Monthly Archives: November 2011

Do You Mind If We Dance With Your Dates?

Evidently “we” do!  Or so claims Touré, an essayist and cultural critic, in an interview last night on  Lawrence O’Donnell’s  MSNBC show Last Word.  While discussing the Herman Cain sexual harassment case, Touré opined: “[B]ut, I mean, I can’t go any further without pointing out that it’s yet another blonde white woman who’s accusing him of doing and saying things that are inappropriate. The instinctual fear in America of black men being sexually inappropriate or aggressive or dominating with white women is very, very deep.”

Some of you, I fear, thought I was writing somewhat tongue in cheek in this previous post when I predicted that we would be seeing exactly these types of comments. But as I noted in that previous post, because there is no evidence, at least not yet, by which to assess the competing versions of what happened between Cain and these women, the individuals involved immediately become symbols for broader debates about race and gender.   Those who join in do so usually with an agenda to push, and with little concern for what is actually known, or more precisely how much is not known, about the actual incidents.  For most of the participants, the facts become secondary and who one believes become a litmus test for one’s views toward those broader issues. Once the debate reaches (or sinks to) this level, both sides dig in for an all-out public brawl fought  with increasingly vitriolic rhetoric.  In the end, no one wins.  Certainly this debate is not helping Cain’s electoral fortunes.

Already there are signs that, although most conservatives seem less than concerned by the accusations, recent survey results indicate others are reconsidering their support for Cain.  In Iowa, Cain has seen his polling numbers drop 7 points in five days, while nationally, Romney has pulled ahead of him in some polls, and Gingrich has gained as well. The RealClearPolitics poll aggregator shows Cain losing almost 5 points in the last week to fall back into a dead heat with Romney, while Gingrich has surged into a close second.  All this despite absolutely no conclusive evidence that Cain has done anything wrong.

Look, I don’t mean to dismiss the importance of having a public discussion about issues of race and gender. Nor do I mean to minimize the issue of sexual harassment.  It’s unfortunate, however, that this discussion has to take place in the context of electoral campaign, in a manner that sheds more heat than light on an already contentious issue, and which may render a de facto guilty verdict on Cain’s candidacy without any real evidence on which to base this finding.

Perhaps I’m idealistic, but there has to be a better way to address these issues, one that elevates conversations about race and gender rather than see it descend into the swampland of cultural stereotypes…

Ok, maybe not.

Evaluating Perry’s Chances: Was It Over When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?

By now almost everyone has heard about or seen what some are calling the worst debate gaffe in history. (It’s not, of course, but never mind.)  I can’t say which I found more amusing – poor Rick Perry’s 50-plus second unsuccessful effort to remember that third government department he is going to eliminate as President (it was the Department of Energy), or the pundits’ immediate pronouncements (see here or here or almost anywhere) that Perry’s campaign is over.  In the end, I think the pundits were probably the more hilarious of the two.  The reality is that if Perry loses this race, it will have almost nothing to do with last night’s debate gaffe, and almost everything to do with fact that his record as Texas governor unsettles conservative activists who are looking for an alternative to Romney.  Try as he might, he simply doesn’t pass the conservatives’ smell test – a fact that has become painfully obvious to anyone watching the debates.  While Perry’s lack of debating skill has been evident for some time, what is really hurting him in these events is what he’s been saying – not how well (or poorly) he’s been saying it.  He jumped into the race and immediately vaulted to the top of the polls on the strength of an impressive jobs record as Texas governor, a fat war chest and the promise that he wasn’t Romney.  But within one debate, he found himself on the defensive over his decision to issue an executive order mandating HPV vaccines for young girls, and for providing undocumented immigrants in-state tuition rates when attending Texas public schools.  He’s been scrambling to regain that initial support ever since. No amount of smooth talking or mastery of debate skills is going to change the fact that Perry’s record is not one that appeals to a true-blue conservative.

