Monthly Archives: October 2008

On and Off the Campaign Trail: 1932

The New York Times, July 10, 1932

Hoover, Roosevelt and Radio

Voice Personality Now Has Dominant Part

In Political Campaign–Spoken Words

“Paint” Character of Candidates

Voices “paint character on the radio. Now the time has come when politicians and broadcasters alike are studying the microphone technique of Hoover, Roosevelt, Curtis and Garner. They are weighing radio’s part in the campaign. They realize that voice personalities overspreading the nation, within range of millions of voters, can play an important role in the fortunes of politics in this election.

***

President Hoover’s voice betrays deliberate effort, according to John Carlile, production manager of the Columbia Broadcasting System, who labels the Hoover voice “typical of the engineer.” He calls Governor Roosevelt’s voice “one of the finest on the radio, carrying a tone of perfect sincerity and pleasing inflection.

One advantage both Hoover and Roosevelt have in common is that their voices are not sectional, that is, they are not too Yanke, too Southern or too Western.

The New York Times, October 28, 1932

Republican Purses

Opening for Hoover

Campaign Chiefs Elated

as Funds for Final Drive

Begin to Arrive

…At the Republican National Committee headquarters a statement of M.L. Hartig, vice president of Joseph T. Ryerson & Son Inc., wholesale steel dealers, was made public yesterday in which he predicts immediate business revival in the event of Mr. Hoover’s re-election and a continued lull if Governor Roosevelt wins. …

… An identical note dominated in a radio address delivered tonight over a National Broadcasting Company network by Roger W. Straus, another industrialist who spoke under Republican Radio League auspices. Mr. Straus is the son of Oscar S. Straus, in 1912 the Progressive candidate for Governor in this State.

“Four years ago,” Mr. Straus said, “we Progressives of the Theodore Roosevelt school helped put Mr. Hoover in the White House. Looking back over four years, I am satisfied with that job. First, our man has stemmed the tide of depression and, second, he did everything that human ingenuity could devise to start us toward prosperity. He has succeeded in that, too, I think.

“Republican and Democratic economists and business men alike seem to believe that we are on our way out of our difficulties. Let’s keep in the Presidential chair a man who has done an incredibly huge job so well. When prosperity returns, he will see to it that passed around more fairly than ever before, and prosperity will return under the leadership of Herbert Hoover.”

[Both items Copyright, The New York Times]

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Strange Campaign, Stranger Coverage

This has been a strange election season for me. The last couple times around, 2004 and 2006, I did phone-banking and some other volunteer work. That was in large part due to the fact I wasn’t working for any media organizations during those elections. As I’ve been reminded this year, working for a public radio station anxious to maintain its appearance of even-handedness in political coverage, campaigns are off-limits if you’re working in news.

I’ve got all sorts of thoughts about the wisdom of that policy and what it really accomplishes. I’ll try to get back to those by election day. As I said, though, I actually feel like I’ve been missing something this year. Not that I enjoy calling strangers on the phone so much or intruding into their political decisions. But this is a historic election year, one that people will talk about for generations to come. It’s one of those things you want to say you saw, that you were there for.

I had an appointment with my dentist this morning to fix a broken tooth. On the way in, I caught an NPR segment with Juan Williams. NPR calls him an analyst. He also works for Fox News. How NPR tolerates that and what it implies, I don’t know.

The segment involved one of the Morning Edition anchors, Renee Montagne, debriefing Williams about where the campaigns are right now. Sample passages:

MONTAGNE: OK, final week of the campaign. And here is what we’re hearing from John McCain. Two arguments. His criticism of Barack Obama’s tax policies which he says would amount to a socialist redistribution of wealth and – that’s one of them. Let’s start with that. Has it helped him?

WILLIAMS: I think it has. I mean, that’s why we now have Joe the Plumber, that now iconic figure of the campaign, out on the campaign trail for McCain. The argument is coming from McCain that Senator Obama believes that taxes are too low while Senator McCain believes that spending is too high, and secondly that there is this, you know, effort by the Obama team in terms of wealth redistribution. And McCain is saying that is something that punishes success while McCain is one that’s trying to build an economic system, a tax system, that would reward success. So, that has worked with lots of people who are making money and then led to the argument about exactly who McCain’s team wants to give a tax break to.

