Paul Waldman

A Letter to Conservatives

Flickr/Macxbebe

Dear Friends,

This is a hard time, I know. We've all been there—it hurts when your candidate loses, and you realize that all the people and policies you hate will be in place for the next four years. But let me suggest that while you're perfectly justified in crying, wailing, beating your breasts and rending your garments, you really should try to keep your sanity. Not only will it be good for the country, it'll be good for you too.

Relief We Can Believe In

White House/Pete Souza

Many years ago, legendary psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky used experiments to demonstrate the power of "loss aversion," the fact that losing something you have is more emotionally powerful than gaining something you don't. In other words, the misery of losing $100 is far larger than the pleasure of gaining $100. Which means that Democrats ought to feel even better today than they did in 2008.

They probably don't, though. The election of 2008 was certainly the most extraordinary of my lifetime, and probably of yours as well. There were a few prescient voices at the time saying, "Don't get too excited, or you'll just be disappointed" (Paul Krugman was the most notable), but it was almost impossible not to get swept up in the moment, particularly because it came after eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. The emotion most Democrats are experiencing right now is not so much hope, or inspiration, but relief. It doesn't seem quite as likely to produce tears of joy.

But don't sell relief short.

What Is to Become of Mitt Romney?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

I've often thought that there are few things worse than getting your party's nomination for president and then losing. To come so close to becoming the most powerful and important person on Planet Earth and then to fall short, and to boot, not only not getting a nice silver medal but being heaped with scorn, ridiculed and condemned—that must just eat you up inside. Some losers, like John McCain, have a job to go back to, but most don't, and Mitt Romney hasn't had a job since he started running for president five years ago. Let's assume for the moment that all the polls are right, and tonight is going to end with Barack Obama getting re-elected. What will Romney do with himself?

U.S. Voter Turnout: Better Than You Might Think

For a long time, curmudgeonly commentators lamented the decline of voter turnout in America. Fewer and fewer of us found our way to the polls, distracted as we were by the love lives of motion picture celebrities or the latest models of sporting motor car. But then about a decade ago, something strange happened. First, some political scientists realized that everyone was measuring voter turnout wrong. The accepted rates, which said that fewer than half of Americans turned out on election day, were based on census data of the voting-age population (VAP). The problem is that there are a lot of people who are of voting age but aren't eligible to vote, either because they aren't citizens, or have had their voting rights taken away because they committed a felony (you can read about that in this article by Michael McDonald and Samuel Popkin). And second, voter turnout began going up.

The Only Mandate That Matters

On Wednesday, we'll begin talking about whether whoever gets elected has a "mandate." We'll talk about it even more if Barack Obama is re-elected, because when a new president takes office we accept that he'll be doing all kinds of new things, changing course on almost every policy, replacing all the members of the other party who populate the executive branch with members of his own party, etc. With a re-elected president, on the other hand, there's a real question about where he goes from here and how much he can try to accomplish. There's a fundamental problem with the mandate idea, however, that makes it almost meaningless in today's Washington.

Why the Romney Campaign Screwed Up

Mitt Romney's last-minute screw-up.

In the last week or so, Mitt Romney has accused Barack Obama of focusing his campaign on "small things," but let's be honest—at this point, everybody is focused on small things. And these small things are unlikely to make much of a difference with so little time left. Which is why it was so odd to see the Romney campaign stumble so badly with attack about Jeeps being built in China. How did they manage to take a criticism that would likely have just glanced off Obama anyway, and turn it into something that not only had everyone talking about Obama's best case to Ohio voters (the auto bailout), but also made Romney look cynical and dishonest?

Here's what I think happened. They heard the first, somewhat unclear report that Chrysler was going to be manufacturing Jeeps in China, without quite understanding what it meant, namely that they will be making them for the Chinese market (because of Chinese tarriffs, Chrysler would only be able to sell the Jeeps there if they make them there). By the time they figured out all the facts, Romney had already mentioned it on the stump, saying inaccurately that the company was "thinking of moving all production to China." So the campaign probably figured, we can still use this to try to discredit the bailout, we'll just be careful about the words we use.

And that's where they didn't quite grasp the implications of what they were doing...

The Future of Star Wars

Flickr/The Official Star Wars

Though it may be four days before a presidential election, I just don't feel I can let the issue of the future of Star Wars pass without comment. In case you don't pay particular attention to these things, Disney is buying the franchise from George Lucas, and plans to release more Star Wars movies. Our own Tom Carson responds without much enthusiasm, writing that though he was never particularly crazy about Star Wars, "I think one reason for the deep bond fans feel with Star Wars is the awareness that the whole stupid, nutty legend all came out of one man's head.

Conservatives Confidently Predict Romney Victory

Flickr/kpishdadi

There's a case to be made that people who write about politics should just avoid making predictions altogether. There are plenty of substantive matters to talk about, and one's readers aren't much enlightened by your average opinion-monger's call on what's going to happen on election day, or whether a particular bill will pass, or which country we'll invade next. There is certainly value to be had in systematic examinations of polling data, but is there really anything to be gained from your average ideological writer's call on what will happen on Tuesday? Maybe it's best left for the office pool.

