Most of us use marking points or measuring posts in life. If you remember eight World Cups, then that places you in the thirty to forty years age group. Similarly, we may use US Presidential Elections, or Prime Ministerial reigns to mark out our lives. By any definition, Margaret Thatcher is one such signifier. Prime Minister for all of the 1980s, the ‘Thatcher Era’ marked the time of many alive for that decade.
And now she’s gone. The most divisive political figure of British 20th Century political life has been laid to rest. Her departure brought a flood of good and bad nostalgia for those of us of a certain age. The 1980s was a long time ago but her passing made it seem like only
yesterday; images of Arthur Scargill and the Miners, the Poll Tax Riots, the sound of that voice, all combined to have a time-warp effect. Was it really that long ago? There’s a fine cultural legacy of music, comedy and drama which sprung up to oppose the ‘Iron Lady’.
Margaret never did, in the words of ‘The Beat’, stand down willingly but had to be evicted from Downing Street by her own Ministers.
The appearance of a phalanx of long-forgotten Tory Cabinet members testified as to just how electorally successful Thatcher had been. The Assassins of 1990 lined up to say how much they really thought she was great all along (Ken Clarke, with is his typical candour, was one of the few ex-ministers not to give a self-serving account of the ‘coup’). ‘House of Cards’ comes to mind – politics is a treacherous trade and to quote that other hugely controversial hero of the Tory Right, Enoch Powell, ‘all political careers end in failure’.
The incredible vitriol exhibited in former Mining Communities should not come as huge surprise but the rawness will have been shocking to many. Nearly twenty three years since she ceased to be Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher still shapes the political geography. This writer ‘grew up’ under Thatcher – she was a constant feature on the News, a humourless didact of a woman that refused to ‘turn’. She was mercilessly lampooned on ‘Spittin’ Image’ as a bully of her Cabinet colleagues (only partially true, but this depiction was uncannily accurate in the case of Geoffrey Howe). Margaret Thatcher drove the Conservative Party relentlessly towards the Political and Economic Right; One Nation ‘wets’ like Michael Heseltine could never lead a party mesmerised by the new dispensation. There was no such thing as society as she saw it, only individuals and their families and such atomisation of social networks had an enormous impact on the old bulwarks of the Left: the Labour Party, Trade Unions and local government.
It has been observed that Thatcher’s greatest triumph was Tony Blair, a man who would fit Peter Mandelson’s phrase of being comfortable with the rich. Blair, a Labour Leader with no roots in the Party, was happy to accept most of the Conservative privatisations and his and Gordon Brown’s naivety in continuing the laissez-faire attitude to the City would result in Labour being viewed as ‘not sound’ on the Economy. Ed Miliband is being careful not to allow himself to be too closely identified with either Blair or Brown.
It is simply unimaginable that when John Major dies, there will be the same level of controversy, argument and division. Margaret Thatcher has been praised for her clarity but this frequently slipped into bloody-mindedness, particularly when it came to the ‘Poll Tax’, the hubris around which caused her removal from Office. Her supporters, of which there are still many, will see her as the liberator of Eastern Europe and a hero for giving people the freedom to earn as much as they wished. But her legacy is more resonant in the unregulated markets mess that ultimately lead to the Recession/Depression the Western World has endured for the past five years and her embrace of General Pinochet. For from ‘saving the country’, she created the climate that very nearly destroyed it. The Reagan/Thatcher implementation of the ‘Chicago Doctrine’ will no doubt still be debated decades from now. The EU she came to despise now rigorously enforces her economic ideology.
Margaret Thatcher died an old, frail lady not being cared for by the NHS but being nursed at the Ritz – this, in itself, is symbolic of the values she preached and lived. The ‘circus’ surrounding her funeral served as a reminder of how much of an impact she had between 1979 and 1990; the counterfactuals have been done, we now live with her ‘Real World’ effects and the challenge for the Left, Progressives and Radicals to move the political compass needle back in their direction. The ‘Real World’ can be changed again – it is up to the post-Thatcher generation to lead with courage, away from her legacy.