Wait! She asks him whether the argument that Obama’s proposals amount to a “socialist redistribution of wealth” are working–and he says they have! But read the rest of his answer: He never justifies that anywhere, except to say that Joe the Plumber is now iconic. Williams’s statement that there is an argument about who McCain would give a tax break to is absurd. As Obama says, in one of the few clearly true pieces of campaign rhetoric out there, McCain hung his hat on the Bush tax policy. And there is not much of an argument about who that helps. It ain’t really Joe the Plumber, either.

There’s more:

MONTAGNE: What about the second argument, McCain’s arguing for divided government, basically, yeah, between the Republicans and the Democrats? Any indication that that is affecting how people are thinking about voting?

WILLIAMS: Well, again, we don’t have hard numbers. But what you do see out on the campaign trail is an awareness that you would have Democrats in control across the board: Senate, House, as well as White House. And that argument has picked up steam because the idea is that – you know what? – it’s not so much that Barack Obama would just be president, but that you would have lots of Democratic committee chairmen and officials – specifically the likes of Nancy Pelosi, someone who’s always been, I think, demonized by the Republicans – in charge pushing very liberal policies on a very liberal president. That argument you hear all over the campaign trail.

Notice that Williams doesn’t even try to put this Democratic Domination argument in McCain’s mouth. He puts it out there himself as something you “see out on the campaign trail.” And it is “picking up steam.” In a world awash with hard numbers on the race, he can’t find any, or he lacks the wit to interpret them. Amidst his characterization of the “likes of Nancy Pelosi,” “very liberal policies,” and “a very liberal president,” he doesn’t even try to answer the question — which was how McCain’s tactic is affecting voters. So, Montaigne had to ask it again, and he was forced to answer. Lamely:

MONTAGNE: But you say people are swayed by that?

WILLIAMS: I don’t know that they’re swayed by it. What is evident is that the McCain campaign believes, Renee, that they can use that argument to sway votes in these final days before the election. So they believe it is effective.

Juan wasn’t done analyzing. Montaigne asked him about Obama’s TV spot for Wednesday night. Again, he takes his time getting around to the answer:

WILLIAMS: You know, this is so rare, Renee. You got to go back to Ross Perot to see anything like it. And of course, the amount of money being spent is so stunning, it just knocks your socks off. But that’s because Barack Obama has raised a stunning amount of money, and he has it to spend. There’s some criticism within the Democratic ranks that he’s not using that money to help people down the ticket. It’s all about Barack Obama at this point.

And what he wants to say to the American voter is so, well, prosaic. I mean, he’s just going to say, I’m someone you can trust, I’m someone you know. Don’t believe all these arguments about my character. I’m someone that will lead America successfully. I’m a patriot. He wants to deliver on that basic promise that he can lead America and say he’s presidential.

What a performance. What an embarrassment. The way I heard the entire segment, he went out of his way to sideswipe Obama by merely repeating the McCain campaign’s doggerel with no pretense of analysis. And then, sight unseen, he pans Obama’s performance as “so prosaic.” Not a word of criticism for the ridiculous suggestions that Obama’s policies represent socialism. Not a finger lifted to weigh the impact of McCain and Palin’s campaign of untruths. Not an ounce of intellectual energy expended to put the campaign in any kind of historical perspective at this juncture.

This guy’s dignified as a journalist, dressed up with the title analyst, and handed a supposedly neutral national platform to offer one campaign’s take on the opponent. No one calls him on it on the air. And I’m supposed to sweat the ethical implications of some grass-roots campaign work?