Yet the temptation is so strong. There's an equally powerful temptation to have your assessment of what is likely to happen be colored by what you want to happen. We're all extremely good at convincing ourselves that unlike everybody else, we've looked at things objectively. Yet if you look around at all the pundits and bloggers making predictions about the election, you'll find that almost all of them are convinced their guy is going to win.

Heckuva Job, Barry

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Although some may find it crass to speculate on the political impact of The Storm, I'm going to go ahead and do it, for two reasons. First, I've earned the right, and second, because complaints that things are "politicized" are almost always misconceived. Politics is important. It concerns choices that affect all our lives. And campaigns ought to be connected to the actual business of governing, so when an event occurs that implicates our government, it should be perfectly fine to talk about it. Problems sometimes arise not from the fact that something is politicized, but the way it's politicized. For instance, when in the 2002 election, Republicans charged that Democrats were on the side of al Qaeda because those Democrats favored a different bill establishing the Department of Homeland Security than the bill Republicans favored, it was despicable not because September 11 had been "politicized," but because of the manner in which it was politicized.

Anyhow, back to the storm. This morning, an editor at the Prospect suggested to me that if Romney loses, Republicans will say bitterly for some time to come that had it not been for the storm, his momentum would have carried him to victory. I don't doubt they will say that (although I think that will be what the sober Republicans will say; the others will find voting conspiracies to convince them that he didn't legitimately win). But the question is, even if they were right, what's wrong with that?

Show Us Your Model

Nate Silver's latest electoral projection.

It might be easy to believe we're approaching Peak Trutherism, what with good old-fashioned birthers now being supplemented by BLS truthers and poll truthers. But just you wait—should Barack Obama win this election, we'll see an explosion of election trutherism that will be truly unprecedented in scope. In the meantime, we can content ourselves with the newest variant, Nate Silver trutherism, which isn't coming just from conservatives.

Power and Privilege in the Workplace

Flickr/daysofthundr46

Today, Adele Stan uncovers another example of a big employer trying to bully their employees into voting for Mitt Romney. We've seen a number of these stories in the last few weeks, as one company after another sends out notices to their workers saying, Hey, we're not telling you whom to vote for or anything, but if that socialist Barack Obama gets elected, we might have to fire you. The twist in this case is that the company, home improvement retailer Menards, is using an online "civics" course as its means of persuasion. Employees who take the "voluntary" (which means you don't have to take it, but your bosses are keeping account of who did and who didn't) course are fed a bucket of anti-Obama propaganda.

As this kind of thing becomes more common, there are a couple of things to remember.

Considering an Electoral-Popular Vote Split

In this final stage of the presidential race, the tension grows with each passing day, even as the campaign itself ceases to be interesting at all. There might be some kind of October Surprise, as happened in 2000, when five days before the election it was revealed that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving at age 30. But barring something like that, between now and election day nothing much will happen. There will be lots of rallies and ads and door-knocking and phone calling, of course, but reporters are going to have a hard time coming up with new things to talk about.

Which is why this is the time when we start spinning out "what if" scenarios. What if there's an electoral college tie? Let's join Wolf over at the virtual reality dome to game out the possibility for the next ten minutes! But this year there is a real possibility that we could get a crazy scenario, one in which Mitt Romney wins the popular vote, but Barack Obama wins the electoral college. If that reverse of 2000 happened, would everyone on both sides suddenly switch their positions on the electoral college?

The Most Mysterious Man in the Election

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

It's often said that the way a candidate runs his campaign gives insight into the way he'll run the government, but unfortunately it usually isn't true. A campaign has a few similarities to a government, but not many; likewise, while there are similarities between running for president and being president (lots of speeches, for instance), most of the really important things couldn't be more different.

Friday Music Break

Look Sharp

A media tragedy occurred in New York today, when because of a truly awful story about a nanny murdering two of her charges, the New York Post found themselves unable to run the story of the cannibal cop on their front page, depriving New Yorkers of what could have been a headline for the ages. The hive mind stepped in with suggestions (my favorite was "You Have the Right to Remain Soylent," with "Cook 'Em, Danno" in second), but who knows what the geniuses at the Post might have come up with? It could have been another "Headless Body In Topless Bar."

Which leads me to the Music Break: Joe Jackson, with "Sunday Papers."

The Last Word on Richard Mourdock

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock was already an extremist, not to mention not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, before he offered up his opinion on abortion and rape the other day. But I'm sure that even as he scrambles to contain the damage from his remarks, he can't quite understand what all the fuss is about. He expressed an opinion that is, among many millions of religious Americans, totally mundane: that God loves every baby and blastocyst, and therefore even a pregnancy that results from rape is good in His eyes. This episode reveals a couple of important things that are worth reiterating before we move on to the next campaign controversy, about both abortion and religion.

Pages