The media overreaction to Perry’s gaffe isn’t the first time they’ve written a candidate off, only to be proven wrong.  Earlier this summer, Newt Gingrich saw most of his campaign staff leave, ostensibly because Newt was busy vacationing with his wife rather than throwing himself headlong into the nomination campaign. Newt’s funding dried up, his standing in the polls dropped to the low single digits, and he was skewered in Saturday Night Live skits as the fat guy who didn’t really want to be president.  Although I warned at the time that it was far too early to write off any candidate, and that even though he was a longshot he still had as a good a chance at winning the nomination as any of the other candidates not named Romney, the media declared Newt DOA – a judgment shared by more than one pundit.  Unfortunately for their prognosticative skills, Newt remains very much alive in this race, thanks in no small part to a combination of sterling debate performances and the ability to fly under the media radar (methinks that will be coming to an end soon.)  At this point he has moved into top-tier status nationally based on polling data, with his stock rising in Iowa. Don’t get me wrong – Newt is still a longshot, in large part because he remains underfunded, but the truth is that in a field of 8 candidates, they are all longshots except for Romney.  And yet one of those non-Romney folk is likely to emerge early in the actual voting as the alternative frontrunner.  Newt is not out of this – and neither is Perry.  Like all good candidates, Perry is using humor to defuse the situation. His official campaign website is giving readers the option of selecting what government agency they would most like to forget and Perry will be on Letterman tonight to read a top-ten list that will skewer his debate gaffe.  Although pundits are predicting donors will abandon him, no serious donor would do so based on this highly publicized gaffe alone.  It will take credible evidence of erosion in his support before donor money begins drying up. In any case, Perry has enough money to compete in Iowa and – who knows – he may even see his support rebound if he shows an ability to laugh at himself, and if the media overreaction creates a backlash among Republican voters who aren’t too enamored of the national press already. Newt has shown how to capitalize on Republican voters’ antipathy toward the punditocracy.  Before writing Perry off, let’s see how he reacts to this latest setback.

None of this is likely to change the minds of pundits who delight in pointing to alleged turning points in campaigns – a single event or moment in which an election outcome hung in the balance. In 2004, the purported Democratic frontrunner, Howard Dean, finished a disappointing third in the Iowa caucuses. In an effort to rally the troops, Dean gave a rousing address promising to carry the fight through a succession of primary contests – a speech punctuated with a rebel yell that became an instant you tube sensation.  Pundits point to this as Dean’s Rick Perry moment – a single event that finished his campaign.  In truth, however, Dean’s “I have a Scream” speech had almost no impact on his support – as the Iowa results indicated, he was already in political freefall.  No matter – Dean’s speech is mistakenly viewed by many as a turning point in his campaign.  So it is likely to be with Perry’s debate gaffe.

As with Newt, however, it is too early to count Perry out.  The race is still very fluid. Media efforts to prematurely winnow the field notwithstanding, there’s likely to be at least six candidates in the hunt when the real voting begins in Iowa on January 3.  Until then, we should expect more efforts by the media to declare a candidate’s campaign as all but over.  But, to quote that great political prognosticator Bluto: “Over?!  Nothing’s Over until We Say It Is!”


Consider me your Blutarsky.

The Republicans Debate!

As always, we’ll be live blogging tonight’s Republican debate, which starts at 8 p.m. and will be televised on CNBC.   As always, you are invited to join in with your comments, observations, critiques… .

Let the fun begin!

The ostensible topic tonight is the economy.  But there are several subtexts to the debate. The biggest, of course, is how Cain and his opponents handle the sexual harassment charges Cain is facing. Does he confront them directly? Do the others raise the issue?  I look for Bachmann to be the one to broach this topic, if the two moderators do not.   A second subtext – can Newt Gingrich continue his steady climb in the polls.  Finally, does Perry finally master this format?  Note that they are debating in Romney’s third homestate (his father was governor here). Look for him to get strong audience support… .

And they begin…

First question is to Cain – and it’s not about sexual harassment!

Both Cain and Romney play it safe on bailing out Italy – it’s not a winning card to say U.S. taxpayers are “bailing out” foreign nations.   Not sure this makes much financial sense, but it is safe politics.

(@Tarsi – I think he basically said no to bailing out foreign banks – a Cramer is saying, this can be construed as a rather shortsighted view, given the interdependence of the national financial system).

Harwood attacks Romney on another apparent flip-flop, this time on bailing out the auto industry.  Romney seems to skirt the apparent contradictions as well, but Harwood is not convinced.  Do you think the fact that Romney is married to the same woman for 42 years means he’s not a political chameleon?  Let’s see if Perry has something to say about this…

(@Max – the audience is pro-Romney, but citing the length of your marriage as sign of political steadfastness isn’t going to do it.)