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Guest Observation: Marx and Engels

What with the socialists hungry to spread the wealth around (and probably force us all to wear Mao jackets–but that plan won’t be made public until after inauguration day), I picked up the copy of The Communist Manifesto that I alway keep at hand (though have never until just now managed to open). Anyway, we all know that socialism and its forefathers have long since been consigned to the dustbin of history. But there are a few things in the opening pages of the Marx-Engels tract that you kind of have to admire. If not for their political insights, at least for their abilities as reporters and interpreters of the world around them. Take note of the fact they were writing in 1847. The Industrial Revolution was already mature in Great Britain, but in much of the rest of Europe and in the United States, it was still an incipient development. So Marx and Engels were describing a world they saw coming into being, not one that was even close to fully formed.

And there’s a surprising durability to their description of that world. If you let yourself substitute more modern terms for “bourgeoisie”–the word grew out of a term meaning “people of the town” (bourg, in French), representative of the first non-heredity, non-aristocratic mercantile and moneyed classes as Europe emerged from feudalism–the Manifesto actually describes a process that many pundits and prognosticators of global capitalism might approve of today; although most all of them would likely go out of their way to tell you that Marx and Engels were stunted and short-sighted in their thinking.

Here are a couple passages (my copy is the Penguin Books “Great Ideas” edition; you can also find the complete text on Project Gutenberg):

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. … Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. …

“… The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. … [I]t has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. …

“… The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

I’ll stop before I get to the genesis of the proletariat. I’m not ready for that yet. And if you need to clear your palate, I offer this musical aperitif (you’ve got nothing to lose but your chains).

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In re: Your Biting Dog

Dogbite102508

Posted on a telephone pole near what we used to call “the experimental dog park” (for experimental dogs) at Grant and Hearst in Berkeley. As befits a dog park, dogs are almost always there. We’ve taken Scout there a few times, but there’s a little bit of a weird, frenetic feeling to the place and he never seems to want to stay. Somebody in the neighborhood went to the trouble of having a professionally designed banner printed up for the dog run; it says something like, “Please consider the neighbors and stop incessant barking.”

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The Times Endorses …

a guy from Illinois. You were expecting what? A surprise?

The Gray Lady’s endorsement editorial begins:

“Hyperbole is the currency of presidential campaigns, but this year the nation’s future truly hangs in the balance.

“The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush’s failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens — whether they are fleeing a hurricane’s floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable.”

It’s amazing the nation produced anyone who wants the job.

Online, the Times offers an entertaining adjunct to its Obama endorsement: A gallery of all the endorsements it has made since 1860, when it backed another Illinoisan (the taller of the pair in the race that year). The gallery bravely includes some of the reasoning that went into the endorsements. The rationales range from wildly misplaced hopes to something that approaches prescience.

In the first category, here’s how the Times led off its argument for the re-election of U.S. Grant (over Democrat Horace Greeley) in 1872:

“Greeley’s election would mean the unsettling of business all over the country.–Gen. Grant’s would instantly lead to the recovery of trade from the excitement of a Presidential election, and insure the continued prosperity of the entire Union.”

How did Grant’s era of prosperity pan out? See Panic of 1873.

And then there’s the second category, when the editorialists seemed to be pretty well tuned in to the choice of candidates and their potential impact on the future. Here’s part of what they said to back their endorsement of the eventual popular-vote winner in 2000:

“This is … the first presidential campaign in recent history centered on an argument over how best to use real, bird-in-the-hand resources to address age-old domestic problems while also defining the United States’ role in a world evermore dependent on it for farsighted international leadership. …”

“…Mr. Bush’s entire economic program is built on a stunning combination of social inequity and flawed economic theory. He would spend more than half the $2.2 trillion non-Social Security surplus on a tax cut at a time when the economy does not need that stimulus. Moreover … more than 40 percent of the money would go to the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers. … There is nothing compassionate or conservative about blowing the surplus on windfalls for the wealthy instead of investing it in fair tax relief and well-designed social programs.”

It’s worth going back and reading the rest of that one to revisit the days when Bush could be characterized outside a comedy sketch as “the most moderate Republican nominee in a generation.”

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The Times Endorses …

a guy from Illinois. You were expecting what? A surprise?