Raging against the Machine
Why is it all kicking off everywhere? Paul Mason asks this question in his recently updated eponymous book which charts the rise of radicalism and protest since the great unravelling started in 2007/08. It makes for a compelling read for anyone, anywhere, on the political spectrum to see how the State has proved unable or unwilling to try to fix the World’s economic problems and how capitalism, as we know and practice it in the West, may itself may be unfixable. The rise of the ‘networked’ individual has provided a new type of protestor, one that is more mobile, flexible and, most importantly perhaps, more informed than ever before. Mason sees the wave of protests from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park as part of a continuum, with striking parallels to 1848 in terms of economic and social circumstances. The reportage is both depressing and positive; circumstances may be dire for millions of people but protest can achieve real, constructive and, in some circumstances, liberating change. We can’t know what the next few years will bring – will fascism grow, will the Euro collapse, will the State lose more relevance and where it is all going to end? Mason provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of what and who has been ‘kicking off’ and keeps a journalist’s eye on the ‘why’ too. An essential read – Paul Mason sees some hope for the future among all the despair of the austerity rack.
Labour Keeping Their Options Open
Nobody in the British Labour Party wants to go into coalition. Yet, as we all find out to our chagrin, we can’t have everything we want in life. The first two years of the current Conservative-Liberal Coalition has been marked by trench warfare against the minority coalition party by the main opposition one. There has never been any love lost between the Liberal and Labour parties, be it at national, and particularly at local level. Each accuses the other of being unprincipled, incompetent and not representing ‘ordinary working people’. The cleft between the ‘progressive’ parties was further emphasised when New Labour adopted many of the trappings of a security state as a response to Islamic Fundamentalist terrorism, while the Liberals (both traditional beard and sandal types and the newer, more economically right-wing ‘Orange Book’ Liberals) fell back on their tried and trusted civil libertarian path. But with the compromise of governing having blunted a lot of Nick Clegg’s moral and political authority and the Conservative Party welded to shrinking the size of the State, the notion of a Lib-Lab coalition is once more in play. Co-operation over the Leveson Report is just one indicator of how these two parties can find political ground of common interest. Labour should be blunting some of their fire that’s been heading towards the Liberal Democrats if they want to keep their options open after the next General Election. For Nick Clegg, is it too much for him to hope that he will still be Deputy Prime Minster in 2015, this time under a Miliband Premiership (and not David, the great hope of the Blairite Tendency)? And that is why politics is always the art of the possible.
A Transcendent Symbol
Life is short and we look for role-models. leaders and wise men and women to guide us through it. Occasionally, such an individual appears in the political sphere and one such individual is Nelson Mandela. Politics the game is about short to medium term gains – vision is a rare commodity among politicians – constantly looking for the quick fix within the parameters of conventional wisdom. Mandela has risen so far above the traditional political paradigm that he is now an international icon and a symbol of hope and inspiration around the World. The ‘health-watch’ of the last decade has served to re-enforce his status as symbol of national unity in South Africa, serving as a a quasi-spiritual leader in a country beset by chronic socio-economic problems since the end of apartheid. His eventual demise is feared so much because he stands as the representative of how life can be and how South Africans (Black and White) wish their country to become and not return to the despair of the past: fighting for justice, compromising when necessary but never losing sight of the ‘prize’ and compassionate in governing. Mandela is so transcendent that he is admired by big business CEOs and young revolutionaries alike – he is one of the few radicals that the privileged feel comfortable with, But it is as a symbol for the poor, the downtrodden and radical that he has the most power. Nelson Mandela will be missed when he goes as one of the few global leaders who kept their integrity and will be remembered as an inspirational figure of the 20th Century sans parallel. World leaders do pretend, Mandela rarely did.
