October 27, 2008
Also in today’s NYT: A revealing comparison of the candidates’ respective endgames.
Just like Al Giordano said, Obama’s coming full-circle on a long-term effort to persuade voters of his vision for a more perfect union. The closing argument will echo his national debut at the Democratic Convention in 2004:
From here on out, Mr. Obama’s aides said, attacks on Mr. McCain will be joined by an emphasis on broader and less partisan themes, like the need to unify the country after a difficult election.
Go back and watch the video from the debates. Obama does this every. single. time. and the little squigglies go off the charts as he builds towards his conclusion. I can only imagine that this approach will prove even more effective on a massive scale, when the concerted media spotlight amplifies the effect.
Meanwhile in Mavericktown:
Mr. McCain will stick with the message he has embraced over the last week, presenting Mr. Obama as an advocate of big government and raising taxes. His advisers say they will limit the numbers of rallies where he and Ms. Palin appear together, to cover more ground in the final days.
What part of “these attacks aren’t sticking” does the McCain crew not understand? This didn’t work during the debates, it hasn’t worked during the past two weeks, and it’s reinforcing the perception that McCain, Palin, and co. are simply out of touch with the substantive concerns of the electorate.
Everybody’s favorite corrupt D.C. has-been has a pitch-perfect soundbyte summary of the situation:
“Any serious Republican has to ask, ‘How did we get into this mess?’ ” Newt Gingrich, the former Republican house speaker, said in an interview. “It’s not where we should be, and it’s not where we had to be. This was not bad luck.”
Newt’s transparently trying to sell the commentariat on the (misleading) idea that he could have done better, but the man has a point…
October 23, 2008
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. The quote comes around 2:30 into the clip
McCain and Palin are edgy because they’re reading the same polls as Nate Silver.
October 22, 2008
A few recent posts at The Next Right have confirmed that Jon Henke and Patrick Ruffini are the only conservative bloggers I know of seriously considering how to build a netroots movement on the right.
Henke builds off of Ruffini’s assessment of the Obama campaign, elaborating the idea of “long tail empowerment” to describe the distributed organizing structure currently employed by the Democratic candidate. He then juxtaposes this decentralized and market-based approach to campaigning with the top-down “command and control” approach currently being used by the Republicans.
Finally, Henke offers his explanation for these differences:
“I believe a great deal of this is attributable to the state of each Movement.
- Consolidation: The Right is behaving like a company within a declining industry, which focuses on increasing market share, rather than expanding the actual market itself. Declining industries are defensive, seeking tradition and efficiency rather than innovation. The Right – and the Republican Party – is trying to manage the decline by consolidating successes and attacking their opponent to limit the Left’s market share.
- Expansion: The Left is behaving like a company within an expanding industry, making speculative investment to build for market growth, for competitive advantage within the emerging market. The Left is playing offense, innovating. The political pendulum is swinging their way, and they are working to turn that momentum into permanent infrastructural gains.”
The irony here is that Henke’s (and Ruffini’s) analysis mirrors the claims made by Markos Moulitsas over the past five years on Daily Kos as well as in his books Taking On the System and Crashing the Gate. You can almost hear Kos chuckling to himself in the background of this post in which Ruffini spins out a fantasy in which Sarah Palin emerges as a latter day Howard Dean for the conservative movement:
Sarah Palin’s legacy as the VP nominee will matter inordinately in defining the Next Right. If the experience is seen as a constructive one (much like Dean), reminding us that it’s possible to get regular activists excited about being Republicans again, that Barack Obama ain’t the only one who can pack the arenas, and injecting a positive vibe into the GOP at the grassroots level, then I am optimistic about the GOP bouncing back. If instead the lesson of Palin is that we need to pick safe, uninspiring candidates (who will get utterly clobbered by Obama’s $1 billion+ re-election campaign, btw) who don’t offend Christopher Buckley, then I fear we are in for a long winter indeed.
Is that the theme song from the Twilight Zone playing in the background?
In all seriousness, I believe these guys make some excellent points and that their perspective merits sustained consideration by those on the left and the right
The question I have for Ruffini and Henke is whether a netroots of the right would (or even could) look like the netroots of the left? There’s a great case to be made (and some of us here at The Berkman Center are planning to publish some research in the near future that provides empirical support for this case) that technology usage patterns on the left and right of the blogosphere are significantly different. Combine that kind of evidence with some recent studies in cognitive psychology and some genetics-oriented political science work (pdf) and you can see the outline of an argument for the co-evolution of genes and political institutions.
The full extent or significance of this hypothetical argument is something I’m interested in exploring further. In the meantime, I should underscore that I’m neither advocating nor endorsing such a view just yet. It needs a lot of additional research to back it up and is in danger of sounding very deterministic at this early stage in its development.
