Friday, November 30, 2012

Lessons from Obama’s Win (I)

Commentary’s John Podhoretz has facts on why Obama won. Podhoretz writes:
Obama’s victory was an astonishing technical accomplishment. . .His team spent four years building a peerless political instrument, a virtual machine, to get him reelected. Both the methodology and the practical approach were nuts and bolts. The president needed to win enough votes among blacks, Latinos, single women, and young people [emphasis added] in the right electoral-college states to assure his victory.
For two years, we’ve been saying Obama started with a natural majority--liberals and government workers, plus the minorities, unmarried women, and youth Podhoretz mentions--a base over 60% of the electorate.

Podhoretz also found:

  • voters under 30 provided Obama’s margin of victory; he won them by 5.4 million votes (Romney won the over-30 vote by 1.9 million), offering students expanded college loans and youth overall gay marriage, free contraception, and a popular culture connection contrasting with Romney’s squareness. 

  •  The Ohio black vote grew by 30% over 2008, something the Romney folks considered impossible, and a tribute to Obama’s pure, simple get-out-the-vote work that politicos will study, says Podhoretz, “for decades.” 

  •  Obama’s campaign spent four years on maximizing his vote, something only incumbents do (as Karl Rove did in 2001-04 for George W. Bush), along with one year of negativity to minimize Romney’s vote. 

  • Obama’s advocacy of unabashed liberalism saved him from a primary fight that would have damaged his reelection efforts the way primaries hurt Hubert Humphrey (1968), Gerald Ford (1976), Jimmy Carter (1980), and George H.W. Bush (1992). 

  •  The Obama team’s entirely believable proclamation they planned to spend $1 billion solely on the general election probably narrowed the Republican field to, in Podhoretz’s words, its “distressingly uncharismatic array of B-listers,” making “the $1-billion-dollar laser-guided munition” perhaps the entire campaign’s  “killer app.”
Podhoretz has certainly taken to heart, as have many other conservatives, the importance of Jack Kemp's (1935-2009) admonition, ""People don't care what you know until they know you care."  Podhoretz  writes:
The exit-poll question [Romney] lost most definitively to Obama was about which of them “cares about the problems of people like me.” Obama won it by a staggering 81%–17%. Of course politicians should “care about the problems of people like me.” The “problems of people like me” are the root of all policy. Otherwise being a politician is nothing but regulation and management.

You read it first here.

On November 27, conservative Victor Davis Hanson, the Stanford Hoover Institution classicist, wrote:
Since 1960, and with the exception of Barack Obama, the Democrats always lost when they ran northern liberals — George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, and John Kerry — so great is the American distrust of both old money aristocrats and Northern tsk-tsk scolds. Apparently southern accents — LBJ, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore — were necessary fides to win the popular vote, a sort of implicit reminder to voters that liberal Democrats could be just folks rather social engineers and redistributionists.
Yes, but on November 9, 18 days earlier, I wrote that my 1980s
list of stupid Democratic nominations--people from the base who didn’t bring new voters with them. . . began with Humphrey of Minnesota, then McGovern of South Dakota, Mondale of Minnesota, and Dukakis of Massachusetts--all losers. Later add Kerry of Massachusetts to that list. When Democrats went South for candidates--Lyndon Johnson, Carter, Clinton--they won. White, frost belt liberals don’t cut it with the wider electorate.
Hanson did make an additional point. After going through the familiar litany of liberal media bias--“the cultural influence of the NY Times, Washington Post, NPR, PBS, CBS, ABC, and NBC, . . . the slant of a USA Today or People magazine. . . the biases of AP, Reuters, Bloomberg News, Google, Yahoo, and the other wire services that feed supposedly neutrally reported news to local affiliates that ensure their prejudices are aired as disinterested information”--Hanson offered this confession:
The right-wing media is serving as an alternative to the bias of the mainstream news, but also as a sort of religious outlet where the depressed and pessimistic can find some shred of hope in a bleak world — understandable but not always empirical.
Is that us, then? Offering “some shred of hope in a bleak world”?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Stocks Wary of Fiscal Cliff

Stocks keep falling. The Dow has dropped for four weeks in a row, the NASDAQ for six. The fall reflects worries about the approaching fiscal cliff of expiring tax cuts and mandated budget cuts timed for January 1, 2013. Stocks rose slightly yesterday on positive words coming out of a White House meeting between the president and congressional leaders.

