Give Victory A Chance - Baseball, War, Politics, Law, and More!
December 2, 2013
POLITICS: Have You, At Long Last, Sir, No Sense of Shame?
Just when you think Team Obama's "everything is an occasion for list-building, fundraising and community organizing" attitude can sink no further, you come across something like this, from Organizing For Action, Obama's tax-exempt political organizing arm that, among other things, runs his Twitter account. Yes, OFA is inviting its members to sign up to hold an organizing event to celebrate the 1-year anniversary of the Newtown school shootings. OFA's email to its mailing list lays it out:
"OFA will give you the resources you need to ensure your event is a powerful reminder of what we lost a year ago, and a reminder that we as a nation need to do more to prevent gun violence and keep our communities safe," the organization said.
No instructions are included for helpful decorating tips or suggested refreshments; maybe you need to request the "resources" to get the full details on how to throw your Newtown shootings party.
Me, I'd suggest saying a silent prayer, but I guess that's why I don't have Barack Obama's mailing list.
POP CULTURE: The 2013 American Music Awards
My wife and I recorded last weekend's American Music Awards and watched them with the kids this weekend. A few observations about the 2013 AMAs:
This was one of the worst performance lineups for a music awards show I've ever seen, even in the context of today's music scene, although that may also be a symptom of ongoing shifts in the music landscape from as recently as a year or two ago. Imagine Dragons was the only act that could even halfway plausibly be described as "rock," and the "pop" acts were so overrun with rap interludes (close to half the performances had a rapper involved, even including one of the two country acts) that I actually missed people like Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift (Swift was there to pick up trophies but didn't perform). From my perspective as a fan of both rock and pop-rock, the best performances were by Imagine Dragons, Luke Bryan and Ariana Grande, none of whom are exactly my cup of tea.
As to Bryan, it's the first time I'd seen him perform, and it's not hard to see why the man is a country music superstar; he's got stage presence to burn. The 20-year-old Grande, by contrast, has a lovely voice (although one that produced no comprehensible lyrics) but looked petrified, performing with her eyes closed and using up about half her speaking time - when she accepted the "New Artist of the Year" award - just navigating the steps to the stage in high heels and a tight gown without faceplanting. And the overwhelming impression left by Imagine Dragons was that the lead singer really, really, really likes hitting very large drums.
The weakness of the roster was largely driven by the absence of veteran performers, only a few of whom - Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull (who hosted the show), R. Kelly, a TLC reunion - took the stage. Besides Imagine Dragons, there were no bands, not even bands like Kings of Leon that are currently promoting new albums (Dave Grohl was on hand only as a presenter; the bizarre piano duo of A Great Big World doesn't count as a band). No rap warhorses like Jay-Z, Kanye or Eminem. Besides Aguilera, who contributed an uncharacteristically understated featured vocal to A Great Big World's performance, the veteran pop divas - Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Britney, Avril, Alicia Keys - stayed home. Even Carrie Underwood, customarily ubiquitous at music awards shows, wasn't in the house; Bryan and Florida Georgia Line were the sole country representatives. Nearly everyone left onstage debuted within the past 5-6 years, many of them more recently than that.
Timberlake, who performed a horn section-laden number called "Drink You Away," seems ready at last to embrace his Memphis roots, but his voice and personality are still too smooth and boyish to sing the blues. Meanwhile, speaking of boys, the British talent-show package One Direction performed with the careful stagecraft of a group that knows their fans want screen time for each of the five heartthrobs. They're slightly more talented and no less harmless than the recently-disbanded Jonas Brothers (the core One Direction demographic is girls too young to know who the Jones Brothers were), and still a few years from figuring out if there's a future Timberlake (or Michael Jackson or Frank Sinatra or Brian Wilson - boy bands have a richer history than you'd think) in their midst.
As for the rappers, they did their level best to showcase their embrace of musical styles that involve actual music. Pitbull did a Cotton-Eye-Joe-style square-dance type number with Ke$ha, who appeared to have showered for the occasion, while Macklemore spat inaudible verses over a catchy horn section-powered groove.
R. Kelly's performance as...John F. Kennedy?...accompanying Lady Gaga only served to answer the question "how can we make a Lady Gaga appearance even creepier?" Given that Gaga's latest album looks primed to lose her label $25 million, maybe her ambitions will be scaled back in the future.
One of the fun people-watching aspects of a music awards show is watching the crowd, including their peers, react to the musicians (or just be themselves, like Jay-Z sitting in the front row at the Grammys with a snifter of brandy looking like he owned the joint). Taylor Swift got into just about every performance; Lady Gaga looked distinctly nervous and wound up waiting for her turn to go onstage. During Luke Bryan's performance of "That's My Kinda Night," it was painfully obvious that only a fraction of the crowd actually knew any of the words to his song, despite it being a huge hit.
