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Politics as entertainment



This Andrew Sullivan post takes the view that the first debate has come close to handing the election to Romney. That claim — based largely as far as I can tell on the results of one three-day post-debate tracking poll — seems like a huge exaggeration, but it does highlight the essential absurdity of the whole “debate” rigamarole.

Obama has been president for four years. Mitt Romney is understood even by most of his supporters to be a political opportunist of the first order, who will use an occasion like one of these deeply phony infotainment pseudo-events to say whatever he needs to say to maximize his chances of getting elected.

That anyone — even what are described delicately as “low-information voters” — would base any part of their vote on a candidate’s performance (le mot juste) in one of these things is a sobering thought.

Time for another drink!

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  • Balu

    Time for a drink? Almost time to shoot myself in the head.

  • wengler

    Every day is a lifetime in the lead up to these elections. Obama’s biggest failures in the debate were to not push back on the slashing Medicare lie and the ‘tweaking’ of Social Security comment. If he can make these points clear in the last debate much of the damage can be undone.

    No one is going to give a shit about the ‘I loves me my military and Israel’ foreign policy debate, so the last debate is key in framing Romney as the phony liar he is.

    • wengler

      Nevermind, it appears the next one is the townhall format debate and the last one is foreign policy. An even sooner chance to do this.

      • NBarnes

        I, too, have thought similar thoughts. I have sympathy for the time and attention that Obama hasn’t been able to give debate prep due to his ‘day job’, but that doesn’t settle the worry. But I think an overlooked part of why the first debate kinda sucked was Romney’s ability and willingness to furiously shake the Etch-a-Sketch. It’s hard to prep for a debate when your opponent disavows his entire platform in the first 45 minutes.

        The freedom that Mitt’s lack of convictions and willingness to lie grants him served him well that debate. But it also gives Obama some tools for the second debate that he might not otherwise have had. Mitt’s not going to be able to Etch-a-Sketch that way a second time.

        Also, town hall question askers are somewhat notoriously more pointed and less forgiving than ‘pro’ ones, and a loaf of bread would be crustier and chewier than Lehrer was.

        • wengler

          At least the question and answer format will give Romney less time to push his attack points and bullying regular people like he did Lehrer will just make him look like a jerk.

          • eclipse

            I take some solace in the fact that Obama, as a personality, is both hyper-competitive and smart, so I believe he is more likely to bring his A-game the next go-around.

            • Has anyone given any thought to the fact that the venue the last time was in the MILE HIGH CITY?

              It’s not something anyone would want to advertise, of course, but a difference in ability to tolerate altitude (for whatever reason — any sickle cell in Obama’s family?) could be a factor in a sub-optimum mental performance.

              Romney’s people might have even thought of that factor and cell-packed him a little in anticipation. He sure did seem revved up and he’s not allowed to have artificial stimulants. But a few more of his own red blood cells? That wouldn’t be cheating in Mormonism, would it?

              (And a new conspiracy theory is born. Heh.)

              • kg

                algore tried pushing the “omg high altitude” defense the other day.

              • script

                One would think if the president was concerned about altitude sickness he could have gotten some Diamox rather easily.

                • I’m not talking “altitude sickness,” per se, which is why I’m sure no one on the Obama team even considered it. I’m talking about subtle, sub-optimal oxygenation, which might be worse in someone with even a far-back ancestor with sickle cell.

                  I can remember going to Denver myself once in my healthy youth and suddenly not feeling all that fabulous, especially immediately after the flight (aircraft cabins are less pressurized, too).

                  A bright person can begin to “dim out,” just a little, very slowly and sneakily, as their blood’s O2 concentration falls from optimum levels.*

                  As for my Romney conspiracy theory, a few autologous red blood cells, which people who live at elevation tend to grow on their own after a week or two, would help to keep someone more alert, energetic, and focused.

                  *Hell, I may be “dimming out” myself right now.

          • Halloween Jack

            That’s the thing that seems to be almost completely absent from critiques of the first debate: Lehrer seemed barely lifelike.

        • Walt

          It always surprises me that the pros aren’t more embarrassed by that fact.

        • Informant

          Also, town hall question askers are somewhat notoriously more pointed and less forgiving than ‘pro’ ones

          Have town hall debates improved that much in the last couple of election cycles? I quit watching them because I couldn’t take the sheer black hole of stupidity.

          • NBarnes

            It’s a relative matter. Compared to Jim Lehrer? Compared to that, town hall questioners are a bunch of dead-eyed sharks.

          • You mean like the town hall bloviator who yelled “get your government hands off my Medicare”?

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      And Obama himself said that he and Mitt basically agreed on Social Security, which was essentially an invitation for Mitt to lie about Social Security.

      • John

        What is Mitt’s actual position on social security that he lied about? I was basically irritated with Lehrer on that one because A) social security is an issue where Romney hasn’t really expressed himself in favor of idiotic right wing ideas, as far as I’m aware; and B) Lehrer phrased the question in terms of whether the candidates disagreed, which was an annoying tic throughout the debate, but particularly annoying there.

        Obama certainly could have been less complacent there, but it was a weird question and a weird situation.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          I agree it was a weird situation and an annoying and stupid question. But the President still screwed up royally. First, the right way to deal with weird questions (or even sensible ones) in a Presidential “debate” is to ignore them and pivot to a memorized statement about some related theme. These are joint campaign appearances, plain and simple. Romney understood this, Obama didn’t.