The Gray Lady’s endorsement editorial begins:

“Hyperbole is the currency of presidential campaigns, but this year the nation’s future truly hangs in the balance.

“The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush’s failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens — whether they are fleeing a hurricane’s floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable.”

It’s amazing the nation produced anyone who wants the job.

Online, the Times offers an entertaining adjunct to its Obama endorsement: A gallery of all the endorsements it has made since 1860, when it backed another Illinoisan (the taller of the pair in the race that year). The gallery bravely includes some of the reasoning that went into the endorsements. The rationales range from wildly misplaced hopes to something that approaches prescience.

In the first category, here’s how the Times led off its argument for the re-election of U.S. Grant (over Democrat Horace Greeley) in 1872:

“Greeley’s election would mean the unsettling of business all over the country.–Gen. Grant’s would instantly lead to the recovery of trade from the excitement of a Presidential election, and insure the continued prosperity of the entire Union.”

How did Grant’s era of prosperity pan out? See Panic of 1873.

And then there’s the second category, when the editorialists seemed to be pretty well tuned in to the choice of candidates and their potential impact on the future. Here’s part of what they said to back their endorsement of the eventual popular-vote winner in 2000:

“This is … the first presidential campaign in recent history centered on an argument over how best to use real, bird-in-the-hand resources to address age-old domestic problems while also defining the United States’ role in a world evermore dependent on it for farsighted international leadership. …”

“…Mr. Bush’s entire economic program is built on a stunning combination of social inequity and flawed economic theory. He would spend more than half the $2.2 trillion non-Social Security surplus on a tax cut at a time when the economy does not need that stimulus. Moreover … more than 40 percent of the money would go to the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers. … There is nothing compassionate or conservative about blowing the surplus on windfalls for the wealthy instead of investing it in fair tax relief and well-designed social programs.”

It’s worth going back and reading the rest of that one to revisit the days when Bush could be characterized outside a comedy sketch as “the most moderate Republican nominee in a generation.”

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October

Wind102208

The morning dog walk: The air is scoured clear and warming fast. The wind gusts down from the hills, through redwoods, Monterey pines, liquidambars and oaks. On Hokpins Street, it raises billows of dust from the middle school track. It’s a leaf-stripper wind that fills the air along Hopkins Street with gold and green.

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On and Off the Campaign Trail

[All items from The New York Times]

Reception of the Election News at Mr. Lincoln’s Home.

A letter from Springfield (Ill.) to the Chicago Press and Tribune tells how Mr. Lincoln’s friends received the news of the victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. [Oct. 17. 1860]

The Wide-Awakes were out early in the evening, and went to Mr. Lincoln’s house. Arriving there they gave three cheers for Mr. Lincoln, three for Senator Trumbull, who chanced to be his guest, and three each for Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. In response to repeated calls Mr. Trumbull made a brief speech, predicting that Illinois would follow up the victory in Indiana with a majority of at least 20,000 for Mr. Lincoln, and then the Wide-Awakes repaired to the wigwam, where addresses were made by Judge Logan and others. During the proceedings an excellent photograph of the cabin in Kentucky in which Mr. Lincoln was born was presented to the Springfield Wide-Awakes on behalf of Mr. Van Meter, of Kentucky. The enthusiasm could not be repressed until a late hour of the night.

***

Movements of Senator Douglas

Jefferson City, Saturday, Oct. 20 [1860]

Judge Douglas’ trip from St. Louis to Jefferson was a continued ovation. He was hailed with shouts of welcome all along the road, and the eager multitudes assembled at the principal station would not let him pass without speaking.

He is now addressing a vast crowd at the state capitol. Immense enthusiasm prevails.

***

Police Reports [October 22, 1860]

… Yesterday morning, about 3 o’clock, a quarrel occurred at the coffee and cake saloon No. 36 Bowery, between John Kelly, residing at No. 54 Mott-street, and a young man named Moses Bunyon, and, as Kelly was making his way out of the place, it is said that Bunyon stepped behind him and cut him severely in the neck with a penknife. He then ran away, but was pursued by Officer Carr, of the Sixth Ward, and yesterday, he was held by Justice Kelly to answer for the assault in $1,000 bail.

