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29.10.10

Vitter success signals further loss of media influence

In his quest for reelection, Sen. David Vitter took a page from the Gov. Bobby Jindal playbook, the wisdom of which was demonstrated yet again in last night’s only widely-televised, major-party only forum between just the Republican and his Democrat challenger Rep. Charlie Melancon.

When nearly 3½ years ago Vitter found it politically necessary to admit publicly to a “serious sin,” believed related to a prostitution ring, he knew it could wreck his political career unless he could persuade a majority of the voting public to view the situation as a temporary deviation from the past which he now genuinely regretted and would not repeat, relying on the people’s approval of his record and issue preferences and their willingness to empathize with the battle to overcome sin. His problem was that this interpretation was threatened to be swamped by political opponents who would fixate only on the incident, aided and abetted by media channels knowing scandal draws consumers, or who disliked Vitter, or both.

His fellow Republican Jindal to a degree at that time was following a similar strategy during his run for the governorship. Jindal’s campaign knew the state’s media as a whole did not want to see a conservative like him elected to office so the organization put a lot of effort into direct communication with voters instead of passively relying on the media to relay fairly his issue preferences and assessments about him as politician. It paid off with Jindal’s election a few months later and served as a template for Vitter’s damage control.

Thus, Vitter’s campaign concentrated on raising much money, having won the backing of enough supporters who would forgive his behavior and respond to what they saw as a sincere repentance and agreed with his issue preferences and record in office. This enabled him to buy enough communication channeling to get out his broader message. At the same time, it allowed him to ignore in large part the media news sector since with these resources he did not have to depend on it with fidelity to allow his message out, much less shill for him as it might do for some other candidates. So, Vitter got out of the business of giving interviews and became very selective in answering questions in impromptu sessions, thinking otherwise the media comparatively would mention little of his story and concentrate on its own presumably different narrative, shared by his opponents.

Next week, it looks to pay off for Vitter and we are none the worse for it. Because Vitter said little directly to the media since his revelation has done nothing to reduce the onslaught of information we have about him, his record, and his policies, from him and his detractors. His office still cranked out press releases, his remarks in the Senate and in committee were reported here and there, and he met with constituents and had “town hall” meetings over the phone (although randomness in selection of those to participate in these meetings was not a criterion), providing plenty of information dissemination. Oddly unreported by the media was that his opponent Melancon did exactly the same things for months during and after the debate over health care legislation that he facilitated, and Melancon spent millions trying to create his own narrative about Vitter full of character assassination and distortion, so it cannot be said, with all of this and what appeared as news in the media, that Vitter’s strategy deprived voters of any necessary information about the campaign.

But, as identified right from the time Vitter spoke up, it did deprive the media of the two things they want more badly than anything else, data by which to shape stories and maintaining the perception that they are relevant. You must understand that it’s not just that the media dislike this strategy, it offends them, the suggestion that they cannot get information they seek for their own purposes and that they don’t matter. This is why to many in the media it’s not that they only dislike Vitter’s issue preferences but that they also have personal grudges against him because he is denying them what they think is rightfully theirs. Vitter knows this, and knows therefore they won’t go out of their way to disseminate his campaign message at the expense of their different narrative.

Reporting of last night’s debate confirms Vitter’s assessment. For example, one report about Vitter’s criticism of the spending bill in early 2009 that Melancon supported noted “Vitter said the stimulus, which financed infrastructure projects, cut taxes for 95 percent of taxpayers and provided aid to state governments, a failure that has not lived up to its promise of creating jobs or ‘saving’ existing ones.” Two statements in that characterization were false yet were presented as fact.

First, there was only a one-time tax rebate in the bill, not any permanent tax cut as is implied. And if the reporter had anything more than surface knowledge about the issue or enough initiative to understand the issue further, she would have known that tax rebates are almost totally ineffective in providing any kind of economic stimulus. Second, the article implies that a significant portion of the $862 billion in the spending bill went to infrastructure. In fact, almost none of it did, less than one percent while almost all spending in it ended up as transfer payments. Again, a more knowledgeable and/or less lazy reporter would have known these things and not merely parroted the common refrain repeated in the newsroom.