          More specifically, there’s simply no excuse to say “he and I agree on Social Security.” I don’t care about the circumstances. Obama did his best to remove Social Security as an issue in this campaign. And that’s incredibly dumb.

          • More specifically, there’s simply no excuse to say “he and I agree on Social Security.”

            Agree wholeheartedly.

            The lights were flickering for sure on that one.

  • NBarnes

    The weirdly high bounced Romney is getting out of this debate has me more confused than worried. But to be honest, I’d be less worried if I were less confused.

    • mark f

      I’ve noticed among wingnut bl

      • mark f

        . . . Ooooogsfuckingphone the narrative seems to be that Mitt really took the president to the woodshed on facts and logic, rather than just seeming more engaged. As has been pointed out by many an expert over the last few days, the sudden change in R registration in the polls probably reflects renewed enthusiasm (respondents identify their own party, rather than pollsters working off of registration lists). As they’ve also pointed out, we shouldn’t get too caught up in any one daily tracker anyway. No need to drink ourselves silly yet.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      People don’t like Obama very much, but they didn’t like Romney at all. For those who didn’t understand that virtually everything Romney said was a lie, what they saw in that debate was that Romney was more likable than Obama.

      Or at least that’s my guess of what’s going on.

      • Steve LaBonne

        Funny then how Obama’s job approval numbers are in positive territory now, and his personal approval has been there all along. You know what? For better and (I agree with you about this much) more often for worse, not very many actual Democratic voters think like internet-forum liberals.

        • Heron

          Most people just don’t know the issues; it isn’t necessarily that they don’t hold lefty views. For instance, if you aren’t someone who reads Glenn Greenwald or TalkLeft, or Hullabaloo, or TomDispatch or CrookedTimbers or emptywheel regularly, then it isn’t very likely that you’re too aware of how widespread and systematic government harassment of Muslims in the US is, or of the various atrocities and idiocies involved in our on-going “War on Terror”. If you don’t read Naked Capitalism or follow Krugman’s and Taibbi’s column/blogs religiously, then you probably aren’t aware of how foolish our economic policy discussions are, or just how much putrid chicanery has gone into covering up the crimes which caused the GFC and forcing US homeowners and taxpayers to eat the cost of it.

          Most folks have busy lives working taxing or stressful jobs and, unlike your typical forumite, they don’t find reading, writing, and arguing over essays and public policy notably entertaining. For us this is a barrel of laughs and maybe a way to blow off steam; for most people arguments are stressful, even humiliating affairs. The consequence of that, combined with the atrocious state of corporate-friendly local and network news, is an ill-informed electorate.

  • Scott Lemieux

    As we approach election day, it’s hard for any thought to be sobering.

    • Vance Maverick

      Your epigram is opaque. One interpretation I could sign on with is that “sobering” in the sense of chilling, dispiriting, harshing the mellow, is not the same as “sobering” in the sense of counteracting intoxication, befuddlement, delirium.

      • we call that double meaning; see also, puns, snark, sarcasm.

        it’s a joke, i say, it’s a joke, son.

  • Jim

    You’re wrong that Sullivan’s hysterics are due to “one poll.” There are a slew of new polls, national and state-level, showing big gains for Romney, of between 6-9 points on average, giving him the lead in many swing states he was badly behind in just a week ago. And the momentum of the polls shows Obama continuing to slide, and Romney continuing to gain.

    • wengler


      • Joel Dan Walls

        It has been said that.

        Unnamed sources within the Obama administration/Romney camp/inside-the-Beltway media/outside-the-Beltway media

        George Will.

        David Broder.

        My neighbor while talking over the fence about the weather forecast.

        • wengler

          Here is where I go for polling stuff.

          Nothing too crazy. But people do love secret polls. Frankly, I don’t trust that Pew poll for the fact that in what universe is it possible that Obama is tied with Romney for the women’s vote?

          • NBarnes

            Oh, wow, really? Now I am going to venture into polling denialism; there is no way that Romney is Really Actually(tm) even with Obama among women. No way at all.

          • Offsides


            Okay, this brings up a key understudied issue of poll responsiveness. We know that most of these polls get only a 20% or so response rate – the robo polls that firms like Rasmussen run get even worse. We also know that such low response rates have severe risks of resulting in a non-representative population sample.

            So, what if, post-debate, the Obama fans who were called were, on average, emotionally discouraged and responded at a lower-than-average response rate. Meanwhile, the GOPers were enjoying an adrenilin high and MORE LIKELY than normal to respond to the polls?

            That would create the results we’ve seen. Note that polls taken on Sunday have seen a return to normalcy in the margins – Obama up by about 5.

            • Brautigan

              I’m a pessimist by nature, and really try hard to avoid buying into my own (substantial) confirmation bias, but this makes sense.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            Nate Silver is the gold standard. And what he’s been saying is that Obama has taken a major hit, but is still favored. Last week Obama had a c. 85% chance of winning the election; this week he has a c. 75% chance of winning the election (though that’s also factoring in a very favorable jobs report form last Friday, so this ten percent drop effectively understates the impact of the debate itself).

