Sunday, September 23, 2012
First, I've come to understand your beloved Florida State Seminoles beat the Clemson Tigers this weekend by a decisive 49 - 37. I offer you congratulations, and a jaunty, politically incorrect (downright offensive, actually), Seminole chop. As you know, I'm not much of a college football fan, so I apologize if my gesture of goodwill carries less meaning than it should. Of course, my non-sports engaged brain immediately went to politics and wondered how I could draw a parallel I'd likely come to regret when in the next dispatch you expounded ad infinitum upon the point beyond my understanding, or linked to a D-list rap star. Or both.
I wonder if we can compare Team Obama to Florida State and Romney to Clemson. I admit, I got this notion from the first paragraph of that Yahoo! Sports article linked above:
For three weeks, Florida State had to answer questions about how it would respond when it went up against an equally talented team, what would happen when the Seminoles faced an opponent that punched as hard as they had punched their first three games.
The assumption at the outset was that Obama and Romney were equally matched, though I also noted that Florida State went into the game ranked Number 4 to Clemson's Number 10 ranking. (They both came to the game undefeated, a phenomenon only enjoyed in the sporting world, and that's where my analogy breaks down a bit, so let's just keep move along.)
Perhaps we could give -- and indeed have given -- Obama some advantage of incumbency. A six point spread? I'm not so sure, but it's an imperfect analogy being made by a guy who pretty much doesn't know what he's talking about. There was a lot of weight being given to Romney... well, the Republicans because of the enormous money advantage they have continued to enjoy with respect to superPAC raising and spending. And to be fair, there was considerable weight given to them by virtue of the fact that the tea partiers drove so many to victory just two years ago -- their presence in this race cannot be discounted.
What's more, the Republicans -- "Clemson" -- came to the game with a huge advantage: a crappy economy and jobs picture. I'm not sure what the equivalent advantage for the actual Clemson was in the football scenario -- maybe none. As a winning message for Republicans, it has been squandered by the nominee. It didn't have to be that way.
Indeed, I understand that Clemson racked up a pretty healthy lead going into the third quarter.
But then something happened. Florida State racked up a ton of offensive yards, their quarterback passed for a career-high 380 yards, including two touchdowns.
For much of the game, it looked early on like Clemson had cracked the code for the vaunted Florida State defense. But when Florida State turned on the offense, it was all over. Clemson couldn't keep up, they were kept back on their heels, scrambling, and it was all over.
There has been an assumption at the outset that the Republicans and Romney would be an "equally talented team," and what I think we've seen is that they are, well, not. Yes, like Clemson, they have been able to make some pretty good jabs and force Team Obama onto defense -- which, we can perhaps agree, hasn't actually been as spectacular as we might've thought.
But no matter. The Obama Campaign has built an offense juggernaut -- early -- and has kept the Romney folks running to keep up.
What's more, they know this isn't a game. This is real life, and this election is critically important. Last time you said "run up the score" -- high step it to the end-zone. The trick, in my mind, for Team Obama, is to find that sweet spot -- it's a tipping point, actually.
It is the place where the balance shifts, and the avalanche of support not only sweeps Obama back into office in a landslide, but drives other Democrats into office as well. I don't know what the football equivalent of that is, but like I said, this isn't a game. Obama isn't Florida State.
Romney isn't Clemson.
He's more like the Arkansas Razorbacks.*
Over to you. Please. I beg you. Don't overdo it on the sports stuff.
Best to everyone.
*With apologies to my sister, mother and father -- U of A graduates all -- and my whole family, who are Razorback fans. I'm sorry. It was a cheap shot... but for the good of the blog. Which I think we can all agree is equally cheap.
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Monday, September 24, 2012
Let me begin by saying that the Seminole Tribe of Florida is a big part of FSU. Not just as a "downright offensive" mascot and chant as you called it, but as a true, willing and supportive partner with the University. In fact, a few years ago, the NCAA started making schools drop Native American mascots out of political correctness. They explicitly exempted FSU from that ruling because of the advocacy and support of the Tribe. There are many aspects of the unique nature of the Seminole Tribe that are honored at FSU, including being the only tribe to never sign a treaty of surrender or peace with the US Government.
As for the football talk, I appreciate the effort, really I do. And you are right, there are many parallels that can be drawn. But in reality, I think it really comes down to one thing, best expressed by the greatest campaign slogan of all time, "Enough of the bullshits, time for ACTION."
Basically, the best defense in the nation was terrible for the first half - in part because there were some weak spots to exploit (jobs, unemployment, welfare rolls) and in part because of several well-timed trick plays (twisting "you didn't build that", the VP selection) but that sort of thing doesn't last for 60 minutes of football and talent usually wins out. And about 5 minutes into the second half, FSU said "enough" and started laying the wood to them, asserting their will. Coming out of the conventions, OFA did the same. So despite the early surge, Romney/Clemson could not sustain under the weight of better players - of the football and political variety.
Finally, Obama seems to be reaching a point where everything they throw at him is bouncing off. What comes next is the Knockout blow. So my question to you is what is Obama's knockout blow? Is it a well timed new catch phrase during a debate? Is it Romney saying yet another really stupid thing about the great unwashed masses? Is it another international incident that reveals a gulf of gravitas between the candidates?
