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US Electoral Maps 1952-2012

There’s a long road to the 2016 election, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Much is being said about changing state demographics and psychographics and how it will affect the electoral map. Chris Ladd sounded the alarm in his post-2014 analysis, noting the electorally rich Blue Wall and the electorally sparse Red Fortress. Many argue that leadership can cause blue states to turn over, but the swing state math means putting a diverse set of states into play. This would mean states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico from the West; Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio from the Midwest; Virginia; and Florida.

The ideological rhetorics in #hashtaggable quips have solidified over the years to create meanings for ideological clusters. Perhaps the thorniest issue for both parties will be the size and scope of the government. Pew has been developing political typologies for about 25 years and the latest highlights political fragmentation:

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The GOP is faced with two factions that want different things. The Steadfast Conservatives and Business Conservatives differ on social issues and immigration. There isn’t a core, but 2 cores that are distinct. The populist aspect of the Steadfast Conservatives can make Business Conservatives uneasy when there’s talk of going after crony capitalism and use of rhetoric like Codevilla’s “country class” versus “ruling class” dichotomy. Republicans could court Young Outsiders, but would need to moderate on social issues. The Faith & Family Left are religious and have concerns about the country’s morality, but are proponents of the social safety net, as are the Hard-Pressed Skeptics. Democrat core typologies also create factions of Solid Liberals, Next Generation Left, and the Faith & Family Left.

I think we’re guaranteed to see the Obama Administration systematically lobbing issues at the right to create tensions between Steadfast and Business Conservatives. I would surmise that part of the strategy is to get Republicans to despise their own opposing faction and set up a particularly brutal primary season with the tagline of Who Is Most Conservative? Already, the Twittersphere and punditsphere are calling into question Chris Christie or Jeb Bush’s qualifications as true conservatives. In the power struggle, it’s not as if either side will defect from the GOP (both came out or Romney in 2012 & Republican Congressional candidates in 2014). The danger is turning off the other political typologies. While Republicans made inroads with the 2014 election with respect to all of the typologies, it was without a center ring battle of what the party represents and its platform:

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The Democrats might have a few more degrees of freedom with respect to strategizing in the next 20 months. They can never be a “small” or “anti” government party, but they could articulate being a “smart” government party knowing full well that they will never convince their detractors. This would allow inroads in swing states into the Next Generation Left, the Hard-Pressed Skeptics, and the Young Outsiders. Of course, a shift could occur and these political typologies might morph or dissolve with new ones forming.

It will be interesting how things shape up in 2015.


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This is from John Green’s Crash Course series on US History. It gives an account of the rise of modern US conservatism, but I’m not sure how conservatives and libertarians will agree with this account. I think it’s interesting because it’s useful in framing the current ideological divides. The video starts off with Goldwater and segues to Nixon. While many might argue that current conservatism owes its roots to the founders or that the video ignores the 1920s (as evident in some of the YouTube comments), I think that Goldwater and the 1960s represents a good point of departure for modern US conservatism, since it represented a deterioration of the Democratic “solid South” and sets up the current political landscape.

What’s instructive here is how it explains how policy and politics aren’t independent of popular opinion. So, not all of Nixon’s policies are “conservative” (e.g., The EPA), as the Nixonian conservatism was embedded in a particular historical circumstance. While the “Silent Majority” who elected Nixon wasn’t happy with the social direction of the country, there was hardly a wholesale reduction of the federal government to pre-WWI levels.

Going beyond the video, I think that there are three distinct eras in modern conservatism. The rise of Nixon in 1968 (who lost in 1960 to Kennedy in the general election) was a backlash against the counter culture, in all of its manifestations. The rise of Reagan (who lost to Ford in the 1976 primaries) was not only a backlash against Carter, but brought together the anti-Communist stance of Goldwater, a move towards laissez-faire economic policy, and a social conservatism. Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract with America” (which didn’t feature a social conservative stance) brought both houses of Congress under control of the GOP, but it signaled a divide: the “country club” Republicans versus the socially conservative populists. While George W. Bush managed to squeak by in 2000 with the help of the Supreme Court, he had a little more breathing room in 2004, winning with a “War on Terror” = “War in Iraq” messaging. He managed to keep together a coalition of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives, which fell apart by 2006 and evident in his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

The fragmented state of the GOP is an interesting case because the party cannot contain the ideologies of its factions. Strong leadership may remedy this, but perhaps only to a point. What the conservative factions want and popular opinions on issues such as taxes, deficits, regulation, income inequality, minimum wage, abortion/reproductive rights, guns, entitlements, gay marriage, and immigration create too many possible failpoints for Presidential candidates and legislators.