            • Walt

              Does the jobs report directly affect the polling? I thought it’s main significance in the Presidential race was that it proxied for whether the economy would help or hurt the incumbent.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks

                That’s right. But employment numbers do directly affect Silver’s prediction model numbers. So that ten percent drop in Obama’s chance of reelection understates the effect of the drop in polls on his reelection chances.

                • gmack

                  Dave Brockington talked about this, but for another mode of poll analysis see: http://election.princeton.edu/

                  His meta-analysis is simpler than Silver’s, and was also more accurate in 2008, fwiw.

    • Yeah, no. Not one of those assertions reflects the data.

  • Funkhauser

    I’d say that the post is a piece of evidence, call it exhibit #904, that Sullivan’s coverage of and reaction to the campaign is unreliable, frequently hysterical, and unmoored in an understanding of political science.

    Same for TPM. If you want to know the forest and not the trees, stay far away from TPM and its headlines.

    • snarkout

      The fact that, after 20 years of writing about American politics, Andrew Sullivan is still a hysterical ninny with an inch-deep understanding of American politics explains so much about The Bell Curve.

      • Sullivan may be the first person ever to die from wringing hands.

      • Aaron B.

        I love reading sully – poetry, religion, random YouTube videos, and the cetera – but his politics coverage has gone from bad to worse this season.

        • TT

          I like his blog for the same reason, and I often find his critiques of conservatism, particularly on torture, thoughtful and well-argued. But he’s completely substituted mood swings and stargazing for political analysis when it comes to Obama. I mean, really, not bear-hugging a total shit sandwich like Bowles-Simpson is the single biggest mistake Obama has made?

          • Aaron B.

            I think he just has a very mercurial personality, and tends to swing wildly in mood and attitude, especially re: politics. He went from writing multi-page hagiographies of Obama (“The First Gay President”) to writing this kind of “Obama ruined everything” dreck within a few days. (actually, if you read his live blogging of the debate, it’s within two hours – at 8 he’s saying Romney desperately needs a game changer, and by 10 he’s saying Obama may have lost the election).

            Also odd is how much he conflates the rhetoric of mistakes with morality. He’s gone from just talking about Obama as having made a big blunder to saying it’s somehow a moral failing, symptomatic of arrogance, laziness, entitlement, or god knows what. All in all this election season has really just driven home how little I care about Sully’s opinion of the day-to-day of American politics.

            • Don’t forget that Sully was a cheerleader of the “Tag Palin was really Bristol’s baby” conspiracy theorists, too. Kept it up for weeks. Insanely.

              From time to time the guy gets a bee in his bonnet and just goes completely off the rails. COMPLETELY.

              • mark f

                Kept it up for weeks years.

              • witless chum

                That’s just what a fifth columnist from a decadent coastal enclave might say, especially if they are black and therefore genetically less intelligent than Andrew Sullivan.

                • Betsy McCaughey


        • Halloween Jack

          Why anyone would even take Sully seriously after his coming out as a Trig truther is still beyond me.

    • John

      Josh Marshall’s own posts at TPM are usually pretty sensible. The rest of the site, much less so.

    • “Same for TPM. If you want to know the forest and not the trees, stay far away from TPM and its headlines.”

      I’ll defend TPM, if not always their headlines (which can tend toward the hysterical). Their whole business is reporting any poll or political story that rises above the level of the true, hitting-refresh-at-all-times political gossip obsessive. In that capacity they strike me as being about as sober and calm as one can be while swimming in that shit. Yes, they get caught up in horse race theatricality, but they also debunk it regularly. While CNN and the like are wondering whether the latest revelation can cost someone the election, TPM reports on it and points out that it’s unlikely to matter that much. That’s not easy to do, and I’m glad they do it.

      • John

        Yeah, See this post by Marshall, for instance, and this one, where he takes on the “bed-wetting set.” (Read: Andrew Sullivan)

        That being said, the headlines, and much of the material by non-Marshall bloggers, are often a lot more sensationalistic than what Marshall is saying.

    • Halloween Jack

      Not sure why you’re throwing TPM in with Sully; no matter how egregiously eyeball-grabbing they’ve made their headlines, they’re still orders of magnitude less offensive in that regard than Newsbeast (or HuffPo, for that matter).

  • SatanicPanic

    I totally agree, Andrew Sullivan is a low-information voter. Wait, is he even allowed to vote?

    • Warren Terra

      Not directly.

  • Cols714

    If one debate could change the polls that drastically, then Obama was never going to get elected anyways. That means that people were just looking for an excuse to vote Romney.

    I doubt anything like that is happening and we’ll see the normal Obama lead of 3-5 points over the next couple of weeks.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      If one debate could change the polls that drastically, then Obama was never going to get elected anyways. That means that people were just looking for an excuse to vote Romney.

      This makes no sense at all. As Nate Silver has noted, the bounce that Romney seems to have gotten from the first debate is not particularly unusual for the challenger following a first debate. Debates change polling numbers like this fairly frequently.

      Obama is still likely to win. But after that debate performance, he is significantly less likely to win. Deal with it.

      It was pathetic last week when the Republicans were engaging in all kinds of magical thinking and handwaving to avoid what the polls were saying. It’s pathetic, this week, when Democrats are doing the same thing.

      • Aaron B.

        I agree, except for the word “significantly.” I’ve downgraded my probability from a 70-30 to a 65-35.

