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The Super Bowl is usually the most over-analyzed event of the year, and not just because it is the finale of the most popular sport. Unlike basketball or baseball, there is only one championship game, and there is a two week pause between the conference finals and The Big Game. Then there is six months of off-season before another meaningful game is played. It is isolated in time. In other words, if you want to talk about football at that time of year, that’s what you have to talk about. And when you have to talk about something, it gets picked...

October 17, 2012

It’s a tired Washington dinner-speech quip: the last speaker of the night says, “Everything’s been said, but not everyone has said it.” We seem to have reached that point in the presidential campaign. The candidates long ago laid out their positions (with as much specificity as they will give until the election), the commentators seem to have made every observation possible, and the race has settled into a close and stable state. This morning’s Washington Post carried no campaign news on the front page.

It’s certainly possible there...

October 16, 2012

I think most elections come down to a contest over who will be Them. Them means, most importantly, not us.

In modern American politics, the partisan pattern is well established. Democrats want the fight over Who Is Them to be on economics, and class. Republicans want it to be about culture. The theory is that many swing voters are culturally conservative and economically insecure (e.g., Reagan Democrats), so each side has a point of attachment and one of alienation. If the Democrat ends up being the elite, wine-sipping snob, he’s the...

October 15, 2012

The polls are close, with President Obama holding a narrow advantage in key states. Back in 2000, George W. Bush won a famously tight election. In 2004, he was re-elected on the strength of a slender victory in one state, Ohio. Even in 2008, in the midst of a crumbling economy, the margin was just 53-47. It’s why, in The Bigger Hammer, Sen. Harry Reid’s former strategist Penny Lee calls us a 50-50 nation. Ever since the hanging chads of Bush-Gore, it’s been conventional wisdom that America is split fairly evenly between the two parties. But why...

October 12, 2012

When a candidate gets a bump in the polls, like Romney has since the debate, the campaign on the upswing wants to think of it in terms of momentum. And you can’t ignore the real and important psychological lift that rising numbers give the candidate and his supporters. In the case of Governor Romney, they stop the pre-post-mortems and change the storyline from negative to positive.

But there’s another way to look at a bounce in the polls, too. Momentum implies more positive numbers to come, like a freight train gaining speed. But a...

October 11, 2012

In recent times, contrary to historical example, it seems to be a liability to run for president as a war hero. Well, not really a liability, but they certainly lose a lot. And this year, for the first time since 1944, neither major party candidate has served in uniform. Recent history may explain why.

George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, two decorated combat veterans, lost to Bill Clinton, who used a feint towards the National Guard to get out of fighting in Southeast Asia. George W. Bush, a stateside guardsmen, beat Al Gore and John Kerry,...

October 10, 2012

Republicans are united more than anything by their distaste for Barack Obama, even above their opposition to new taxes. They certainly disagree with his policies, but also can't stand his speaking style, his appearances on ESPN to pick the Final Four, his smile, his college years, or his jump shot. They think he got the presidency on glib style and white guilt, and that he didn't earn it.

In many ways, that's familiar. Liberals hated George W. Bush. To them, he was a pampered frat boy, saved from Vietnam and business failures by his...

October 09, 2012

If historical forces and political trends play the biggest role in which party wins the presidency, what’s next? You’ll often hear money, or something about the candidate’s biography, or the campaign strategists who are declared geniuses after the election. But I think all of that ignores the fact that a candidate is a skilled worker, as much as a sculptor or a quarterback, and being good at the job makes a big difference.

Being a good candidate involves giving a good speech, answering surprise questions with non-defensive clarity, and...

October 09, 2012

You can track the recent history of Democratic politics in the changing attitudes about Columbus Day. For a long time, it was a primarily an ethnic holiday, promoted by Italian-Americans to celebrate their extensive contributions to the United States. Like Martin Luther King Day and Labor Day, the establishment of Columbus Day as a federal holiday signaled the acceptance of a once marginal group (Catholics, blacks, and organized labor) into the mainstream of American life. It was, among other things, a recognition of their political power. Every...

October 08, 2012

There are some very good political commentators. Listen to them analyze elections and candidates and you know they understand how it all works. But somehow that doesn't prevent some serious flaws in the overall coverage of politics and government.

One of the biggest weaknesses is the tendency to report regular cyclical trends as if they are new. It’s sort of like being surprised that it’s hotter and lighter at noon than it was at midnight. If every president starts out popular and gets less so as he fights for his legislative agenda,...

October 05, 2012

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