James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for May, 2012

Pre-Memorial Day 2012 presidential election projection: Obama wins handily

Posted by James McPherson on May 23, 2012

“The 2012 presidential election is going to be close. Very close. Incredibly close. Like Al-Gore-vs-George-W.-Bush close.”

That’s how Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post political pundit whose work I respect, started a post for his highly respected blog, The Fix, yesterday. He is far from alone in his proclamation that the election will be tight; similar statements in recent weeks have come from the likes of the Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times,  U.S. News and countless talking heads on cable news programs. On the other hand Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi says most journalists think Obama has it won, but have good reason to say otherwise:

It’s our job in the media to try to drum up interest in this. We have to sell advertising, we have to get viewers and get ratings. We can’t just come out and say that this thing is over six months before it happens. So, there is a strong incentive among all pundits, including me, to come out and say, ‘this could happen, that could happen.’ Romney has a legitimate chance. It’s just a subconscious pull that works on all of us in the media that drives us to make those kinds of comments, I think.

You can use the links above to read the various arguments for yourself, and I responded to Cizzilla in the comments section of his blog yesterday, but today I decided it was worth expanding here why I think Cillizza and those other “close elections” folks are wrong. The 2012 presidental election won’t be close, and unless something significant happens to change the tide Obama will win.

I know this is too early in the process to make such pronouncements. After all, despite what Fox News and MSNBC would have you believe, most people won’t pay any serious attention to the campaigns until at least the conventions this summer, or later. (Some never will pay much attention, but will show up to vote regardless, a whole other issue.) A lot can happen between now and November. We might go to war in Iraq, or see things turn dramatically worse in Afghanistan. Worldwide economic collapse or some form of disaster may make U.S. elections irrelevant. The U.S. might be embarrassed in the Olympics, which Fox News will blame on Obama. Stephen Colbert might agree to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate. Joe Biden might kiss Jeremiah Wright on the mouth while standing on an American flag and holding a Qur’an. Congress might do something constructive. Space aliens might attack–or simply give their support to Romney. Less likely, Romney might figure out a way to talk to regular people. So, in fact, no one KNOWS what will happen in the election.

I have alluded previously to the fact that I thought Obama would win handily in 2012, whether he deserves to or not. I pointed out that the GOP Congressional victories of 2010 would likely help, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, my reasons have included bad graphic design by the Romney folks and horse racing’s Triple Crown. Now I’ll offer some more serious reasons that nervous folks shouldn’t waste beautiful summer days agonizing over presidential politics. (If you still want to get worked up about politics, get involved locally or at the state level, where you might actually make a difference.)

Lots of people can provide arguments for why Obama might lose, and some on talk radio and on blogs act as if an Obama defeat is a certainty. But today I’ll take the opportunity to point out that it’s not just me who thinks those people are misguided–EVERYONE who has meaningful data seems to think Obama will win. Yahoo! predicted back in February that Obama would win in a landslide. Those who say Romney will be our next president seem to be basing their “predictions” on wishful thinking, such as that expressed by usually wrong Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and washed-up political hack Dick Morris. Let’s look at some electoral maps.

If you count states that are certain to go for either candidate, along with those that “likely” will, 270towin.com has Obama gaining 217 votes, Romney, 190, with just 130 undecided. The undecided votes represent just eight states, which explains why both candidates have been (and will be) spending so much of their time in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. That 217-190 count sounds close, and it is–but that seems to be the best possible picture for Romney at this point, other than the interactive map offered by the Washington Post (with analysis by Cillizza). That map gives Obama 196 “solid” and 41 “leaning” electoral votes, compared to 170 and 21 for the challenger, with 110 undecided.

Other maps give Obama an even bigger margin. For example, Real Clear Politics has Obama leading 227-170, with 141 (11 states) as toss-ups. In that case the president needs just 43 more electoral votes, with numerous different ways to get there. Romney needs 100, virtually guaranteeing that he needs to win both Ohio and Florida–and still needs a lot of help elsewhere. Electoral-vote.com has Obama winning easily, with 253 votes already declared “strongly Democratic,” 32 as “weak Democratic,” and 73 as “barely Democratic.” The Intrade Prediction Market (likely to be wildly inaccurate at this point because of limited participation) has it 250-146 for Obama, with 142 outstanding. And “Blogging Caesar“–who seems to be a conservative and who claims to have an outstanding prediction record–at electionprojection.com has Obama by a landslide, 303-235.

Again, it’s early and much could change. But if anyone has real numbers or meaningful data that seem to predict a Romney win, I haven’t come across them. And Obama seems to have more options to reach 270 electoral votes than Romney does. If you have evidence to the contrary, I hope you’ll share it. Closer elections are more interesting, which is why the media have an interest in acting as if this one will be tight. And because close elections make it easier to raise money, neither party will tell you before election day that this one seems to be wrapped up.

Still, as even a Fox News contributor pointed out a couple of weeks ago, “The bottom line is that President Obama’s path to electoral victory seems clear.” So there you have it–feel free to ignore the summer “close election” hype. Rather than sending your hard-earned 10 bucks to a presidential candidate, use that money to take your kids out for ice cream.

Memorial Day update: Here’s another “poll of polls” that indicates it will be tough for Obama to lose: polltrack.com.

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Some real ‘horse-race’ coverage that bodes ill for GOP

Posted by James McPherson on May 21, 2012

I’ll Have Another won the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, following up on the horse’s previous win in the Kentucky Derby. That could be bad news for Mitt Romney and the Republicans.

So what does horse racing’s Triple Crown have to do with the presidential election? Probably nothing–since I’m not much of a gambler or horse racing fan, I’m not much into omens. But if there’s a relationship between the two, Romney (who no doubt knows some thoroughbred owners) has even more reason to worry.