Monday, September 24, 2012
Ah, the knockout punch.
Yeah, I don't know. I hate to be contrarian on this, because I can come up with so many. Personally, I'd like to see a series of ads come out about two, maybe three weeks out from Election Day. There would be a string of them -- more than three, but not more than five or six.
And they would be the nicest, most joyful, happiest, positive ads you've ever seen.
And none of them would have President Obama in them (save for the requisite "I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message").
And none of them would be too heavy policy-wise -- but they would relate to specific policy measures.
Holy shit, wait: what if Muppet Barack Obama did an ad. Okay, let's table that one for right now, but I definitely want to come back to that concept.
The theme of each ad would be "Moving America Forward" or "Ready to Move Forward" or something like that.
Hi, my name is Bobby Richards, and I'm a teacher in Akron, Ohio.
[Kids surrounding Mr. Richards in his classroom like he's a god. And don't rob me of my lens flare.]
I'm working hard for these kids. Every day.
[Find the cutest kid in the room. Make sure he's behind his desk and smiling like a maniac for a couple of seconds.]
Bobby VO: I believe we need to move the country forward. It's time. [Standing at the chalkboard teaching shit. Pot up the background sound just a hair, so you know he's serious.]
[Close-up on Bobby's face] Thousands of new teachers? Strengthening our education system by focusing on what these kids need? [Smile, Bobby, smile] There's only one way forward for America. That's with President Obama.
[Walking with kids out of the schoolhouse doors at the end of the day, waving and smiling, smiling, smiling] President Obama is working for these kids. So let's work together with him and get America moving forward.
[I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message...]
Or something along those lines. You get the general idea. School teacher. First responder. A veteran, maybe. Construction worker. GM factory floor guy, definitely.
That would be the "knockout punch" for this reason: because there is truly only one antidote to the ocean of negativity we haven't even begun to see, yet. The Romney and Republican superPACs are going to flood the air with it. Now imagine, if you will, an ad so positive, an ad so blatantly happy -- one which presents such a contrast to that ocean of negativity -- you just have to watch it.
That right there is a home-run.
With that being said, I want to just poke at your premise a little bit: a knockout punch assumes we have a knockout punch kind of president. Remember, this is the guy who has confounded Republicans and raised some eyebrows by "leading from behind" -- a concept I'm am both fascinated with and respect greatly. I don't wonder if it doesn't frustrate you a little bit, actually.
You can't look at that picture of Obama and the whole team in the White House Situation Room on the night the SEAL Team took out Osama bin Laden and not draw conclusions about the man's leadership style. I think it's amazing.
And, of course, it says something about his campaign style, too. There's not going to be a knockout punch -- at least not one you see coming. Obama's not a punch-to-the-face kind of guy. More to the point, he's not the kind of guy who would land on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit and (prematurely) stand in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner.
This was a death by a thousand cuts. This was slow, and it was deliberate, and it makes you believe every single hardcore thing you ever heard about Chicago politics. A single knockout punch would be too merciful.
I think they go right up to Election Day, and the day after, when the blood finally starts to coagulate around the campaign, the Romney people can finally ask the question every losing campaign always asks, as if they didn't know: what in the hell happened?
What about you? Any October surprises?
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Interesting theory - that Obama isn't a knockout punch guy. Not sure I buy it. But then again, all of these sports analogies are imperfect. In truth, there really isn't such a thing as a knockout in politics. Look at Todd Akin hanging around in Missouri as the perfect example. But without a knockout from the guy in the lead, there's always a chance the guy coming from behind can win. Romney's folks are still hopeful - not confident like they were in the summer, but hopeful. Maybe because they, too, do not see Obama as a guy with a knockout punch.
On the other hand, I completely agree with you about the positivity. That's the real reason why POTUS is yukking it up with Whoopi, Letterman and the rest. He needs to build that good will (and personal approval %) now, because the debates are coming up. They will be fierce. They will be testy. They will show that Obama gets frustrated when people are being disingenuously obtuse, when they are twisting his words and cherry-picking facts to paint a bleak picture of the past four years. He may get a little snippy, a little lecture-y and a little bit impatient. If I were on Team Romney, that is exactly what I would be needling for. I would want to knock the President off his happy, hopey pedestal and then immediately turn a stern word or dismissive remark into a web ad - and if it is good enough, into some big money commercials. Overlay it with the general American sense of frustration about a lagging recovery and stagnant economy. If there is a game change, it is more likely to be something like that - a misstatement that supports a larger narrative that is splashed everywhere and just slowly eats away at POTUS's margin.
As for the debates, the expectations-setting game has already begun. @SpencerianRed is already calling BS on the mainstream media for "promoting storylines" about Obama's unpreparedness (you know, cause he's off being President) and Romney's debating skill (because he got in a few dozen slap-fights with GOP also-rans) in the LA Times. In fact, the narrative seems to be that the debates are Romney's last chance at a "game changer" and that otherwise he will lose. Probably true, and at least as far as narratives go, definitely self-fulfilling.