Nor did this report accurately describe Melancon’s actions. Concerning spending restraint, it noted “Melancon cited his support for congressional "pay-go" rules that say any new tax cut or spending proposal has to be offset by a corresponding cut elsewhere,” without ever revealing that many Democrats including Melancon routinely violated PAYGO in the past four years to allow favored spending by them, including for the spending bill and that it’s a sham in any event because so much spending is not covered by it.

Not all coverage of Vitter’s campaign has been so shoddy (this article provides a more balanced approach to the same debate) but it does validate Vitter’s suspicion that his message would receive short shrift in the traditional media and vindicates his strategy. And the success he will enjoy only will encourage future politicians, aided by ever-evolving technology that makes this easier to accomplish, to concentrate further on direct outreach to the citizenry at the expense of the news media which will aggravate those in it further as they realize the influence they believe is ordained to be theirs over politics continues to erode.

28.10.10

Sangisetty ignorance, liberal fealty dooms his chances

While Rep. Charlie Melancon has run a campaign for Senate full of character assassination and distortion of his opponent and his record with little mention of current and significant issues, and state Rep. Cedric Richmond mostly has tried to draw sharp distinctions in issue preferences between himself and his opponent for the House Second District spot, political newcomer/dilettante Ravi Sangisetty has tried something in between. But it’s still leading him into electoral disaster.

Like the others a Democrat, Sangisetty is trying to keep Melancon’s present seat in the hands of the party but has run up against the salient fact of the 2010 election cycle: national Democrats in power in the past two years overreached with a very liberal agenda in a conservative country, highlighting the internal contradictions of liberalism and how it poorly matches to reality compared to conservatism, thereby presenting in stark relief to voters the invalidity of the ideas associated with Democrats. As such, he is considered a heavy underdog against Republican Jeff Landry.

While Melancon badly trails, and Richmond nurses a small lead, Sangisetty falls somewhere in between. Like Melancon’s approach in his race, he has tried a strategy trying to smear Landry with distorted personal attacks that has no basis in reality. But he also has tried to appropriate the label of a “conservative Democrat,” trying to stress on social issues that he appears as conservative as does Landry. He even claims he won't support the current Democrat leadership for Speaker of the House. One wonders why he didn't just run in the GOP primary that Landry won, with rhetoric like this, but that would be incompatible with his fiscal liberalism.

As such, he’s attempted to undo the damage of his association with the party leading the country into increasing debt and slower economic growth by accusing Landry of wanting to disrupt the defined benefit pension plan Social Security to make it less secure – despite the fact that the presumed insurance plan takes in less than it pays out and will run out of money (that already is a debt obligation of the federal government) in less than 30 years to pay for benefits. Landry wants to allow voluntary privatization of a sort. Yet, here again, Sangisetty can’t avoid the cost of liberalism.

Democrats resist ideas Landry likes such as allowing workers to use Social Security payments in defined contributions plans like individual retirement accounts (such as is done in Chile and other countries and in some U.S. states), or even to invest a small amount of proceeds in other than government accounts because ultimately they want to control the funds. It allows for more government jobs to be created, more taxpayer dollars to be spent, greater sums that can be dealt with (such as lending it to government itself), and, generally, this retains greater control over the people. It comports to their philosophy that government runs knows best how to manage people’s resources, especially when Democrats are in charge.

Which historical study and empirical analysis decisively refutes, as a recent analysis specifically on this issue corroborates. Researchers noted that had a working couple now reaching retirement age whose jobs tracked the median income at the beginning of their working lives had invested the same amounts of their Social Security payments 90 percent in large capitalization equities and 10 percent in small capitalization equities (considered a risky strategy), even in retiring the year after the worst stock market 10-year performance since 1926 they would still have beaten the return on which their Social Security payouts would have been based by 75 percent. If they then shifted it all into a conservative investment portfolio, the payout rate they would enjoy would be twice that of Social Security’s (and keep in mind that on a sum 75 percent larger).

So when Sangisetty echoes Pres. Barack Obama that Landry “wants to give Social Security over to the very Wall Street gamblers that have gotten us into this economic mess,” he’s just showing his ignorance about the concepts Landry rightly and astutely promotes. Despite all his efforts to try to escape the fact, Sangisetty just mouths failed bromides that a majority of the district’s residents have had ample opportunity to see through by his party’s performance in office over the past two years. It’s why his political career will be short, ending this Tuesday, and not be sweet.