        • RhZ

          Yes, ‘significantly’ is not warranted here, the drop in his expected chances is quite likely a short term effect of the debate. Looking longer term, it is at least fairly doubtful that the debate performance has led to a significantly lower chance.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            What’s the evidence for the assertion that this is a “short term effect” (i.e. shorter than the time between now and the election)? Clearly other things are likely to affect the candidates standing between now and the election. But the effect of debates (and other major events) doesn’t just disappear. Again, Nate Silver’s election forecast is precisely designed to measure the long-term: it’s a forecast of what is likely to happen in November, not what would happen if the election were held today (he also has a prediction of that, btw). And while Nate’s model suggested before the debate that Obama had a c.85% chance to win in November, now it suggests that Obama has a c. 75% chance to win. That’s a long-run change.

            • Back in October, he had Obama with as low as a seventy percent chance to win. I don’t know why that was, but clearly whatever it was, it was only, ah, a short-term effect. What evidence is there that this debate thing isn’t?

              • …back in September. I think I’m engaging in wishful thinking that it’s November and the election’s over.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks

                You don’t mean that this will only have a short-term effect. You mean that you’re guessing something else with a long-term, positive effect for Obama will happen between now and the election. Nate’s numbers are designed to factor in the short-term nature of short-term effects (see his columns during the summer on convention bounces, i.e. short-term effects that the model discounted as such).

      • jonnybutter

        I don’t want to put words in cols714’s mouth, but my guess is that he meant – and if so I would agree – that if public opinion really shifted that much (BO went from well-ahead to 4 points behind) after one debate, then BO’s having been that much ahead was an illusion; if his support was that soft then it never was, properly speaking, ‘support’ to begin with.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          Gah! “Support” for purposes of an election isn’t any kind of metaphysical trust or agreement. It is simply an intent to vote in November (or even now, thanks to early voting). On Sunday, I intended to buy the dog more food yesterday. I didn’t get around to it (she’s not quite out), and I didn’t do so yesterday. So now I intend to buy her food today. My intention changed, but on Sunday I did, in fact, intend to buy the dog food yesterday. Polls are predictions of future behavior. The President (and Mitt Romney) need (and are interested in) future behavior, no more and no less.

          • jonnybutter

            I think we’re talking about two different things here, both valid. I’m commenting on the unreliability of any one poll – particularly the one Sullivan is having a nervous breakdown about. I was also suggesting that the way some people evidently make their decision about who should be president is shockingly trivial, a point you reinforce by equating the respective weights of the intention to buy dog food with the intention of voting for someone in particular for president.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              I agree about both things, jb. Hyperventilating overreactions to single polls deserve criticism. And some people vote (and change their vote) for trivial reasons. Moreover, given our closely divided, largely hyperpartisan electorate, this election will be decided by the votes of people who change their votes for trivial reasons. But that’s not news.

              • Steve LaBonne

                There aren’t enough of those people, in the right states, to erase Obama’s baked-in electoral vote advantage. Only a genuine shift to Romney by a significant number of people who previously had genuinely intended to vote for Obama could do that. Short of some unforeseen event a lot bigger than a debate, there are many reasons to think that’s highly unlikely. Personally I never believed polls showing Obama with a significant popular-vote margin. I don’t know who’s going to win the popular vote, but I think it will be very close.

  • thebewilderness

    I think it is important to be reminded from time to time that “A lie can make it around the world before the truth get its shoes on.”

    • HP

      Yeah, but a shame-faced half-truth just sits bare-assed on the edge of the bed looking at his knees, saying, “This has never happened to me before.”

      Then Democracy props herself up on the pillow and says, “It’s okay. We can just talk if you like.”

      In the street, the neon light of FREED_M flickers, its O permanently burned out, casting fractured orange shadows on the peeling paint of The Free Press and the cracked plaster of the Our Political Institutions.

      In the distance, a dog barks.

      • Brautigan

        I am working through the night, getting ready for a trial tomorrow, with the aid of Mozart in the background, and a good Rye and Soda in the foreground, and still, this makes no sense whatsoever to me.

      • Halloween Jack

        Didn’t Herblock do this as an editorial cartoon, back in the day? Maybe more than once?

  • Joel Dan Walls

    A statistical trend is only something one can identify in retrospect when one has lots of data. That’s true whether one is talking about election polls or employment statistics.

    I can predict one thing with 100% certainty, however: on Tuesday morning, within 60 seconds of my arrival at the office, my friend R——– will be at my door rending his clothes and gnashing his teeth.

  • jonnybutter

    If one debate could change the polls that drastically, then Obama was never going to get elected anyways.

    Exactly what I was thinking, and I actually wrote to Sullivan to say so.

    Obama exemplifies the Democratic party in so many ways, in both good ways and bad. That debate performance is the perfect example of the latter – he showed a typical dem’s inability to even sort of defend himself and his policies in the face of a flurry of lies. No sense of humor, no common touch, no *human* touch. Did John Kerry actually do prep with Obama?! Seriously?!

    • calling all toasters

      He did, but I hear that Obama will be training against “Deep Blue” for the next one.