Our FOX Index (see chart), which tracks the distance from 15,800, the “healthy” market minimum total of a Dow of 12,000, an S&P 500 of 1,300, and a NASDAQ of 2,500, is now about to slip below 1,000. On September 14, it was at its all-time high (the index is 5+ years old) of +2,443. Its fall in just two months now takes it to about 40% of its earlier peak, though it remains in healthy territory.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

“Nice guys finish last!”

“Romney is a good man who made the best argument he could, and nearly won. He would have made a superb chief executive, but he could not match Barack Obama in the darker arts of public persuasion.”

--Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post  

“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”

 --Barack Obama

Rephrasing von Clausewitz, I have maintained, "[Politics] is . . . a continuation of [war] by other means." And so it is. I really liked Adlai Stevenson (loser 1952, 1956) and Michael Dukakis (loser, 1988), and I acknowledge Mitt Romney (loser, 2012) is, as Krauthammer says, “a good man.” But on the whole, I’d rather back a winner.

Republicans got whipped last week. In the spirit of taking a lesson from what happened, here are answers to “What happened?” from several leading conservatives:

  • From Christopher Caldwell, Weekly Standard:
the Wesleyan Media Project last week found that the Obama campaign was the most negative campaign ever. With 59% of its ads negative, it outstripped even the notorious George W. Bush reelection campaign (55%) of 2004.
Romney hardly knew what hit him. He liked to describe his experience running companies as relevant to running a country. . . A modern, diverse democratic republic is something very different from a company. It relies for cohesion on shared narratives passionately believed in. . . Run it as a business and it will fall to pieces. Obama has made a lot of mistakes, but running the country as a business is not one of them.
  • From Michael Barone, “RealClearPolitics”:
Obama owes most of his electoral vote majority of 332 to negative campaigning. His strategists barraged the target states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia with attack ads against Romney for months. The ads took a toll. Preliminary figures show that outside the eight clear target states, Obama's percentage declined by 2.8 points. In [Florida, Ohio and Virginia], it was down by only 1.4 points and in [the] five other target states by only 2.1 points. [He won the three] firewall states by a total of about 250,000 votes.
  • From Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal:
By Election Day, 53% of voters in the exit polls said Mr. Romney's policies would "generally favor the rich." They backed Mr. Obama with 87% to Mr. Romney's 10%. Even among the 59% of voters for whom the economy was the No. 1 issue, Mr. Romney prevailed only 51% to 47%. And the 21% of voters who thought "care about people like me" was the most important candidate quality split 81% for Mr. Obama, 18% for Mr. Romney. The president was also lucky. This time, the October surprise was not a dirty trick but an act of God. Hurricane Sandy interrupted Mr. Romney's momentum and allowed Mr. Obama to look presidential and bipartisan.
  • From Rick Moran, American Thinker:
Romney let the Obama campaign define him and he never effectively countered their image of him as a rapacious, evil capitalist even after he was able to advertise in response to those charges. . .while the voter gave Romney high marks in his ability to better handle the economy and deficit than Obama, the issue of trust dogged him throughout the campaign. . . the video that emerged of Romney talking about the "47%" did [real] damage[, playing] directly into the tens of millions of dollars in advertising by the Obama campaign that defined Romney as a heartless businessman.
So much for the whipping. How about moving forward?