Nevertheless, the nascent evidence for the co-evolutionary theory of U.S. politics gives me just enough rhetorical leverage to push back against some of Henke and Ruffini’s claims. It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to predict that it’s highly unlikely that the varieties of netroots activism that may evolve on the right will produce identical outcomes to that of the left. In building the fundraising and organizing capacity of the blogosphere, the Dean campaign, and the Obama campaign, the left has not used a single tool or technique that was not also available to the right. Likewise, individuals and organizations on the left have made conscious decisions to utilize the tools and techniques in particular ways that made sense within their existing organizational and institutional contexts. Those contexts are distinct from the ones on the right. As a result, the tools may or may not translate especially well.
I don’t have any answers here, just more questions. But I’m very curious to hear what Ruffini, Henke, Kos, and others would make of this issue.
October 21, 2008
TPM does it again, this time raking up some grade-A muck on the phony vote fraud narrative emanating from within the Republican party.
Exhibit A: Claims of fraud evaporate into thin air once confronted with evidence from ACORN.
Exhibit B: The same RNC personnel involved in the unethical firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias (the result of cooked up voter fraud claims during the 2006 mid-term elections) are found at the root of the current scam to initiate an FBI investigation into ACORN activities less than three weeks before the election.
Where’s the congressional oversight here?
Meanwhile, kos points out that CNN’s John King was all over the airwaves with the news McCain is surrendering New Mexico along with a few other battleground states in favor of Pennsylvania (where the polls look almost identical to California these days).
No wonder the New Mexico RNC is getting desperate.
October 20, 2008
Jane Mayer of The New Yorker profiles Sarah Palin in this week’s issue and it’s not to be missed.
There are a number of extraordinary gems – especially the details about how Palin has very carefully constructed her “outsider” reputation by means of east coast publicists and a faux folksy demeanor. Nevertheless, my favorite passage discusses the lead-up to McCain’s decision on a runningmate:
By the spring, the McCain campaign had reportedly sent scouts to Alaska to start vetting Palin as a possible running mate. A week or so before McCain named her, however, sources close to the campaign say, McCain was intent on naming his fellow-senator Joe Lieberman, an independent, who left the Democratic Party in 2006. David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, who is close to a number of McCain’s top aides, told me that “McCain and Lindsey Graham”—the South Carolina senator, who has been McCain’s closest campaign companion—“really wanted Joe.” But Keene believed that “McCain was scared off” in the final days, after warnings from his advisers that choosing Lieberman would ignite a contentious floor fight at the Convention, as social conservatives revolted against Lieberman for being, among other things, pro-choice.
“They took it away from him,” a longtime friend of McCain—who asked not to be identified, since the campaign has declined to discuss its selection process—said of the advisers. “He was furious. He was pissed. It wasn’t what he wanted.” Another friend disputed this, characterizing McCain’s mood as one of “understanding resignation.”
With just days to go before the Convention, the choices were slim. Karl Rove favored McCain’s former rival Mitt Romney, but enough animus lingered from the primaries that McCain rejected the pairing. “I told Romney not to wait by the phone, because ‘he doesn’t like you,’ ” [American Conservative Union chairman Charles] Keene, who favored the choice, said. “With John McCain, all politics is personal.”
…Charles R. Black, Jr., the lobbyist and political operative who is McCain’s chief campaign adviser, reportedly favored Palin. Keene said, “I’m told that Charlie Black told McCain, ‘If you pick anyone else, you’re going to lose. But if you pick Palin you may win.’ ”
I can only imagine what would have happened had McCain selected Lieberman – they might have taken enough of the Clintonian center-right to win, but then would have been forced to govern without the support of either party. All in all a foolish idea that McCain’s advisors were wise to quash.
Equally interesting are the passages I’ve bolded for emphasis. In these (and other) moments, Mayer conveys a vivid sense of McCain’s testy disposition in the face of a difficulty.
October 16, 2008
John McCain’s favorite plumber can now be yours! The McCain campaign is now offering “Joe the Plumber Action Figure” ™ for the low-low one time price of three monthly installments of $99.99
Joe the Plumber Credit: Steve Schultze
October 14, 2008
As people begin to wonder how Obama has managed to separate from McCain so convincingly in the polls, a wave of coverage looking at the Obama campaign’s ground game has suggested some interesting lines of analysis.
Today, I started digging around in my RSS feeds and discovered that Ari Melber also took a close look at the Obama campaign’s “web-savvy” organizing at The Nation last week.
In addition, Gene Koo also pointed me towards a Sunday Washington Post story by Alec MacGillis that gathers expert/insider perspectives over the phone comparing the Obama and McCain approach (although the McCain coverage is really thin, it seems like he didn’t actually get quotes from anyone in the organization).
