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Dispatches From Electionland

Tales of madness from the election as absorbed by Metroland staff

by The Staff on November 8, 2012


Rumblings on the Interwebs

Elections make people crazy. Razor-thin electoral contests make people insane.

You didn’t have to go far to find this. On the right, the Romney people and their media minions worked hard to make everyone believe that Mitt Romney was building the momentum that would carry him to victory. This ranged from Dick Morris cheerleading a “Romney landslide” to the more measured lunacy of a seasoned columnist like Peggy Noonan. Noonan, on the day before Election Day, blogged: “All the vibrations are right. . . . Something old is roaring back [Did she mean Cthulhu?]. . . . Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us?”

The last was an oblique reference to numbers whiz Nate Silver of the 538 blog at The New York Times, whose impassive math-driven reports of a steady Obama lead were driving both Republicans and the professional pundit class into a rage. (Note that Silver predicted 50 out of 50 state results correctly.)

On Election Day itself, some of the best social-media action reflected the voting problems in Sandy-devastated areas. Surveying the bad news, Gotham Gazette’s David King asked on Twitter: “How many more hearings on the NYC Board of Elections will occur because of today? Judging by Twitter . . .  a lot.”

In the Capital Region, Citizen Action organizer and social media gadfly Sean Collins (@SeanPCollins on Twitter) won the day with his live Tweeting from the polling place at the University at Albany. The situation at UAlbany was, simply, a clusterfuck marked by impossibly long lines and insufficient, ill-informed poll workers (and students). Collins chronicled poll workers asking for photo ID and denying affidavit ballots to students from Sandy-affected areas; his constant updates focused attention on an important Election Day story.

And then came the morning after. For a couple of weeks, liberal bloggers had been batting around a question Atrios (aka Duncan Black) asked Nov. 1 on Twitter: “if obama wins/dems do ok in congress are there going to be any billionaries wondering just what karl and the gang did with their money.”

To refresh everyone’s memory, Salon.com reported that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson poured $20 million into Mitt Romney’s Super PAC, and generously supported Congressional loser Allen West (among others). Would any of these billionaires have buyer’s remorse?

We’ll turn to New York’s favorite blowhard, who, like even the blind squirrel, seems to have found a nut. From Donald Trump, on Twitter: “Congrats to [Karl Rove] on blowing $400 million this cycle. Every race [Crossroads GPS, Rove’s shop] ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money.”

Liberals gloated over the Obama victory, but, as usual, they were a lot funnier than their conservative counterparts. One of the best examples was cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, who Tweeted, “So are we gonna wait a couple days, or does the imposition of Sharia law and mandatory abortion start today?”

Not everyone on the right was cranky. The perennial failed U.S. Senate candidate from Delaware, Christine O’Donnell, was gracious on Twitter: “Congratulations, President Obama, on your re-election.”

She didn’t get many retweets from her fellow Republicans.

–Shawn Stone

A Consumer Advocate Heads for the Senate . . .

And the handsome guy in the pickup truck heads home. Maybe Scott Brown should have been more proud to be a Republican.

New York’s own Kirsten Gillibrand coasted to her first full term in the Senate, but the road was tougher for Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts—except that in the end, her toughness on consumer-advocacy issues was what recession-battered voters wanted to hear. Amid the congratulations on Twitter, a few more humorous tweets stood out:

The Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin: “I am going to take a quick break from the Presidential stuff to visualize Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Banking Committee. Oh yeah.”

Author/humorist Neal Pollack: “Congratulations, Elizabeth Warren! Can you please call my car-insurance company? I have a bone to pick with them.”

And The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart: “Unconfirmed: @ScottBrownMA’s truck voted for Elizabeth Warren.”

–Stephen Leon

Rage Against the Ryan

In many ways, the quotation that best summed up the 2012 presidential election was this: “Paul Ryan is the embodiment of the machine our music rages against.” This, of course, came from Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who was forced to rebuff GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan after he named the radically left-leaning band as one of his favorites. More than funny, the whole episode highlighted some peculiar trends regarding the overlap of celebrity and political culture this election season.

Unlike 2008, when every even moderately liberal actor and musician threw their celebrity weight behind Obama’s historic election bid, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder were about all Barry could regularly be seen with, feeding this narrative of the Democratic “enthusiasm gap” to reelect the president. As we now know, and should have all along, that support—among celebrities and youth culture alike—was still there, quietly waiting out the charade. Unless you were one of the sideshow celebs like Ted Nugent, Meat Loaf, Kid Rock, Victoria Jackson, Clint Eastwood or Chuck Norris, who somewhat predictably supported Mittens, it was implicit that you supported the president. It became newsworthy when certain celebrities (usually via Twitter) broke with this expectation, i.e Lindsay Lohan (which, frankly, didn’t come as a huge surprise), Adam Sandler or teenage-witch herself Melissa Joan Hart. Nicki Minaj was even able to capitalize on the phenomenon by turning a fictional Romney endorsement into a little piece of PR performance art.

Meanwhile, the only Obama-supporting celebrities who got much attention were the ones who went the most overboard. Who can forget Snoop Lion’s first debate chart enumerating the reasons why he’s not voting for Romney (“3. Bitch got a dancing horse.”) and why he is voting for Obama (“7. He’s hugged Beyonce before and sniffed her neck.”). Will.i.am simply didn’t need to trouble himself with another “Yes We Can” pro-Obama rallying anthem, when so many of his colleagues were busy stonewalling the Romney/Ryan campaign’s attempts to use their music. The National, Silversun Pickups, K’naan and even Twisted Sister got the opportunity to issue the GOP a satisfying cease-and-desist order before Morello brought the gesture to new poetic heights.

