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Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Personal Reflections ... Politics ...

If President Obama manages to get re-elected tonight, it will be because he “went ugly early”. According to respected political analyst Charlie Cook, the Obama campaign made the right choice in starting their mudslinging campaign last July against Mitt Romney in the key swing states. According to Mr. Cook, polls indicate that independents and undecided voters had a much better impression of Mitt Romney in the non-swing states, the “red” and “blue” states that almost assuredly will go Republican (e.g. Alabama, Idaho) or Democrat (including Rhode Island and Oregon), versus in swing states such as Ohio and Iowa. The Romney campaign answered these negative ads in kind, flooding the airwaves with the usual dramatic voices and creepy music promising a broken dystopic future for America should you even think about a second Obama term.

Unfortunately, Romney didn’t have nearly as much to gain by going negative as Obama did. As a sitting President, Obama is well known; perhaps 95% of voters made their mind up about Obama one way or another over a year ago. By comparison, Romney is more of an unknown, a bit of a strange duck on first glance (a Mormon from a wealthy Michigan family who ran a venture capital firm and then became a GOP Governor who mandated universal health-care in Democratic Massachusetts — what American stereotypes does that fit in with?). Negative ads appearing when voters first started noticing who Mitt Romney was had a good “adhesion” factor; whereas mud that was slinged at Obama either re-enforced what the disappointed viewer already thought, or bounced off the Teflon of those who still believed in “hope and change”.

Thus, it’s no coincidence that Romney got his biggest bump in the polls (and made this race so tight) during the first debate, when he presented himself as a reasonable guy with a brain on his shoulders and a heart in his chest, and some common sense ideas on how to fix what’s currently wrong with our nation. Obama’s lackluster performance at that debate did not help his cause, but even against a feistier Obama, Romney would have still gotten a bump just by showing up and smiling — “see, I’m a human, not a monster!”

Of course, “going ugly early” alone won’t clinch it for Obama (if he does in fact clinch it today). Saving the Detroit-based auto industry in 2009 may have been an ugly move in itself from an economic perspective (government is NOT a very good capitalist entrepreneur; our economy might have been better off in the long run had GM and Chrysler bit the dust), but it turned out to have been an extremely wise political investment relative to the key swing state of Ohio.

So, you have to take your hat off to the Democrats for playing a long-term strategy game in this election cycle. By comparison, the GOP went back and forth for many months searching for a reasonable alternative to overly-reasonable Mitt (remember Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and even Donald Trump? And doing the most damage despite much ineptitude, Rick Perry, whose Texas realism forced Romney into a far-right position on immigration, which drove the Hispanic vote entirely to Obama). The demands of the conservative “Tea Party” wing kept the Republicans from weaving together a believable narrative to offer the public until Romney finally seized the reins in early summer.

By then, the Obama election machine was already coming up to full speed. Had the Tea Party not made the process wobble so much, the GOP might have been further up the field by now — which given all the anti-Obama sentiment stemming from the bad economy, would have put him over the goal line.

It’s ironic, in that the Tea Party itself is an Obama creation, a reaction against Obama’s political over-reaching during his push for the health care reform bill. Ya gotta wonder, could President Obama have suspected so early in his Presidency that he would face a very tough re-election fight, and that his well-criticized partisanship in taking over GM and Chrysler (in a pro-union fashion) and pushing major social legislation through with zero Republican input might have saved his political skin in the long run? In more ways than one, if Obama is re-elected tonight, it was because he “went ugly early”.

Oh, where did that bit of slang come from? Your friend Google or any of its cousins will help you find out. According to one web site

The “go ugly early” strategy is another approach used by unscrupulous men in a nightclub. Some men realize that they are not going to score with a hot chick, so they might as well go for more aesthetically challenged woman in the first place.

I myself first heard of this back in the 1980’s, when I was working for the National Council on Compensation Insurance. As an assistant economist, I was called on to accompany my boss on some of his trips to various state capitals around the nation, seeking to convince state regulation boards to approve increases to insurance rates paid by employers to provide coverage for employee injury. These trips would last maybe 3 or 4 days, and I would spend most of my time with a group of maybe 7 to 10 NCCI staff, a local attorney, and maybe some other insurance industry reps. This was all about big business, so we usually dined in very nice restaurants and stayed in fine hotels with impressive lounges downstairs.

One of the usual participants on our trips was a fellow named Bob Hilton, who was NCCI’s vice president for government and public affairs at the time. Bob was a natural raconteur, always ready to cheer up the group (despite the hotel and restaurant luxuries, the days were long, the topics were boring, the government hearing rooms were banal and depressing, and we all got homesick quite early on). One evening, Bob told us about his days as a young man in the Navy, and wanted to relate the excitement of Friday and Saturday nights on shore leave. So of course, he discussed the merits of the “go ugly early” strategy relative to hormone-driven young sailors facing a limited supply of young women seeking for attention at the local watering holes. Those women were not “just off the farm” innocents, but instead were good capitalists who appreciated the benefits of a competitive market, and knew their own status on the supply side (as economists and actuaries, how could we not appreciate this?). So, the “go ugly early” gambit was in fact a reasonable outcome in the sexual “meat markets” being held every night at the shore-side bars and clubs.

