Archive for the 'Mitt Romney' Category

Another Realm in Which Expertise Matters: GOTV Software Development

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

Here are a couple of items I found interesting because they relate to what I do for my day job: web application development. It turns out that along with overpaying for advertising and buying a lot of polls that mispredicted the electoral outcome, the Romney campaign also hired a bunch of inexperienced technologists who made common mistakes on their way to under-delivering a custom get out the vote (GOTV) web application called Orca: Inside Team Romney’s whale of an IT meltdown.

Jumping to the end of the article:

IT projects are easy scapegoats for organizational failures. There’s no way to know if Romney could have made up the margins in Ohio if Orca had worked. But the catastrophic failure of the system, purchased at large expense, squandered the campaign’s most valuable resource—people—and was symptomatic of a much bigger leadership problem.

“The end result,” Ekdahl wrote, “was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of [get out the vote] efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that.”

What made this especially interesting to me is that for the past several years I’ve been learning a lot about the DevOps movement, which solves exactly the kinds of problems the Romney campaign experienced with Orca. If you look around at which companies have done best at iterating their web applications quickly and scaling up successfully (well-known companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, along with smaller start-ups like Etsy), they’re all using a particular set of practices.

Those practices are the result of an explicitly scientific approach. It’s the same process that Karl Popper described as conjectures and refutations. One can think of the old-school, non-agile, inadequately tested approach to software development that the Romney consultants used as the equivalent of a scientific conjecture. The failure modes that approach leads to are a refutation. If you’re proceeding scientifically, and are treating your ideas as falsifiable, you junk that approach and replace it with one that the people using science have found to be superior. If you’re the Romney campaign’s consultants, though, you ignore what those poindexters are saying and proceed on the basis of your gut feeling.

Contrast this with the Obama campaign, which actually hired people who knew what they were doing: When the Nerds Go Marching In.

We now know what happened. The grand technology experiment worked. So little went wrong that Trammell and Reed even had time to cook up a little pin to celebrate. It said, “YOLO,” short for “You Only Live Once,” with the Obama Os.

When Obama campaign chief Jim Messina signed off on hiring Reed, he told him, “Welcome to the team. Don’t fuck it up.” As Election Day ended and the dust settled, it was clear: Reed had not fucked it up.

The campaign had turned out more volunteers and gotten more donors than in 2008. Sure, the field organization was more entrenched and experienced, but the difference stemmed in large part from better technology. The tech team’s key products — Dashboard, the Call Tool, the Facebook Blaster, the PeopleMatcher, and Narwhal — made it simpler and easier for anyone to engage with the President’s reelection effort.

GOTV software isn’t very important in and of itself. In the rare case that it makes the difference in who gets elected, it would be hugely important (obviously), but that probably didn’t happen here. Obama probably would have won this election without his superiority in GOTV software.

But as a reflection of a fundamental difference in how Romney and Obama (and, to some extent, the modern Republican and Democratic parties that they represent) approach the business of actually governing, I think this story actually is important. Reality matters. Conforming your mental model of the world to the best available scientific understanding is a much better way to get difficult things done than just squeezing your eyes shut and wishing very, very hard that the universe will conform itself to your desires.

Drum on the Romney’s Continued Willingness to Lie about His Tax Plan

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Kevin Drum: Lies, Damn Lies, and Mitt Romney’s Tax Plan.

We all struggle trying to explain why Mitt Romney’s tax plan is….inconsistent with reality. Here’s another crack at unpacking the basics behind the famous TPC study that originally made this point. It’s actually pretty simple:

[snip basic arithmetic]

Needless to say, Romney knows all this. The guy ran Bain Capital for years. If there’s anything he knows his way around, it’s a spreadsheet. So is it fair to say flat-out that he’s lying about his tax plan? I guess reasonable people can disagree, but I’d say it is. There really aren’t any reasonable assumptions under which his plan can work, and he obviously knows it. But he keeps saying it anyway. If that’s not a lie, what is?

I’m not sure I see any way around the “L” word here. It’s a knowing falsehood, spoken with the hope of deceiving. shcb? You’ve been pretty limber in the past at construing things I call “lies” as being some other sort of thing notquiteactuallyalie. Is there a better word for what Romney’s doing here?