As it turns out, only eight horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown during presidential election years. In six of those eight cases, the Democratic candidate then proceeded to win the White House. The two exceptions also proved noteworthy: In 1968, Forward Pass became the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby because of a disqualification and a contested decision eventually determined by the Kentucky Supreme Court. In 2004, Smarty Jones won the first two Triple Crown races, and George W. Bush won his second presidential election–which, unlike the first, did not have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The only horse ever to win the Triple Crown during a presidential election year was Citation, in 1948. What else happened that year? Oh, yeah: Harry Truman was the incumbent president, but earlier that year had announced that the U.S. military would be desegregated (allowing African Americans, not gays, to serve with whites). Truman ran against Thomas Dewey, a cold, stiff, Northeastern governor and mostly campaigned against the famous Republican-controlled “Do-Nothing Congress“–which, incidentally, the current Congress has made look like a bunch of workaholics. The1948 result? “Dewey Defeats Truman,” of course.

So when it comes to comparing 2012 to 1948, Democrats are no doubt cheering for I’ll Have Another. Republicans, on the other hand, will want to put their money on any other horse in the field. Perhaps Rousing Sermon?

Come to think of it, Republicans probably don’t want I’ll Have Another to win, anyway. After all, how would it look if the jockey for next Triple Crown winner were to be ridden by a young Mexican guy?

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Demon sheep and the goat curse: Ricketty anti-Obama plan hurts GOP

Posted by James McPherson on May 17, 2012

It is fitting that Joe Ricketts is the patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs. As with the last-place Cubs, Ricketts seems determined to pour his political dollars into losing. The Cubs, some say, will never overcome the “billy goat curse.”

In truth we don’t know if J.R. had anything to do with the supposed “Ricketts Plan” to use Jeremiah Wright to bring about “the defeat of Barack Hussein Obama.” Son Tom Ricketts–now in the process of trying to get $150 million in taxpayer money for stadium funding from former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel–is certainly trying to distance himself from the proposal. Joe Ricketts’ daughter, Laura, has gone much further, serving as one of Obama’s key fundraisers. Of course dear ol’ dad may end up inadvertently raising more money for Obama than Laura does.

Regardless of its origin, we know that the plan has already caused Mitt Romney and the GOP more problems than it will ever cause Obama. Even if Sean Hannity and the occasional right-wing blogger can’t see it.

We also know that earlier this week Ricketts’ PAC improved the Democrats’ chances of holding a Senate seat they were destined to lose. Though it seems unlikely that Deb Fischer will turn out to be another Christine O’Donnell or Sharron Angle, we can always hope–if only for entertainment purposes. Bob Kerrey certainly has to be happy that she won after Sarah Palin endorsed her. And who knows how far the curses of mama grizzlies or billy goats might extend?

Interestingly, one of the key players in the Ricketts PAC is “best known for attention-grabbing advertisements, including one in 2010 for the California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina that portrayed her primary opponent … as a ‘demon sheep.'” Fiorina, of course, had about as much chance of beating Barbara Boxer as the Cubs do of winning this year’s World Series. OK, any year’s World Series, but as a Seattle Mariners’ fan I try not to kick the downtrodden.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Obama slogan too common to be communist, too dull to be radical

Posted by James McPherson on May 1, 2012

Forward.” As the new Obama slogan? Really? The MSNBC version may be slightly worse, and unlike Joe Scarborough I doubt that this was a case of theft. More likely is that few in the Obama campaign–like relatively few elsewhere in America–actually watch MSNBC often enough to recognize its slogan. But still … “Forward”?

The slogan might made sense if any the flailing conservative wing of GOP competitors had fared better in the primaries, since “Forward” would look much better in contrast to the obvious conservative slogan of “Backward.” But now? It’s like the Obama folks know that victory will be so easy that they can save the really good slogans for Hillary in 2016. Maybe as a “thank you” for her service as Secretary of State and as an inept 2008 campaign foil.

Speaking of “foil,” the slogan has generated an interesting meme among the tinfoil hat club who think that everything Obama does is part of a communist plot. The Moony-tunes Washington Times showed its usual journalistic quality by relying on Wikipedia to claim in a headline, “New Obama slogan has long ties to Marxism, socialism”–and, predictably, Fox Nation and Glenn Beck were even lazier in then picking up the Washington Times piece. Sadly, the once-proud National Review continued to disgrace the memory of founder William F. Buckley by also “reporting” from Wikipedia.

One of Andrew Breitbart‘s nasty spawn joined in on the May Day Parade (see how I did that?). London’s political equivalent of the Washington Times, the Daily Mail, did so from abroad. And of course, various bloggers (also here, here, here, here, here and here for sampling) jumped on board. Not to be outdone, you can always count on the occasional goofball blogger to find a Nazi connection, even if Beck is no longer on Fox News to help diagram it on a bizarre chart.

The communist/socialist tie is just nutty, of course, as pointed out by Mediaite and ThinkProgress (both organizations that come closer to having socialist views than does the current conservative in the White House), unless Koch brothers buddy Scott Walker heads a socialist state. The big problem with Obama’s slogan isn’t it’s political perspective–it’s the boring lack of any meaningful perspective. Even Chrysler came up with a better slogan for Obama–though I suppose the problem there is that there’s no “o” in “halftime” to turn into an Obama symbol.

Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri has perhaps the best critique of the slogan, noting, “On average, President Obama’s slogans are pretty good. This is to say that his last slogan was extraordinary and this one is abjectly terrible.”

Same-night update: Rachel Maddow covered the same issue tonight, citing many of the same sources.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »