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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Yeah, because when I want cogent commentary on the Democratic primary, I'll ask a Republican. Whatev.

by folkbum

There's nothing quite so insulting as what we in the business call a "concern troll." They're everywhere, these days, even if they don't know what they're doing, talking about Democrats and the nomination process. Just trolling away, sounding quite, quite sincere in their wish for the Democrats to nominate someone who can win in November. Who are these people?

McCain voters.

I know, I know, it doesn't compute on its face, or even, for that matter, several dense troll-packed layers down. What possible reason could Republican, conservative, McCain-voting bloggers have for tsk-tsking the Democrats over our rush to nominate Barack Obama, whom they see as the weaker candidate against McCain? Well, it's the same reason why the Republicans are planning to air some pretty ugly ads against only Obama--not Hillary Clinton: Obama is the presumptive nominee (no matter what Clinton thinks) and, frankly, they're scared pantsless of how bad for their side a McCain-Obama race would turn out.

Maybe not all of them got a memo, no. But you can bet it's the talking-point of the rightward set, circulated at all levels and bubbling forth in public for consumption from a number of otherwise-reasonable people.

Exhibit A would be Rick Esenberg. He sidled into concern troll mode with a post early election morn, wondering, goshdarnit, what's making it so hard for that nice man to seal the deal with Democrats?
But don't Democrats have to be worried about a guy who can't put away such an empty suit? And no matter what the polls say about a race that hasn't started, it's hard not to conclude that Obama has left folks in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio unimpressed. You can make a fairly strong argument that, for a Democrat to win, Pennsylvania shouldn't even be in play. How do you get to 270 if, after McCain actually campaigns there, it's in the GOP column?
So many breathless questions, so much concern trolling. If there were a concern troll scale--like, say, the Richter Scale, or the Manly Scale of Absolute Gender--this would be peaking at a fairly solid 6 or 6.5, starting, of course, with his labeling of Clinton as "an empty suit." It takes a lot of, erm, concernes, as they might say en espanol, to paint someone who still can win a hot primary and run neck-and-neck with Obama with that kind of brush. Voters clearly don't see that suit as empty at all; in fact, one Clinton voter (*cough*me*cough*) highly resents the implication that I'm too dumb to pick an empty suit out of a crowd. But because Obama is presumptive nominee, such lies are not intended as lies per se; rather, they are to be read as an acknowledgment of reality, sort of a paternal pat on the head to reassure us that he, too, knows Obama's in the driver's seat of this race, something most Dem readers of Esenberg's blog figured out weeks ago. (NOTE: Had he gone with "an empty pantsuit," as many of his colleagues are wont to do, he would have slipped from concern trolling right into flat boorishness and lost credibility. That's what I like about Rick--he knows which lines to dance up to but not cross.)

Further, there are some other Esenberg concern-troll lies not meant to be read as such. For example, suggesting that Obama has not impressed the voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania. It feels true, again, because, well, Obama lost those states. But there are any number of ways to put the lie to it. For example, since the start of the elections this year, Obama has drawn more money in contributions from Ohio and Pennsylvania that Clinton has. Two-thirds of Ohio and Pennsylvania primary voters said in exit polls that they would be satisfied in Obama won the nomination--considerably more voters than actually voted for him. And while Obama may be behind McCain in Pennsylvania according's trendlines this morning, that's almost entirely because of Republican polling firm Strategic Vision, as opposed to non-partisan polling firms finding Obama ahead for the last month. Pennsylvania hasn't voted for a Republican since they voted against Dukakis--and they keep electing Democrats lately to state-wide office. It's nice Rick, that you seem to care, but, please, keep it and your falsities to yourself.

