A campaign blog.

Oct. 29 2008 8:59 PM

The Obama Show

Barack Obama's half-hour infomercial Wednesday night didn't teach us a lot we didn't already know—except that an Obama administration would likely
feature immaculate stagecraft.

The spot opened with a shot of—I’m not making this up—amber waves of grain. Obama reiterated his plan to cut taxes for families making less than $250,000 in a softly lit room in front of an oak desk. He explained his Social Security plan to moist-eyed retirees in what could have been a church vestibule. Then a guy behind a register tells Mark Dowell, a laid-off auto worker, the price for groceries. The camera cut to Dowell, scowling, in a way that could not have possibly been live. Not to mention the well-coordinated switch to Obama's live address in Florida, with sweeping cameras straight out of a Rolling Stones concert movie.

Improved artifice easily fits under the banner of "Change." Some of President Bush's worst political moments came from poorly executed stagecraft. Dressing up as a fighter pilot and standing before a "Mission Accomplished" banner was the epitome of tone deafness. Bush's team also goofed in allowing him to be photographed looking down at post-Katrina New Orleans. Optics aren't everything, but Bush's visual flops were especially damaging.

And it's not just choreography that matters: It's making the choreography look effortless. Tonight's episode featured all sorts of shots that simply had to be rehearsed: a couple praying before dinner, a mother walking out of a grocery store toward a fixed camera, a woman with arthritis massaging her knuckles. You can imagine the cinematographer saying, "Can you pray a little longer this time? OK, now try moving your mouth a little." It's heavily choreographed. But the production quality is high enough that the transitions are almost invisible. It's the opposite of George H.W. Bush's famously clunky statement to the people of New Hampshire in 1992: " Message: I care ." The trick is not to let the seams show.

Smart propaganda does not a smart administration make. If anything, it means we have to be more vigilant in calling out theater when we see it. But whatever the next four years may bring, we're in for some damn good camera angles.

Oct. 28 2008 5:09 PM

Make Your Own Electoral College Pool

Politics is a horse race whether you like it or not , so you might as well gamble on it with your friends. Here are the rules the Slate staff is using for our (no stakes) Electoral College pool.

Contestants choose a winner for every state. Points are awarded based on how certain the state looks to go to one candidate or the other, rewarding correct picks that go against the current political winds, like so:

  • 3 points for correctly guessing a tossup state
  • 2 points for correctly guessing a leaning state in the direction it's leaning
  • 6 points for correctly guessing a leaning state against the direction it's leaning
  • 1 point for correctly guessing a safe state in the direction it's leaning
  • 10 points for correctly guessing a safe state against the direction it's leaning

The status of each state is determined by our " Election Scorecard " feature, which uses data from . As a tiebreaker, players guess the percentage of the popular vote for both McCain and Obama.

If you want to organize your own pool by these rules, here's a form ( Google spreadsheet or Excel file ) that lists the tilt for each state and calculates the electoral score for each set of picks. We'll post another spread after the election that calculates the score for each set of predictions.

A note on strategy: Some have wondered whether it would make sense to gamble the other way on all the safe states, given that an upset in one of them is worth 10 times as much as guessing according to the polls. This strategy would pay off only if more than 10 percent of the safe states flipped between now and the election, a sufficiently low probability to make it a risky move.

Got any good stories from your office Electoral College pool? Send them along . (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the sender specifies otherwise.)

Oct. 28 2008 12:54 PM

Swift Boat Watch: Let Freedom Ring

See all Swift Boat Watch entries here .

Who They Are: Let Freedom Ring

Purpose: To promote a conservative agenda and to counter liberal messaging. In this election, they support John McCain.

President: Colin A. Hanna

Funding: NPR reports that John Templeton, a physician and wealthy Republican donor , is a contributor.

Cost of the Ad: $5 million for the whole campaign.


Where It Ran: Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., starting Oct. 24.

Claims: Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney says that candidates who are determined not to use force or invest in a strong military convey "weakness" that "invites aggression." (He doesn't explicitly name Obama.) The ad then quotes Joe Biden's statement that "it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama."

Accuracy: Frank Gaffney writes editorials theorizing that Islamist groups are using Obama to take over the United States. The ad implies that Obama is determined not to use military force or to maintain a strong military. Both of these claims are false . In fact, both Obama and McCain want to expand the armed forces. In a 2007 speech, Obama said , "I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America. ... I will ensure that our military becomes more stealth, agile, and lethal in its ability to capture or kill terrorists." The Biden statement, made at a rally in Seattle , is accurate.