Framing the Usual Suspects
‘Framing’ is a term much beloved of Media Studies Departments, Sociologists and convicts serving prison sentences. The concept is an easy one to understand; terms of a debate get ‘framed’ by spin doctors, the media, politicians and special interests groups to the exclusion of another valid, or true, perspective. Austerity is a classic example of a framed debate. Instead of looking at the ‘meta’ issue (another term beloved by the Social Scientists), the debate is centred around ‘stability’ (as though stability may only be reached through universal austerity policies), process (ignore the real elephant in the room, the unacceptable risk inherent in casino capitalism and focus on ‘cutting’ and ‘correction’ and the short-term political game) and corporate preference (public sector mostly bad, private sector mostly good). If (and this has to be a likelihood, rather than a possibility) in ten years, we look back on the last five years as an economic disaster of retrenchment and insane book-balancing over employment priorities, then we will be aghast at how the corporate media failed in telling the story of the Crash. They failed – whether willfully or unintentionally – in their framing; the media has by and large not asked ‘what is the crisis and what was it caused by?’. ‘Debt’ as the primary and only cause of the Depression lets the main culprits off the hook – unregulated ‘shadow’ markets that trade Billions in seconds, Bond Markets that can destroy the Nation State (done mostly without malice of course, the irrational ‘invisible hand’ has no heart) where re-payment risk is solely a short-term consideration, crazy financial instruments and out of control corporate influence in the political sphere (that well-known Revolutionary Al Gore is scathing about this in his recent book ‘The Future’). Just because blaming the Media isn’t always right, doesn’t mean it’s always wrong.
Chinese Whispers and a New Game of Thrones
Recent revelations, or rather confirmation, that the Chinese military have been conducting computer hacking on an industrial scale should come as a surprise to nobody. Be it for commercial, political or perceived military advantage, the PLA has been plying its trade with relative impunity; if you’re the Washington Post, what are you going to do to the World’s most populous Army by way of retaliation? It’s all part of an incredibly complex Sino-US matrix encompassing global trade, geo-strategic politics and resource and energy competition. The US ‘pivot’ has been well documented as has the build up of Arms in SE Asia but the Public consciousness of it is low burning. A region with the Koreas, China, Japan and a strengthened US presence is a region where the odds of a potential conflict are omnipresent and probable in certain circumstances. This is the new frontier. It’s being posited that Secretary of State Kerry may have a different emphasis to his predecessor, that of de-escalation or increased engagement with China. Any process or strategy that seeks to de-militarise this precarious region as much as feasible is to be welcomed. Kerry is a heavy-weight appointment and ‘China Watchers’ will be keeping a close eye on how relations develop between the two countries.
Iraq – Ten Years on
A decade ago to the month, millions marched on the street to protest against a war that millions felt was unjustified. The drumbeats leading up to the second Iraq war just seemed wrong; claims of Iraqi WMD possession where Hans Blix could not find any, a totally mis-placed US emphasis on Iraq rather than hunting Al-Qaeda, the Wild West diplomacy of George Bush and his Global unpopularity and the same ‘mood music’ that played out during Gulf One – ‘Of course we’re giving peace a chance, war is a last resort etc.’. The calculus of the War was stark – overthrow of a vile dictator and introduction of imperfect democracy on one side, the death of up to one million people and Civil War (during the occupation and potentially still there) on the other. It remains a highly divisive issue, and not just a straight Left-Right Split; the US Foreign Policy ‘Realists’ saw the military, political and humanitarian consequences of invasion, the Interventionist Left saw it as a fight against fascism, with parallels to the 1930s. The political legacy has been profound: Tony Blair will always be remembered as the Prime Minister that brought his country into War on the basis of a false premise while Barack Obama’s opposition to the invasion was a major asset contributing to his defeat of Hilary Clinton in the 2008 Primaries. Above all, the general public is sceptical and cynical about any attempts to claim WMDs anywhere (the ‘Boy who cried Wolf’ syndrome). The effect on the Arab World was almost universally disastrous; a neo-con spin seeks to link the ‘Arab Spring’ with the overthrow of Saddam but this is implausible. For millions round the World, it was a War that was done ‘Not in Our Name’ and the consequences are still being reaped today.