John Scalzi on the Romney Implosion

Friday, September 14th, 2012

One more item on the embassy attack aftermath, this time from sci fi writer John Scalzi: You never go full McCain.

Here’s the thing about Mitt Romney: He’s a Republican candidate for president in the unenviable bind of not being able to run on any sort of record at all.

Scalzi goes on to describe the pernicious circumstances that prevent Romney from running on his record as a businessman, or as governor of Massachusetts, or on his economic plan. All true.

Constrained as he is, he’s got nothing he can actually use to make a case for himself but himself – Mitt Romney, with that genial smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, that head of hair strategically left to gray at the temples, and that paternal aura of competence that says, hey, trust me, put me in the job and we’ll deal with all those silly fiddly details later. And you know what? With the economy still farting about and Obama still being as cuddly as a prickly pear, and Romney having a bunch of SuperPACs willing to shovel money until there’s not a swing state that’s not carpetbombed with ads, this had a reasonably good chance of working. But ultimately it only works if you actually trust Romney – or alternately, have no reason to distrust Romney – to make sane, responsible and intelligent decisions.

Which is why Romney blew up his chance to be president this week: He showed, manifestly, that he’s indeed capable of making horrible, awful, very bad, no good, terrible choices. First, by deciding that a foreign crisis, generally considered to be off-limits for bald, obvious politicking, would be an excellent time to engage in some bald, obvious politicking. Second, by making a statement slamming the president while the crisis was still in the process of developing and getting worse. Third, by blaming the president for an action he had no hand in (the press release from the under siege embassy) and which his administration had disavowed. Fourth, when after the facts of the events became clear, and it became clear that Romney’s statement had some serious factual holes in it, for doubling down at a press conference on assertions everyone knew by that time weren’t correct.

Scalzi goes on to talk about the tie-in to McCain’s goofy attempt to “suspend” the campaign in 2008 so he could duck the debates and return to Washington to solve the financial crisis. And for all that they’re completely different scenarios, the two events really do feel to me like they vibrate at the same frequency in terms of domestic politics.

Maybe I’m jumping too hard on the “this is the end for Romney” thing. We’ll see. And coming out of the conventions it was going badly for him already, so even if he does crash and burn from this point forward, it will be impossible to tie it to this incident alone. But sometimes something really does look so obvious that a collective, shared response emerges. And the collective, shared response I’m expecting to come from this is, “gah. This man has no business at all being President.”

More on Romney and the Embassy Attack

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

I liked this summary from digby: There’s a good reason why the country is polarized. Most of the major US daily papers, and an assortment of lesser ones, ran editorials today condemning Romney in the strongest terms. The thirteen different pullquotes really are amazingly harsh; taken in aggregate they’re kind of breath-taking. Meanwhile, in “Bizarroworld”, as digby puts it, an assortment of strained defenses were offered up by people like Rumsfeld and Rush and the various make-believe journalists at Fox.

I’m sure it makes a certain kind of sense for the more extreme elements in the right-wing media and punditry to make the best case they can; their audience is, after all, substantial, and I’m sure they’ll be able to sell lots of gold coins and adjustable beds or whatever else it is those poor suckers have coming to them. But the rest of the country is under no obligation to view it with anything but disgust and disdain, and I expect the polls coming out in the next week will show that they’ve done exactly that.

Swing voters may be unhappy about the economy, but that doesn’t mean they’re suicidal. Romney isn’t fit to lead, and his actions over the last 48 hours have made that starkly clear.

A couple of longer items I liked:

A recurring theme of some of the best commentary I’ve seen is this: In trying to muddy the facts and gin up tribal animosity aimed at Muslims (allegedly) and Obama (particularly), Romney is allying himself with the same sorts of religious extremists on both sides who want nothing so much as to provoke more violence, since their cynical analysis tells them that in a more violent world their own message will win more converts.

Screw that.

Convincing the Other Half

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Mitt Romney had already convinced half the country he was unfit to lead. In the last 24 hours, he’s making a strong run at convincing the other half. Kind of nauseating, but also impressive on a certain level.

When I previously observed that he was not going to let an unwillingness to Go There prevent him from having his shot at being president (not an original thought, I realize), I assumed it was going to get uglier. But there’s a difference between believing something is coming and actually experiencing it firsthand.


