Scott Adams — Still Dumb as a Post

Scott Adams paid out of his own pocket to do a survey of economists on Obama’s and McCain’s economic policies. While the survey decisively picks Obama’s policies over McCain’s on 9 out of 13 of the issues (6 by >50%, 3 by plurality). McCain is chosen as superior on only one issue (international trade), and beats Obama on only one other issue (waste in government), but even on that issue gets less support than “neither will make a difference.”

So, the poll is pretty darned clear in picking Obama’s policies as vastly superior to McCain’s in almost every respect — it really isn’t even close.

What is Adams’ take-away? That 48% of the respondents were Democrats. His conclusion? They are partisans, so their answers have no merit at all. This is despite the fact that independents (27%) plus Republicans (17%) plus Libertarians (3%) add up to 47% of the survey respondents, which, statistically speaking, exactly balances the Dems in the sample. If the survey numbers entirely stem from party ID, then it must show that the group of non-Democrats agree with Obama’s positions a significant portion of the time. And on 4 issues, McCain can’t even retain the 20% of his own partisans (presumably, Republicans + Libertarians) and on 1 other, can’t exceed his partisans (i.e., reaching only 20% support).

There are statistical tests that can be done to see if partisanship skews the survey results, and Adams himself is forced to admit (in a followup post) that there was a rather large degree of party-line crossing on several of the issues considered.

Adams seems completely unable to conceive of the idea that economists might support the Democrats more than Republicans because the Democrats over the past 25 years have not pushed a whole succession of batshit-crazy economic ideas as the basis for their governing philosophy. Republicans TELL LIES about the economy (for example “reductions in capital gains taxes always increase revenues”). They still subscribe to the completely discredited supply-side economics. They still think there’s no such thing as a bad tax cut (or a good tax increase). They have shown themselves irresponsible in governing, racking up record deficits and mis-spending what funds are available inefficiently.

In other words, if you look at the way Republicans act once they are in power, they implement economic policies that no economist but a partisan hack would consider good. Is it, then, surprising that most economists would not rationally pick the party that has been promoting economically sensible policies over the one that talks economic nonsense?

This is not something Adams seems able to imagine, since he lives in that disconnected fantasy world where, Nader-like, there is no difference between the two parties. In fact, there are long-term massive objective differences between the two parties on facts and on support of widely-accepted best practices in the field of economics.

But Adams got an answer he didn’t like (he wanted a tie or a McCain win) and must explain it away with accusations of bias. In doing so he plugs into all the right-wing memes about academic political bias, as well as subscribing to a strong current of anti-intellectualism, this latter despite the fact that he paid a lot of money to consult with experts.

Scott Adams is simply a moron.

If you’ve been paying attention, though, you already knew that.

Addendum: Adams has the honesty to post a comment by an economist that explains the party ID differences thus:

In general, I suspect the economists who favor Obama tend to have a greater relative weight on equity vs. efficiency compared to economists who favor McCain. Both groups might agree that both efficiency and equity are important, but they disagree PHILOSOPHICALLY (outside of their training as economists) on the relative importance of these two social values.

A preference for equity over efficiency would likely make these economists vote Democratic, since the history of the Democratic party’s economic policies has been almost entirely a succession of efforts to improve economic equity.

Wasilla High School

One of the most interesting tidbits I picked up from ABC’s Charlie Gibson interview with Sarah Palin was the chance to see the interior of Wasilla’s high school.

My first thought was “Wow! What a cushy high school! Looks like something you’d expect in a rich Chicago suburb, what with that fancy indoor track and all!”

Then a few mitigating factors did occur to me:

  1. The weather is pretty bad up there in the winter, so if you want to have your kids running, an indoor track is the thing you need.
  2. It was obviously implemented as a multi-purpose facility, since it served as plain old hallway as well as being the indoor track.
  3. Wasilla has experienced lots of growth over the last decade or so, so it’s not really surprising that they’d have needed a new high school building.

Nonetheless, the optics were that this was not your typical small town (as I recall it, having grown up on a farm 3 miles from a village of 300, and bussed to high school 15 miles away in a town of 6,500 — almost precisely the size of Wasilla), but a small town in a state that has literally millions of dollars in money that can be spent on building lavish public facilities. Alaska is simply not a normal state, and this means that the citizens of Alaska are accustomed to a much higher level of public services and investment in fancy infrastructure (like high schools with indoor tracks) than most of the people in small towns around the country.