27.10.10

Richmond numbers assertion shows lack of confidence

You might have thought it was isolated to the Rep. Charlie Melancon candidacy, but now it appears at least one other Democrat challenger in Louisiana has decided to use the same playbook – float unreliable poll numbers in an effort to boost their campaigns for different reasons.

Melancon has made it a habit throughout, his latest effort being to trumpet another poll by for-hire-by-Democrats-only Anzalone-Liszt that had him down only by three points to incumbent Republican Sen. David Vitter, despite every single independent poll, and almost every poll, for more than a year during the campaign showing Vitter with double-digit leads. (There are a number of ways a poll can be skewed for a client, such as by leading questions to “push” a respondent in a certain direction or by manipulating the weighings by demographic characteristics in a direction favorable to the client.)

But reality reared its head again as pollster Magellan Strategies, one that usually works for Republicans, confirmed yet again that Vitter held a huge lead, 17 points. Further, it provided internal numbers to show it pulled a representative sample and there is no indication it asked leading questions – information not provided for the poll on behalf of Melancon. It also was consistent with the latest, if a bit aged, independent polling. As typically there has been at least a 10 point gap between Democrat-leaning polls and independent ones, Melancon probably is actually down 10-15 points.

However, now Democrat state Rep. Cedric Richmond, challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, seems to have gone to the same page Melancon studies. His campaign has released poll results by the same firm asserting that he has a 17-point lead. Using the same metric for the Senate that this adds a 14-point bump to the actual Democrat totals, Richmond may be hanging on to only a three point lead over Cao.

Melancon’s motivation for his publicizing the questionable results has been long clear – he didn’t want an impression that the race has been over for some time that would discourage support of him. Yet Richmond has been considered the favorite since he won the party nomination, so his need to circulate these numbers means he continues to feel pressure, perhaps even sensing an erosion of his position with the intent being to try to head off an oncoming collapse. Consider that if Richmond truly felt confident about his position, there would be no need to do this as whatever he was doing without this out there was working and need not be tampered with.

In short, that Richmond took this path indicates Cao is hanging in there close to him. Richmond still is the favorite, but a really big wave that appears to be building in the GOP’s favor could do what only months ago seemed impossible, reelect Cao.

26.10.10

LA policy-makers complain, don't lead on fiscal issues

When Gov. Bobby Jindal accused some state officials last week of preferring whining over leading, he hit on a major reason why the state has come to a perilous fiscal point.
Louisiana state government, as a whole, is just flat-out inefficient at what it does. Worse, we know many of the reasons why and continue to let them happen. When state Treasurer John Kennedy points out that, in per capita terms, Louisiana has almost twice as many state employees than the national average, or that the span of control of supervisors is almost half the average, he points out symptoms of specific problems that can be rectified.

Higher education in Louisiana in real terms has seen a less than five percent reduction over the past three years, yet as of last year was in the top ten states in per capita spending and in the bottom ten of graduation rates. It operates with too many schools and governing boards when other states do with far fewer of each. State-provided health care pays for too many procedures and for too many not really needed because of lack of coordination and patient responsibility. It also has a sprawling, duplicative structure of charity hospitals and parish health units that could be handled easily by the private sector for reduced costs with likely better outcomes. The same goes for care facilities for the developmentally disabled. Nursing homes get sweetheart deals with taxpayer funds. And these are just the big ticket items in the state’s general fund.

The existing fiscal structure is all wrong. It pumps money to certain places without any ability to create priorities, exacerbating the monetary difficulties in the big ticket problem areas funded through the general fund. Finally, its tax structure is not broad enough and thereby discourages economic development.