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Tiny Alpine

Brainstorming some story ideas for my radio news gig, this is where I go: I started out thinking that it might be fun to call a couple of the less populated counties in the state to talk to the county clerks about election day plans. You know–the quaint voice of outback telling the city slicker about the one polling place in the town bar, or something along those lines. And then:

You know, California is big, about three times the land area of my native Illinois. It’s got about three times the population, too, so off the top of my head the overall population density is probably about the same (according to the Census Bureau, in 2006 California had 217 people per square mile; Illinois 223).

The Prairie State is divided into 102 mostly pocket-sized counties. California is split into 58 relatively large ones. California has nine counties with 1 million or more people, Illinois one (Cook). The Land of Lincoln’s biggest county would rank second here, behind Los Angeles County. The No. 2 county in Illinois, DuPage in Chicago’s western suburbs, would rank 11th in California, right after Fresno County. The third most populous Illinois county, Lake, would be 16th in the Golden State. And so on.

But as you go through the list of counties in the respective states, an impression forms: of extremes in California, of relatively even distribution, outside Chicagoland, in Illinois. My county, Alameda, is 738 square miles and has about 1.5 million people. On the other side of the Sierra Nevada passes is a place called Alpine County. At 739 square miles, it’s one of the smaller counties, but not the smallest (that would be, ahem, San Francisco County, at 47 square miles; Santa Cruz is second at 445-point-something) in the state.

Around the old Examiner newsroom, and it deserves to be called that, we had a fellow editor whose family has a summer home up in Alpine County. Whenever something happened in the county–a fire, generally; conceivably some other natural unpleasantness–the Examiner would describe the place as “tiny Alpine County.” The tininess comes from the population: 1,208 in 2000, an estimated 1,180 now.

That’s 1,180 people spread across 739 mountainy, brushy, stream-crossed square miles. One-and-a-fraction human beings per 640 acres. That’s almost as un-dense as Palin-land. My county has something like 1,300 residents for every resident of tiny Alpine County. That’s a lot more, wouldn’t you say? And the density in the city where I live is part about 7,000 times that of tiny Alpine. Just as a for instance of California realities.

Not that you couldn’t find similar extremes if you picked the right patches of Illinois. Cook County has about 5,500 people per square mile, and the city of Chicago is in the neighborhood of 13,000. Statewide, the least populous county is Pope County, at the state’s southeastern tip, with about 4,100 people. Those 4,100 fit somehow into 370 square miles–about 12 people per square mile; I’m guessing that’s the lowest county density in the state. (The second-smallest county population-wise is also the No. 1 smallest area-wise: Hardin County, bordering Pope County on the east. Hardin has 4,600 mosquito-bitten souls–about 27 per square mile.) Those are lonely places judged by the standards of Wrigleyville (or at least Wrigleyville before a Dodgers’ sweep), but they are downright crowded by tiny Alpine County standards.

And that’s where I’m calling, along with Modoc County, maybe, to see how the election preparations are going.

(The point of the foregoing. As I said: Where I go when I start thinking on something. ‘Night. )

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FiveThirtyEight

Maybe this is a secret the rest of the world is in on already–the coverage on Google News would seem to confirm that–but through my friend Pete I just checked out FiveThirtyEight.com for the first time. What is it? An ambitious attempt to not only aggregate major poll results from all 50 states, but to analyze them as well. The information is deep and incredibly absorbing. And for bonus points, the guy who started it is a baseball statistician from Chicago, Nate Silver. (Newsweek wrote about him and the site back in June–well after he had become a sensation. Where I was at the time I can’t tell you.)

One example of the site’s excellent work: a look at Sarah Palin’s “real America”–a thorough breakdown of the racial makeup of the towns and cities she’s visiting compared to the ones in which Obama is appearing.

And while you consider what that analysis means, here’s a look at some of Palin’s real Americans in full cry:

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