While 2016 presidential election is a far off on the horizon, I’m not the first to point out that the Republican who wins (since 1968, after the South realigned) had his challenger come from the middle:

  • 1968: Nixon, challenged by Nelson Rockefeller
  • 1972: Nixon, challenged by Pete McCloskey
  • 1980: Reagan, challenged by George Bush
  • 1988: George Bush, challenged by Bob Dole
  • 2000: George W. Bush, challenged by John McCain

I’m not sure what a 2016 “most conservative electable candidate” looks like, but looking at a likely rough primary fight and swing state math, they’re not in an enviable position.



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I’ve been watching MadMen since its inception. Yes, I see the show as a way of having discourse about current issues within the safety of a period drama set now in 1968. I’ve felt that the show could be more interesting in examining social issues, which it does do, but I just find its treatment of them to be uneven.

I sometimes take issue with the cultural narrative that it may be creating, which brings us to last Sunday’s episode of Mad Men (S06E04). Last season, Joan’s character slept with a client she wasn’t attracted to and parlayed that into a 5% partnership stake at the SCDP ad agency. Quid pro quo. I felt that this pandered to the “Oh no she didn’t” school of writing that was vaguely misogynistic in its portrayal, despite the idea that the show was set in 1968. One read is that her maneuver shows her self-empowerment. She’s using the tools at her disposal within an organizational and sociocultural context to get ahead as a single mom.  On this week’s episode, Joan fires Harry’s (Head of Television) secretary for having someone else punch her time card. Joan is portrayed as a dictatorial bitch and it’s hard to be sympathetic to her situation, even if one believes she is totally in the right. Harry goes ballistic, as her actions make him feel unempowered (arguably emasculated) and he makes a spectacle of calling Joan out for her actions by interrupting a board meeting. Oh, he adds the slut-shaming zinger directed at Joan:

“I’m sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight and I can’t be given the same rewards.”

Harry’s invective had the impact of de-legitimizing her status in the company and labeling her as a whore. Not only calling into question her ethics, it also casts doubt on her abilities. While the means by which Joan became partner may provide for some shock and awe value, i.e., Joan selling her body to get ahead, couldn’t this be a parable depicting a 1967 version of leaning in? Now, let me make it clear that I get that there is the difference between women being a part of generic “lean in” circles and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In™ machinery, involving a book, a movement (with only stories with positive endings, please), and a backlash.

The idea of “leaning in” is innocuous enough: women need to lean in at the workplace in order to advance, embrace  ambition and in a sense “do what it takes” to succeed despite challenges in balancing career, family, relationships, etc. There is a certain pragmatics to this that speaks to addressing the issue of women getting paid 77¢ on the male dollar.

Tracie Egan Morrissey’s Jezebel recap of the episode leans in that direction, quite explicitly. Morrissey doesn’t have an issue with Joan’s rise to the top and remarks how Joan indeed has the chops to do her job. The narrative of the show supports the idea that she is qualified. Her techniques may be brusque and could be construed as “bitchy”, but incompetent she isn’t. (Effective is another matter, but I’ll leave that for another day.)

Tracie Egan Morrissey notes how the latter is embracing a lean in type of attitude, in that Joan realizes she has the admiration and respect of other women and delegates responsibilities in order to gain more respect of her male counterparts. Morrissey acknowledges that Joan prostituted herself, but that’s OK because she has the skills. My take was that Morrissey felt that Joan did indeed prostitute herself, but that she earned being partner based on her accomplishments. So, it’s not sex work, but sex for work in a situation where the sex is opening a door that would never be opened to her. Yet, Harry’s slut shaming reminded the Board and the audience that Joan engaged in “prostitution”.