But all that changed when Miley Cyrus took the stage for another bizarre, howling rendition of "Wrecking Ball," dressed in what can best be described as two-thirds of a leotard covered in kittens and performing with a psychedelic floating cat graphic twice her size. Not once in the entire performance, nor its immediate aftermath, did the cameras pan to the crowd to see how they were reacting (they finally cut into the crowd briefly before going to commercial, catching one guy with a skeptical look on his face). I was left wondering whether, after the viral "audience reacts to Miley and Thicke" buzz following the VMAs, one of the conditions of her performance had been to demand that the network not show any crowd shots while she was onstage.
Is modesty making a (slight) comeback? Probably not, but it had a better night than usual. Katy Perry opened the show in a sort of mock kimono as part of a Japanese-themed number; her dress contained enough material for about five typical Katy Perry dresses. Lady Gaga's Marilyn Monroe-themed dress was, basically, just a short skirt, while Rihanna - who was there with her mother - wore a long, classy gown. And Grande brought the old-school class. The men, meanwhile, were mostly on better behavior than Robin Thicke's notorious antics with Miley Cyrus at the VMAs, while Timberlake and Pitbull set the tuxedo tone. Cyrus, of course, was the exception as far as clothing, but even her outfit looked more like she was dressed for a 1981 aerobics session with Olivia Newton-John than for a stripper's pole.
The AMAs are a fan-voted awards show, so the awards themselves were dominated by the kinds of acts - Swift, Grande, One Direction, and the boy-band granddaddy Timberlake - who appeal most strongly to the kind of teen and preteen girls who are the most devoted "early and often" voters for this kind of thing. Swift has finally abandoned the patented and increasingly unconvincing "Taylor Swift shocked at winning an award" face, but her acceptance speech for "Artist of the Year" showed why she commands the loyalty of "Taylor Nation," as she tells her fans that she and they are still "on the same page" in what matters to them, what affects them, and how they feel:
Faith and Politics
Speaking of reaction shots, one of the show's more vivid moments of frisson was generated when Rihanna's mother - presenting her daughter with an "Icon" award after being introduced by Bill Maher - prefaced her remarks by saying, "First of all, all praises and honor be to God Almighty through Jesus" while Maher rolled his eyes looking like a teenager embarrassed by his square older relatives:
America has perhaps no nastier public "atheist" (I put the word in quotes because a man that angry at God can't really claim not to believe in him) than Maher, so naturally watching a proud mother from Barbados discomfit him merely by sincerely witnessing her faith without embarrassment. But the evening's other more explicitly political moment was more cringe-inducing, as pasty Irish Seattle rapper Macklemore (who may or may not have cribbed his nom de rap from Mark McLemore) offered up a ham-fisted sermonette on the Trayvon Martin case from Miami, where he had a scheduled show:
Martin Luther King, Jr. said "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." And due to the fact that we are in Florida tonight accepting this award, I want to acknowledge Trayvon Martin and the hundreds and hundreds of kids each year that are dying due to racial profiling and the violence that follows it.
This is nonsense, junk law and junk statistics of the worst kind - and what's more, obvious pandering by a white guy trying to polish his street cred - but a decidedly subpar evening for the music business wouldn't be complete without some subpar political posturing.
For once, I actually ended the evening thinking, "well, the Grammys have to be better than this."
November 25, 2013
POLITICS: We Are The 55% (Or: Mitt Romney Was Wrong About Obama's 47% Floor)
Daily polls can make your head spin, and getting too excited or distressed by a single poll is never advisable. But sometimes, a clear trend emerges in poll after poll that cannot be denied. And that trend is now beyond dispute: a majority of American voters think Barack Obama is not doing a good job as our President. Looking at the RealClearPolitics polling average, Obama has:
-Had more voters disapprove than approve of his job performance every day since early June;
-Seen over 50% disapproval consistently since early August;
-Seen the disapprovals outnumber the approvals by double digits on November 8 for the first time in his presidency, and stay there; and
-Hit 55% disapproval five days ago and stay above that level.
Obama's approval is now down to 40.5%, registering above 42% in only one poll in the average, Rasmussen Reports (Rasmussen, once a reliable if somewhat GOP-leaning pollster, has become increasingly volatile and less transparent since the departure of its founder Scott Rasmussen, who started scaling back his involvement earlier this year and left the company in August). It's possible that it may drop below 40 for the first time any day now, as it's no longer rare to see individual polls with a 38 or 39% rating - an approval rating lower than crack-smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Over at the Huffington Post's HuffPost Pollster page, Obama's approval rating is so low it has literally fallen off the chart; you have to adjust the default settings (which bottom out at 42.5%) to find it:
In one bit of irony, consider Mitt Romney's famous remark:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.