Lincoln Speaks to Us Today From the Ages
‘Lincoln’ is quite the film; not only does Daniel Day Lewis seem to inhabit the form of Abraham Lincoln, by speaking in his cadences and assuming his mannerisms, but the film also stands out as a civics lesson in American History and, through deft script writing and direction, one that invites the viewer to draw parallels with contemporary US politics. While equality, justice and democracy are universal issues which are at the heart of the movie and Lincoln’s life and work, we also see in ‘Lincoln’ how politics, with all the compromises, pettiness and sharp practice, can still be a noble art and where sometimes, in exceptional circumstances, the end can justify the means – in this instance, the passing of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution to abolish slavery; here’s where the contemporary resonances kick in.
Who knows when America would have had its first Black President if it weren’t for Abraham Lincoln? We’d like to think the abolition of slavery was an historic inevitability but who can say that were it not for the exigencies of a bitter Civil War and the providence of a
Titanic figure being the First Citizen that abolition could have taken many more decades? Barack Obama looks to Lincoln not only for his role in the American story arc but to to his career as a remarkable politician. For Obama, ‘Team of Rivals’ isn’t just a best-selling
account of the Lincoln years; it is a record of how ‘Honest Abe’ brought in former opponents and yoked them to his goals. History will judge Barack Obama’s legacy but history is also a guide to how he wants to govern and what he wants to achieve and most importantly,
what his legacy will be.
Alphas Big In Japan and Everywhere Else
Davos, where the rich meet to discuss global trade, expand commercial empires and generally feel big about themselves, is a state of mind as much as a place. Most of us mere mortals won’t ever get to rub shoulders with the Gods and Goddesses who cauesd musch of the economic wreckage of the last five years. But instead of acknowledging responsibility or producing a radical change of path, Davos will cull trees by the thousand for documentation on ‘flexible labour markets’ (i.e. less employment rights and an attack on employee combination), affirmations on what great (mostly) guys they all are and platitudes on ‘Green’ stuff. Such is the predictability of the annual Neo-Liberal shindig that none of us should expect anything original, profound and, for the most part, sincere to come out of this
Some NGOs are getting involved, looking to influence from the inside. This brings up the hoary old question of whether you can change this Leviathan through influencing and lobbying, or whether such participation leads to little apart from slight incremental change and window dressing for Money Bags on the Global Monopoly Board. But why should the Davos Alphas want to change? In their World, the Corporation is thriving, Executives rule and nearby skiing under armed guard has probably never looked so appealing.
Britain & Europe (Again)
David Cameron thought he had the best wheeze ever. Promise the Tory Right an In-Out referendum on EU membership by 2018 and accrue the benefits. Benefit one – unite the Conservatives. Benefit Two – divide the Labour Party. Benefit Three – fend off UKIP. And Benefit Four – perhaps the most important one of all, buy time. But Cameron can’t guarantee anything. Britain is most unlikely to get co-operative re-patriation negotiations – the Franco-German alliance could just as easily turn around, conjure a De Gaulle moment and tell him to stuff it. If he gets a shibboleth of repatriated powers, he looks weak and is still committed to a referendum that many Tories would not want to vote yes in. What if Scotland votes for independence? Will Cameron be seen as the Conservative that brought about the demise of the United Kingdom? Of course all of this, unless he can foist the policy onto Labour during the 2015 Election, will be mute, subject to Cameron getting an overall majority, which on current trends is a remote prospect. The British Prime Minister hopes this will be part of a winning combination of policies that will bring him Home with the help of a jingoistic Tory Press. It is, whatever way you look at it, a huge gamble.