There is general agreement, and across the ideological lines, that Republicans have to do better with minorities, especially Hispanics (only 27% of whom supported Romney). Nominating an Hispanic like Marco Rubio for president would help the party. But Hoover Institution’s Thomas Sowell is one of several who believe Hispanics, blacks and other minorities benefit from the same economic policies as whites; it's just up to conservatives to win minorities over to their side's economic message. Sowell writes:
the gap between black and white incomes narrowed during the Reagan administration and widened during the Obama administration. . . because free market policies create an economy in which all people can improve their economic situation.
Conversely, . . .minimum wage laws, which are usually pushed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans[, meant] unemployment among minority youths skyrocketed when minimum wage increases priced them out of jobs. [And t]he loss of income from an entry-level job is only part of the loss sustained by minority young people. Work experience at even an entry-level job is a valuable asset, as a stepping stone to progressively higher level jobs.

Friday, November 09, 2012

“I told you so.”

Before I was for Mitt Romney, I was against him.

I used to be a Democrat; the first GOP presidential candidate I voted for was Bush in 2000. In the 1980’s, after Dukakis lost, I made a list of stupid Democratic nominations--people from the base who didn’t bring new voters with them.

My list began with Humphrey of Minnesota, then McGovern of South Dakota, Mondale of Minnesota, and Dukakis of Massachusetts--all losers. Later add Kerry of Massachusetts to that list. When Democrats went South for candidates--Lyndon Johnson, Carter, Clinton--they won. (Gore really was from highly liberal Washington D.C., not Tennessee, a state he failed to carry in 2000.) White, frost belt liberal guys don’t cut it with the wider electorate.

(Obama's not a white guy. He's minority, that helped him with women and young people too, and it's why he won. There was no "Bradley effect" in this year's responses to pollsters, as I incorrectly suggested there might be.)

With Republicans, the problem is different. You lose if you are seen as more a rich, white male--if you fit the GOP image--and less a Democratic-like common man. Nixon (in his twisted way) was common, as were Reagan and even Bush 43, the guy you'd rather have a beer with. But not Rockefeller, not Dole, not Bush 41, not Romney. Especially not Romney.

This past election cycle, I was literally ABM (anybody but Mitt). My support ran from Marco Rubio through Chris Christie and Rick Perry, to even Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Anybody but Mitt. In my defense, I knew the party wouldn’t nominate Gingrich or Santorum, but if either (or both together) could stop Mitt, the party might then turn to the candidate we really needed, one like Christie or Rubio.

After Romney won, I got behind him, and even warmed to Romney after he took a risk and picked Paul Ryan to be his vice president over the colorless Rob Portman. I was thrilled by Romney’s first debate performance, especially his talk about bringing two sides together; working across the aisle.

It wasn’t enough to reach average Americans though. They saw a person detached from their problems--a true Republican. Also, Romney throughout the campaign was handicapped by pride in his own Romneycare. He couldn’t go after Obamacare the way any other GOP nominee would have.

Here’s the sad record of my failed ABM efforts over the past two years:

“Marco Rubio”

“Chris Christie”

“Christie, not Romney”

“Chris Christie for President”

“President Perry”

“[Stuff] they say about Rick Perry.”

“Republicans: No Ronald Reagan”

“Obama Campaign Can’t Wait: Already Targeting Romney”

“Romney or a Conservative?”

“ABM (Anybody but Mitt)”

“Some Things To Think About (#5)”

“Some Things To Think About (#4)”

“What happened to the wooden stake?”

“No! Not Newt!”

“Yearend Reading: Romney, GOP"

"The Fix: Democrats Want Romney.”

“The Romney Fix: Conservatives Speak Out”

“Pyrrhic Victory?”

“Big news: Santorum wins Alabama and Mississippi.”

“Will Santorum + Gingrich block Romney?”

 “‘I couda been president.’”

“Marco Rubio, now more than ever.”

“Romney types: no to Rubio as V.P.”

