“If the state polls are right, then Mr. Obama will win the Electoral College. If you can’t acknowledge that after a day when Mr. Obama leads 19 out of 20 swing-state polls, then you should abandon the pretense that your goal is to inform rather than entertain the public.”
– Nate Silver 538 Blog
“You provide the picture, I’ll provide the war.”
– William Randolph Hearst
Somewhere between Silver and Hearst that sliver of light, the minutest strip of disparate verisimilitude, the infinitesimal morsels of the fact/fiction continuum is where this column lies. It has tight-roped that baby for years, too many to count. Shit, this is our fourth presidential election manning the Reality Check News & Information Desk. It has been far longer than that on the freelance wire, and before that, long ago, when this voice actually gave a crap who won these things. Absolutes here are a luxury. We visit them from time to time, like Cabo San Lucas or Pete’s Tavern; a home away from home where it appears life is somewhat free of hard fact and colder reality.
This is where I tend to agree with Mr. Hearst, a giant in print publishing. A man so powerful he once brokered a peace accord with a foreign country for the United States when he had as much legislative power to do as say Rupert Murdoch. He twice asked for someone to put a bullet in President McKinley, which of course someone fatally did. Hearst had no mind for facts; he was a man of raw emotion; if it bleeds, it leads; crush opponents and prop up friends. This was the aim of American journalism. I am nothing if not its bastard child and I stand aloof from crunching numbers and getting the exact tallies down. I’ve been writing for years about how Richard Nixon won the 1960 election, as did George W. Bush in 2000. I believe these things from the heart, not the head.
Although, Nate Silver is a shrewd customer. In a way, this election is on him and his ilk. The geeks have taken over baseball and football and every inch of our country’s computer landscape. Why not politics? But as my long-time friend, Jersey Pete, reminds me time and again, if they knew then what we do now, half the shit that is lauded would be worthless, like using leeches to cure TB. And according to Nate Silver’s 538 blog, which blew every other statistical analysis out of the water in 2010, the president has an over 80 percent chance of winning a second term.
But polls are strange bedfellows. We run to them when they fill our cup, but from them as poison when the news is less cheery. Yes, but we never ignore them. We are inundated by them; professionals and the public alike. So many to choose from, so many biases, so many vacillations. It was so much easier to cover these things in the ‘80s when Reagan showed up and the country fell at his feet, never mind the ‘30s when Roosevelt didn’t bother to campaign. H.L. Mencken mused that even if everyone stayed home, FDR would carry 48 states.
But no matter the illumination, numbers are weird. Right before A-Rod resurrected his persona as Yankee pariah this October, Jersey Pete sent me a screed from one of a billion online statistical analysts that proved the he was a far more productive playoff performer than the guy, Derek Jeter, who holds half the records for said playoffs. His numbers made sense to someone who had failed to watch or listen to or review the box scores of every Yankees playoff game since 1976, otherwise it was preposterous nonsense. Not to mention, before breaking his ankle (to which afterwards the Yankees failed to even lead a single inning for the rest of the series) Jeter was having an excellent playoff, following an excellent year. A-Rod was being the A-Rod people love to dump on.
So timing is everything too. Proof being in the pudding, and for Silver, the proof comes two days from when I write this; hacking up a lung in front of a dying fire in a room devoid of heat and the little electricity my generator can burp up. I am a professional, Koczan, if nothing else.
You see, Silver, unlike Hearst, has to back up his bold headlines about a secure Obama win, not a landslide, but a fair electoral firewall with a steadfastly cruel deconstruction of the numbers. Obama and Romney will make a nifty living on speaking gigs, Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow will still have shows, but who in their right mind is going to ever take Nate Silver seriously if Romney wins? It’s over for him. I like that.
The thing is, as far as this reporter is concerned, since July all of the polling data, dismissing Silver altogether, has pretty much kept Barack Obama far enough ahead to maintain the probable electoral votes needed to reach 270. That makes him president; not momentum or unforeseen circumstance or money or whatever is argued counts more. 270. Not popular vote or any other Al Gorish crapolla.
And while Mitt Romney, like John Kerry in 2004, a candidate I believe he most resembles in comportment and general flip-flop handling of his campaign, did make it a real horserace in early October, he never could overtake Obama in places he needed to steal to block his road to 270, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and then nudge his opponent to the side in battleground states like Nevada, Colorado, Florida and most importantly Ohio. If anything, Obama has slightly stretched those leads as late as Nov. 3.
Kerry, of course, is an interesting case. The polling in the final weeks of the ’04 campaign had Kerry’s rise falter and there were still several electoral paths for Bush, just like the Romney/Obama matrix. The exit polls were the ones that screwed everyone. They looked tremendous for Kerry by 5 p.m. on Election Day, but by 10 p.m., it was the polar opposite.
Now, we’ve dismissed polls here many times. They are minor guideposts, but they do have relevance, since they have historical measures, and this time they all point to one thing: If Mitt Romney is the next president of the United States, he needs to steal states he is currently trailing that lean blue and lock up anything resembling a battleground state, and if he has any prayer, he had better not drop Ohio. Or, as Silver writes, “hope the polls are dead wrong.”
Look, we’ve been without internet connection, besides the tiny smartphone, here at The Desk for almost a week now—and for most of that AT&T screwed us. I’ve recently emerged from a hellish 48 hours of hallucinating fevers that would fell most mammals. Most of my brain cells have been boiled away. I thought my left hand was Mayor McCheese as late as 3 a.m. this morning. I have no fucking idea how well Obama played this crisis, nor do I care. All he had to do was beat Katrina, and a lamppost could have bested that clusterfuck.
You know our stance; if you don’t want to vote, don’t. This idea that people died for this right is correct; but it’s the right, not the mandate. They can’t prevent you from voting, but they can’t force you to do it either, which is what I keep explaining to these anti-gay marriage idiots; it doesn’t mean you have to marry a homosexual or that every homosexual who is currently dating is now officially married the second it’s legal, it just means some numbskull in Congress can’t disallow their right to do so.
Also, you know my stance on second terms; they’re awful (Johnson—Viet Nam, Nixon—Watergate, Reagan—Iran/Contra, Clinton—Monica Lewinsky, G.W. Bush—running out of space, I’ll pass on this list). And as far as this space is concerned, neither of these candidates have bothered to put forth a coherent road map to their agenda over the next four years. (I love when people show up to a debate to tell everyone to look at the website, it’s like your daughter’s date showing up at your house telling you to check out the Facebook page).
I’m interested in seeing Romney govern; I seriously have no idea what we’re getting. It’s a wild ride for someone like me. Obama helps me on my whole gay marriage kick, but I don’t believe him, so there’s that.
Holy shit, a gremlin is trying to kill my cat.