The Tory vision of Europe is depressing. Tories may bang on and on about how Brussels is undemocratic and that they want a return of national competencies but their real colours are thus; we like the unfettered markets, financial casino capitalism and the driving down
of non-executive salaries, please can we stick with that and forget all the citizen stuff, rights and employee protection nonsense. Sure, they’d like to return to ‘London First’ but they’d accept dilution of powers as long as it the EU can be more economically right wing. Hard
to say if the ‘British People’, whoever they are, want this Market-Only EU in their hearts but Cameron is praying that they do. But for now, his ‘bold move’ looks opportunistic, ill-conceived and politically reckless.
‘And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations’ Barack Obama 2008
Another senseless school massacre in the USA, this time in Newtown, Connecticut, another bout of soul searching as the ‘debate’ veers between the limiting of public access to lethal weaponry and complete freedom to buy any firearm you want. The very parameters of the discussion remind most of us not in the US of the profound differences between America and other democracies when it comes to the gun. President Obama may yet sign an Executive Order banning Assault Rifles. On gun control, sadly, this may be the limit of his authority but he needs to do so much more.
The second amendment to the US Constitution allows that ‘a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed’. This wording, from the days of muskets and rebellion against the perfidious British, is used to sanction the sale and licensing of millions of small firearms in the USA every year and the National Rifle Association (NRA) isn’t slow about using a nearly 250 year old proclamation to promote their lethal business interests. For most Europeans, it is simply incomprehensible how and why some in the the richest country on Earth can allow such carnage then quote long dead political philosophers for justification.
In most Western countries, it is difficult to buy a gun and there’s a mildly to seriously onerous responsibility to keeping one once bought. This should not encourage a sense of superiority but does lead to the obvious question…what makes ‘us’ and the US so different? Central authority has always been stronger and around for longer in Europe, America is relatively new country and there’s always been a Southern US outlook suspicious of federal government (see the Obama quote which got him into so much trouble four years ago) dating from pre-Civil War to today.
So why are the Democrats not pushing gun control a lot harder? A big, and depressing reason, is systemic; rural representatives need to get elected to change things and with the consensus of only two weeks ago that gun control should be minimal, change (if it comes) is more likely to be painfully incremental than swift and effective. Like the Death Penalty, gun control became, for many seeking electoral office, one of the ‘third rails’ of American domestic politics. Despite most Democrats supporting restricting legislation, the NRA and Republicans have used it as a ‘wedge’ issue to stifle debate.
Yet this moment can be an opportunity to change the terms of the discussion. By bringing in a ban on assault weapons, President Obama can begin a process of meaningful gun control in the US. The pessimists might say that such transformations will never take place but a newly elected Obama is also a newly mandated President; now is the time to use that capital before the warranty expires.
Anyone who saw the NRA Press Conference will have been aghast at their response to the Newtown shooting. More guns, armed teachers, a national register for the mentally ill; the NRA has shown itself to be a ludicrous, dangerous and lunatic organisation where guns (they say) are not only a constitutional right but a human one also. There’s little that can be done to change the extremist view. But there are those even in the NRA, and more moderate views among Independent voters and Centrist Republicans (yes, there are some left) who believe that gun control isn’t the Government coming into their Living Rooms. Obama needs not only to change facts on the ground through regulation but also to foster a change in the culture and this is a long term project; no time (tragically) like the present for starting though.
The electoral cycle in the US is relentless but it can not be used as a bulwark to meaningful change. Now is the time to begin to make America a safer place for all its citizens. Obama can start to change the terms of the debate and ask, fundamentally, do you feel safer with gun laws the way they are today or would you feel more protected where guns aren’t in the hands of the citizenry? By all means act decisively but try to change the culture too; too many lives are at stake.