(With all due apologies right now to female sensitivities regarding male sexual judgements such as “ugly”. But then again, the places being described were “meat markets”, and all involved in them were quite aware that the male participants were not sensitive poets and enlightened scholars; ditto for my insurance-industry colleagues as we gathered in places like Tulsa, Oklahoma and Baton Rouge, Louisiana).

As someone who was not at all a participant in those disco “meat markets”, I was not familiar with the tactic — until the night that Bob Hilton brought us up to speed on it. So tonight, as we go into the evening and get ready to turn on the TV as to watch the early counts and exit polls and state projections as they come in from across the nation (with thanks to PSE&G, the local utility, for just-in-time restoring electric power lost during Hurricane Sandy last week), I can’t help but crack a little smile thinking about Bob Hilton and those long ugly trips we made in defense of the property-casualty insurance industry. Bob’s bright personality helped to make them just a bit less ugly.

And PS, my call right now is for an “ugly win” by Obama. Let’s hope that President Obama’s second term turns out a bit more “pretty” and elegant than the first!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:07 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, Yes, I agree that there simply was too much ugliness in this election (if that’s what you were saying). I had some difficulty with the “going ugly” reference to prostitutes. I think they are human beings too, whatever their reasons for the occupation they choose or maybe are forced into.

    I know around here (Chicago area) there were hardly any ads at all for Obama; everything was aimed at the Congressional seats. (We even got some ads from Indiana, for goodness sake!) The campaign ads got uglier as the campaign drew closer to the end.

    Two things have caught my attention in this election.

    One is the amount of money that was spent: How many billions? (That’s with a “b”.) I wonder how that same money could be used throughout the world to feed people or help those in distress in some important way. (David Letterman was on his soap box about this point, and I couldn’t agree with him more.)

    Secondly, it seems to me that all one had to do was look at the crowds that the two candidates drew. Looking at Romney’s crowds, I saw white, white, white, and then mostly white male, white male, with some women among the men. I found myself thinking: All white, rich men. I even mentioned in a comment earlier during the GOP convention that the cameramen taking pictures of the group had to search for blacks and found *one* man who was black during the GOP convention; I don’t think there were any Asians, few, if any, Hispanics. Yet, somehow, though they are few, I do tend to like Republican woman; they have an empathy that’s refreshing among the white testosterone that flowed in Romney’s crowds.

    Obama’s crowds were very different. It seemed every single kind of American was represented, even American Indians (who are, to the shame of most Americans, often forgotten). A much different “feel” among the Obama group, more representative of what American really *is*.

    I find myself today wondering if the GOP might have a problem on its hands, maybe two problems: It’s not all inclusive of the composition of what/who America is today. And second, perhaps it’s becoming very “obstructionist”. I heard one newscaster say outright that the Tea Party was composed of “obstructionists”. I had not tho’t of things with the GOP and the Tea Party quite that way; but the more I think about it, the more I think the newscaster may be correct. In the end I don’t think obstructionists in the past have gotten very far in what they tried to do.

    When one thinks about it, even those far out on the left (obstructionist in their own way) who were around in the 1960s and 1970s (thinking now of Bobby Rush in Chicago) had to change their “far out” ways, return to do/be something more “central”, more representative of America as it really is if they want to be effective leaders. (And Bobby Rush certainly has changed his ways over the years, mellowing wonderfully and becoming a quite good leader here in the Chicago area.)

    Perhaps it was the “swing” states that got the brunt of the presidential ugliness, and we didn’t see much of it here in Illinois where there were almost *no* presidential ads. But I must say that the ugliness seemed to have started with the Tea Party group. One congressional candidate here in Illinois (Tammy Duckworth, the veteran who lost both her legs when deployed to the Middle East) spent 1/3 of what the Joe Walsh, the Tea Party candidate spent. Walsh “went ugly” early; Duckworth had to respond and thus had her ugly moments but not quite as nasty as Walsh. She even spent so much less, as I said. Yet Duckworth won. Something there says that people don’t really like “ugly” when it comes to political campaigns.

    Obama won early to my (and probably everyone’s) surprise. And we seem to have spent billions on maintaining the status quo, including a House Leader who already says he will not cooperate with Obama.

    I say: First, let’s get over the “ugliness”. And the best way to do that is to think about what’s wrong with the picture where campaigns spend billions. Campaign spending should be limited to perhaps $500,000 (tops $1 million if one wants to be extravagant), and let’s use the rest to help those who need it in the rest of the world. I’d bet those on the East Coast would be glad for even one of those campaign billions right now. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — November 7, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

  2. Jim, I must modify my comment about Republican woman; I didn’t think fast enough. There are some I think one could well do without. I can name at present two of them: Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona, and Sarah Palin, the former VP candidate who ran with John McCain. At this point these two women are much too far to the right and either much too interested in their own aggrandizement or much too interested in keeping political office.

    However, the wonderful Olympia Snowe of Maine (she may have retired) is a wonderful GOP woman, as are so many other GOP women.

    And on another point: A state to watch, when it comes to women in office, is New Hampshire where most (if not all) of the main high offices are held by women, many of them Democrat. Time will tell what/how these women govern that state. My hopes are high, I must say. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — November 8, 2012 @ 10:43 am

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