Roberts on the Media on Romney’s Post-Truth Politics

Friday, August 31st, 2012

David Roberts has been thinking about this question, “how do you solve a problem like Maria?” (where “Maria” is “the Romney’s campaign’s willingness to lie brazenly without regard to media fact checking”) longer and harder than I have, and he has some interesting thoughts on the matter: As Romney and Ryan lie with abandon, how should journalists navigate post-truth politics?

The whole piece is really quite fabulous. Here’s a small taste:

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post that, as far as I’ve been able to tell, coined the term post-truth politics. I also wrote a couple of follow-ups, here and here. After that, economist Paul Krugman adopted the term and it started bouncing around more and more. In just the past few weeks, it’s really taken off.

(My authorship of the term seems to have been lost to history; such are the wages of being an obscure niche blogger. Thanks to Alec MacGillis, at least, for giving me a shout-out!)

Regardless, I don’t care about ownership, I’m just happy that journalists and pundits are starting to seriously grapple with the issue itself.

Unfortunately, Roberts doesn’t have a solution. But in the “with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” tradition, he does have some obvious-to-him observations:

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I have no training in journalism. I was never taught to be even-handed or “neutral.” What training I have for what I do came from two places. The first was a whole lot of time spent with a large extended family in the South (Georgia, mostly) filled with raucous, hyper-verbal drunks with highly sensitive bullsh*t detectors and razor-sharp senses of humor. The second was grad school in philosophy.

In both places, I learned to love arguing, the mechanics of stringing facts and evidence together to reach conclusions. But I also learned that in real-life situations, the technically superior argument does not always carry the day. In real-life situations, the one that wins is the one with wit and timing, the one with the ability to employ mockery, flattery, flirting, storytelling, peer pressure, guile, and the whole array of other non-factual, non-logical communicative tools available to the human animal.

Traditional journalism, particularly in its post-war American variety, has purposefully denuded itself of most of those tools. The idea is “just the facts.” That can inform an argument, but it can’t win one. Journalists do not like to think of themselves as in an argument, as competing with, say, a campaign to convince the public of something. They still think of themselves as neutral arbiters of truth. But neither the campaigns nor the public view them that way any more.

What would it look like if journalists tried to win an argument with a campaign – an argument over, say, what Obama has done with state welfare waivers? For one thing, they wouldn’t just string together correct facts once and call it good. They would do it repeatedly. They would call out the campaign explicitly as acting in bad faith. They would mock and shame the campaign for its behavior.

This would be a serious departure for U.S. journalists. It would put them in an explicitly adversarial role with political operators – not the same operators all the time, not the same party every time, maybe, but not “neutral.” More like prosecutors working on behalf of the truth.

There are some interesting parallels between what Roberts is talking about and some other things I’ve been viewing and reading lately. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom on HBO (which just concluded its first season), imagined a fantasy version (Sorkin’s fantasy, I assume) of a news anchor who operates more as a prosecutor than a dispassionate observer. And Joe Romm’s book Language Intelligence (which I’ve been reading, and very much enjoying) goes into detail about the importance of rhetoric, of using language artfully to debate and persuade.

I come back to my comment from the other day: There’s something important going on here. How we as a society address this issue is going to have a big impact. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. But I think it matters.

The President We Deserve

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

An interesting series of Romney articles crossed my newsreader over the last few days. Something appears to be happening.

Kevin Drum, in Lies, Damn Lies, and Mitt Romney, talks about the outright lies (on Obama’s alleged “you didn’t build that” quote, his alleged undercutting of Clinton-era welfare reform, and his supposed diversion of Medicare funds into Obamacare) that currently form the central elements of Romney’s campaign messaging, and observes as follows:

I know, I know: politics ain’t beanbag. And past campaigns have hardly been simon pure. But there’s something more….what? Cavalier? Routine? Brazen? Don’t give a shit? What’s the right word to describe the Romney campaign’s approach here?

This is hardly the worst campaign attack ever. Swift boating was worse. Willie Horton was worse. The endlessly twisted quotes of Al Gore were worse. But those attacks were all based on at least a kernel of truth that was twisted for political ends. That’s not admirable, but it’s hardly unusual either. But Romney’s lies aren’t even remotely defensible, and the campaign barely even bothers to try. The welfare attack works, so they’re going to use it.