Gingrich’s anti-Bernanke line is an automatic crowd pleaser.

As is Bachmann on reducing corporate tax rates.

Meanwhile, where’s Santorum?

Ah, last as always – he must be fuming.  Go get ’em Rick!

Uh, oh – here’s the Cain question!   Boo!   Boo Maria!

Well, it’s out there. Will anyone else follow up?  Come on guys!

Romney punts – but he’s the frontrunner.  Why not ask Bachmann?

That’s it?  Sheesh!  The crowd wants none of it, which partly explains why Cain’s popularity among Republicans is holding steady for the most part.  They really think this is a media-driven narrative.

(@Biniyam – I think Cain agrees with you. He said character is important for leadership and he said he has the right character!  But I agree that Romney’s nonresponse was the politically correct one, but largely because he’s leading the polls. )

Perry’s sense of debate preparation seems to be learning crowd-pleasing lines, and injecting them into the conversation whether it answers a question or not.  Compare his answer to Gingrich’s….. Newt simply does better at these things…

Newt schooling Maria (or is he?) – she obviously was ready for his obligatory media-bashing line.

Is Cramer over caffeinated tonight, or is he always like this?

Here comes 9-9-9!

It is always amazing how candidates at debates avoid answering the question.  Maria should follow up by giving an alternative definition of fairness – those who have more, pay more.

Romney is getting easy questions – let’s see if he picks upon the fairness issues by defending a more progressive tax rate.

And he does defend a progressive tax rate.  This is actually an important debate, but I’m not sure the audience is getting it.

Bachmann joins in with her own version of fairness.  Everyone should pay – in effect she’s asking to tax those who don’t earn enough to pay taxes .  This is actually a good debate!

Sometimes Paul’s argument are so esoteric that it’s hard for the regular voter to really grasp what he’s saying.  Arguing that the growth in the money supply of late is inflationary may be right, but it’s not what concerns Joe Sixpack right now.  This is why he never gets beyond 10% vote, I think.

Tarsi – what’s the fact checker saying?  Any whoppers as yet?  I haven’t seen anything obvious…


This should be interesting – how do they propose to turn around the housing market?  Gingrich points out the obvious – lower unemployment.  Romney with an “atta boy”! But Steve is not satisfied with the “let’s rely on the markets” answer.  Romney is undeterred. Rely on markets.

Perry doesn’t muff the answer, but it doesn’t sparkle either.  he seems to scripted for applause lines.

So far there’s not much criticism of the candidates by other candidates.  Lots of tweedle dee and tweedle dum here.

Reduce regulations, overhaul the tax code, fire Bernanke, repeal Dodd Frank….etc.

(@Zach – that’s Romney’s problem. He sounds presidential, looks presidential  – but Republicans don’t want him to Be presidential!  It’s the authenticity issue – he can’t surmount it as yet.   Democrats don’t seem to get this.)

Health Care Reform – With What Would You Replace Obamacare?

Huntsman – free market

Paul – get government out. Cut intermediary out, implement medical savings account, rely on market forces.

Perry – Medicare – menu of choices, send Medicaid to states.

Cain – Don’t listen to Princess Nancy (applause line).

Mitt – Conspicuous by his failure to reference what he did in Massachusetts.

Newt – It’s a stupid question.  And he’s right – can’t be answered in 30 seconds.  Maria is undeterred (and she’s pissed). an d so Newt answers – and it’s the best answer of the night.

Bachmann is also strong here.   Again, if you listen to them, given the time constraints, these are really good answers on how to replace Obamacare.  It really gets to the heart of the difference between Democrats and Republicans.

(@Tarsi: Newt has floated his Lincoln-Douglas debate format several times previously).

Finally, Santorum goes on the attack. Mitt shrugs.  Santorum is either smiling or grimacing at Mitt’s response. Why doesn’t someone take Mitt on here?  Harwood has left an opening to take Mitt on – one of these second-tier candidates better do it.

Trying to following the logic of Paul’s complex responses can create a massive headache.  But no matter what he says, he ends with a warning that we are on the precipice of disaster.  He needs to lighten up.  Come on, Ron, life’s too short!

So far, there has been some very interesting discussions, but nothing that will change the rank-ordering of the candidates, I don’t think.