What do you think? Can Romney do well enough in the debates to turn things around? How will they play out? Will the President stumble? Will Romney actually be a better debater? Will the VP debate matter at all - since we are much more likely to see a gaffe there?
Curious to hear your thoughts on a slow news week.
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012
I remember watching the debates in the fall of 1992 in the Clinton/Gore Transition Headquarters (it's a sort of open secret that presidential transitions get under way well before Election Day. They have to. There's simply not enough time to get up and running between Election Day and the Inauguration.). There were just a handful of us, including my boss, an attorney from New York named Seth Harris (who now happens to be the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Labor), and the evening had the air of a party. Which I suppose, in a way, it kind of was.
At this point, I would suspect more people would remember the SNL parody of those particular debates more than the real debates. Everybody loved Dana Carvey's George Bush, and it was a clever trick they pulled off on live TV since he was Ross Perot, too. (And if you skip to about the four minute twenty second mark in that SNL link, you'll see the first idea for the 3:00 AM ad. Who knew Bill and Hillary gleaned their campaign ad ideas from watching old SNL clips?) I always though Phil Hartman's Bill Clinton was one of the best presidential impersonators the show ever had.
Of course, the best part applicable today is the SNL tag-line: "Debate 92: The Challenge To Avoid Saying Something Stupid."
I suppose that's usually the deal with debates. Avoid saying something stupid. And it's why I think these debates will be fairly tame by comparison to other debate -- and why, though at this point President Obama has more to lose, they are still riskier for Mitt Romney.
In 1992, President Bush made the fatal error of looking at his watch while Clinton answered a question during one of the debates. Doesn't sound like that big a deal, but it was all anyone could talk about the next day.
When it happened, I still remember looking at Seth and saying, "Holy crap! He just looked at his watch! What the hell does he need to know the time for? Does he have dinner reservations somewhere?"
Given his track record on this campaign, Romney would be more prone to a "watch checking" moment -- or something equally dumb. Like sighing through the whole thing. Or use the word "lockbox".
I fear this alone will make for boring debates (my caveat here is the VP debates, which, given the presence of Joe Biden alone, promise to make them a cornucopia of rhetorical savory goodness). Mitt is going to try and not say or do something crazy, like say how he likes being able to fire people, or bet Obama $10,000, or inform us that corporations are people, my friend. Or sing Who Let The Dogs Out.
That being said, I suspect a lot of the prep for Romney has been around avoiding that exact thing. Try and be human, Mitt.
As he has been for most of this campaign, Romney is in a tough box, because even if he keeps his head down and stays boring and on-message, he's going to have President Obama laying trap after trap for him. For me, I'll be watching to see if he takes the bait on Medicare, and given his dangerous (though admittedly interesting) pivot towards "Romneycare" today, on the Affordable Care Act as well. In an irony, though, after a year-plus of campaigning on the economy and jobs, what may make for the most interesting stuff is anything to do with foreign policy.
As for Obama, as we all know, the guy is pulling away in some key polls, so like I said, he has the most to lose in a poor -- or even mediocre -- debate performance. My guess is the Obama Debate strategy is two-fold. One, continue with the "relaxed guy theme. This is fun, Mr. President! He needs to be in that state of mind and absolutely, under no circumstances, get side-tracked into "professor" mode, which could happen. It wouldn't be a disaster for him, but it would definitely turn people off.
Two, he needs to be smarter than Mitt by a couple of degrees. In other words, it's sort of Obama versus Bush (George W. Bush, that is) in a way: the Constitutional scholar and community organizer versus the aloof CEO.
I'll admit it, Matt: it's a fine line he's got to walk.
But in all of this, we're talking about the least common denominator. If an opportunity comes, I have every confidence that Obama will recognize it and Mitt will have no clue what's right in front of him.
I still remember it like it was yesterday, Matt, I really do. George H. W. Bush, the President of the United States, gave a half-assed answer to a question from a woman in the audience and then brushed her off. She had asked him how the terrible economy had affected him personally. He couldn't answer it, got frustrated, and, mumbling platitudes, sulked back to his seat.
Clinton was already up off the stool. He ignored the moderator and engaged the woman in the audience directly.
Bill Clinton gave a damn good forty-five minute (or so) speech at the Convention the other night. But his one minute and forty-five second answer to that woman in a debate in 1992 is, to my mind, still one of the brightest moments of his entire political career. And when he turned to go back to his seat, I will remember for all the days of my life the brief second we all sat in that transition headquarters, shocked, in silence, stunned... and then erupted into wild, hysterical cheers.
Will a moment like that one present itself? We'll see soon enough, I suppose.
Best to Erin and the boys.
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Welcome to Into the Echo Chamber, the weekly electronic conversation of the 2012 presidential campaign as viewed from two Twitter feeds. Matt Spence is monitoring the Twitterverse of the Romney Campaign, Republicans, and the "red" side of the aisle at @SpencerianRed. I am monitoring the tweets of the Obama Team, Democrats using @SpencerianBlue. Our email-based back-and-forths are posted here on Thursdays.