I think “brazen” is a good choice. And realistically, if a politician can get away with just making things up about his opponent, it would be naive to expect that there would not be some politician willing to do so, and that the ranks of elected leaders would swiftly come to be dominated by such people. So, what’s to prevent that?

The public’s ability to identify the lies for what they are, and punish the perpetrator by voting against him.

Newspapers, TV, radio, and magazines are the traditional way the public has obtained that kind of information. Drum wrote approvingly last Tuesday, in LA Times Gets It Right on Welfare Attack, that the LA Times’ willingness to use the headline “Santorum repeats innacurate welfare attack on Obama” is exactly the sort of coverage that needs to be present wall-to-wall if the Romney campaign’s strategy is going to be dialed back.

Looking at one of the lies in detail, Ron Fournier wrote yesterday in the National Journal about the Romney campaign’s emphasis on the “Obama is undercutting welfare reform” lie. This came to a head in a panel discussion in which Fournier accused senior Romney campaign adviser Ron Kaufman of “playing the race card” by running ads making misleading claims about welfare reform in swing states where racial animus among blue-coller whites runs high.

It’s worth watching the video to get a feel for how this is playing out:

Writing about the exchange in Why (and How) Romney is Playing the Race Card, Fournier wrote:

Kaufman, who I’ve known and respected for years, accused me of playing the race card – a fair point, strictly speaking, because I raised the question in a public setting: a joint interview with CBS’ John Dickerson before a large audience and live-streamed.

Still, Romney and his advisors stand by an ad they know is wrong – or, at the very least, they are carelessly ignoring the facts. That ad is exploiting the worst instincts of white voters – as predicted and substantiated by the Republican Party’s own polling.

That leaves one inescapable conclusion: The Romney campaign is either recklessly ignorant of the facts, some of which they possess – or it is lying about why (and how) it is playing the race card.

Look: We’re not children here. The Romney campaign is not recklessly ignorant. It’s lying. And it’s lying in a way that cynically encourages racial resentments as a way to try to peel off the crucial 2-3% of voters in a few swing states that they need if they’re going to have a credible path to 270 electoral votes.

Josh Marshall wrote yesterday about the Fournier/Kaufman panel discussion, and Fournier’s resulting article, in Outbreak of conscience?

Again, pretty much everyone knows this is true. You’ve either got to be a rube or a jackass not to see it [that Romney is intentionally exploiting racism]. But it’s … well, it’s indelicate to say it. And once you do, appealing to racism isn’t just one view against another. It’s something our society has decided is simply wrong. Could it be that the Romney campaign is just finally doing it so transparently that at least a few of the biggs will come out and say it?

Again, it’s not just the racism. It’s the brazen lying. Writing later yesterday at TPM, Brian Beutler had this analysis (A critical juncture):

If Romney relents [i.e., if he stops running the misleading ads because the media begins to lead with the ads’ dishonesty in its coverage], it’s a big deal for both the obvious reason that candidates looks terrible when they backpedal. But also because he’d have to return to old, ineffective themes, or find new and inspiring things to run on, which he pretty clearly doesn’t have.

On the other hand if he ignores all the pushback from the press, the political establishment will be facing something very new: a candidate – not his surrogates or outside supporters, but the top of the ticket – ignoring fact checkers, traditional campaign reporters, and even a few conservatives, all of whom have determined and publicly declared the attacks false.

That effectively pits the media against the Romney campaign in a test of will and influence. And it’s disconcerting to imagine that a determined media might not be able to effectively neutralize a presidential campaign intent on flooding the airwaves with false attacks. But that’s where we might find ourselves in the next couple weeks.

Commenting last night on day 2 of the Republican convention, Josh Marshall wrote (in Doubling down):

No question. The Romney campaign has doubled down. All in on the race/lazy/dependency groove from here on out. No going back.

In private they’re all but bragging about it – specifically their run of welfare-centric commercials which they’re running at a red hot clip in swing states all across the country. It’s working, they say. The fact-checkers can go screw themselves.