Part Three: the Budget deficit.

Compromise with the Democrats!  Never!  Well, maybe.   Santorum says he can work with Democrats.

Romney collaborated with Ted Kennedy – ooops!  Romney makes it a joke (take notice, Ron….)  Will someone please take Mitt on?

Well, Perry started strong but that finish….egads….@Tarsi – yes, he actually said “Oops”

Well, guess what – they don’t agree on everything!  Bachmann is willing to stray from the no taxes nohow mantra to support an end to the payroll tax cut – along with Perry and, I think, Cain.  Her argument makes fiscal sense.  She’s had a good night.  In fact, pretty much everyone has.  I think this is partly a function of the moderators’ pushing them to clarify responses. For the most part, they are rising to the challenge.

(@Tarsi re: SNL – Yep!)

Let’s hear Paul say “no more bailouts for students!  Make them work!”  (Did anyone get his Homeland security cell phone reference?  No, I didn’t think so….)  And by the way, END THE FED!

Newt’s not much more empathetic to students.  Let them eat cake, but no more loans!  (I hope my students are listening to this! Tough love!)

Perry finally locates the third department to cut.  It took him 12 minutes…

Part Four

Note: Pundits are going to overreact to Perry’s latest debate gaffe, but you shouldn’t.  He’s pretty much inoculated himself here based on his previous mediocre performances.  I just don’t think this latest slip is going to matter as much as everyone will say it will.

Let’s see what Huntsman says about Chinese bridge building…

Good – he takes Romney on (with much prodding from Harwood).  Although his answer that, in essence, is to keep on working, isn’t going to attract a lot of notice. But at least he realizes he drawing less than 1% of support in most polls. He has to do something.

Bachmann’s idea to stop borrowing from China sounds great, but to put it another way, she wants them to stop funding our debt.  Not a good idea….

I take back my earlier claim that this debate hasn’t affected rankings. Cain has reestablished his mojo.

Is Rick Santorum still on the stage?

It’s over?  Santorum has to be pissed – he was stiffed again in terms of  questions asked….

Some quick thoughts:

Cain helped stem the bleeding and thus gained the most.  Bachmann was very very sharp, but I wonder if anyone is listening to her anymore.  Gingrich was his usual sharp self, Romney was solid in his typical unsatisfying manner, Paul remained lovably cranky (“No student loans!”).  Huntsman and Santorum are facing the abyss.

Perry is an interesting case – as Tarsi asks, at what point do his debate gaffes begin to undercut supports from the donors?  I’m not sure.

Increasingly, this is looking like a three-person race: Cain, Gingrich and Romney.  Perry is in danger, I think, of dropping into second tier status.  Of course, pundits will overreact to his debate gaffe – the real issue is how donors react.  We won’t know that for a while.  Pay no attention to things like short-term fluctuations in Intrade.

On the whole, a pretty darn impressive performance by both the candidates and the moderators – good questions, and better followups that really pushed candidates to flesh out their answers.  Lots of meaty discussion that was very issue-focused.

Now, let the post-debate spin begin….

More tomorrow, as I walk down the Perry-is-done pundits from the cliff….











The Cain Scrutiny

It is hard not to feel at least some empathy for all the parties involved in the ongoing Herman Cain sexual harassment case. Cain, the current co-front runner – at least according to national polls – for the Republican nomination, held a press conference late this afternoon in an effort to change a media narrative that for more than a week has focused almost exclusively on allegations that he sexually harassed at least three women while heading the National Restaurant Association more than a decade ago. At least two of those women negotiated financial settlements – or personnel agreements, as Cain prefers to call them – with the restaurant association that reportedly amounted to about a year’s salary (a total that was either significantly large or ridiculously small depending on which “expert” one consulted). Until yesterday, it appeared that the story might lose some steam because the three initial accusers refused to be identified.  However, the story gained new legs yesterday when a fourth person, Sharon Bialek, went public via a media blitz orchestrated by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who charitably contributed a made-to-order tabloid headline to go with an actual victim’s face; Allred said that Cain offered Bialek his version of a “stimulus package”.   In Bialek’s telling, that meant groping her genitals and attempting to push her head down for oral sex.

