Al Gore and the teapot tapes

I’ve begun reading Al Gore’s book The Assault On Reason, and I highly recommend it. This passage jumped out at me:

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on September 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J Simpson trial was just an unfortunate excess – an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. Now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time.

As I was reading this, one event immediately sprung to mind – the teapot tapes “scandal” that engulfed the final weeks of the 2011 campaign.

People on all sides have acknowledged that it was something of a non-event. It was no Watergate. But still, it took up almost all of the political coverage during the most critical part of the election campaign. Was it simply easier for the media to latch onto a hard and fast “event” like this? Either way, the political discourse in our country suffers when things like this take disproportionate coverage.

It is a long standing bugbear of the beltway to bemoan the lack of quality news. Personally, I think that avenues such as the internet are going to have to play an increasing role. I’m looking forward to reading what Al Gore has to say at it.


USC, Article II, Section 3 – 2012 update

In case you missed it, President Obama delivered his third SOTU address yesterday afternoon (NZDST).

As the US Constitution requires:

[The President] shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

and as political theatre goes, the nearly hundred year old tradition of addressing a joint session of the US Congress in January to deliver the State of the Union (SOTU) address is a pretty good one – well at least for junkies like me.

I enjoy them greatly – even the really bad ones – though they are not often inspiring speeches.

The SOTU is an opportunity for the President to use his position to set out the case for his legislative programme, and then over the next year try to get it passed. Something this Congress will make very difficult. It’s not the same as our Speech from the Throne, which much more clearly states what the government will do.

So why all the attention and bother if nothing much is going to come from it? Politics of course.

Continue reading “USC, Article II, Section 3 – 2012 update”

How Gingrich shows that inequality matters

I’m convinced that if you did one of those horrific “word cloud” infographics of political op-eds for the last few months, one word that would stick out like a sore-thumb would be inequality. One of the most read posts on The Progress Report is Hayden Munro’s excellent piece on the subject.

It’s interesting then to see how the issue is literally transforming the race for the Republican presidential nomination in the US.

In just five days, Newt Gingrich managed to turn a 10 point lead in the polls from Mitt Romney into a 12 point victory in South Carolina. I think that’s what David Cunliffe would call “a good old fashioned shellacking”. But it seems that the momentum is bigger than just South Carolina. The latest polls in Florida have Gingrich ahead of Romney, the former front-runner, by 9 points. Romney is now on the defensive, hitting back at Gingrich in such a scattergun approach it’s just making him look desperate.

So how has Gingrich managed this incredible comeback? This video sets the scene. Gingrich has tapped into a particularly dodgy aspect of his past, his time leading the investment group Bain Capital, his tax rate (15%, much lower than most Americans) and just how filthy rich he is.

It was not a strategy he would have come to easily. Not only does Gingrich have his own fortune, but saying these sorts of things has really put some noses out of joint in the right wing commeteriat. As sumarised by the Huffington Post

On Jan. 13, the Wall Street Journal editorial page denounced Gingrich for launching “crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism.” Rush Limbaugh compared Gingrich to Elizabeth Warren. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who boasts a reputation as a crucial Tea Party power broker, accused Gingrich of sounding like a Democrat.

Despite these criticisms, Gingrich’s standing in South Carolina polls rose as his attacks on Bain Capital grew stronger. On Jan. 17, Talking Points Memo’s Poll Average pegged Gingrich at 24.6 percent, with Romney at 33.2 percent. On Jan. 19, Gingrich was at 33.9 percent and Romney was at 28.8 percent. On primary day, Gingrich was at 35.7 percent and Romney was at 26.4 percent.

Despite being blasted by the right wing media, and being severely under-funded and with a lack of high profile surrogates, Newt Gingrich’s message is really hitting a nerve with the (registered Republican) electorate. People don’t like the inequitable business practices that Mitt Romney has engaged in, and they’re voting with their feet.

Another good read on the subject is this article by Christopher Lamb, also on Huffington Post: ‘South Carolina: An Embarrassment of Riches’.

Will this message get wider resonance? If so, it does seem to be a huge opportunity for parties of the left, worldwide.

Obama’s first ad of 2012

Via Politico

President Obama’s campaign will go on air with its first ad buy of the 2012 cycle tomorrow — a largely positive spot that covers a lot of ground, attacking “secretive oil billionaires,” touting the president’s energy record (on the day that his administration put a stop to a controversial oil pipeline) and emphasizing the administration’s ethics.

“While the President has made significant achievements to ensure a clean-energy future for our country, oil executives have funded an ad campaign attacking that progress. Fighting against investments in clean energy, these secretive corporate interests are determined to protect tax breaks for oil companies that the President wants to end,” the reelection campaign said in a release.