Unfortunately, Joan’s story arc is one of several prostitution references in the show (i.e., flashbacks to Don Draper’s childhood growing up in a brothel, Don’s comparison of Megan’s acting with love scenes to prostitution). I suppose what rubs me the wrong way with Morrissey’s recap is how Joan’s “prostitution” is somehow pragmatic and lean in-like, yet, prostitution and sex work are still a point of derision:

“Speaking of worth and transactional sex, I thought that having Sylvia (the neighbor Don is having an affair with) use a penny as the secret code for Don was genius. It works on so many levels! It helps illustrate that Don is nothing but a cheap whore, the ultimate irony after trying to insinuate that Megan is a prostitute because she gets paid to perform love scenes on her soap. (Also, I think that Don, who’s been “acting” for most of his adult life, believes that if you’re good at pretending, then you’re a bad person. So he views Megan’s career as some kind of moral failure. Even more irony.)”

Moreover, there’s more than a nod to the normative here:

Also the idiom: a bad penny always turns up, meaning that a worthless person always comes back to the place he started. For Don, who was raised in a brothel, that’s loveless sex.

Morrissey’s take on the episode highlighted what I see to be a huge problem in the current discourse space. Within the spectre of pragmatics like lean in, sex work can have its place, but only if it fits a certain narrative? I say this, as it still can be used to marginalize or otherwise put down others. I don’t think it matters that Don Draper is depicted as a white male with power. It’s pretty transparent that he’s being leveled by Morrissey who calls him a “cheap whore” and states he’s motivated by “loveless sex”. Feminists casting aspersions like this on sex work only serve to further create divisions by reinforcing judgments and social normatives. Hannah Betts in The Guardian warns that feminism should be mindful of hating prostitutes. Betts notes a prevailing notion that money for sex is fine, as long as its legitimized:

Marriage continues to be considered to veil sex with respectability, whatever its financial motivations. Nobody campaigns against the career courtesans who are Belgravia bankers’ wives, or the footballers’ consorts of Cheshire. The message: sex for money is fine – just put a ring on it before you put out.

Morrissey’s “lean in” stance is similar in that Joan’s use of her body is legitimate, but the tomcatting Don Draper is reduced morally by being equated to a “cheap whore” raised in a brothel—where “loveless sex” occurs, an act with no legitimacy. Is this just semantics? Should I just lighten up, it’s just a TV show, after all? Doesn’t Morrissey really mean that Don is a phoney, cheat, and a lout, but “cheap whore” simply has a succinct and terse economy of phrasing? Well, I think language does indeed matter and the use of such slut shaming terminologies with historical baggage in describing behaviors, real or fictional, matters.

Moreover, I think that Morrissey uses a too-literal transactional definition of sex work as sex-for-money, as opposed a more nuanced sociological one. Melissa Gira Grant in another Guardian article from 2011 defines sex work in more nuanced terms:

What sex workers are actually selling is our ability to make our customers think they are getting what they want, and we try to sell that with as little strain on our time and our bodies as possible. You wouldn’t be able to tell this from sex trade ads because it would be incredibly bad marketing, but it’s the illusion around which sex work turns.

The creation of value through experiences people want may sound like so much marketing mumbo jumbo, but I think it’s not only the foundation of marketing, but many everyday social actions. We present ourselves to others in everyday life, in a Goffman sense, in our daily social interactions. So, sex work cannot be simply reduced to sex for money, it’s fostering an illusion, but if we really think about it, perhaps this is a more general concept applicable to the labor market. This isn’t to say that illusions are devoid of value or are trickery. Here, I’m implying that there is a performative that is used as the basis for exchange value. Sex work, like many social interactions are—dramaturgical.

Lean in as a generic concept is about a gendered performative in the workplace, which is fine. I think it probably fails as a one-size-fits-all overarching metanarrative, as the experiences of women in the Judith Butlerian intersection of race, class, and gender blasts apart the idea that there can be a singular lean in. Perhaps additionally problematic for feminism are other metanarratives, such as a normative orthodoxy on sex work that may not hold true as a sociological phenomenon, again, at the intersections of race, class, and gender. Nevertheless, I think social movements as a whole can learn from a better understanding various micronarratives and care should be taken not to use language to marginalize those who may be outside of the dominant paradigm.