Background: The group's Never Find Out campaign features individuals addressing Obama's tax plan, energy plan, and use of the present vote in the Illinois Senate. Other ads have attacked Obama on his comments about small-town Pennsylvanians , his position on the Employee Free Choice Act , and offshore drilling . Ronald Reagan nominated Gaffney for assistant secretary of defense; Gaffney served for seven months until the Supreme Court blocked the nomination.

Swift Boat Rating:

Biden did warn Americans that an international crisis would test Obama. But the ad's implications that Obama would not use force and would weaken the military are inaccurate. The ad gets an extra boat for featuring Gaffney, who is not the most credible spokesperson.

Oct. 28 2008 9:32 AM

Down to the Wire

Yesterday, Sarah Palin said that this election is going to "come down to the wire." She may have meant it's going to be close. But she also may have been suggesting that this election rests in the hands of the hit HBO series.

If so, McCain's screwed:

Castof "The Wire" Campaigns in North Carolina  for Obama

Stars Will Make Stopsin Raleigh Sunday and UNC Chapel Hill and Duke on Monday

RALEIGH—Tomorrow, members of the cast of the Peabody Award-winning drama series, TheWire will attend a Backyard Brunch for Barack in Raleigh.  Seven ofthe show's cast members will visit the Tarheel State in support of thechange Barack Obama will bring across the country and in North Carolina. 

ChadColeman who plays Dennis "Cutty" Wise, Deidre Lovejoy who playsRhonda Pearlman, Jamie Hector who plays Marlo Stanfield, Clarke Peters whoplays Detective Lester Freamon, Sonja Sohn who plays Detective Shakima"Kima" Greggs, Seth Gilliam who plays Sergeant Ellis Carver, andGbenga Akinnagbe who plays Chris Partlow will all appear at the backyard brunchon Sunday. 

Look for the attack ads citing Obama's shady drug-dealer connections. Some members of the cast also went knocking on doors, which obviously means kicking them down. On a side note, Akkinagbe, who plays Chris Partlow, confirms via a friend that Season 4 is "definitely the best one."

John McCain wants it to be one way. But it's the other way .

Update 3:51 p.m.: They also made this video .

Oct. 22 2008 5:43 PM

That's How They Spell It in Real America

From a McCain press logistics summary:

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Event: John McCain Participates in "Joe the Plummer" Tour Rally

Location: All Star Building Materials, Inc.
               1361 North Highway U.S. 1
                Ormond Beach, FL 32174

Date: Thursday, October 23, 2008

I had no idea John McCain was a Modest Mouse fan .

Oct. 22 2008 5:25 PM

Swift Boat Watch: Republican Jewish Coalition PAC

See all Swift Boat Watch entries here .

Who They Are: RepublicanJewish Coalition PAC

Purpose: Toadvocate for issues relevant to Jewish Republicans. In this election, theyoppose Barack Obama.

Executive Director: Matthew Brooks, who also directs the Jewish Policy Center .

Funding: Individualdonations.

Cost of the Ad: Morethan $1 million.

Where It Ran: Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvaniathrough Election Day.

Claims: Obamawould meet with leaders of unfriendly countries during the first year of hisadministration. Hillary Clinton said she would not. She also said Obama's stancewas irresponsible and naïve.

Accuracy: Obamaand Clinton's responses are taken from the July 2007 CNN/Youtube DemocraticPrimary debate in South Carolina.(Watch their complete responses here .) As some have pointedout , Obama never explicitly said he would meet with Ahmadinejad-only thathe would consider sitting down with unnamed leaders. (The questioner did notspecifically name the leaders, but a picture of Ahmadinejad was shown.) Clinton, in an interviewwith the Quad City Times , calledObama's comments "naïve and frankly irresponsible ."

Background: Formerlythe National Jewish Coalition, the RJC lobbies on behalf of Jewish interests. ThePAC has contributedheavily to state candidates in the past. They were responsiblefor some pretty nasty attacks on Howard Dean in 2005. Last month, the group receivedsharp criticism for a poll that asked Jewish voters to respond to negativestatements about Obama. One polled voter happened to be a writer for the New Republic and bloggedabout his experience .

Swift Boat Rating:

Obama has reiterated his intention to meet with leaders ofanti-American countries. The ad leaves interpretation up to the viewer.