‘Nothing that they are doing makes me particularly nervous other than the pure force of it in terms of money…I am cognizant of the fact that there is more money being spent against us in the last 10 days of this race –- or there will be -– than has ever been spent against a candidate before … it has diminishing returns’ David Axelrod, Huffington Post, 26/10/12
Four more years. In the end, it was a straightforward as Nate Silver and his prognostications said it would be. It wasn’t particularly close; it certainly wasn’t ‘too close to call’. 2012 was a comfortable win for Barack Obama against a Republican Candidate and Party that couldn’t quite work out or come to terms with what hit them. When the President’s Senior Strategist comes out with a statement like the one above, it’s clear that the Democrats totally outplayed the Republicans in 2012.
Barack Obama rarely hit the heights of the 2008 oratory but towards the end of the campaign, there were echoes of some of those rhetorical flourishes. The Candidate President was older and more tired than four years previously but the electorate liked what they saw and felt Obama had earned enough of their trust to be re-elected. The domestic economy is still in a really bad way, but most of those who voted shared the view that voting for Romney wasn’t going to make thing better.
One of the main reasons Mitt Romney failed was his lack of connection with Main Street America (his lack of empathy for the ‘Middle Class’ proved to be a defining weakness). Romney couldn’t connect not because he was rich – that never stopped Nelson Rockefeller or Michael Bloomberg – but because he had no sense of even trying to empathise with the ‘Average Joe’. The spirit he showed during the first debate was him on a really good day and Obama on a really bad one; those circumstances did not re-occur.
Romney’s ‘gaffes’, when they came, were really projections of the inner self; saying that he’d written off 47% of the vote who were financially dependent on an Obama win, his ‘binders full of women’ nonplussing a sceptical demographic, his constant refrain that trickledown was the only way forward jarring with the popular sentiment. Mitt Romney was the wrong man at the wrong time; his problem, at times, was that he was too honest for his own good.
When it came to campaign marketing and strategy, the Republicans never recovered from the Democrats painting Romney as that rich, elitist candidate you wouldn’t want to have a beer with. America may be in a better way domestically than in 2008 but it is still in an awful state in much of the country. By presenting Romney, fairly or unfairly, as a ‘Mr Burns’ figure, the Obama team was able to take the initiative from very early on. There was very little the Republicans could do to counter what were sharp but essentially true commentaries. Although Axelrod has expressed some surprise that the Democrats weren’t attacked harder earlier on, the campaign was sufficiently well executed to still be the winning one even if the Republicans had been more aggressive.
‘Moderate’ Democrats should be grateful for the campaign support generated by the Grassroots and the Left. Many to the Left of the President supported him to keep the other guy out. The anti-Romney motivation proved to be as potent a motivator for fund raising and campaigning for the Democrats as the anti-Obama ‘Socialist’ Bogeyman did for the Republicans. The ‘Stop Romney’ shout-out was heard and answered.
The Democrats had more volunteers in more of the ‘battleground’ states. The millions splurged on branding and attack ads count for very little unless there’s an effective ‘Get Out The Vote’ operation applied. Obama was able to inspire more people to make calls, drop leaflets and drive voters to the polling booths for him. Romney could not generate anywhere near as much goodwill. In is victory speech, the newly re-elected President Obama praised his team as ‘the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics. The best. The best ever’; he recognised the significance of the volunteer advantage.
In ‘the unlikely story that is America’, the demographics are changing and not in favour of the Republicans. Pitching to a notional older white male, who is, most of all, angry, just won’t send a candidate to Pennsylvania Avenue. Exit polls suggest the following data: 72% Asian & Latino support for Obama, 55% of women, 93% of Black voters and clear majority of voters aged under 44. The GOP have big problems right now; there’s no saying they can’t win 2016 but their candidate, strategy and platform are going to have to be so inimical to their grassroots that the odds are not good.
By simply ‘playing smart’, adopting a steady and consistent messaging and never allowing the merest possibility of being ‘swift boated’, the Obama campaign brought their man back to the White House with comparative breathing space. Meanwhile, the Republicans can only sit back and ask how they could have so run such a bad campaign with policies that the American people just didn’t want.