However justifiable and understandable that indoor track may be, it still serves as a visible symbol of just how enormously different from the rest of the country of Palin’s hometown actually is.

Addendum: Matthew Yglesias makes an observation on another aspect of Palin’s past that shows how odd Alaska really is.

It’s Blinky!

Sarah Palin sure does seem to like the turn of phrase “I didn’t span in the face of…” or “We can’t span when confronted with…”

From the interview transcript:

On the subject of experience (emphasis added):

GIBSON: Governor, let me start by asking you a question that I asked John McCain about you, and it is really the central question. Can you look the country in the eye and say “I have the experience and I have the ability to be not just vice president, but perhaps president of the United States of America?”

PALIN: I do, Charlie, and on January 20, when John McCain and I are sworn in, if we are so privileged to be elected to serve this country, will be ready. I’m ready.

GIBSON: And you didn’t say to yourself, “Am I experienced enough? Am I ready? Do I know enough about international affairs? Do I — will I feel comfortable enough on the national stage to do this?”

PALIN: I didn’t hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn’t that take some hubris?

PALIN: I — I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink.

So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.

From later in the interview, discussing intervention in Pakistan (the Obama question, emphasis added):

GIBSON: But, Governor, I’m asking you: We have the right, in your mind, to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government.

PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.

I propose that every time we mention Sarah Palin in blog posts, we deploy the lamented and underused span tag to highlight her strength in the face of adversity, her determination not to waver in the face of opposition, her fantastic pink internal energy that gives her the guts to say NO. Thus:

Sarah Palin is a liar.

UPDATE: George Saunders in the New Yorker is much funnier than I am.

Travel to Europe

Roger Ebert tells this little story in his article taking down Sarah Palin:

And how can a politician her age have never have gone to Europe? My dad had died, my mom was working as a book-keeper and I had a job at the local newspaper when, at 19, I scraped together $240 for a charter flight to Europe. I had Arthur Frommer’s $5 a Day under my arm, started in London, even rented a Vespa and drove in the traffic of Rome. A few years later, I was able to send my mom, along with the $15 a Day book.

This looks to me like a generational thing — Ebert is old enough to have benefited from the years in the early 70s when the dollar was still increbibly strong against European currencies. I have a friend who travelled to the South of France several summers in a row, at a time when he was making about $5,000 gross income per hear. I have always really envied that, because by the time I was that age (just out of college), the era of the strong dollar and cheap travel to Europe was simply over. Palin is two years younger than I, and she wouldn’t have had that opportunity, either.

The Dishonorable Candidate

Today on Thom Hartmann’s program on Air American, Lee Rayburn (guest hosting) featured a lot of information about McCain campaign efforts at voter caging in Wisconsin and elsewhere. This is yet another example of the McCain campaign’s dishonorable actions, because all of these mailings are specifically designed to mislead voters into making mistakes that could cause their votes to be thrown out. Absent these mailers from the McCain campaigns, 99.9% of the mistakes that might come from them would have no chance of happening.

Add this to the list of dishonorable actions from McCain in regard to his campaign (chiefly, his insistence on repeatedly lying about his running mate’s record, and about his opponents — one bald-faced lie after another). He and his running mate are serial liars and have abandoned any semblance of truth and honor in the conduct of their campaign.

Neither is worthy to be elected president.

Republican Stagecraft II

The hilarious situation with the building that was placed on the screen behind McCain in the early part of his speech is really bubbling along.

Even if you assume that somebody thought it was Walter Reed Hospital, how was anybody supposed to know that? That is, it seems to me that the first job of an image behind a speaker is either to fade into the background in some generic kind of way (like the Dems did it) or to provide some kind of symbolism that reinforces either the image of the speaker (e.g., the waving flag that came up after the Walter Reed Middle School in McCain’s speech) or that somehow underscores the words the speaker is uttering while the image is onscreen. I can’t see how even a picture of the actual Walter Reed Hospital would have served any of those purposes, but didn’t anyone notice that the picture they did use looked like a rich person’s mansion? Didn’t anybody on the convention’s production media crew realize the image would make a lot of people think about McCain’s ten houses (“Gee, I wonder which of McCain’s ten houses that is”)?

How incredibly stupid are these people? And exactly when did Republican’s lose their stagecraft mojo? Or is this just a McCain campaign weakness?

The Republican Convention’s Video Wall

The new story about how the Republican’s used video of fake soldiers Tuesday night reminds me how many times during Palin’s speech last night it occurred to me how incredibly lame the video images were. They were distracting, too.