Oct. 22 2008 3:11 PM

The Terrorism Card

Playing the terrorism card is risky: You could look desperate, and your opponent could accuse you of fear-mongering. But if your opponent brings up the subject, then you may have an opportunity.

Which is why the McCain campaign is probably sending Joe Biden a thank-you card (it doesn’t do text messages) right about now. Over the weekend, Biden suggested that Obama would face an international crisis soon after taking office: "Mark my words," Biden said at a Seattle fundraiser. "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. … Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."

McCain pounced on the statement, claiming that even Joe Biden agrees that Obama presidency would be dangerous. The key words, according to the McCain camp, are "generated crisis," as if Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office would provoke the crisis. "We don’t want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars," McCain said.

Today marked Phase Two of Operation Terrorism Card. The McCain campaign held a conference call in response to a Washington Post piece about commenters on al-Qaida-related message boards celebrating the U.S. financial meltdown. The gist of the piece: These al-Qaida commenters generally think the crisis is caused by the U.S. spending its resources on foreign wars, and they suggest that McCain would be more likely to continue this trend.

McCain surrogates took the opportunity to refute the article and to spin it around on Obama. McCain spokesman and blogger Michael Goldfarb said that the article, in a "rather irresponsible and rather outrageous fashion, claims that al Qaeda supports John McCain for president." McCain Foreign Policy Adviser Randy Scheunemann then read a series of quotes—"If we’re going to talk about who has support from terrorist groups"—from Hamas leader Ahmed Yousef, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Muammar Gaddafi saying positive things about Obama. (Gaddafi has also attacked Obama .) Scheunemann said he was reading the quotes "without commentary." Finally, former CIA director Jim Woolsey argued that one commenter’s motives are suspect: "This individual knows that the endorsement would be kiss of death, figuratively and literally. So it seems to me pretty clear that by making this statement, he is clearly trying to damage John McCain."

As for Goldfarb’s complaint, the piece stops short of saying that al-Qaida endorses McCain or that the commenters are anything more than al-Qaida sympathizers. Adam Raisman of Site Intelligence Group, who was also quoted in the Post piece, emphasized to me that the commenter in question was "not affiliated with al-Qaeda. He doesn’t represent the group, he’s not spokesman." Rather, he’s an al-Qaida sympathizer whose comment represents the prevailing views of other users—that McCain would keep America on its current trajectory. Raisman also dismissed Woolsey’s suggestion that the commenter was using reverse psychology to hurt McCain. "I don’t think the author wrote the message with any intention other than having like-minded individuals read it," he told me. "I don’t think he thought he was … harming the campaign in any way."

For weeks, the McCain camp has insinuated that Obama isn’t ready to handle crises. (Obama has said the same about McCain.) But until now it hasn’t made the explicit case that Obama would provoke and/or be unable to handle a terrorist attack. And just in time, too: With less than two weeks to go before Election Day, the McCain camp is running out of ammo. The "celebrity" angle flubbed, Ayers went nowhere , and the campaign is now mulling whether to invoke Jeremiah Wright, despite McCain’s assurances that he would not. The best part? Campaign apparatchiks can now claim it was Biden and the Washington Post who brought up terrorism—not them.

Oct. 21 2008 6:05 PM

Lessons from Tito the Builder

Joe the Plumber may neverhave fancied himself the mascot of the Republican Party, but Tito Munoz seemedfully prepared for the role.

Munoz showed up at a McCain rally in Woodbridge, Va.last weekend dressed in a yellow hardhat and orange surveyor vest, decked out inMcCain-Palin flair andsporting a sign that read "Construction Worker for McCain-Palin" on one sideand "Media—Tell the Whole Story!" on the other. During McCain’s stump speech,Munoz was behind the candidate, alongside "Phil the Bricklayer" and "Rose theTeacher."


After McCain had left, Munoz planted himself a few yardsbehind the press bleachers and started shouting about the media. He quicklyattracted a small crowd of reporters and fellow rally-goers. (Listen to audio of Munoz here and here , and see the Mother Jones video here .)

"Why you guys have to go and find every little thing thatJoe the Plumber is about?" he demanded. "How come you have not done the samething with Obama?"

If publicity was Munoz’s goal, it worked. National Review ’s Byron York devoted800 words to Munoz in a story about the "Joe the Plumber" phenomenon, whichreceived considerableblog attention . The McCain campaign noticed, and two days later Sarah Palinintroduced "Tito the builder" into her stump speech.