Natural disasters put everything into perspective. Politics should pale into insignificance against the loss of life and destruction caused by ‘Superstorm Sandy’. But while the significant after effects of this hugely destructive event may have a game-changing impact on the Presidential Election, next week’s vote will, rightly so, not be the primary matter on most voters minds. A funny thing has been happening in the coverage of Election 2012 though.
There is now a remarkable divergence between media ‘punditry’ and where the ‘smart money’ is going when it comes to the interpretation and presentation of Presidential opinion polls. If you believe most of the British, European and of course American media, Obama may be ahead in the Electoral College stakes, but Romney is probably ahead in the popular vote and is on the rise and may take the College vote too. All agree that the General Election is ‘too close to call’.
But when we look at electoral betting, we see that the money is pretty solidly Obama. It’s following the outcomes of Nate Silver’s (New York Times) statistical model. The betting trends on Intrade put odds of Obama winning at around 60%, Silver much higher. These two key opinion gaugers say that Obama is ahead in the Electoral College and Silver has the President ahead in the Popular Vote too. By this reckoning, Obama should win Election 2012 fairly comfortably and many reporters, editors and pollsters will have some serious questions to answer after the result.
A bit about those ‘smart money’ gurus. Silver got the 2008 and 2010 elections remarkably right. All he does is aggregate national and state polls – and discounts the importance of ‘outliers’ where Romney or Obama appear to have surged. The author of the ‘FiveThirtyEight’ Blog has shown his poll analysis to be outstanding in the recent past. ‘Intrade’ is an influential ‘predictions market’ (like a betting index). Based on Silver’s numbers, and Intrade’s spread, this writer is calling it for Obama in both the popular and Electoral College vote
A backlash against Silver has already started and is easy to understand. If Silver is shown to be correct, much of the coverage since the Conventions will have been shown to be so much hot air. There are several possible reasons for this.
The media love a good race. They need it. Nobody’s going to tune in to statistical analysis delivered in a dispassionate manner. And who’s to say this is totally a bad thing? The democratic process needs an engaged public. But we also need our Press, particularly our ‘mainstream media’ (not stridently partisan, reasonably objective and reliable, you’ll know it when you see it) to be as close to the ‘true’ position as possible. They aren’t doing this. The party-aligned, conservative and some liberal sites, aren’t doing this either. So why say the race is closing or Romney is ahead or too close to call when Obama is still in front and has been since before the Conventions?
Then there’s the more Partisan media that’s ignoring the numbers. Both Right and Left need to Get Out The Vote (GOTV). Again, this is crucial in any election. Everyone with a vote should use it. But to distort or ignore actual polling data and say that the race is neck and neck when it isn’t is to mislead readers and supporters. Yes, polling reflects intentions, but the reliability of this pulse-check is seriously compromised by relying on outlier polls to ‘scare out the vote’.
We can debate whether Political Correspondents have been doing their job properly or not but we are probably on safer ground when we say that the move of the Election to ‘News Centre-Stage’ has seen the story enter the purview of the generalist. Generalists have strengths and weaknesses; they can take a good strategic overview but they are not, by definition, experts. The news ‘lense’ becomes further smudged and conventional wisdom gets parroted all over the airwaves, print and online. Most European news organisations would be fortunate enough to have more than two to three correspondents based in the US; they pick up on this new worldview and parrot it back across the Atlantic.
Nobody knows who is going to win the 2012 Presidential Election. But we do know this; if the results match the trend of all the polls so far, and not just the rogue ones, most of the air time, the talking heads debates, the column inches, the sound and the fury engendered from the campaign will have been based on a false premise. President Obama is on course to be re-elected by both Popular and Electoral College vote. Will the media, both partisan and, more importantly, mainstream, be apologising for what seems like wilful ignorance during the campaign? Some will and expect a few ‘mea culpa’ articles after the result. But most will brush off any criticisms, acknowledge little and learn even less.