The Democrats used their slightly animated generic convention graphics behind all their speakers, images that didn’t in any way attract attention away from the speaker.

Have the Republicans lost their touch in regard to stagecraft?

Experience Math IV

Well, we now have a definitive solution to my speculations on how many years of legislative experience are equivalent to a year of executive experience. It was provided by the delegates at the RNC last night, chanting “Zero! Zero! Zero!”

Thus, in my equation representing Palin’s experience vs. Obama’s:

10X > 11Y

The ratio here has to be less than 1.1, and, certainly, 0 is less than 1.1.

Thus, when you apply that across the board to the candidates of both parties, you get this:

McCain : 0
Palin (leg) : 0
Palin (exec) : 10
Total : 10
Obama : 0
Biden : 0
Total : 0

This causes a bit of a problem for the Republicans, though, as they’ve made the argument that the Democratic ticket has the less-experienced man at the top of the ticket. But given the fact of Zero! Zero! Zero! it’s pretty clear that by the Republicans’ own logic, their ticket is upside-down, too — Sarah Palin should be the nominee and John McCain should be the VP.

Or course, an argument like this has no legs at all — as one blogger put it today, the Republicans have a form of ADD that means that whatever they said 60 seconds ago, no matter how vehemently they argued it, is now inoperative. All that matters is what they are saying now, and suggesting they are inconsistent is just nitpicking.

Or so the argument that the traditional media will dutifully lap up from the Republican operatives will run.

Republicans Double Down on Rovian Strategy

Reflecting on the RNC festivities so far, it seems clear that the Republicans really don’t care about trying to attract the moderate voters and the undecided. Virtually none of what we’ve seen in their convention so far has had any appeal for those who are not already wholly committed to the Republican agenda.

The left, including me, marvelled at the Republicans’ motivate-the-base strategy back in 2004, thinking it couldn’t possibly work (since the red meat that fires up the Republican base is going to alienate many of the middleground voters, as well as angering the opposition and enhancing the opposition’s motivation), but it did work. I can’t see how it can work in 2008 given the huge shifts in party ID since 2004 — the Republicans’ base is substantially smaller than it was in 2004, and thus they need the “moderate” voters more than ever.

I have never understood the way the Republicans use 2nd-order symbols at their convention to mock the opposition — those symbols always seemed to me to be confusing to those not in on the stories behind them, and infuriating to those who knew what they represented. The chief example of this in 2004 was the purple band aids (which for the party faithful was a reference to the scurrilous Swift Boat charges that John Kerry had not actually earned his purple hearts). The new example is the chant of “Zero! Zero! Zero!” How can that do anything but alienate those who don’t live in the weird universe in which 11 years of legislative experience in a large state and the US Senate count for nothing against 8 years running a small town and 19 months running the 47th largest state in the Union?

I really thought that the Palin choice was designed not just to energize the base, but also to attract the moderates (especially women) — a gender-based choice (as this obviously was) makes no sense otherwise when the nominee is so manifestly green on the national stage. But they aren’t following through on the appeal to the middle at all — they seem completely uninterested in seriously courting anyone but the already-converted.

I can’t see how they can gain any bounce out of this convention at all. And I can’t see how it will do anything other than make for a really nasty campaign season.

Palin Reaction

I’ve not read today’s reaction to Palin’s speech last night, but I did read some of the live blogging of it. I originally heard the end of it on Air America, and then watched ABC’s full hour of convention coverage (with spillover into the 11:00 news). So what follows is just my thoughts after sleeping on it.

Looked at from the standpoint of the “undecided” voter, my overall impression of her was fairly good. She is attractive, she spoke skillfully and she had obvious good humor. The speech was well-crafted, with several clever political turns of phrase, as well as a few instances of darned good rhetoric. In comparison to the Giuliani red meat speech that came before her, she looked moderate and reasonable (I screamed at the TV only four or five times during Palin’s speech, vs. dozens of times for the disgusting Giuliani).

But those Republicans sure do like to tell lies, don’t they? Palin’s main one was that she insists on trotting out the Bridge to Nowhere (she campaigned on building it, i.e., she was for it before she was against it) as proxy for being anti-earmark/pork-barrel (while her actual record shows that she was a national champion of acquiring earmarks and other forms of pork barrel spending for her municipality and state), her anti-corruption stance (entirely politically motivated, and doesn’t apply to her personally) and her putative anti-oil company stance (they hated her because she was raising the taxes they would have to pay on windfall profits, not because she was standing up to them on any issues that would matter to the general population — all she cared about was increasing the size of the state’s oil welfare checks to the state’s citizens, currently over $1,500 per year per citizen).