"Tito is not pleased with how the Barack Obama campaign andsome of the media friends there have been roughing up Joe the Plumber," Palin saidat a Colorado rally .

Is it really that easy to insert oneself into the campaignstoryline? Munoz’s case is worthy of a close read. Here are a few tips on howto become a McCain campaign personality:

  • Make Your ProfessionClear. Sarah Palin cannot shoehorn you into the "(name) the (profession)"formula if she doesn’t know what you do. Blue-collar jobs are preferable butnot required. If your line of work involves a uniform, wear it . (Note: PartyCity has hundreds of locations nationwide.)
  • Choose a red-meatissue. Choices include media bias, taxes, and William Ayers. No need toconfine yourself to one if the spirit moves you. Just let it flow.
  • Find David Corn. Thebulk of Munoz’s tirade was directed at MotherJones Washington bureau chief David Corn , who provokedhim for several minutes with requests for facts to back-up his arguments. Thatexchange got the crowd riled around Munoz, which attracted more people and morereporters. If Corn isn’t present, any journalist willing to engage the mob willsuffice.
  • Humility, humility. "I’mjust an ordinary person, like everybody," Munoz told the crowd. "But I’m tiredof listening to the bias in the media. And today I make a decision to come andsupport [McCain] and come and confront you guys."
  • Project. Munozwas not without competition during his impromptu press-bashing pressconference. At one point, a taller man in a brown jacket directly behindhim—pictured here—briefly stole the spotlight when he started yelling that"human life begins at conception, end of story." Not to be outdone, Tito simplyout-shouted his competitor.

It worked for Tito. Meanwhile, Senate candidate and former Virginia governor JimGilmore stood twenty feet away, looking lonely.

Oct. 21 2008 12:18 PM

Swift Boat Watch: Health Care for America NOW!

See all Swift Boat Watch entries here .

Who They Are: Health Care for AmericaNow

Purpose: Tosupport quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

Director: The national campaign manager is Richard Hirsch, previously executive director of Citizen Action, anorganization that helped the poor find insurance in New York state.

Cost: $1 million,part of a larger $4.3 million dollar ad buy that will air similar ads againstcongressional candidates.

Where It Ran: Thead aired on national cable and major markets in Ohio for two weeks starting Oct. 8.

Claims: The ad isnarrated by a woman with cancer who says that John McCain’s health care plancould cause 20 million people lose their employer-provided health insuranceplans. Those with existing conditions like her, she says, would not be able toget a new plan.

Accuracy: JohnMcCain’s health careplan would give families a $5,000 dollar tax refundable tax credit topurchase health insurance while reducing incentives that encourage employers toprovide their employees with coverage. The main thrust of the ad – that 20million people would lose their insurance if John McCain’s plan were instituted– is supported by a recentpaper published in the journal HealthAffairs and a follow-upreport (PDF) by the Economic Policy Institute. These studies argue that, withfewer tax incentives, fewer businesses will offer insurance plans. TheCommonwealth Fund has documented the difficulty of finding health care individually after losing anemployer-sponsored plan and the Kaiser Family Foundation including in the caseof breast-cancersurvivors (PDF) and other individuals with pre-existing conditions. However, anotherrecent study (PDF), by the health system consultant HSI , argued that McCain’s plan would infact reduce the number of uninsured people by 20 million. And a TaxPolicy Center report (PDF) lands in the middle, agreeing that McCain’s proposalwould cause 20 million to lose or leave their employer-sponsored program butsaying also that overall the proposal would decrease the number of uninsured byone million as 21 million bought non-employer-sponsored plans, including someof those who lost their employer-sponsored plans. has examined McCain’s proposal and found a consensus among health care expertsthat McCain’s proposal would most likely cause employers to reduce the coverageoffered. Their report also stated that while some would benefit from theadjustment of incentives, the old and unhealthy would probably get the shortend of the stick, as Jane Bryant Quinn argued in Newsweek .

Swift Boat Rating :
Several studies state that around 20 million people couldlose their employer-sponsored coverage, though the ad doesn’t mention that manywould likely get non-employer plans. That being said, many health care experts agreewith the assertion that McCain’s plan would make it harder for people like the womanportrayed in the ad to secure health insurance.
Background: HealthCare for America Now is a coalition of non-profits and public officials. Obamahas signed their statement ofprinciples .