There’s a certain irony that MadMen allows an examination of contemporary themes through a safer lens of the wayback machine of period television, but it’s interesting how we can’t seem to escape the historical burden of our sociocultural neuroses about sex.

Times Square, NYC, 31 October 2012-Romney & Obama electoral prediction—Kenneth M. Kambara

Greetings from NYC, post Sandy, but pre-election. I have been really busy this election season, so I haven’t had the time to cover this election or do as much reading as I would like. I have C-SPAN on now watching the last minute speeches by Romney, Obama, Ryan, and Biden and seeing a bit on punditry. I didn’t compile predictions like I did for 2008, but this time I’ll go into some detail on my swing state picks. Here’s a compilation I saw on my Twitter feed.

Here’s the electoral map that I started with. The 146 electorals in the swing states are beige, while Romney’s states are red and Obama’s are blue. The breakdown is 201 [Obama], 191 [Romney], 146 in play, and with 270 needed to win.

Florida [29] The polls show the momentum shifting towards Romney in the state. I think the post-mortems will find that the I-4 corridor decided the election and the Democratic hopes of winning the state hinge upon keeping it close here. I don’t know the “house effects” for Mason-Dixon, but their poll of the area for the Tampa Bay Times has Romney leading.

North Carolina [15] I don’t think North Carolina is in play. Obama wasn’t appearing there himself and while Bill Clinton was pitching for the cause with the likes of Mariah Carey, I think his campaign has conceded it to Romney. Romney’s campaign has signalled its confidence since mid-October. Unemployment is high in the state and it was a narrow Obama victory in 2008 which tends to vote Republican in Presidential races.

Pennsylvania [20] Romney made a recent push in Pennsylvania, including a $12M adspend, which may have raised some eyebrows. I think it’s “too big to ignore” and his people felt it was worth the stretch. Michael Barone of The National Review went out on a limb with Pennsylvania, citing Romney’s appeal specifically in the western part of the Keystone state and the Philadelphia suburbs. It could be close, as this article on notes.

Michigan [16] Another bellwether and a must-win for Obama was a beneficiary of the 2009 auto bailouts. Democrats are expecting Debbie Stabenow to hold her US Senate seat and are hoping to pick up some House seats, including MI-1 in the upper peninsula (Bart Stupak’s [D] old seat). The tea party candidate, Dan Benishek, is facing a tough race in a district that benefits greatly from federal monies. I see blue as trending in the state.

Nevada [6] I don’t see Nevada as being in play, despite the sky high unemployment of 11.8%. Obama has focused on courting Hispanics and the union vote, while Romney has worked a ground game strategy in the Las Vegas suburbs.

Colorado [9] NBC has this at a dead heat and early voting is trending for Romney. Colorado tends to vote Republican and didn’t go for Clinton in 1996. I see the closeness of the race at this time being bad news for Obama’s fortunes in the state.

Iowa [6] I think Obama’s rhetoric in Iowa might be a tipoff. Unlike in Ohio, where he characterized Romney as “not one of us”, his messaging in Iowa was more hope & change. The northwest has Evangelical Christians who aren’t too excited about Mitt Romney so turnout is key there. Obama will need to do well in the cities along I-80 to pull off Iowa.

Wisconsin [10] I see Wisconsin as a schizophrenic state. The trend has been towards Democrats in the presidency, but Republicans are a force at the state level and one of the US Senate seats and 5 of 8 House seats. The polls have Obama in the lead and my take is that despite Ryan on the ticket, this will hold.

This brings us to a 259 to 244 tally with Obama leading Romney with 35 electorals in play.

I see the following states as the swingingest of the swing states. These are varying shades of “purple” in my book (between red & blue) and as of 2:18AM EST, I think they will go Obama. I don’t feel very solid about this and I think there’s a good chance that if Virginia and Ohio don’t show clear trends early, it’s going to be a long election night.

I don’t like not having a definitive prediction, so I’ll go on the record with a 294-244 Obama win. The caveat being that much of this is based on polling data.

Ohio [18] Bellwether Ohio has been trending towards Obama, buoyed by a recovery and relatively low unemployment. The populist vote indebted to the auto bailout. The rural vote may make things close for Mitt Romney if turnout in Cleveland and the urban manufacturing centers falters.