After the conventions, I understood Romney had failed to connect with voters when his big speaking moment came, a problem compounded when we learned that in private, Romney had earlier knocked the “47%” of Americans dependent on government support--the very people he needed to inspire:

“Democrats Win Convention War”

“Optimism, Business, not Dependency, not Government”

The next Republican nominee for president had better have the common touch.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Who Will Win?

In the wake of his performing as president during Hurricane Sandy, Obama has taken a 0.7% lead in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. In state by state polls, it looks even better for the president. But this is a tight race that could go either way. Here’s my case for each side.  

Why Obama will win.

Shortly after the 2010 Republican midterm election victory, we argued Obama and Democrats had good reason to be cocky about their chances in 2012. First, the turnout would be more like 2008 than 2010--more of their folks would show up to vote. And second, it was time to recognize that Obama’s coalition--minorities, unmarried women, youth, and liberal whites--constitute a national majority. We presented a chart showing the coalition combined makes up over 60% of the population. They don’t all vote, they aren’t all citizens, and a chunk of them will vote economy over group identity. But starting at 60% means leading from strength.

Then in September, we were struck by the following reasoning offered by American Interest’s Walter Russell Mead. Mead wrote,
Unemployment is heavily concentrated among people who are not very likely to vote for a Republican no matter what the economy is doing . . .African Americans, Hispanics and the young. Those groups aren’t likely to vote Republican [or] to blame their problems on a Democratic president.
Mead means that even minorities, youth, (and unmarried women) who put jobs first aren’t likely to vote Republican. He has a point. A vast majority of Obama’s folks decided long ago they are Democrats, not Republicans. Obama’s on their side; Republicans are the other side.

So Obama wins, right? Not necessarily.

Why Romney will win.

Since poll averages favor Obama, any Romney win will be a mild surprise. The polls will have turned out wrong. Enthusiasm is one possible reason for an error. More Republicans seem enthusiastic about Romney than Democrats about Obama. Another reason could be that independents, who seem to be polling in favor of Romney, end up being a large enough group to swing the election his way. A third possible reason for a Romney surprise could stem from Obama’s inability to rise above 50%--usually a danger sign for incumbents who watch undecideds move to the challenger on election day.

Finally, are some whites reluctant to tell a pollster they favor a white over a black? Will there be, in other words, a “Bradley effect,” named after black ex-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in polls?

Obama seemed post-racial in 2008, but this year, his weak job performance and his conscious rallying of minorities and women against white male Romney is driving white males--and to a lesser extent, their spouses--toward Romney. Is all of this shift showing up in the polls, or does some stay hidden?

We don’t know. But if Obama loses, you can bet many (most?) commentators will blame his defeat on white racial voting.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Final Pre-election Jobs Report a Mixed Blessing

American job creation improved in October with 171,000 new jobs, yet the unemployment rate moved higher to 7.9%. Also, the the Labor Department revised upward by 34,000 the new jobs total initially reported last month, and likewise moved August's numbers higher by 50,000. CNBC’s Jeff Cox called the report “better than expected but still representative of tepid growth that is doing little to generate escape velocity for the slow-moving economy.”

Today’s job report is the last before Tuesday’s election. We proclaim (see chart below) Obama has reached his minimum target: more people, finally, at last, and at the last minute, have jobs today than were employed when Obama took office--194,000 more, in fact.  

But America has added 6.1 million people since Obama took over--way more than the net 194,000 job gain over nearly four years. But since Obama earlier chose to brag about the number of jobs created rather than net job growth, he cannot at the final hour start talking up net job growth.  But Obama, having jumped all over the (separately calculated) unemployment rate of 7.8% last month, has to stay silent as that rate moves up to 7.9%.

In short, Obama can’t brag about either figure in the chart below. Nevertheless, we’ve watched the monthly job reports for years, and nevertheless we note Obama hit both (one in September, lost in October, the other only in October) of his minimum job growth and unemployment targets.