Damage assessment

Reality intrudes on the reality-based community: the debate did more harm than I’d thought. Still, I’d rather be playing Axelrod’s hand than Stevens’s. In any case, don’t worry; organize!

Ed Kilgore is right that the Red team is reading more into a couple of good (for them) polling results than is really there. But it’s also fair to say that some of us (I’m looking at you, Kleiman) seem in retrospect to have been a tad over-sanguine about the damage level from the first debate. I’d rather be playing Axelrod’s hand than Stuart Stevens’s – the RAND and Gallup trackers show Obama +4, and the President is still about a 2:1 favorite on the betting sites – but the odds on disaster have noticeably shortened.

It would help if Biden did a job on Ryan; the Veep’s cheerful pugnacity might be more effective in debating a gold-plated liar than the POTUS’s polite, professorial manner.

But of course none of that is in our control. How much work we do, and how much money we give, between now and Election Day is. See Harold’s pep-talk.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

17 thoughts on “Damage assessment”

  1. Over-sanguine is good in circumstances like these. You don’t want to embarrass yourself by having a full-fledged bipolar panic attack like Andre Sullivan did last night:


    Kevin Drum is right that these sort of groupthink panics that tend to happen almost exclusively to the Left end up amplifying the effects of a bad event:


    1. Well, of course they only happen on the Left. The Right (individually and collectively) is immune to any sort of empirical knowledge, so the Left gets all the hyper-sensitive people.

      1. Which, BTW, is the only reason Sullivan isn’t in the Pat Buchanan wing of the GOP.

  2. Like romney, ryan probably will also be well-coached in controlling the stage visually and atmospherically and is sure to be very aggressive. Where romney’s approach was to set himself up as the one with positions and then to lie in selected but forcefully stated ways about what his positions really were, I expect ryan to spend most of his time telling Biden that Obama and Biden are liars at those times when they aren’t hopelessly naive, in an earnest student-council kind of way. That seems to be his strength. I hope Biden is prepared for that, among other possibilities, and can play ryan effectively.

    This year’s gop team seems to have approached these one-on-one staged events as exercises in what Josh Marshall calls the “bitch-slap theory” of politics. I think that largely accounts for media reaction, too, because they’ve always responded to that approach. McCain didn’t go that way last time, and Obama wasn’t prepared to work at that level last week. But both Biden and Obama need to work on a response at that level, I think.

    1. There is no doubt (what you said). Dems have a twofold burden, as opposed to the snake oil sales team. Democrats, in order to be taken seriously by their base, must hew reasonably close to verifiable reality. At the same time, in the debate forum it’s a zero sum game – all the policy knowledge in the world will not ‘win’ an American debate (can’t speak for other political systems). All that matters to ‘win’ is a decisive show of strength. Democrats, then, have to be informed, intelligent, AND strong. Being the reflexive liars they have to be to sell their corrupt vision of America, all the other side has to do is project confidence and strength. And as we now see quite clearly, in the U.S. this is the essence of a ‘debate,’ exponentially so at the Presidential level. Really, it’s an alpha struggle, and all the wishful thinking in the world cannot change this essential truth. And as I hinted at in an earlier post, I’m fairly confident that it doesn’t take much to influence a significant portion of the American electorate to hate on the black man.

      I think Clinton (Mr.) was sending a message when Jon Stewart asked him about his convention speech, when he said he wanted to deliver important, complex ideas in ways folks could understand. Obama can do this, does it pretty good making speeches. Are the debates ridiculously simplistic contrivances of the gossip mill we call media? Yup. With all the tittering leading up to them, do the debates more than a little resemble those “see you after school” high school fights? Ayup. Is this simplistic-to-the-point-of-absurdity theater a penetrating comment on our political system? Yessir. Yet another degraded process for Mr. Obama to (hopefully) influence in a positive way. He better, or he’s going to lose the election.

  3. I continue to think that some of the Romney bounce comes from his having spent much of the first debate talking like a Democrat: coverage for pre-existing conditions, support of business regulation, saving Medicare. He was not confronted on his actually espousing none of these policies, and some of the closure of the gap with Obama comes from his having appeared to be closer to Obama than he really is.