New Hampshire [4] I think New Hampshire might be really close, but I think it’s leaning Obama. Romney was making headway in October, but it looks like his momentum has stalled. My concerns after following Canadian politics is the polls being off, particularly in constituencies with a rural composition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Romney pulls this out.

Virginia [13] I think this is a true toss-up. I think the fate of the Commonwealth electorals resides in three northern swing counties. I think Romney’s protectionist stance on China might hurt him with selected educated suburbanites. I think if turnout is high in northern Virginia, Obama gets a slight edge, but I think it will be very close.

At the risk of sounding like I’m hedging, I see the opposite as a definite possibility, i.e., Romney sweeping these three. Although the data might support my above prediction, there is the danger that the polls are off. While Nate Silver correctly predicted 49 of 50 states in 2008, he missed Indiana. I called Indiana for Obama based on Karl Rove’s observation that Barack was doing well in the northwestern corner of the state near Hammond & Gary. That’s why I’m thinking the following 279-259 Romney win could happen. It would be something, but not likely, if there was a 269-269 tie. This could happen with Obama getting Colorado and an electoral in Nebraska, while losing New Hampshire, Virginia, and Ohio. The likely result of a tie: President Mitt with Joe as Veep.

Romney winning Virginia, New Hampshire, & Ohio.
269-all tie with Obama getting Colorado and Nebraska’s 2nd. District.

Note: Thanks to Fred Strauss for pointing me to this National Review post and several other sources that informed my opinion.

From left are, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)

Yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling [full text] on Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA) was an interesting one on several fronts. This post will go over political, legal, and health policy ramifications of the decision, focusing specifically on the individual mandate.

The Election

Earlier this year, I was of the opinion that regardless of the outcome of the case, Obama wins. Now, I’m not so sure that would have been the case. While a ruling against ACA would provide Barack and the Democrats election fodder by offering evidence of an activist conservative Court that is willing to override the will of Congress, I think a bigger danger would be tied to a divisive law that was a centerpiece to Obama’s first term that was deemed as unconstitutional. My opinion is that the electoral calculus favors Obama, but for him to be able to enact any change in his second term, he will need a mandate and enjoy Democratic control of the House and Senate. That might be a long shot. The trifecta of Presidency, House, and Senate is the real issue and precondition for an agenda of change—not the nationwide polling numbers, although perceptions of a close election are in the best interests of the media and could boost turnout, which would favor the Democrats.


Like Ike

While Romney and the Republicans may try to make hay out of repealing ACA, I’m not sure how much traction it will get. It could be part of anti-taxation rhetoric, given that’s what the Supreme Court based the ACA decision on, but that could be problematic given that Romney has already committed to tax cuts for the wealthy. While some of Mitt’s recent political rhetoric has a populist ring to it, the devil’s in the details. I think in the battle for swing state independents and moderates, I think Romney’s only shot is to go populist and appeal with a middle-class populism. While Obama’s track record, based on Voteview’s analysis of roll call votes {albeit an imperfect measure for the presidencies}, shows him as the least liberal Democrat since Johnson {who was a hawk during the Vietnam War}, Eisenhower was the least conservative Republican.

Perhaps rather than harken back to Reagan, Romney should go back to 1950s traditionalism and the political moderation of Ike. I feel that Romney is allowing himself to be heavily defined by others—be it Obama or the more socially conservative wing of the party. Maybe this is a reaction to McCain’s maverick, seat of the pants style that involved choosing a Sarah Palin, who wasn’t always rowing in the same direction as the campaign, and suspending his campaign during the fall 2008 financial crisis. Addressing ACA as a moderate populist makes more sense than taking potshots at Obama’s “bad law” that is now deemed as constitutional. Plus, Justice Ginsburg stated Romneycare was a reason she sided with the majority, which can be thrown in Romney’s face.

Taxation vs. The Commerce Clause

While Chief Justice John Roberts is being lauded for his genius, this DC Bar post from January of 2011 presages his take on the matter. Jack Balkin of the Yale Law School is quoted:

“Balkin believes the best argument for the constitutionality of the individual mandate is that it is a tax. ‘It is an amendment to the Internal Revenue Code. It is collected on your tax return. It is collected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It’s computed based in part on your income. It’s a tax.’”