    • John

      Kerry was actually really good in his debates with Bush. He beat Bush in the first debate in 2004 at least as convincingly as Romney beat Obama. I’d say even more so, since a) he didn’t lie out of his ass throughout the debate as a necessary part of kicking Bush’s ass; and b) Obama, even at his worst, always comes across as intelligent, which Bush generally does not.

  • scott

    It’s not that surprising. Historically speaking, things suck economically, which makes any opponent at least potentially plausible. Romney decided to spend the last two months pissing away that advantage by looking like an idiot, a plutocrat, or both. Nate Silver said going in that every opposition candidate gets another look just by standing on the same stage as the incumbent president, and this one wiped the floor with Obama as attested by historically wide poll margins. So he’s getting another look right now. Obama had successfully made this an election about choice and not a referendum on the crappy economy. Then he tanked the debate, blurred the choice contrast between himself and Romney (all those “we’re not that far apart” refrains), and gave Romney another chance to make it a referendum on four years that haven’t been fun for any of us. The odds still favor Obama because the direction of events is improving even if things aren’t great, but he better start making it a choice election again in a hurry.

    • James E. Powell

      There is this thing with the Democrats, though, that shows they still do not get how the TV works.

      When Kerry revealed Bush to be a testy dullard in the first debate, every living Republican and Republican surrogate in the corporate press/media immediately attacked Kerry and supported Bush. It dulled the effect of the bad performance.

      Democrats and their compadres? Wailing and gnashing of teeth. It doesn’t give anyone anything to hang onto when the press/media onslaught of “Romney Surges!” hits their ears.

      Where were the hordes of Democrats shouting “Romney lied about everything!” and “Romney can’t keep his story straight!” Where?

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Actually, Democrats are saying “Romney lied about everything!” They’re also busily creating Big Bird-related memes to exploit the closest thing to a gaffe (as opposed to a lie) that emerged from Romney’s mouth.

        The problem, however, is that eighty percent of viewers (perfectly reasonably IMO) think Romney turned in a better performance (dishonesty aside, of course).

        • James E. Powell

          I get that people are saying that now, but I’m talking about the first hour after the debate.

          I remember how the Republicans took over the whole post-debate narrative about Kerry being a bad person when he mentioned Cheney’s lesbian daughter. Edwards had done the same thing in his debate with Cheney, so why was it a big deal? Because they all got on TV and said it was a big deal.

          I don’t recall Democrats doing anything like that Wednesday night.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            What I heard from Democrats Wednesday night was: Romney was lying and Obama did a terrible job pointing that out and making his case for his own policies.

            While they were certainly critical of the President’s performance, they also repeatedly pointed out Romney’s dishonesty.

            (One could as easily say that the “typical Democratic pattern” here is the tendency on the part of some Democrats–in this conversation–to refuse to say negative things about the President and instead blame their fellow Democrats for the Presidents’ own failure to connect with his audience.)

            • James E. Powell

              What I heard from Democrats Wednesday night was: Romney was lying and Obama did a terrible job pointing that out and making his case for his own policies.

              While they were certainly critical of the President’s performance, they also repeatedly pointed out Romney’s dishonesty.

              You see those parts in italics? Those are the parts the Republicans leave out.


          • John

            John Edwards mentioned Cheney’s lesbian daughter (in a rather gross, smarmy way, in fact). I don’t remember Kerry doing so.

            • Scott Lemieux

              What Edwards said was perfectly unexceptionable. That was an idiotic pseudo-controversy.

              • Charlie

                Let’s go to the transcript here:

                Now, as to this question, let me say first that I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can’t have anything but respect for the fact that they’re willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It’s a wonderful thing. And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy.

                He dropped it into the conversation with an awkward segue and talked about having a gay child in this very strange, almost-regretful way as though it was like having a severely handicapped child. Was it a true controversy? No. Was it gross and smarmy with its awkwardness and thick fake sincerity? You bet.

      • scott

        I don’t disagree, but even back in 2004 there was only so much lipstick you could put on that debate pig; he took a hit that made the end result a lot closer than it might have been, all the efforts of Bush’s partisans notwithstanding. I’ve read a fair amount of fact-checking accounts in the media that give Romney a hard time, and God knows on this site and others many Dems have had the same reaction. But the best opportunity people had to realize that Romney was lying was if the other guy in the room had pointed it out. He didn’t, and it looked to people who didn’t know better (this was Jon Stewart’s take, which is funny but true) that you had one guy on Ambien and onother who’d just had a cup of coffee for the first time and really liked it. Apparently they thought the coffee guy seemed more on top of things than the sleepy guy. We can try to minimize that hit afterward, but most of the damage was done in that room. All that changes, of course, if Biden can show some spirit and Obama too. Momentum can run the other way too, and they’re in the best position to generate it.

      • eclipse

        To be fair, there was definitely some voices pointing out Romney’s mendacity. But I also agree your main point, that the left media was way too quick to double-down on Obama admittedly mediocre performance without taking Romney to task as well. Al Gore managed to win the debates but lose the post-debate spin, and I can’t help but think MSNBC, sully and other melodramatrics are compounding the problem rather than alleviating it.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          I guess the question here is the advisability (and the potential efficacy) of people on “the left” simply lying about the President’s mediocre performance in the hopes that nobody would have noticed that performance if Democratic talkingheads had simply insisted that the President did great. Let’s be clear: we’re not talking about the “Dean scream” or Gore’s “sighing” here. The President’s poor performance was not some media hallucination that Democratic pundits refused to debunk. The President actually did poorly.