As far as approving of this President, Romney has been proven wrong: Obama's approval rating hasn't seen 47% since June 10.
It's true, of course, that a chunk of the people disapproving of Obama are his own 2012 supporters - but that's the point! Presidents don't really get in trouble until they start disenchanting their own side. It's also true, as we recall from 2012, that national polls of this nature are not as precise as state-by-state polling in predicting voter behavior and turnout - but a persistent and growing gap this size is hard to hide, and if you use HuffPo's widget (which lets you examine a sub-sample of pollsters) to back out the impact of Gallup and Rasmussen, Obama's numbers get worse, not better.
Why does all this matter? Let's quote a few of the arguments.
Sean Trende looks at the impact on 2014 House races, although of course the calculus as to the map is quite different for Senate races:
[P]residential job approval is still the most important variable for how his party fares in midterm elections, explaining about half of the variance. The relationship is highly statistically significant: For every point in job approval the president loses, his party loses 0.6 percent of its caucus. (The chart doesn't measure drop in job approval; just job approval.) So, at 60 percent, the president should lose 5 percent of his caucus; at 50 percent, it is around 12 percent of his caucus lost; at 40 percent, it's about 18 percent of his caucus lost -- which would be 36 seats.
Chris Cillizza notes the impact on Obama's ability to get things done, and that the trendline of his approval rating is more in common with that of George W. Bush than more popular second-term presidents like Reagan and Clinton who left their party in good shape in the next national election:
The loss of the Senate majority and a smaller minority in the House after November 2014 would make any attempt to rack up second-term accomplishments before he left office extremely difficult for Obama. Combine that with the reality that Obama’s second term has not exactly been larded with major wins to date and you understand why Obama and his legacy are on the ballot in 2014 - even if his name is not. And that means his poll numbers matter. A lot.
John Sides at The Monkey Cage noted back in June how much this can matter:
[I]t matters for whether the President gets what he wants from Congress-with some caveats. Here's a sense of some of the scholarly literature on the relationship between presidential approval and legislative success. One question is whether Congress simply passes legislation that the president supports. In one study (gated) of 208 roll call votes in the House between 1989-2000, political scientists Brandice Canes-Wrone and Scott de Marchi found the House was more likely to do what the president wanted when the president was more popular. This effect was only significant among legislation that was both salient (mentioned a lot in news coverage) and somewhat complex (focusing on regulatory matters in particular). But, of course, that's exactly the kind of legislation-e.g., immigration, gun control-that Obama would like to sign right now.
Harry Enten noted in September that the odds are against Obama recovering by 2014: "The president's approval rating has never increased by more than 7pt from this point after re-election until the midterm election."
Enten, after looking at 2014, notes that the impact goes beyond it to 2016:
[T]he president's approval plays a role in the election to find his successor. Once we control for the economy, every 5pt increase in a president's net approval rating increases his party's candidate's margin by 1pt in the presidential election per Drew Linzer. An election his party might have won by 1pt had the incumbent president had a +5pt net approval rating becomes an election the incumbent party loses by 1pt with a -5pt rating.
By and large, presidents whose parties have done badly in 6th-year midterm elections have also seen their party lose ground in the national popular vote in the next election. Here, I charted out the parties from best to worst showings in holding onto their share of the popular vote in the next presidential election following a two-term presidency, and how they had done in the prior midterm - for example, the Democrats lost 0.9 points in the popular vote from 1996 to 2000, and I line that up here with their showing in the 1998 midterms; Republicans lost 7.8 points in 1960 from 1956, and I line that up with the 1958 midterms.
Here's an expanded chart with a few more of the post-1860 presidents who don't fit as neatly (for example, the GOP in 1904 had held the White House for 8 years, but its candidate was an incumbent, not a new contender trying to run on the party brand).
Here's two charts lining up the showings overall of parties seeking to defend a presidential race after re-electing an incumbent; historically, Democrats have struggled slightly more than Republicans in hanging onto their share of the voters:
Note that Obama only won the popular vote in 2012 by 3.9 points, and there was no significant third-party candidate, so if the Democrats lose 2 or more points off their 2012 showing, they lose the popular vote (and you can win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, as Bush did in 2000, but mathematically it's almost impossible to do so unless it's so close as to be almost a tie). In other words, if the Democrat in 2016 falls off Obama's 2012 showing by 2 or more points, there's a high likelihood that the next President will be a Republican - and the only non-incumbents running after an incumbent was re-elected (and thus, seeking a de facto third term with a new candidate) to suffer less than a 4-point falloff in popular vote were Gore in 2000 and Hoover in 1928.
None of this should suggest that Republicans don't have problems of our own, or that success is about to fall inevitably into our laps. But with 55% of the public disapproving Obama and unlikely to change their minds in significant numbers, there's a major opportunity for the GOP ahead.