A commerce clause interpretation gets murky fast because it’s one thing for Congress to regulate commerce, but quite another to require it. Chief Justice Roberts [pdf] made this clear:

“Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. Congress already possesses expansive power to regulate what people do. Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do. The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it. Ignoring that distinction would undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers. The individual mandate thus cannot be sustained under Congress’s power to ‘regulate Commerce.’”

Tom Scocca in Slate argued that this could limit the ability of Congress to enact law through the use of the Commerce Clause. David Cole in The Nation isn’t so sure:

“When one adds the dissenting justices, there were five votes on the Court for this restrictive view of the Commerce Clause. But that is not binding because the law was upheld on other grounds. And while some have termed this a major restriction on Commerce Clause power, it is not clear that it will have significant impact going forward, as the individual mandate was the first and only time in over 200 years that Congress had in fact sought to compel people to engage in commerce. It’s just not a common way of regulating, so the fact that five Justices think it’s an unconstitutional way of regulating is not likely to have much real-world significance.”

The ultimate policy effect of the “tax” or “penalty” will probably work because of social psychology’s prospect theory—people don’t like losses and will avoid them. This will compel compliance with the program, allowing the pooling of the population to spread out the risk.

Health Policy

Is the ACA good health policy? Well, one view is that it’s flawed from a health economics point of view, as Larry Van Horn states. I think he conveniently omits the fact that there’s a difference between actuarial and social insurance, which I blogged about on ThickCulture back in 2009. The healthcare industry faces uncertainty, as the increased demand for services may not be offset by pressures on margins. The main question for patients will be whether access to high quality care will be available. As a documentary producer and researcher on the subject of primary healthcare, I’ve been following what’s been done in Massachusetts, i.e., Romneycare. Yes, there are issues with rural healthcare in the Commonwealth and CUNY-Hunter College Public Health professors, David U. Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler {former Massachusetts MDs} are advocating for a public health program that would further reform healthcare. I think they make some very valid points, but I tend towards viewing healthcare as social infrastructure. Specifically, they are advocating for:

  1. Cutting out middlemen {costly insurance overhead}
  2. Pay hospitals based on costs, not on a per-patient basis
  3. Enforce real health planning
  4. More primary care, less specialists
  5. Price controls on pharmaceuticals
  6. Cap salaries on health executives

My take is that the ACA will have a positive net effect on health outcomes by increasing demand and adding to the insurance pool, younger patients who tend to have lower incomes [see pdf from US Census]. I think the best to hope for in the current model is a minimal care floor that serves as a lower threshold. It won’t be perfect and it may eventually move the industry towards rationalizing prices, which can be quite exorbitant, as evidenced in a LATimes report:

“Of course, and it’s all part of a years-long game in which the charge for service, the true cost of the service, and the acceptable payment are in three different orbits. And that doesn’t even take into account how the charges are adjusted up or down depending on who’s paying them and whether they have worked out a deal. How can patients hope to make sense of such an indefensibly convoluted system?”

Why? The insurance companies won’t be able to cherrypick healthy patients and will actively seek ways to cut costs. Although, they will most likely try to continue the practice of finding ways to limit payouts to physicians, I can see the insurance industry scrambling to develop new models of healthcare with segmented markets and there may be innovations stemming from the policy. The industry will push hard for as little regulation as possible.

Finally, who will be the big winners in all of this? In my opinion, the lobbyists. Oh, and mea culpa…{h/t Kathleen Maloney}

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While I’m in NYC these days, much of my social media still comes from Toronto & Canada. The Conservative Party of Canada is running attack ads against the third party. Not the opposition, but against the Liberal Party interim leader, Bob Rae. This ad came out while the official opposition party, The New Democrats, were choosing a new leader, who was chosen yesterday, Thomas Mulcair. OK, to further complicate things, Rae was once a New Democrat at the provincial level in Ontario and Mulcair was a Liberal at the provincial level in Québec. I know, you probably need a scorecard. Anyway, while there’s no election in sight for years {barring a finding of widespread election fraud from the robocall scandal}, the Conservative attack ad slams Rae’s record from his stint as Ontario Premier in the early 1990s, as an Ontario New Democrat. Last year, I wrote a brief analysis of the Bob Rae premiership on vox.rhizomicon that explains how Rae inherited an impossible situation worsened by a macroeconomic perfect storm. In fact, Rae’s policies had much more in common with—a fiscally conservative strategy.