          • eclipse

            I guess I see it as a matter of degree – I think Obama was flat and too passive but nowhere near the level of TOTAL DISASTER that people like Chris Matthews and Sullivan apparently think. And I believe that hyperbole actually encourages the mainstream media to further invest in awful “Romney comeback” narrative. I’m not actually expecting the pundits to pretend Obama had a fantastic night, but a more measured and balanced response would be helpful. I think Kevin Drum’s “hack gap” response captures part of the problem, at least as how I see it.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              Chris Matthews was ridiculous on MSNBC. He literally said that the President’s problem was that he wasn’t more like Matthews himself and other MSNBC hosts. He was by no means typical even of MSNBC’s coverage.

              The media does not have (or in this case need) a BULLY PULPIT to make the public magically believe that Romney won. Go back to the infamous story of Gore’s sighs. One of the signs that the media made that up was that polls showed that Gore clearly won that debate.

              In this case polls show that Romney clearly won this debate. Yes, if the shoe was on the other foot, more Republican pundits would be insisting otherwise, but would lying about the debate change public reaction? Should Democrats make “that was good news…for Barack Obama!” into a meme?

              • I just don’t think Democrats can perform synchronized lying as well as Republicans, even if they wanted to.

          • rea

            But we don’t have to lie. The truth is–Obama didn’t give us a great performnce from a purely forensic point of view, but he did not disgrace himself. Romney, on the other hand, lied his head off. Present that view of the outcome of the debate to the American public, and you are telling the truth, not lying.

            In a world with a functioning news media, Romeny would have been ashamed to show his face in public the day after . . .

  • Mutaman

    All this should just remind us what we learned (and have since forgotten)back when W. Bush was elected Commander in Chief on two separate occasions:

    A lot of people are really friggin stupid!!!

    • James E. Powell

      As we used to say back in the day: word.

  • Lefty68

    Always some sort of psychodrama with Sully.

  • cpinva

    best make it a pitcher:

    Time for another drink!

    i would classify anyone who self-characterizes as “undecided” as a low-info voter, too stupid really to be allowed to vote. turns out, there’s quite a number of them out there.

  • Does anybody at all bother to read these polls internals? The polls that are showing a large shift toward Romney also have equally large and unjustified demographic shifts. It’s not just that they include more Republicans and fewer Democrats. The Pew poll has an absurd over-representation of older white voters (iirc 70% of white respondents are over 50 years old). It also vastly under-represents minorities (only 5% are Hispanic).

    I see no shift in the share of vote that each candidate is getting in these polls from Dems, Independents, and Republicans. It’s all explained by changes in who is being polled.

    What seems to be happening since the debate is that Republicans are suddenly much more eager to answer pollsters’ questions. Hence the huge surge in over-50 white voters in Pew’s latest poll.

    The Gallup tracking poll suggests to me that Obama has lost little if any ground to Romney, and may have even picked up a little more support. Romney lied like a rug in that debate. Some voters were surely paying attention to that.

    • calling all toasters

      Excellent– we needed some poll truthers on our side. Now who’s going to argue the unemployment is under 7%?

      • Uh huh. Looking at internals is now something “poll truthers” do.

        Nate Silver, poll truther.

        • calling all toasters

          When you only look at the internals of ONE poll and that poll happens to be the one whose results you like the least, while pretending the trend doesn’t occur in the other polls…. oh, that’s intellectual integrity.

          • As I said explicitly, the same sudden demographic shifts are present in all the polls showing a sudden swing toward Romney.

          • It may not be the height of intellectual integrity, but it’s not making up an imaginary partisan breakdown wholly at odds with observed reality and criticizing the entire universe of polls for not matching it, either.

      • spencer

        “Poll truthers?”

        That’s just stupid.

        Now, if he was arguing that the pollsters intentionally oversampled people who’d be more likely to back Romney, in an effort to demoralize Democrats and make Romney look like he was surging as sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, then maybe you’d have a point.

        • Because some conservatives were saying stupid things about poll internals, you see, that means the subject of poll internals is now completely verboten, and anyone who uses them to get more information than a poll’s top line is a troofer.

          That’s how it works, you know. If conservatives make a delusional argument about a topic, nobody anywhere is ever allowed to make an argument on that subject ever again.

          • rea

            That may account for why we see so many delusional conservative arguments.

  • dollared

    Never mind the damn polls. What on earth is that countertop material underneath that margarita?

    • muddy

      And why has the countertop swallowed the base of the glass? This is a mean trickster drink that taunts you as you try to pick it up.

      • spencer

        The countertop *is* the base of the glass. The whole point is to reward only the strongest person in the bar with a sip of that delicious, delicious margarita.

  • calling all toasters

    You can hardly blame people. The #1 issue of factual dispute this summer has been about the Medicare “cuts” in Obamacare. And Pres. Bumblefuck had not a word to say when Romney was reciting all the “problems” with it (e.g. practitioners allegedly dropping Medicare). Not a freaking word. He lost Florida right there, because a ton of seniors tuned in only to find out what the real story was about Medicare. And he just folded. The single most important point of fact, the single most likely to be brought up, and he had nothing. At least he remembered to say “voucher.” Huzzah.