Even prior to Bialek’s charges, the Republican Party “establishment” had been orchestrating a not-so-veiled media campaign designed to force Cain from the race by portraying him as inexperienced and unprepared for the presidency.  That effort, however, had run into a very big obstacle: a strong portion of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, as I discussed in this Washington Post editorial sees Cain’s lack of political experience as a virtue. Despite the three different accusers – or perhaps because of them – Cain’s support among this conservative bloc remained strong, and by some indications, such as fundraising, he actually benefited from the charges, as they rallied around him.  The latest accusation, with its public face, escalated the stakes, and so Cain changed tactics from saying this was a nonstory and instead decided to hold a press conference.  Alas for the Herminator, I think the effort largely failed; this story is not going away any time soon, and in fact is likely to end badly for all parties.

This is not to say that Cain made a mistake in trying to confront the story head on, although I was mildly surprised his wife wasn’t by his side as he did so, standing by her man in true Hillary Wynette fashion. In contrast to some of the instant post-mortems of today’s conference, I actually thought his opening statement at least clarified some of the issues, and that he handled himself quite well in the question and answer period.  I admit I thought he went overboard in suggesting that Bialek was “troubled” and implicitly suggesting that she might be motivated by money. Far better to stay out of the muck – there will be plenty of surrogates on both sides who will love to wade into it on their principals’ behalf.  He also did not provide much elaboration regarding his assertion that the charges from the second accuser who has now been identified were “found baseless”.  That woman is Karen Kraushaar, a communications director for the Treasury Department’s inspector general.  She had been reluctant to come forward prior to yesterday, when she was “outed” by an online media source. What Cain did not clarify, however, is who it was that concluded the charges were “baseless” and why was a settlement, er, personnel agreement negotiated nonetheless?  Cain did not say.  Instead, he suggested that the “Democratic Machine” – shades of Hillary’s “vast right-wing conspiracy”! – might be behind the accusations, motivated by a desire to prevent “Herman Cain” from winning the nomination and becoming president. Cain stopped short of suggesting the effort was racially motivated, but the thought, although unspoken, was nonetheless clear for all to infer.  In this context, it is worth noting that both of his accusers who have been publicly identified are white woman.

Kraushaar has yet to tell her side of events, but until she does nothing Cain says will make this story go away. If she is deemed credible, his candidacy may be mortally wounded.  But even if she is not, or cannot provide supporting details, Cain will still be hurt if for no other reason than this ongoing narrative detracts from more substantive issues.  And there’s not much he can do about it, particularly during the “invisible primary” when there’s scarcely any other electoral news that might overshadow this story.  In effect, he is being asked to prove a negative – it’s hard to provide corroborating detail for a defense that in a nutshell comes down to “none of this ever happened.”  And that’s why these stories prove so damaging to all parties.  With the lack of corroborating evidence, who one believes inevitably becomes a litmus test for one’s political views.  Questions of evidence and facts become irrelevant, drowned out by escalating rhetoric as each side attempts to frame the issue in ways that evoke more fundamental issues. In this drama, the lead actors become symbols in a larger morality play.  This is what happened in the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill controversy when, during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings she accused him of sexual harassment.  To his supporters, Thomas was the “uppity black man” suffering a high-tech lynching for daring to step off the white man’s plantation. Hill’s defenders portrayed her as every woman who endured the “boys will be boys” sexual harassment that too often characterizes the American workplace.  Today, decades after Thomas was barely confirmed for the Supreme Court, both sides are convinced that they were in the right.

And so it will go here.  Expect the rhetoric to escalate – and for the race and gender cards to play prominently in the ensuing debate. Although Cain did not say it – his defenders almost certainly will: this is but the latest manifestation of a racial stereotype in which the oversexed black man tries to despoil the chaste white woman.  The difference today is that Cain’s “lynching” comes not at the hands from the good ‘ol boys, but from the media, handmaidens of the largely white power structure.  And the accusers? Women’s advocates will note that they will become victims all over again, but this time it will be their motives that get questioned.  Why bring these charges up now?  What’s in it for them?  As such, they will become, as Hill did before them, symbols of the type of workforce harassment that too many women suffer – and the difficulties they face in trying to end this gender-based discrimination.

Is this an overly dramatic scenario?  Perhaps. But mark my word, this is going to get ugly before it gets resolved.  It always does.