The whole saga illustrates a very real dimension of the GOP platform and campaign strategy though—the quality in fact that likely lost them the election. Whether it’s listening to Rage Against the Machine and not understanding the lyrical content, or making an aside about “legitimate rape” and not understanding why that might hurt and alienate half of your electorate, there is a fundamental disconnect between the current Republican party and the cultural reality they live within. It’s what makes Chris Christie’s persistent Bruce Springsteen fandom all the more incoherent. Republican ideologies (of Rand, Reagan and Rove) have calcified to such a degree that they’ve consistently had to resort to distortion and damage control to keep the message palatable. Having a handle on pop culture isn’t the most important aspect of a political campaign, but when your ideology favors spin-doctored myth and narrative momentum over plans and policy, it would help to have the storytellers in your camp.

–Josh Potter

Too Sexy to Be Veep

Did you see Paul Ryan’s workout pictures? They were released right before the Vice Presidential debate,but were originally shot for Time’s Person of the Year issue in 2011 (a questionable move on the part of the magazine). Ryan is captured in various weightlifting poses (he seems to prefer curls) wearing athletic shorts, a gray T-shirt, an occasional red baseball cap, earbuds, and a benign midwestern smile. They are overly posed, which could be blamed on the style of Los Angeles-based photographer Gregg Segal. The result looks stiff and just plain fake. The pictures created a megastorm of negative press for Ryan. In short, just about everyone laughed their heads off. The images were bad. Like junior-high-school-yearbook bad.

Art is questionable, but public image is a studied science. Since the days of the Kennedy-Nixon debate, the importance of a political candidate’s appearance to their campaign is way up there on the list. The rules are generic but well-defined. Women should look attractive but not promiscuous, campaign managers and stylists must adhere to strict cleavage regulations. Men should not look too shiny or tired. Lapel flag pins should be prominently displayed whenever possible. When in doubt go red, white, or blue.

The strategic elements of Ryan’s photo shoot are all there. The color scheme is all-American. He’s fairly attractive. He looks fit enough to make it through to the next election cycle. But like Jell-O salad, the dessert dish that is ever so popular in the Midwest, it doesn’t matter how many ingredients seem like they might hold up in the solution—in the end it’s just sick and wrong.

–Erin Pihlaja

Say It Ain’t So

After most debates, pundits and party hacks try to spin what just happened into a victory for their candidate. But as Romney blasted away at a surprisingly inert Obama, you could feel the malaise spreading over liberal America. A few offered up lame excuses (“Jet lag!” “Altitude!”), and a few suggested it was really a tie. But it was hard to mask the damage almost everyone knew had been done.

“What was [Obama] doing tonight?” asked MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews. “He went in there disarmed, he was like, ‘An hour and a half, I think I can get through this thing and I don’t even look at this guy.” And talk-show host Bill Maher added in a tweet, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Obama DOES look like he needs a teleprompter.”

My favorite was the New York Times coverage of how Saturday Night Live sweated over how to parody the debate, until SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who watched the coverage on MSNBC, sensed an opportunity for his writers when he observed that “Rachel Maddow looked like she had just seen a terrible car accident.”

–Stephen Leon

i’m in ur fone eatin ur texts

“I’m gay, you fucking douchebags,” Jennifer Cyr texted back in response to the text she received from a short message service address. The SMS text read, “Stop Obama from forcing gay marriage on the states. Your vote is your voice.” Cyr posted a screen shot of the conversation on Twitter.

Jonathan Weisman tweeted: “Txt to my 13-yr-old daughter: ‘Obama denies protection to babies who survive abortions. Obama is just wrong’ from sms@gopmessage.com.

Both of these individuals were the recipients of robo-texts delivered just days before the presidential election. Robo-texts represent the new landscape of hyper-aggressive political marketing—a method whose legality has been questioned.

By and large it is a violation of federal law to send unsolicited commercial text messages from phone to phone, but these particular messages were sent as e-mails to phone numbers associated with e-mail addresses. Some texts were traced back to ccAdvertising, a Virginia-based political research company, which registered various domain names with GoDaddy.com that were later suspended. Users who did not have unlimited data plans may have had to pay per text received.

While the mode of delivery may have changed, we’ve grown accustomed to receiving automated political messages to places that we consider our personal domain. Try to find any household with a landline that hasn’t had a dinner interrupted by a prerecorded phone call touting a political candidate’s merits or slamming an opponent’s record. Anyone with an e-mail address has checked their inbox and seen messages supposedly sent from celebrities, the first lady, or the president himself begging for support.

Before it went digital, it was paper-driven. During election season we expect to be visually assaulted with a seemingly endless supply of election signs. It’s campaign season, so along with the smears of red, white, and blue sprouting from lawn to lawn, we also accept the proliferation of direct mailers that threaten to choke our mailboxes with glossy photos of smiling candidates and political promises neatly packaged in postcard sizes. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to identify when these types of specialized marketing infiltrated our political system—they have been a part of how campaigns are run for so long that we don’t even bother to question them.

Perhaps there are boundaries. The irony is that we will have to push our officials to implement regulations to protect our privacy from methods that help them get elected. Good luck with that.

–Erin Pihlaja