Friday, October 31, 2014

The Second World Series, The Two Nates of Politics, and Madison Baumgarner

We were very lucky when Nate Silver, statistician and writer, moved over from sports to politics for a couple of years in a column for the New York Times. Throughout the 2012 political season he  correctly called the presidential race, based on the numbers that he carefully examined and explained.  He made this correct prediction when virtually nobody else did and he stayed loyal to it to the end when all the pundits were skeptical of Obama's chances and many pollsters were too.  In fact, Karl Rove's number crunchers so misled him that he was running around Fox studio on election night, trailed by Fox cameras, trying to persuade Fox not to give Ohio and the election to Obama.

Silver was not only right in his analysis and ultimate call; he also wrote very well. You can know everything but if you can't say it clearly, what's the point?  I stumble into incoherence sometimes just like everyone else but Nate Silver virtually never did.

But then he left us.  Back to sports and ESPN in 2013, with this year a sporadic nod at politics.  Obviously his heart isn't in it.

In his wake the New York Times hired Nate Cohn, whom I am sure is a delightful person.  But I'm not so sure about his ability to weigh the numbers and that's because he doesn't handle words all that well. He doesn't explain things.

That's where Madison Baumgarner comes in. His job is to present pitched balls to a batter. The batter then decides whether to swing or not. It's the core decision of the game of baseball. In the story of the two Nates, politics is the pitcher and they are the batters.  They each have had to decide which statistics to swing at.  Which numbers mean something?  And what do they mean?

Nate Cohn is too eager.  He swings at too much.  Further he doesn't go for the sweet spot; he seems to deliberately pop flies.

Right now he is confronting a batch of statistics that may or may not mean something.  They are the  early voting performance in several states, those states that can determine whether the Democrats hold a majority in the Senate. Potentially these numbers are very telling.

At first glance they show that a large number of Democratic voters who did not vote in 2010 have voted early in 2014.  This may indicate the Democrats are going to win in those key states.  But does it?

Eager to get an attention-grabbing opening for his story, right off the bat Cohn trumpets this as a very good sign for the Democrats. He makes it his headline and his opening paragraph.

But his real job is to figure out whether these numbers actually tell us something or only seem to. This initial judgment is comparable to deciding whether the ball speeding at you is worth swinging at.  You can't swing at every pitch and you can't embrace every number, at least not fruitfully. Do these early votes say what they seem to?  Are more Democrats going to be voting, not just early, but right up until the polls close?

Or is this a revolving door situation?  As the Democrats party workers drag these usually low performance voters to the polls are other Democrats that they dragged to the polls in 2010 going to take a time-out?

The only voter performance number that ultimately counts is the final tally. Nate Cohn takes way too long to mention this.

The danger of trying to peer through the fog ahead of time is that often you can't be sure what you are looking at.

Cohn knows this but he waits for paragraphs to tackle the issue of the revolving door or what he calls "cannibalism", and then he does so in a sort of backhand way, to mix sports metaphors.

The result is that I read the piece with dying joy.  It wasn't "good news for Democrats", as billed.  It was a bit of grandstanding.  It was a less-than-Babe-Ruth batter pointing to left field and then not delivering.

I know the Babe ain't coming back, but I sure wish Nate Silver was.  I want a guy who knows what to swing at.

Meantime all we can do is wait for Tuesday night and the final score in the last game of our own kind of series.  Election Day! Play ball!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Does Obama Still Matter?

Does Obama still matter? Normally that would seem like a stupid question.  How can a president of the United States not matter?  Sure, he's a lame duck, with just over two years left in his presidency.  And, yes, the House has denied him any legislation for the past two years.

He's also been denigrated by the press as being a drag on Democratic candidates this midterm election year.  As if members of Congress don't do enough to drag themselves down.

Before looking at whether Obama still counts for anything, let's take a quick look at who is dragging whom down. It sure looks to me like the Democratic officeholders have done a terrible job of supporting their president and their leader.

Where were they when all the flagrant mistruths were being hurled around about Obamacare and him personally?  Why was their applause silent when he saved the auto industry and brought it to profitability for the first time in decades?  Where were their cheers when he pulled us out of the recession which still sucks down much of Europe?  We have had quarter after quarter of really good job numbers here and not a peep of applause from the Demo politicos.  And all those great steps he took by executive order to save the planet from suffocating and/or drowning in climate change?  Moving us toward closing thousands of coal burning power plants and drastically lowering car AND truck emissions (that had never been done about trucks before)  -  hey, those are very big deals!  But we don't even get from Democratic politicians the sound of one hand clapping.

If they had defended him and his policies, maybe we wouldn't have had a wipe-out of the House in 2010.  If they had defended him and the truth since then, maybe we'd have a better chance of holding the Senate this year and even regaining the House.  Regarding the latter, the climb is tough but we only need 17 seats to swing the majority, and 25 seats are squishy enough to raise a hope or two. If they had drumbeat his accomplishments they could have  -  as Democrats  -  looked better themselves.

But no matter what, does Obama still matter?  Oh, honey, you bet he does!  There is talk that he is close to a deal with Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program.  That is truly big time.  It's potentially saving millions of lives from an Iran weapon, and it's also forestalling Iran grabbing control of the Middle East and springboarding a nuclear arms race among the wild card nations around it.

He also can still do more for the environment with his executive orders, still bring effective pressure for better wages by government contractors, still keep deportations low (though he has to meet the Congressional minimums or be impeachable).  And he can still manage the U.S. role abroad without getting us into another boots-on-the-ground ten-year "war" a la Bush Jr.

He keeps plugging away, his hair getting whiter.  But he's still in there punching.  Right now his military is saving the afflicted people of West Africa from Ebola. Abandoned children are not dying in the muddy streets.

Meantime the New York Times editorial board has the audacious hypocrisy to scold the Democratic party for not telling about Obama's immense achievements.  Hey!  Isn't the press supposed to keep us informed?  Isn't that the point of a free press in a democracy, to inform the voters?  The New York Times and the rest of the mainline media has buried Obama's record like it was a disgusting secret and has consistently failed to answer the lies the GOP has told.

One example: a few weeks ago one of the NY Times OWN REPORTERS started his story by saying in so many words, "This is really a big story."  But his editor ignored the flagging and buried the story.

It was a wowser, totally refuting two of the GOP's biggest misrepresentations.  (1) Contra the GOP, the cost of Medicare is going down, down, down and not up, up, up.  And  (2) the country is not going broke.  These are the facts produced by the figures. The lies being corrected thereby were the ones fundamental to the whole GOP construct that brought us the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and her death panels, the terrible cuts in the government programs we all need, such as the CDC budget.  And these lies were the justification for the government shutdown and threats not to raise the debt ceiling.

Many Americans have been hoodwinked into a gloom and doom view of our country because the press and the Democrats have failed in their jobs.  That's the great tragedy of the last six years. It's a far greater tragedy than Obama not getting the credit he deserves.  Hell, people, he's a black man in America.  Do you think unfairness is a surprise to him? Like him, I too have been punching above my weight all my life.  We just keep punching.  It's who we are.

And neither the chicken-livered Democratic party or the fraidy cat media can take that away from my buddy or me.  We are who we are and we've done what we've done.  And it's enough for us personally.

As for the "judgment" of the talking heads  and the mis-written record?  Like the man said who walked away into the mist, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."  I don't either.

And I'm sure Obama doesn't.