Unfortunately, my reaction isn’t even close to representative. I’m politically knowledgable — I’ve been following every ounce of news and all the revelations since the Palin VP announcement. But your general voter in the TV audience isn’t going to know those things (like the Fox-news-watching delegates in the hall, who ate it up). Thus, we are at the mercy of the traditional media to point out the enormous number of lies and misrepresentations in the speech. I don’t know if McCain’s Palin choice has insulted the media enough that they are now going to stop giving McCain the special treatment he’s always received from them or not.

But I certainly do hope they put Country First in their reporting on Palin and McCain.

I’m not holding my breath.

As to the speech itself, it was written by one of the same people who has managed to make George W. Bush look like a competent speaker. It was very well-written, and she did make the most of the rhetorical high points, seems to me. But we know perfectly well that very little (if any) of it was written by her. The text may reflect her worldview and politics and personality, but it wasn’t constructed by her personally (can you say “new-clear”?).

This is the kind of thing that just doesn’t matter to most people, but it raises for me is whether or not the candidate can speak on her feet in unstructured environments. McCain himself is pretty good at it. Obama and Biden are both very good at it. It remains to be seen whether Palin is or not. I expect she probably is in a league at least with McCain (though without the mean-old-man tone that he does so well, though a lipstick-smeared pitbull might not be so different from McCain after all). The key question is whether she can stay on message, given how out of touch with her own party’s positions on national issues she’s shown herself to be in the past (e.g., the surge and withdrawal).

She’s very bright (I wish the commentators would stop using the phrase “she’s a smart cookie,” unless of course, they would also use it to describe a clever male candidate), so she’s probably got the potential to be an excellent standard bearer for the Republican party. But you can’t cram for a Presidential election. Look how poorly experienced campaigners like Richardson did in the debates — you couldn’t ask for someone who is more familiar with foreign policy issues, but he still managed repeatedlly to say things in the debates that were just inappropriate and wrong. Richardson is no slouch on the public speaking front (though not in a league with Palin, I’d think — at least, based on last night’s example before an incredibly pumped-up friendly audience, which makes every speaker look better), but he couldn’t square the circle of deep knowledge of the issues and an ability to convey those ideas in words and gesture.

How much chance of mastering the subject matter does a gifted novice like Palin have in such a short period of time (the debate with Biden is Oct. 2nd), especially when she has to be out on the stump campaigning on a daily basis? She has shown a complete lack of interest or appreciation of foreign policy issues in her past, and the section of her speech last hight that impinged on that territory (the geographic tour of the oil-producing nations) seemed to me to be the weakest part of the speech. Indeed, I couldn’t help but contrast it with my memory of George W. Bush’s performance in one of the debates with Al Gore in 2000 when he got to speak at some length on the subject of education. Unlike the other subjects, it was clear from the light in his eyes and the coherence and commitment of his remarks that this was something he knew about intimately, something he had thoughts of his own about (presumably because education reform was the major initiative of his time as Governor of Texas). It was like a bright light had been turned on in a darkened room, and it came across as completely genuine. It was the only suggestion in any of the debates that W. actually could formulate thoughts from his experience and knowledge and construct persuasive arguments on the fly. Everything else seemed to be completely by rote, straight out of the briefing books.

In Palin’s speech, the oil independence section brought that to mind precisely because it was the point in her speech where it seemed to me that the light went out in her eyes — she was just mouthing phrases from the teleprompter. And that was where the thin-ness of her experience and interests led me to suspect that despite all the political and rhetorical skill that she displays, she won’t be able to be credible on the key issues that the Republicans themselves have placed at the center of their campaign: national defense and foreign policy.

Obama, on the other hand, has been serving on the Foreign Relations committee in the Senate and has obviously spent the last several years gaining experience and knowledge in these areas. This is why he looks completely credible when talking about these issues, because he has the experience and knowledge to give the rhetoric teeth. And Biden? A slam dunk on these issues, as this has been his portfolio for decades.

I doubt that matters with the general electorate though — it certainly didn’t with W. But perhaps the traditional media will step up to the plate and do their job as actual journalists to provide their best objective judgments. Maybe she won’t be yet another beneficiary of the media’s long-term Republican affirmative action program, i.e., the soft bigotry of low expectations.

But, once again, I’m not holding my breath.