If you’re into this kind of thing, you should check them all out. Taken together, they provide a comprehensive portait of a GOTV machine the likes of which have not been seen for quite a while.
For the rest of you, here’s the executive summary: the conclusions are largely the same all around. Obama’s success is all about leveraging technologies and strong messaging to engage volunteers and put them to good use.
Here’s a good quote from MacGillis’s WaPo story that connects the dots:
“The basic concept is not a new or revolutionary one,” said Jon Carson, Obama’s national field director. “Campaigns have always wanted to have a grass-roots, volunteer-driven effort. The two pieces that came together for us . . . was the sheer volume of the people who wanted to get involved and the technology making it easier than ever before to find us. It wasn’t that Democrats didn’t get it” in past campaigns. “It was that . . . they weren’t able to make it work on this scale.”
And another that gets at the tension between what I’ve been thinking of as centralized and distributed organizing:
“You have to have really good message discipline so that the whole organization down to the local level is echoing the central message, which for us now is all about the economy,” said Jeff Blodgett, the Minnesota director. “It’s decentralized, but that there’s a control point around the message and around data and accountability.”
Melber, on the other hand, chips in some fascinating big-brotherish details on how the campaign manages their resources.
Mind-bending quote #1 (about how the campaign harvests and integrates data coming in from the web):
“Every night there’s a data sync on who is new and who is a longtime MyBO [Obama social network] user who started making calls,” says Joe Rospars, Obama’s new-media director, explaining how the campaign integrates virtual actions with organizing on the ground. A swing-state supporter who signs up online will swiftly receive calls from local staff and targeted e-mails. “Fifty percent of our e-mail is on state-specific items, like volunteer recruitment,” Rospars told me one Sunday night in September, at a Chicago bar a few blocks from Obama headquarters. Each time a supporter interacts with the campaign, Rospars says, data specialists “create new layers” for targeting that person by region, engagement and volunteer preferences.
and, mind-bending quote #2 (about the use of volunteer text messaging and cell phones):
On September 28 the campaign launched a turnout application on the popular iPhone. In a break with typical voter contact models, it empowers users to call their personalized list of voters. It sorts friends’ phone numbers by “key battleground states” to focus on the people with potentially decisive votes. Tapping personal networks can also unearth people who are not on the grid for conventional outreach. Scott Goodstein, the guru behind ObamaMobile, the campaign’s cell outreach, anticipates the program “will generate thousands of additional personal contacts.” Within a week of its launch, the tool broke into the Top Ten free downloads on iTunes.
I’ve been wondering whether and how the campaigns were responding to the explosion of cell phone use and the demographics of “cell only voters.” I now have a much better idea.
Melber goes on to discuss the campaign’s extensive GOTV efforts (and their nominally non-partisan under-the-radar voter registration website, VoteForChange) and then wraps up the piece with an interesting reflection on the long-term implications of this kind of campaign.
If his strategy succeeds, all presidential politics could change. First-time voters–both this generation of the young, black or marginalized as well as future rookie cohorts–might become a constituency that candidates pursue. The long shot, if Obama wins big, is a larger electoral universe that forces Republicans to play catch-up. The party that spent decades stifling voter turnout, from illegal suppression to court-sanctioned ploys like ID requirements, could find electoral salvation depends on the ability to register its own new voters. Couple that grassroots pressure with an economic crisis stoking intense bipartisan populism, and a “new politics” might really be on the horizon.
Point taken, Ari, but that’s a llittle high-flown for my taste. While I’m hardly in a position to cast doubt on such a radical alternative political future, there’s good reason to believe that the Obama campaign’s (hypothetical) extraordinary success with first-time voters is going to be much harder to reproduce than it’s Internet and cell-phone based organizing tactics. While deeply connected with Obama’s brand and message at the moment, such digitally-enhanced practices will translate seamlessly into new and ideologically opposed contexts.
That said, there’s also no guarantee that Republicans will embrace the same organizing technologies as the resurgent Dems. Along these lines it’s interesting to note that I have yet to come across a single example of a Democratic campaign using Rovian direct-mail techniques with great success. That’s not to say there aren’t any such examples, but the fact that I’ve been paying attention to this stuff and never seen them is illustrative.
In the event of an Obama victory, we will only hear more about the campaign’s remarkable efforts. There will also be a lot of hand-wringing on the right as to where things went wrong and how best to blaze the trail back from the political wilderness. For the next few weeks, however, it’s still an open contest.
October 8, 2008
The “town hall” debate was a yawn-a-minute, but if you tuned in long enough, you might have caught this:
McCain not only turns down Obama’s handshake, he pawns him off on Cindy.
The moment was innocuous, but it’s exactly this kind of behavior that people read into at this point in a campaign.
September 30, 2008
The stock market’s not the only thing in free fall these days