    • Steve LaBonne

      Of course we won’t be hearing from you when he doesn’t lose Florida after all. And he won’t.

      • calling all toasters

        He could still win it, but he’s got a lot of convincing to do in the next month.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Couldn’t agree more. Three years after the Tea Party shitstorm of August 2009, two-and-a-half after the passage of the ACA, and the White House still has no clear, concise response to the death panel nonsense or even to the cuts-in-Medicare crap (cuts that are reproduced in the Ryan Budget…there, I just did better than the President!).

      Of course, the position of this blog is that the President has a special, UNBULLY PULPIT, which prevents him or his surrogates from having any effect whatsoever on public opinion concerning healthcare reform. Maybe the White House agrees and just couldn’t be bothered.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        I should have been more specific about my areas of agreement with c.a.t. I don’t think he’s lost Florida (or any other battleground state)…yet. But he certainly did himself no favors.

  • Steve LaBonne

    There are times when I understand why Obama seems to have a certain amount of impatience with liberals. This is one of those times.

    • OMG Florida’s gone! Gone!

      If only Obama had vigorously argued for a set of policies that, through a truly bizarre coincidence, happen to line up perfectly with my own individual preferences, he’d be winning by 20 points among white people over 70!

      • aurevoirgopher

        Liberals are not asking for herds of magic ponies. Is it too much to ask for a simple refutation of Medicare lies and a forthright defense of Social Security? Apparently it is from this president, even though its merely the heart of Democratic beliefs, articulated so well by every speaker at the Dem. convention, except of course Obama and his Emanuel, his first chief-of-staff.
        Saying “no cuts to Social Security” would be the most popular position any candidate could make, popular even w/Tea Partiers, and very defensible from a policy standpoint. But Simpson-Bowles-Romney-Obama, none of these bastards will say it.

        • It’s too much to ask that Obama pander to you, instead of actual swing constituencies, in the debates.

          Yes. Yes, it is.

          • AuRevoirGopher

            Who is the swing constituency that responds to the President’s weasel words about “reforming” SS? Promising to fight for no cuts to SS benefits and no raise in the retirement age would be overwhelmingly popular with lib Dems, mod Dems, independents, Republicans and Tea Party Republicans. This would be pandering to America, not me.

            • Steve LaBonne

              Yes indeed. Just because I think there’s no basis for this mass freakout doesn’t mean that I think Obama’s shiftiness on this stuff is good politics. It isn’t.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      If only liberals thought he lost the debate, he wouldn’t have a problem. Not surprisingly, I haven’t seen a single liberal react to the debate by threatening not to vote for Obama. Your comment sounds like a replay of 2010: the President loses the center…and Dems lose the midterms. Liberals point out the President’s flagging fortunes with centrists during and after the election. The President’s staunchest supporters shoot the messenger and blame liberals for the loss.

      • Holden Pattern

        It’s always the fault of the left in the United States. No matter what the problem is, it’s the fault of the left.

        • While I agree with this defense of (a tiny subset of) liberals, you’d be a lot less likely to hear that attack if that tiny subset hadn’t spent 2010 loudly proclaiming their intent not to vote for the Democrats.

          • Holden Pattern

            Right. All of the money, time and votes I personally have given to people who then demonstrated that they think I’m a chump clearly means that I never intended to vote for them and was trying to persuade other people not to vote Dem. You and Lemieux both seem to have adopted that view about me, which is a fascinating delusion on both of your parts.

            Really, it’s tiresome, this fucking straw man you keep burning about how any critics from the left are fucking traitors to the Dems. We get it.

            You’re on Team Democrat, and anyone who isn’t as knob-slobberingly enthusiastic about the Democratic Party as you are is a fucking traitor, objectively pro-Republican, and can be blamed for any given Dem loss.

            Anyone who suggests doing anything but the most timid and easily squashed insider plays in whatever narrow window of time is available between campaign seasons is a fucking traitor, objectively pro-Republican, and can be blamed for any given Dem loss.

            Understood. Taken as read. Bullshit, but understood. Its always the fault of the left. The Republicans say it, and the Democrats say it, so it must be true.

  • Steve LaBonne

    The huge swings, back and now seemingly (in progress) forth, in these polls are simply not credible given the substantial body of evidence that there are very few truly undecided voters. (And I do mean huge: from TPM- “In today’s PPP poll, Obama’s lead among women drops from 15 points to 6 points compared to PPP’s last poll. In yesterday’s Pew poll, Obama’s 18-point lead with women in the previous Pew poll dissolved into a tie.)

    I personally think nothing real has changed at all in a long time. We are on track for an extremely close popular vote that could go either way- but a substantial electoral-vote margin in favor of Obama. That was true six months ago, it’s true today, and it will be true on Nov. 6.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      You can obviously believe anything you want. What the polls actually suggest is that things have moved significantly in Romney’s direction, but that Obama’s still likely to win. Individual polls do, in fact, sometimes show big swings. That’s why sensible poll analysts look under the hood of these polls and consider them in the context of other polling numbers. This morning, Nate Silver has delivered his opinion on that Pew poll. His bottom line: it’s a serious poll and very good for Romney. Other polling numbers yesterday were less good for Romney. Still, overall, Romney is gaining at this moment.

