete NHL neophyte between the pipes, so I won’t give Palin much credit.

On the other hand, if she were to start hunting Ducks, say those of the Anaheim variety, I might be tempted to heap more unqualified praise upon her.

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Dissertation over?

The Slovak parliament passed a resolution today stating that Alexander Dubček, the world’s most famous Slovak and a significant if not major character in my dissertation, “deserves extraordinary credit for democracy, the freedom of the Slovak nation and human rights.”

So, can I just cite this law (which takes effect on 1 January 2009) and call it a dissertation?

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Moose jokes

What’s the difference between a hockey mom and Sarah Palin?

About $150,000 in designer threads.

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Barack Obama may be (kinda) palling around with (former) terrorists (not really). He may also be beloved by American Muslims, Arab Americans and others who like him despite not sharing his religion or ethnicity. He may even have the endorsement of America’s most respected living military leader, Gen. Colin Powell (ret.).

But Obama has nothing on John McCain, at least when it comes to scoring the endorsement of a web site frequented by al-Qaida supporters.

I guess Obama’s message of change just doesn’t appeal to al-Qaida and others interested in having another U.S. president committed to exhausting the country militarily and economically.

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Evidently the geniuses running the St. Louis Blues didn’t learn from the warm “Philly welcome” fans gave Sarah Palin when she dropped the ceremonial first puck before a Flyers game in Philadelphia.

Seems the Blues are going to turn up the music to drown out the boos ask Palin to drop the puck before their tilt with the Kings on Friday night.

Of course, to my knowledge St. Louis fans have never booed Santa Claus, so perhaps they’ll show Sarah Palin a bit of Midwest hospitality before chasing her through the Arch and out of the state.

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A crowd of hungry Iranians ate their way through a shot at a Guinness world record last week.

Some people organized an event seeking to set a record with a 1,500-meter sandwich, only ravenous spectators got to the sandwich before Guinness representatives could finish measuring the sandwich, polishing off the heroic snack in minutes.

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