Political Politicians

Kudos to Martha Coakley for challenging the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. I wonder how Justice responds when they’re asked to defend a statute that the Administration has said should be repealed. Perhaps with a tepid defense.

What I don’t understand is those who criticize Coakley by claiming that her motivations are “purely political”. What’s up with that? Aren’t politicians supposed to act politically?

Of course, we do want our elected officials to have some backbone, particularly to resist popular outbursts that might have bad policy consequences. (Obama’s effective neutralization of the “Buy America” stimulus bill provision is a good example). But here we have a politician taking a strong stand for the rights of a long-disenfranchised minority group; if her motivations are “purely political,” then let’s elect more politically-motivated politicians.

Climate Hope

Via Steve (new domain name, otherwise as usual), this inspiring little PowerPoint-ish presentation from Dr. Steven Chu, Obama’s choice for Secretary of Energy:


This video features about as many charts per minute as did An Inconvenient Truth, but left me far more hopeful about our long-term prospects on Earth. It is reassuring to see so many powerful positions being filled by people with domain expertise, rather than partisan hacks. If this administration doesn’t get us back on course, we might as well stop having children.

[Tags]Steven Chu, Obama, Climate Change, Energy, Environment[/Tags]

Wassup Redux

Via Steve: I had never seen this ad, but apparently it was a classic:


The remake:


Same actors?

[Tags]Wassup, Budweiser, Obama, Election[/Tags]

Republic National Committee Helps Obama Fundraising

The only plausible result from this RNC mailing, I think, is increased fundraising for Obama over the next few days:

Terrorists Dont Care Who They Hurt

"Terrorists Don't Care Who They Hurt"

For the nearsighted, the front of the mailing says “Terrorists Don’t Care Who They Hurt” and inside: “Why Should We Care What They Have to Say? … Barack Obama. Not Who You Think He Is.”

I would be surprised if the Obama campaign doesn’t get a measurable bump in donations for every mailing like this.

What I really wonder is how intelligent Republican party members tolerate this sort of thing. Aside from Colin Powell, are other high-IQ Republicans voting against their party because of these tactics? Or do they just believe any means justify the ends?

My pet theory as to why these attacks are useless (at best) to the GOP is that they don’t resonate with anything the voters are seeing. The GOP implies Obama is a muslim terrorist who is inexperienced and risky and also an extreme liberal/socialist left-winger (I haven’t heard “communist” yet from the mainstream), while what the electorate sees in the debates, ads, and campaign appearances is an uncannily steady, balanced, articulate individual who comes across as a moderate on most issues (note Obama’s theme of returning to Reagan-era taxation levels!)  At least with the “flip-flopper” attacks (and maybe even the Swift-Boat attacks) on John Kerry, there was something people could see that somewhat corresponded with the attacks, even if the underlying facts didn’t actually pan out. Here, the chasm between the nature of the attacks and the visible target is so great, they could only help energize those who are already hard-core partisans. The lesson here is that if you want to launch misleading, baseless attacks against your opponent, at least find some kernel of truth to base them on.

On a similar note, I agree with Aaron Swartz that ACORN deserves our financial support.

Finally, I predict a bunch of astroturf comments to this blog entry. I won’t bother to respond if the comments fail to say anything intelligible.

[Tags]Politics, Election, Obama, McCain, Terrorism, ACORN[/Tags]

Joe the Plumber… isn’t a plumber?

I haven’t been blogging this election at all recently — there are enough folks out there saying just about everything that should be said (and lots that shouldn’t), but I couldn’t let this little tidbit slip by without mention.Via the TaxProf blog:

Also, the Trademark Blog notes the flurry of related domain name registrations.

[Tags]Joe the Plumber, Obama, McCain, Politics, Election[/Tags]

The man hears what he wants to hear

(and disregards the rest)

Jonah Lehrer reports the result of a depressing but unsurprising experiment: The Facts Don’t Matter.

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration’s prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation — the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration’s claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

A similar “backfire effect” also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.

In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might “argue back” against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same “backfire effect” when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration’s stance on stem cell research.

It’s particularly interesting that the backfire effect is more pronounced with Republicans; this certainly resonates with my admittedly biased view. Better information doesn’t seem to fix the problem, either:

During the first term of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the budget deficit declined by more than 90 percent. However, when Republican voters were asked in 1996 what happened to the deficit under Clinton, more than 55 percent said that it had increased. What’s interesting about this data is that so-called “high-information” voters – these are the Republicans who read the newspaper, watch cable news and can identify their representatives in Congress – weren’t better informed than “low-information” voters.

Anyone have a better solution? Or should we just throw in the towel on democracy?

Democratic Unity

A sure sign of the long road ahead of us to pull together in this election:

Can’t we all just join forces?

[Tags]Obama, Biden, Facebook[/Tags]

Obama and Tire Pressure

Via Steve — this is nearly perfect. It is immensely satisfying to see a Democratic presidential candidate  gracefully obliterate frivolous attacks rather than cower under them.

[Tags]Politics, Obama, Energy[/Tags]

Political Blogging

The Frontal Cortex provides an astute explanation as to why he shies away from political blogging in this election season:

My hypothesis is that political judgments are like moral judgments. When you see a candidate, you experience a visceral, instinctive, inexplicable response. Your brain generates an emotion РObama is uplifting, Hillary is commanding, McCain is honorable, etc. Рand then the rest of your brain goes about explaining your emotion. The inner interpreter gathers together bits of evidence, post hoc justifications, and pithy rhetoric in order to make our automatic reaction seem reasonable. But this reasonableness is just a fa̤ade, an elaborate self-delusion.

Personally, I haven’t done much (any?) such blogging lately for lack of time, but I also generally agree with his conclusions.  “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

[Tags]Politics, Elections, Neuroscience[/Tags]

Please Leave Me Alone John Connolly

Up until recently, I’ve been supporting John Connolly as candidate for city council. In addition to the recent concerns about anonymous mailings, I’m now getting hammered by his auto-dialer. I’ve received four prerecorded phone calls today and yesterday reminding me to vote for Connolly. (By contrast, I got one real human phone call from a Michael Flaherty supporter.) Now with a few hours left to vote, I’m on the fence. I wish this guy would leave me alone.

In the meantime, a WBUR interview claims that Felix Arroyo is the most vulnerable candidate (something I’ve never heard elsewhere). If that’s the case, I’m tempted to just bullet-vote for Felix.

I hope this last-minute vacillation doesn’t make me an idgit voter.

5pm update: three more automated phone calls! One for Murphy from Consalvo; and two for Connolly (one from Tobin, the other I forget). They’re pulling out all the stops, only at the last minute. I wonder who the dismal weather (and poor turnout) favors.

7pm update: three or four more calls, now including real humans! My wife figured out part of the reason we’re getting so many — separate calls each for her and me, even though it’s all on the same phone number.

In any case, we’ve all voted now. I did end up including Connolly in my votes despite these over-the-top tactics. I guess it shows, at least, that he’s well organized.

[Tags]Boston, City Council, Felix Arroyo, John Connolly[/Tags]