John Ibbitson of the Globe & Mail thinks the Tories are scared of Rae and the resurgence of the Liberals. There may be something to that. They ran ads in 2009 against then Liberal leader, Micael Ignatieff, framing him as an outsider because of his living abroad in the past. Why not use the wayback machine to do the same to Bob Rae?

One could argue that the Conservatives have more money than good sense right now. While it’s no secret that the Conservatives want to keep the Liberals down and replace them as the “natural governing party of Canada”, the strategy has its risks. Sure, it will get the Liberals to spend money on return-fire ads, which the Liberals vow to do, but the ad concept isn’t fresh and the content is dated. While Andrew Coyne think the Conservatives win either way, I think he’s wrong. It’s not an election and the negative ads on the third party leader can be viewed as playing unfairly, particularly in light of the robocall scandal. The main problem I have with the Conservative ads is they have tipped their hand. Bob Rae has them worried and they’re signaling it. Unlike Ignatieff, Rae is a seasoned politician and a good communicator. Liberal support isn’t dead and the ads allegedly boosted Liberal fundraising by $225,000 and Rae offered this soundbite:

“You can’t just abandon the airwaves to the jerks on the right-hand side of the spectrum.”

While the Conservatives have a majority in Parliament, they know that with Rae and Mulcair opposing them, they’ll have their hands full with a war in the media and the court of public opinion. They’ll want to discredit both, but let’s face some ugly marketing truths. They’re the majority party and should act accordingly. Attack ads now look desperate and mean. The Conservatives’ main ace up their sleeves is “stay the economic course.” They don’t have a hot-tempered firebrand from Québec who makes the news by being the news in a Thomas Mulcair. They don’t have an elder statesman who can effectively sound as if he’s railing at the establishment in a Bob Rae. The Conservatives are selling “stay the course” and they don’t have many degrees of freedom that can really energize the masses, while unemployment remains fairly high and a housing bubble looms. Their current positioning is fairly moderate, which is how they won the last election by taking Liberal ridings in Ontario {assuming election fraud isn’t shown in the robocall scandal, which is probably a stretch}. It makes the most sense to build the appeal to moderates by building a case why the Conservatives are good for stability on positives, even if there isn’t any “there” there.

It will be interesting to see how the Conservatives deal with Mulcair. I’m sure his dual citizenship with France will factor in, as the Tories try to question his allegiance to Canada. Given the NDP strongholds of Québec and urban centers, it won’t matter much to the NDP base and pressing the issue could turn off the new Canadians that the Conservatives are trying to court.

It’s over three years until the next Canadian election and it’s a tad early to start being tiresome.


Originally posted on vox.rhizomicon
A photo of a “buff” Michelle Obama as Marie Antoinette is making the rounds again, due to an upcoming iCarly appearance. On the Nickelodeon sitcom, Michelle is referred to as “your excellency” and “sort of likes it”. The right wing is having a field day and the left wing is calling foul, saying it’s racist and evokes the “uppity negro” stereotype. The ‘Shopped version of Gautier-Dagoty’s iconic painting {below right} dates back to the summer of 2010.
The deconstruction of the tropes of leveling Michelle Obama seems to be a part of a theme in the way she’s serving as a lightning rod for pundits and journos. Hillary Clinton faces the same battles and Condi Rice was targeted with a mid-2000s spoof site that was something like, so this isn’t a clear cut left/right issue. In all instances, there seems to be a theme of defeminizing them by making them mannish, angry, or otherwise unattractive. It’s not enough to have the Marie Antoinette Michelle be a symbol of being out of touch, but the burly arm reinforces the point that she’s threatening to a set of ideals.
Globe & Mail Election Map, 6 October 2011, late night