The Recess Supervisor makes a lot of the same concern-trolly points Esenberg does about Obama's losing to Clinton in states that will be important in November (apparently, McCain's losses in key Republican swing states like Colorado, Minnesota, and Louisiana don't matter). But RS's additional complaints concerns--not to mention his use of ultra-violent bullet points--put him onthe concern troll scale at about a 7.5 to 8. Here's some of his "concern":
Barack Obama outspent Hillary Clinton 3-to-1 in Pennsylvania and lost by ten. Shouldn't that be story? [. . .] Why won't the talking heads mention how Obama's narrow lead in pledged delegates and the popular vote owe largely to his running up the score in states in the Great Plains and the Mountain West that Democrats have absolutely no chance of winning in November? Are Obama's whopping victories in states like Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Kansas really the stuff that Democratic superdelegates want to base their decision on? The voice of voters who will do NOTHING to bring them the White House come November? [. . .] Obama's spent a year trying to sell voters the yellow brick road, and it's starting to come up short. Swing voters aren't buying it.
Money: I think the story is that Obama is outraising Clinton three-to-one. How in the world can we expect Clinton to compete with McCain's campaign finance shenanigans if she can't raise money herself? That is my real concern as a real Democrat, not some phony ginned-up trollishnes of the Supervisor's.

"No chance" states: Montana, North Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska have been electing Democrats state-wide lately. There will be close House contests in Utah. Colorado and Nevada--not on RS's list, but implied--will be battleground states in this cycle, based on changing Demographics if nothing else. As a Democrat, I want a candidate who can make those states more competitive. I want a Democrat who can have coattails in states like Utah or Kansas. I want Republicans to have to spend money to defend in those places, instead of in Ohio or Pennsylvania, and I want Nevada and Colorado to go blue this year. The Dems' win without the South strategy has always gone through the Mountain West, and if Obama can make it happen, that's a good thing.

The "yellow brick road": I see that RS has bought into the BS that Obama's campaign is some kind of fantasy of hope and change rather than a coherent and extensive collection of detailed policy proposals. It's funny--Esenberg calls Clinton the empty suit, and here the Recess Supervisor implies that it's Obama, instead, whose suit is empty. Is it too much to ask that the concern trolls settle on a single storyline?

But the concern-troll cake of the week has been taken by Brian Fraley, whose post yesterday goes off the scale completely. What makes Fraley bury the needle is not merely that he's demonstrably wrong in his concern trolling--and in total denial about it--but that he does it with a snippy I-told-you-so attitude:
After Obama’s ‘Bitter, Cling to Guns and God’ jab was made public I wrote:
If he actually said this condescending, elitist claptrap it will take all his vast rhetorical skills to talk himself out of the firestorm heading his way. And not because us rubes are going to merely cling to our guns and our religion. But rather, because he just insulted the largest block of swing voters in America.
Well, how did my prediction shake out after the first contest since his San Francisco treat? Well, look at how Hillary Clinton trounced Barack Obama in Pennsylvania’s rural counties and the northern suburban counties outside Philly. It’s not a matter of her winning there. Look at the numbers. The percentages are staggering. White middle class, and Catholic voters went to Clinton by unbelievable margins.
Lucky for us, we can actually look at some polling data to find out if what Fraley said here is true. We can compare what happened in Pennsylvania to what happened in neighboring Ohio, as the states share some demographic qualities as well as a border, and Ohio was the last major primary before Obama's "cling" statements were made public. (In general, Ohio's electorate is a little more amenable to Obama--more black voters and more younger voters than Pennsylvania--so that fact that Obama did better in PA is itself notable.)

Comparing CNN exit poll data (same company, same questions, already linked above) between Ohio and PA, you find that Obama actually improved this week! More whites voted for Obama in PA (34% OH, 38% PA). Obama gained among white men (from 39% to 44%) and white women (from 31% to 34%). He gained among those earning less than $50k a year (from 42% in OH to 46% in PA). He did fall among Catholics (from 36% in OH to 31%) but he gained among Protestants (from 36% to 53%)–and remember, his “cling” to religion comment was not specific about which religion, so it should have offended everyone equally. Fraley restated his claim in a comment even more explicitly: "Blue collar white catholic swing voters, who may have been warming up to Obama at one point, are running away from him in droves." And to prove it, he reiterates his point about Obama's losing Tuesday in areas that were Clinton strongholds. I don't see anyone leaving Obama "in droves," though. Maybe you can, and if so, I would appreciate it if you explained it to me.

And if you're thinking about concern trolling, please, keep it to yourself.

POST SCRIPT: Former Republican John Cole has a solid take on all of this:
I have had the tv on for 2 minutes and am already ready to scream as Joe Scarborough asks why “obama can not close the deal.”

Gee. I dunno. Because he is running against an exceedingly popular candidate who has a 16 year advantage building a political machine who just a few months ago was Mrs. Inevitable?

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