      I guess it’s human nature not to do so, but I do wish people would take bad news like this poll more realistically. Instead a few people are freaking out, while a larger number of folks are waving their hands and making excuses to explain it away.

      • Steve LaBonne

        Yes individual polls show big swings, and that’s precisely why they’re of little value in isolation- there is zero reason to believe that there have been anything remotely resembling such swings in the underlying population, because the requisite numbers of true swing voters simply don’t exist. But all the aggregate effect that has people running around like headless chickens comes precisely from a couple such swings. Nothing real has changed and by the way, Silver’s own model reflects that, showing only a modestly increased probability (still only at one change in 4, and undoubtedly headed south again) of a Romney victory now than before the debate. But if you’d like to freak out, you are certainly entitled to read Silver selectively in a way that supports you. Just don’t expect to be taken seriously, is all.

      • Silver did not say it’s a “serious” poll. He said he can’t believe that Romney has a 4 pt. lead. The Pew poll is an extreme outlier, as he says several times.

        In any case, Silver barely touched on the poll’s internals. He says nothing at all about the funky (and disqualifying) demographics I mentioned above.

        What little he says about internals is focused on party ID. He’s willing to put the (massive) swing in party identification (16%) down to a putative shift in how voters self-identify, but neglects to consider other possibilities (most obviously, the sudden desire of Republican voters to crow about their candidate).

        So if Pew has a bad poll, the sensible thing to do is put it aside and consider what more reliable polls are showing. And the tracking polls are showing at most slight movement toward Romney end of last week, and slight movement toward Obama subsequently. No, it is not at all clear that “Romney is gaining at this moment”.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          Here’s what Silver said about that poll (at the link I give above):

          The Pew poll, however, may well be the single best polling result that Mr. Romney has seen all year. It comes from a strong polling firm, and had a reasonably large sample size. Just as important is the trendline. Pew’s polls have been Democratic-leaning relative to the consensus this year; its last poll, for instance, had Mr. Obama 8 points ahead among likely voters. So this represents a very sharp reversal.

          One line of complaint about the poll has come from Democrats, who noted that the poll showed more Republicans than Democrats in its sample — unlike most other recent surveys.

          I feel the same way about this critique that I do when it comes from Republicans — which is to say I don’t think very much of it. As The Washington Post’s Jon Cohen notes, party identification is fluid rather than fixed, and can change in reaction to political and news events. If voters are feeling better about Mr. Romney after the debates, they might also be inclined to identify themselves to pollsters as Republicans.

          Now he also says that there’s no reason whatsoever to believe that Romney, in fact, has a four point lead. But he certainly doesn’t say it’s a bad poll and it deserves to be “put aside.” Instead, like all reputable polls, he factors it into his projection, which does in fact show that Romney is making modest gains, though there are some signs that those gains are now slowing.

          Cherrypicking negative polls to put aside as just as stupid as freaking out about them…or cherrypicking positive polls to crow about.

          This is a bad poll for Obama. It is significant, but only within the overall picture provided by the universe of serious polling.

          • I made clear that I’m arguing it should be set aside. A bad poll based on a blatantly unrepresentative demographic sample just messes up any assessment of polling trends. An unrepresentative sample makes the poll not reputable. What is stupid is insisting on using a poll when you can see from its internals that it’s not a credible sample. If the respondents to a poll were 95% white, would you insist on taking it into account just because it’s a Pew poll? Ridiculous. You have to make a judgment call with every poll whether it passes the sniff test. This one doesn’t.

            I know what Silver said, and as I pointed out, he never said it is a “serious” poll. He said its result is not credible. You did not acknowledge that basic fact.

            • But we don’t know, for sure, that it’s a bad poll, or that the internals are bad – at least not for sure. Maybe the voting electorate really will look like this sample.

              The best thing is not to set it aside, but set it alongside the rest of the data, and look at this all in the aggregate.

            • Adding that my impression of the poll’s internals are the same as yours, but no doubt, some of the other polls the aggregators use include internals that are skewed the other way.

              • Are there any polls out there so grossly skewed AWAY FROM older whites? Having 3 times oversampling of minorities? The Pew poll is not even in the right ballpark.

  • I am not surprised by the “bounce” in Mitt Romney’s support. According to every analysis I have read for years, debates favour challengers over incumbents, which is why a lot of incumbents at lower political levels either refuse debates, or attempt to negotiate them out of existence by demanding silly pre-conditions and other rules (a good example being Lt. Gov David Dewhurst’s demand here in TX to his winning opponent Ted Cruz for a debate to be conducted in Spanish, a language that Dewhurst just happens to be fluent in…).
    Given how polarized the country is, and the supposed paucity of true independent voters, I am not convinced that the polls are showing anything other than that a lot of people are confused. However, Obama does have to do a much better job in future debates of calling Romney out if he starts talking bullcrap. The Swift Boating of John Kerry in 2004 demonstrates the truth of the old saying that a lie can be halfway round the world while the truth is still putting its pants on. Very few people remember newspaper retractions of BS, a lot of people still only remember the original BS.

  • Sebastian H

    I always want to pair articles like this with articles touting mandatory voting. If your vote is going to turn on stupid debate theater I’d prefer you don’t vote. I obviously can’t make a law against it. But I certainly don’t want to force someone to vite if they are politically disconnected enough to just turn on a debate and make their decision on that basis.

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