The ad will air in Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Early votes

One of the interesting things about the 2011 general election was that we saw a big increase in the number of advance votes cast. Huge numbers of people cast their vote before election day, so they didn’t have to worry about it on November 26th. In the next few days I’ll take a bit more of a look at the numbers. Were these votes helpful for Labour or did they largely fall in line with the national averages?

I have also been taking a look at what happens in other countries, and how advance voting can form an important leg of a get out the vote campaign. David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s campaign manager, writes about their concerns with advance voting numbers in his book, The Audacity to Win

… because we were so dependent on first-time and sporadic voters, we mustered an intense effort toward executing early vote. This effort consisted of radio ads reminding people of early vote and explaining how it worked; a fusillade of Internet ads to push the concept; repeated e-mail and text messaging to people on our list from these states; and a blizzard of door-knocks and phone calls to remind voters person-to-person about early vote. We also tried to make sure all our volunteers voted early so that they would be freed up on Election Day.

It gives me a sense of relief to hear that, scale aside, what we were doing in New Zealand was very much in line with what the Obama campaign was doing in the states.

Some in political circles argue that the early vote doesn’t matter – that the people who go to the effort to vote early are committed voters who will almost certainly show up on Election Day. We fervently believed that if a hurdle presented itself on Election Day – a family issue; a work emergency; transportation problems – nonhabitual voters are the most likely people to throw in the towel on making it to the polls. These are the folks we relentlessly encouraged to vote early and the yardstick to which we paid closest attention – not how many early votes we were getting, but whose.

In New Zealand, for local body elections you receive a daily update of who has cast their postal ballot during the three-week voting period. It’s very useful to be able to target only those you know have not voted. Extending this to the general election would be fantastic.

As we began moving deeper into early vote, one number caused alarm. Carson came into my office one afternoon. “I’ve been poring over the early-vote data,” he said, “and we seem to have a problem. Or what could be a problem, I should say. We’re meeting or exceeding our early-vote goals in most demographics across most states. But younger voters – under twenty-five-are off quite a bit.”

“Let’s move more money and bodies resources to it,” I replied “and maybe try some different messaging.”

Carson agreed but also suggested doing some research among this group to try to fund out why they were not voting early in great numbers. Did we have a motivation problem, an execution problem, or both?

I green-lighted the research, which yielded two very illuminating findings. First, many young voters were so excited by this election that they couldn’t envision doing anything besides voting for Barack Obama in person at the polling location. When we raised with them the possibility of long lines, or the potential to free themselves up to volunteer, they simply wouldn’t budge. This was a big moment for them and they felt it would seem bigger if they voted at the polls. In any case, they were still dead-set on participating, which relieved us.

This is also a big factor in New Zealand. Many of my colleagues on the campaign trail, despite knowing how valuable their time on election day would be, simply couldn’t bring themselves to cast an early vote. They had worked their guts out on the campaign trail and really wanted to savour the experience of casting their vote in their local polling booth. I know I sure did!

Most offensive ad of 2012 so far…

I’ve just returned from holiday and I’m starting to catch up with the news. In terms of politics, the only things of note are the Iowa caucuses have concluded (Mitt Romney won, Rick Santorum came a very close second, Michelle Bachman pulled out – full results here). In the UK, Ed Miliband seems to be coming under a bit of strife for making little traction in 2011.

However this is one incredible video. Certainly the most offensive attack ad I’ve seen in some time. It’s from Ron Paul’s campaign, and hits out at John Huntsman for being too close to China. Imagine if John Howard had tried something like this against Kevin Rudd in 2007…

Would you vote for an atheist?

via Politico

This graph of a long-running Gallup survey is pretty interesting. Of course, it’s a US audience, and I’d take a punt that the sample is more conservative than a New Zealand sample would be.

I’m quite surprised at how low atheists rate – especially given our last two Prime Ministers here have been non-religious, though never quick to admit it. Their willingness to vote for a black president has been very high since around 2000, and that barrier has now well and truly been broken. The other meteoric rise has been the willingness to elect a gay president. Unfortunately for Mitt, Mormons have pretty much flat-lined.

As I said, I think the situation in New Zealand would be pretty different. We’ve seen it recently with the Labour leadership contest. While both (all three?) leader candidates were middle-aged Pakeha males called David, the two deputy leader candidates were a different story. We had a female Maori, Nanaia Mahuta, and an out gay man, Grant Robertson.

None of the media outlets (that I saw, right wing blogs might be different) said that Nanaia and Grant were unsuitable for their jobs because of their identity and demographics. In fact, since Grant’s election to deputy, I think I’ve only seen his sexuality mentioned a handful of times, and only in passing.

We are a country where a provincial electorate elected Georginia Beyer (a transsexual) over Paul Henry (an angry redneck broadcaster). I think we can hold our heads up high and say we are doing pretty damn good.