25.10.10

LA Democrats can't see Vitter wins because of issues

Republican Sen. David Vitter is about to get reelected to office, and Democrat activists from their standard-bearer in this contest Rep. Charlie Melancon on down are too closed-minded to understand why it’s going to happen. Let me assist them, beginning with the words I wrote (after detailing why Vitter should not resign) posted Jul. 11, 2007, right after Vitter made acknowledgement of commission of an unspecified “serious” sin:

… any punishment for Vitter would have to come from the ballot box. And the public in other instances has shown that, as long as he votes the way they want (he does for a majority in the state) and for the best public policy (his conservative voting record affirms that) that’s where they hold their real trust in him …. Three years provides much time for Vitter to continue to perform in this way to shore up any support which now may be flagging, as long as it is not demonstrated that his past misdeeds went beyond infidelity and that his repentance is sincere (meaning the behavior did stop some time ago). At this point, Vitter would be highly unlikely to leave office early, and must be considered the favorite win to reelection in 2010.

It’s reported that Democrats seem perplexed why Vitter will defeat, probably blowing out by double-digits, Melancon. They blame the state’s media for not being “aggressive” enough about reporting the scandal (Vitter’s phone number appearing on a list of calls to an operation of a woman accused of running a prostitution ring as his subsequent – a view representing a wholesale flight from reality. As I noted previously, a year after his statement, in the previous six months no fewer than 128 mentions were made of the incident in the largest Louisiana newspapers or in wire stories – over two every three days. It hasn’t really abated, either – 89 such references have been made in the previous six months from today, one every other day during the height of the campaign season.

Melancon claims it’s “partisan” politics; “Some people, because he is a Republican, because he isn’t a Democrat, because of what, I don’t know,” have decided the scandal is not an issue, Melancon said. Well, let me clue in this dunderhead, who finally makes sense when he admits it’s because of “what, I don’t know.” OK, here is that “don’t know” you and so many other Democrat operatives have been looking for: it’s the issues, stupid.

What I wrote over three years ago came to pass. Vitter has faithfully captured what the majority of Louisianans want, advocating a conservative agenda the superiority of which has been magnified by the inadequacy of liberalism when translated into policy over the past 21 months, of which Melancon has been a willing and unrepentant supporter. Historically, Louisiana voters have been more willing to concentrate on issues than personalities when they are aware or perceive that their issue preferences have been met.

In days gone by, it was more perception. Liberal populists like Melancon’s one-time boss Prisoner # 03128-095 (better known as former Gov. Edwin Edwards) would create the perception they were doing good by giving away stuff which worked when Louisianans typically were much less educated than now and information sources were far fewer. Thinking they were getting good policy, voters responded by putting the likes of these characters into office despite their ethical shortcomings in their personal lives.

Today, the Louisiana electorate has a greater ability to understand when the issue preferences of the majority are and are not being addressed by candidates. Vitter has done that to its liking, Melancon has not. And Vitter has pulled this off despite the image he has for being the exact opposite of the typical Louisiana politician which enables them to charm voters into casting for them despite having issue preferences that differ from the majority of their constituents.

In a conservative state, the majority favors conservative politicians who deliver. The only apparent reason why Melancon and his ilk can’t see this is sour grapes born of an out-of-touch, blind arrogance where they will blame every other facet for their defeat except the truth: not only are their ideas wrong intellectually, they are wrong for the Louisiana electorate as a whole.

24.10.10

Dilettantes Fayard, Sangisetty try to fool LA voters

As Democrat candidate for lieutenant governor Caroline Fayard has tried so hard to craft an image of being an ordinary Jane concerned enough to take on the political establishment, revelations about her spotty voting history has become perhaps the biggest chink of the several in that armor, joining Third Congressional District Democrat candidate Ravi Sangisetty damaged for the same reason.

Days ago it was revealed that Sangisetty had never voted in his life for federal office. This weekend, the presumed “establishment” candidate opposing Fayard, Republican Sec. of State Jay Dardenne, asked her in a debate why she had missed votes at least half the time (Dardenne, as one might imagine having been state senator and in his present position, appears to have voted in every election for over a decade.)

Even though Sangisetty never has voted in a federal election, he gave the maximum $4,600 to U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign in 2008 – which makes very questionable his credibility of his excuse why he didn’t vote, that his voice “didn’t matter.” So he doesn’t think voting matters, but giving money does? What does this tell us about him relative a job he wants where the most consequential thing you do is vote – and one where the receiving of money sometimes corrupts?