This shouldn’t be surprising. In some minds, it was McCain’s unwillingness to run dishonest racist ads in 2008 that allowed Obama to win. Romney, having demonstrated over and over that there is no principle of personal integrity that he will let stand between him and his shot at the White House, is not going to make that mistake. If he loses, he’s going to go down swinging.

So at this point I have to think that it’s really up to Obama. Not the media; they won’t, and can’t, do much of anything on their own. We don’t live in the Aaron Sorkin universe; there’s no Will McAvoy who’s going to grill the liars on TV every night. But the news will report on what the campaigns say about each other, and if the Obama campaign can succeed in painting Romney as dishonest, they’ll report that. The question then would be, would it stick? Or would it just play into the 5-to-1 onslaught of Citizen-United-funded pro-Romney advertising, which would mine quotes selectively or just lie outright to portray Obama as just another angry black man out to take your job while (paradoxically) lying around on welfare?

Are we, the voting public, dumb enough to fall for that? Or rather, is the teency slice of swing voters in a few key counties in a few key states dumb enough to fall for that? I guess we’re going to find out.

This interval, between the Republican convention and the Democratic one, was always going to be a scary time. This story makes it scarier. Because there really isn’t a cushion in the polls. In the basketball analogy Obama has been using on the stump lately, we’re midway through the fourth quarter, and Obama’s ahead, but not by enough to try to run out the clock. With these welfare attacks, Romney has taken the momentum, and it’s going to take some solid defense from Obama to stop the run and actually play some basketball himself if he’s going to win.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. But it’s not inconceivable that we could end up with a President Romney. For more on how that might look, I recommend the following article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone: Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.


The Exceptionally Dishonest Romney Campaign Ads

Friday, August 10th, 2012

There was a brief flurry of media/blogger chatter this week about the fact that the Romney campaign’s advertising seems to be setting a new standard for, if not outright reprehensibility, at least a casually blatant dishonesty that manages to be noteworthy.

Skeptical jbc is skeptical.

Drum on Romney’s ‘Creepy Small Lies’

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Kevin Drum remains my favorite political blogger. I find his views congenial (obviously), but more than that, I like his commonsense take on things. Here he is with a headline dear to my heart: The Creepy Small Lies of the Romney Campaign. Drum links to an item from David Weigel at Slate, It’s a Weekday, So It’s Time for Another Misleading Edit of an Obama Quote, in which Weigel points out how the Romney campaign is taking an Obama remark about Clinton-era tax rates producing better economic results than Bush II-era tax rates and selectively misquoting it to make it sound like Obama is claiming the economy has done great on his (Obama’s) watch.

Drum continues:

We’ve now seen the Romney campaign make hay out of three wild misquotations: 

* "If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose," which turned out to be Obama in 2008 quoting John McCain. "What’s sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander," Romney said in his defense.

* "If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that," a statement that quite obviously referred to the "roads and bridge" of the previous sentence. This one is so bad that supporters have taken to splicing it together with an earlier part of Obama’s speech and simply removing the "roads and bridges" reference entirely.

* "We tried our plan — and it worked."

As Weigel says, "At this point, getting video clips of Obama from Republican campaigns is like getting an article pitch from Jayson Blair. It might tell a good story, but you need to run down the source and triple-check."

I know I keep asking this, but has any previous campaign ever done this on such a routine basis? I don’t mean to suggest that no campaign has ever been as nasty. Obviously Willie Horton and "creating the internet" and the Swiftboating of 2008 were worse. And both sides traffic in distortions and cherry picking all the time. But there’s something about the methodical small lies of the Romney campaign that seems quite new. And frankly, just plain creepy.


Romney on Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That”

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Hey, it’s time for campaign ads. (Apologies to those of you who’ve been suffering from them for a while. I live in a non-swing state, so they, like Aaron Sorkin, are still kind of fresh-sounding to me.) You’ve probably heard about this already, but I wanted to note it in passing. Here’s Obama speaking at a campaign event in Roanoke on July 13:

I think it’s pretty obvious that the “you didn’t build that” line was meant to refer to the bridges and roads Obama mentioned just before that. Romney, though, has cut that part out, making it sound like Obama was saying small business owners didn’t build their businesses:

It’s fairly small potatoes, I realize, as political fibs go. But it’s early days. I’m sure we’ll get better whoppers as we move closer to election day.