Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hillary Clinton and Deus ex Machina--UPDATED

Just hanging around to see what happens. You mind?--In ancient Greek drama, when a playwright could not figure a way out of his plot, he resorted to a trick. One of the gods would descend on the stage, lowered by a crane, and intervene, rescuing the hero--and the playwright. It was called deus ex machina, god from a machine.

Apparently, it works in politics as well. In an eye-popping statement, Hillary Clinton justified her staying in the race, because, well, you never know what might happen. Bobby Kennedy, she pointed out, was assassinated in June.
“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?” Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said to the editorial board of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader in South Dakota. “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”
When it was clear within hours that she had really stepped in it, she came out with a classic Washington passive-apology. If anyone was offended, I'm sorry. IF. Actually, everyone was offended or should have been and the right response should have been, "oh, dear, I really screwed up. I'm tired and wasn't thinking and said something terrible and I'm sorry." Instead, the moral equivalent of "I didn't inhale."

The problem with the latter is that, while obviously all three candidates are tired and need a rest badly, she has said it before, using the word "assassinate" to a Time magazine editor in March and using the reference without the word repeatedly since. One would forgive the error if it was the o
nly time it happened, but it wasn't. The excuse given by subdued supporters was that it was only an historic reference. She could have used any number of other historic references.

Now no sane person believes she is rooting for Barack Obama to get killed. But the great unspoken--unspoken by the usually voluble chattering class--is the great fear that exactly that would happen. Obama received Secret Service protection well before any other candidate, the moment the death threats began, and the fear that some lunatic, threatened by the ascension of a black man to the candidacy of a major American political party, would take matters into his or her own hands, pervades the campaign. Every reporter covering him is aware of it. For someone as politically savvy as she is to discuss it as a reason for staying in the race is more than peculiar.

She is staying in the race, in part, because she is hoping for deus ex machina. She is hoping Obama will say something really stupid, or that something really awful, like the Rev. Wright controversy, will pop up to convince the super delegates he is not a tenable candidate, or.... Well, someone said something stupid.
One has the sad vision of Willy Mays in a Mets uniform, a once great player, now reluctant to admit his time has passed, holding on to the shadow of what he once was and humiliating himself in public. Her time has now passed. In the words of the late, great Oliver Cromwell: "In the name of God, go!"

Poblano, the anonymous statistician whose predictions on the primaries, based entirely on demographics, have been remarkably accurate--more accurate than the polls, has figured out what would have happened if Michigan had a real primary, following the rules. The answer is that Obama would have won by 4 points. Clinton better not push Michigan too far.
Overall, we project that Obama would have carried Michigan by a narrow margin -- about 4.0 percentage points or 80,000 votes. After accounting for delegates awarded at the statewide level, we project him to win 65 Michigan delegates to Clinton's 63. Certainly, there is some margin for error in these calculations, and Clinton could certainly have won the state herself. But it would undoubtedly have been very close. Interestingly, if you take the average of the winning margins in Indiana (Clinton by 1.2 points), Ohio (Clinton by 8.7) and Wisconsin (Obama by 17.3), you come up with an average of Obama by 2.5 points, which is very close to our estimate.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What do pundits do when they are in a room alone?

They wack off--It's the political season and as a news junkie I simply cannot stay still any longer.

I don't really know what the pundits on cable TV or who write for newspapers do when they are alone and I wouldn't presume to ask.  I do know what they do in public. They jerk off. They buy all sorts of things they should know better than to purchase. For instance:

The Clinton camp is trying to persuade super delegates that since Hillary Clinton does better in swing states than Barrack Obama, she would make a better candidate in November. Garbage. 
  • These votes are for the Democratic primary, not the general election and the people who don't vote for him in the primary are very likely to vote for him in November when the opposition is John McCain (who is sounding more and more like a throwback to the 19th century than a candidate of the 21st). One election has little or nothing to do with the other.
  • It is a long way in politics from May to November (isn't there a song in that?) and what is true now may not be true next Wednesday, not to mention five months from now.
Second, she says that all the tracking polls show her a better candidate against McCain. See above, about the time span. But everyone who knows anything about politics and polling know these polls are meaningless, have always been meaningless and will continue to be meaningless. They tell you nothing you need to know because while they may be a great snapshot of time today, they tell you absolutely nothing about next Wednesday. Since everyone in politics knows that, why are the Clinton people not challenged when the spew it on the pundit shows. Garbage in, garbage out.

And while we're talking about polls, I've mentioned how badly pollsters have done in this campaign, with the Zogby poll consistently distinguishing itself for missing. Mark Blumenthal, one of my favorite sources ( had a piece in the National Journal about an anonymous blogger who called North Carolina and Indiana right on the money without doing a poll and by ignoring the polls that were done. The blogger, who calls him or herself Poblano, went to the demographics, finding an unalterable pattern on how segments of the population vote and predicting the results from that. We all know that Obama's strength is in African-Americans, the young and the better educated; Clinton's strength is in working class whites and seniors. The blogger saw a pattern on how they voted and presumed that pattern would last despite all the Rev. Wrights and sniper attacks. He was exactly right in Indiana, which all the pollsters missed, and nearer to the mark in North Carolina. Even Blumenthal's poll of polls was less accurate.

The point--besides the fact you need to ignore polls in primary elections and the media wastes a lot of money that would be better spent on actually reporting news--is that this is an entirely different kind of race. People who will vote for Obama will still vote for him no matter what; and the Clinton supporters feel the same. The demographic patterns stood unshakable despite outside events. This is true for the primaries and may or may not be true in the general election. We don't know and everyone being paid great money on television to discuss the matter doesn't know either. 

Not original but: Think of Sen. Clinton as the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." He picks a fight, slashing with his right arm. When that arm is cut off, he attacks with the left. When the left arm is hacked off, he kicks with his right leg and when that is removed he kicks with his left. Finally he is armless and legless and when Arthur declines to continue, he threatens to  "bite your legs off.")

Whack on.