    So here is where Team Obama must not drop the ball on the second debate. Not one of Romney’s big league foreign policy experts thinks it was a mistake to invade Iraq. Obama needs to make it crystal clear that he thinks it was a bad idea, and also that he thinks it is a bad idea to attack Iran.

    If I thought it would do any good, I would send him thought waves in the foreign policy debate in which he gives Romney a chance to repeat his remarks on how America must shape world history, and then to say in a clear and grave manner, “There is nothing in Article II of the Constitution that authorizes the President to shape world history.”

    Will this happen? Remote chance, but fantasy is always appealing.

  4. It’ll be stunning if voters let a Wall Street Shark right into the White House, barely 4 years after Wall Street Sharks ruined the finances and jobs of millions of American families.

    If we’re going to let the royals take it all back, why did we even bother with 1776?

  5. It’ll be stunning if voters let a Wall Street Shark right into the White House, barely 4 years after Wall Street Sharks ruined the finances and jobs of millions of American families.

    If we’re going to let the royals take it all back, why did we even bother with 1776?

  6. Now, as a Romney voter, I have been sadly watching what I thought was the election slipping away for the last coupla months. And, I’m with you, Mark, I think Obama remains the more likely victor here, despite recent swings of opinion. But I think the damage to Obama from the debate has been severe. We had a sort of Emperor’s New Clothes situation, where people felt constrained by what they thought the opinions of their friends were and they thought their friends were uniformly for Obama. In the aftermath of the debate, that’s sort of broken down in a lot of workplaces/communities, and closet Romnites have been revealing themselves and drawing strength from numbers. Being a Romnite is more respectable than it was. I think if the election had been run three weeks ago, Obama’s victory would have been overwhelming, and I think that the results will now be narrow.

    1. I agree, Dave. Romney resurrected himself, Lazarus-like, in the the debate. The media had a lot to do with this–they took a fairly even, gaffeless, lackluster performance by Obama and turned it into the Most Epic Debate Loss in the History of the Universe. In fact, oddly, the left media had more to do with this than the right. When we’re all licking our wounds after the election, I think we have to turn a fairly stern eye at people like Andrew Sullivan, Joan Walsh, Chris Matthews, et al and ask them what their real role is? National panic-inducers?

      That said, I’m deeply troubled by the way that Romney can just reinvent his positions and beliefs on the fly. The American electorate may be gullible and half-stupid, but this is so cynical and troubling for our system of government. Romney is essentially a hollow man, a mannequin with a robotic Reaganesque voice. He has no core beliefs. Even his supporters must concede that.

      What will he do as president? Who knows? Bomb Iran if the Israelis tell him to? Cut all taxes and gut Medicare if Ryan tells him to? Push to end Roe v. Wade if his next election is at risk? Destroy the environment if Exxon is asking him to? He is a mere cardboard cutout swaying in the wind–the least principled presidential candidate we’ve ever had. Not in the sense of good or bad, but in the sense of having NO core convictions at all.

        1. Only a day before the debates, the media were talking about the “stench” of Romney and his fundamental unlikeability. That he could turn that around in 90 minutes, to me, means either we’re a stupid nation, or our media is stupid. Elections should be about policies and principles, not about who’s the most entertaining party guest on a given night.

          1. “…means either we’re a stupid nation, or our media is stupid.”

            Did you just notice that, or have you been reading Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken?

            “Elections should be about policies and principles, not about who’s the most entertaining party guest on a given night.”

            In your dreams, Matt. Sadly, just in your dreams.

            Elections are about salesmanship. The secret to success in sales is sincerity. Once you learn to fake that, you can sell anything.

          2. Ken, sorry for wasting your time with the perfectly obvious. Or the hopeful.

            I was attempting to comment about the breakneck speed with which Romney was able to reinvent himself, which seems unprecedented. In earlier eras, it took longer and was slightly more subtle. But I guess it’s all been said before, by Mencken or Twain or Tomasky or you.

    2. As I think about it, maybe what I said above is Romney’s core strength. From a managerial perspective, he has an entirely transactional sensibility: whatever will get the job done. He’s willing to side with anyone and advance any agenda as long as it generates forward motion. This is very much a CEO’s perspective, rather than a principled public servant’s.

      Romney is like an amoral (though not immoral) corporation in that sense, dedicated only to the task of growing the company and its profits, whatever the other damages.

Comments are closed.