A Liberal minority government, one seat shy of the coveted majority.  The turnout was a record low and many pundits are saying that the Progressive Conservatives and Tim Hudak frittered away a golden opportunity to unseat the Ontario Liberals and Premier Dalton McGuinty. Some cynical journos are folding their arms decrying the state of politics as reaching an alltime low with inflammatory rhetoric…sometimes, ironically, shovelling more inflammatory rhetoric onto the fire. {As an aside, I really don’t recall the alleged Liberal insinuation Coyne is referring to, let alone it entering into the political discourse in the 2007 election. If someone has a reference/quote/cite, please comment.}

Some are saying the “hat trick” comment by Stephen Harper at derailed Hudak’s Tories::

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My take is that the Ontario Liberals dodged a bullet. They lost their majority, losing 19 seats to the PC {-12} and NDP {-7}, but hold on to power. I thought McGuinty was in trouble, but the Liberals ran a smart campaign given the circumstances and it paid off. This election could have been much worse for the Liberals. While watching the election from New York and Illinois, all of the campaigns {well, let me clarify, the big 3} were appealing to centrism and there were big issues that really motivated voters to go to the polls. My guess is that explains the low turnout more than anything {BTW, Elections Ontario will be looking into the decline.} After all, the PCs and the NDP were left with the charge of advocating a change, but not too much change, since the mantra of this election was the middle of the road. I think the big winner is Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democrats, who increased her political capital in this election, as well as her likability and visibility. The Conservatives in Ontario at the provincial and federal levels must be scratching their heads to a certain extent. A Liberal implosion at all levels failed to materialize and the idea of a new era with the Conservative Party of Canada being the natural governing party of Canada seems far from a certainty.

Manitoba Provincial 2011 Results

The Manitoba New Democrats rolled to a 4th straight majority win over the Progressive Conservatives. Canadian election campaigns are mercifully short and while the Manitoba contest was a curt 4 weeks, the advertising and rhetoric was brutal in this battle for the political middle. The Manitoba economy, like parts of the upper Midwest of the US isn’t reeling like the rest of North America, so there wasn’t a great thirst for change. The opinion polls had the Progressive Conservatives up earlier in the year, but the New Democrats rallied under Premier Selinger.

The Progressive Conservatives narrowed the gap in terms of the popular vote, but gained no additional seats. Andrew Coyne of Macleans expressed his annoyance at the current first-past-the-post {candidate with a plurality of votes wins the riding, i.e., district}::

He used the “anomalous” results to plug his articles on election reform. I’m actually in favor of election reform, such as STV, but I have serious doubts if it would matter in Manitoba. The province is divided:: the rural south votes Progressive Conservative by a wide margin, while urban Winnipeg and the aboriginal North votes NDP by a sizeable but lesser margin, on average. The unofficial results are here. Given the geographic party split of the province and the two-party “duopoly”, I’m not seeing a lot of opportunity for vastly different results. If there were larger ridings with more seats per riding, the STV gamechanging math breaks down when one looks at the regional breakdowns for 2007. The NDP and PCs had their respective regional strongholds and it will be interesting to see how the final 2011 shake out.

This doesn’t mean I feel STV shouldn’t be implemented, but that the 2011 Manitoba results might not be the best case to pitch for it. Tomorrow’s Ontario provincial election, well, that’s a different story. Ontario has three strong provincial parties {PC, Liberal, NDP} and strategic voting is likely to be a factor in quite a few ridings.


Hank Williams Jr., sporting a Joaquin Phoenix look à la the actor’s I’m Still Here-related appearance, is in hot water for this Fox News interview::

It’s a bit hard to take someone who isn’t blind and wears sunglasses indoors too seriously. Williams compared Obama to Hitler, in reference to Obama’s golf outing with Speaker of the House John Boehner, evoking another instance of a TV variant of  Godwin’s Law.

ESPN pulled Williams’ Monday Night Football theme and Hank Jr. offered a statement, but not an apology::

“Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood. My analogy was extreme — but it was to make a point. I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me – how ludicrous that pairing was.”

Fox News was eager to leverage Williams’ celebrity and get his 2¢ on the 2012 Presidential candidates, billing him as a pundit of sorts who knows “a little bit about politics.” I’m not sure which would be the more cynical move. Having Williams on the show with the high likelihood that he would bash the Democrats or having him on knowing he might self-immolate, providing fodder for viral video and subsequent ratings boosts.