One of the unwelcome perks of political reporting is the widespread belief among your peers that you want to spend more time talking about politics. Any trip home, like the one I’m going to make on Thursday, becomes a tour of friends and family who want me to explain the inside story of the election one more time. I end up pointing these people to good articles by other people, by insiders and investigative reporters, and this usually gives me enough time to run away.
You can try it, too. This may have felt like a dull election at times, but it was one of the most pointed clashes of ideologies and strategies in decades. Your own family might want to quote back Saturday Night Live or Daily Show segments; you can impress them by diving much deeper into the real story of the race. These are some of this election’s must-read articles:
Jim Messina, Obama’s Enforcer
Ari Berman, The Nation
Sometimes you write a story with a thesis that gets blown to pieces—and a lot of bread crumbs leading to the actual truth. Ari Berman’s 2011 profile of Barack Obama’s campaign manager revealed just how little love Messina could expect from progressives. The new guy, a veteran of Sen. Max Baucus’ office, would run a “cautious, controlling, top-down in structure” campaign, pouring acid on the grassroots. Luckily for Obama, it didn’t happen, and the article now looks like a smorgasboard of foreshadowing.
After the 2010 election, Messina spoke at the winter meeting of the Democracy Alliance, a group of wealthy progressive funders. He gave two PowerPoint presentations, including one on the administration’s accomplishments—the stimulus, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, healthcare and financial reform. The other was on what was still to come—immigration reform, the START treaty, repealing DADT. “Jim, you’re missing a word,” one donor told him during the Q&A.
“What word?” Messina responded.
“The word ‘jobs,’” the donor said.
The smartass donor sounds right, but he doesn’t see how Messina will use those box-checked accomplishments to excite the Democratic base, and he doesn’t foresee a future in which the jobs picture might be good enough to save Obama.
The Romney Economy
Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York
Long before the Obama campaign or the super PACs launched their attacks on Bain Capital, Wallace-Wells decided to tell the company’s history. The result took something previously relegated to gross campaign ads and revealed that … well, it would be hard to defend even without those gross campaign ads.
Private equity seemed to provide an early warning of broader changes. In three years during the early nineties, the Princeton economist Henry Farber has found, roughly 10 percent of American white-collar male managers lost their jobs. For the first time, according to data collected through the General Social Survey, white-collar workers were nearly as worried about losing their jobs as blue-collar workers. Those white-collar workers who kept their jobs worked harder, and the compensation that had once been spread through the broader middle ranks of corporations now collected at the top. In 1980, a CEO had earned about 35 times the wages of an average worker; by 1990, it was about 80; and by 2000, it was about 300.
A good companion piece: Robert Draper’s look at Priorities USA, the at-first-derided pro-Obama duper PAC that focused like a UAW shop laser on Bain and drove up Romney’s negatives.
Protesters Raise Cloud of Sand as Romney Raises $3 million in N.Y.
Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
Pity the poor “embedded” reporter. Her news organization spends at least $1,000 per day, usually more, to follow a presidential candidate. She gets on the plane, gets off the plane, gets on the plane, gets off the plane, maybe catches some time with campaign aides, almost never gets any time with the candidate. (I really felt for these embeds every time a big news network would bigfoot in and talk to Romney. They weren’t schlepping from Marriott to Marriott for the privilege.) But the great reporters took their opportunities when they arrived. My favorite example: Reston hassling the people entering a high-dollar Romney fundraiser and finding out what they think.
"I don't think the common person is getting it," she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. "Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.
“We've got the message," she added. "But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies—everybody who's got the right to vote—they don't understand what's going on. I just think if you're lower income—one, you're not as educated, two, they don't understand how it works, they don't understand how the systems work, they don't understand the impact."
Coal Miner’s Donor
Alec MacGillis, New Republic
One of the best, least-bubbled reporters who covered the race, MacGillis made a series of reporting trips to Ohio that made him an early debunker of baseless “Romney surge” hype. He also broke plenty of news about how relaxed campaign finance laws were cracking open the dam for Republican campaigns. Robert Murray of Murray Energy, a coal magnate backer of Romney, helped inflate the size of the candidate’s pro-coal crowds and donors.
Internal Murray documents show just how upset Murray becomes when employees fail to join the giving. In missives, he cajoles employees to attend fund-raisers and scolds them when they or their subordinates do not. In cases of low participation, reminders from his lieutenants have included tables or spreadsheets showing how each of the eleven Murray subsidiaries was performing. And at least one note came with a list of names of employees who had not yet given. “What is so difficult about asking a well-paid, salaried employee to give us three hours of his/her time every two months?” Murray writes in a March 2012 letter. “We have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts.” He concludes: “I do not recall ever seeing the attached list of employees … at one of our fund-raisers.”