President Barack Obama will address the nation at 8 p.m. on the crisis in Syria. Late this afternoon, sources including NBC News reported that the speech will likely make a case for the option raised yesterday by Russia — placing Syria's chemical weapons under international monitoring, as a step toward eventually destroying them — but may maintain the possibility of military strikes.
That would be a precarious position. As the Washington Post's Dan Balz writes, "Obama is now in a position of having to argue for war and diplomacy in the same address."
A recap of the issues underlying tonight's address can be found here. Check back in throughout the night and share your thoughts.
In an uncharacteristically direct response to questioning, Gov. Bill Haslam says there's no — literally, "zero" — truth to rumors that he would consider a run for the White House in 2016. He says there are "at least 20 people who'd be better" at the job, giving drinking journos and bored political junkies a new parlor game — who are the 20 people ahead of Bill Haslam on Bill Haslam's list of potential presidents?
The last couple weeks have been something of a national coming-out party for our Tennessean-in-Chief, with Politico deeming him "the GOP star you've never heard of" in a glowing profile last month, and sharing his comments about the future of the party a few days later.
For what it's worth — and I'll admit, I'm not sure what it's worth — I once had a Republican staffer, one who I'd say might know, tell me the Haslam family's goal was to make Bill president. In any case, presidential politics is often like NASCAR — whoever's leading this early is likely to end up in the wall. If the governor does want to be president, it would make good sense to let off the gas while we're still over three years out. If he doesn't want the job, perhaps one of the 20 more qualified candidates will look his way for the No. 2 spot?
Their dalliance occurred with Koch and Gore passing like ships in the limelight, as Gore was just beginning his leftward migration and Koch was drifting rightward from a political career begun as a loudmouth liberal reformer in Greenwich Village. There would probably never have been another moment when the two men would have wound up in each other’s arms.
But they were cast together by circumstances where each tried to take advantage of the other for their narrow needs of the moment. Koch was nearing the end of his third term as mayor, in which he had overseen a civic comeback from the economic crisis of the 1970s. But the city had increasingly tired of his stridency and the corruption that had boiled over during his tenure without touching him personally. Gore was just trying to keep his presidential campaign going.
Gore had taken a late flyer on the presidential race, hoping to take advantage of the South-friendly 1988 primary schedule. It had been engineered by Southern Democrats in the hope of tugging the party back toward the center, after the 1984 debacle when liberal nominee Walter Mondale lost 49 states to incumbent Ronald Reagan.
But the campaign hadn’t gone quite as Gore hoped. He eschewed competition in the Iowa caucuses, where he was going to get trounced anyway, and attracted little support in other early Northern contests. He had a moderately good showing in the big wave of Super Tuesday Southern primaries, picking up six Southern-ish states, and was still standing when the field winnowed down to preacher-agitator Jesse Jackson, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and himself. Yet even though he had left some other formidable candidates in the dust, there was no place further for Gore to go. He was a lackluster third in the Wisconsin primary and headed off to New York for his last stand.
If Romney loses, the GOP’s internal post-election kerfuffle will be fascinating to watch. Is losing two in a row to a guy you frame as a proto-socialist Kenyan enough to get through to the faithful that a gay-baiting immigrant-hating anti-science white people’s party is just not going to fly long-term as a vehicle for national political influence? Or will they just rationalize: Romney’s conservatism wasn’t the genuine article, or it was Hurricane Sandy/Christie’s fault. Are we doomed to enduring another four years of Tea Party obstructionism in Washington, and in 2016 another GOP primary cycle of red-meat penis-size competition? Or will a close Romney loss send the signal that the moderate Mittbot was the solution, not the problem — the fatal flaw in 2012 being the hollowness and jejunity of the man rather than the concept?
If Obama loses, the internal shitstorm on the left will be far less clamorous — more of a pee sprinkle, really — since many Dems understood all along that Obama’s re-election prospects were always going to rise and fall with macroeconomic developments. While a drowsy economy has managed to shake itself half-awake with more good numbers than bad in the campaign’s final weeks, the larger narrative of economic lethargy never really dissipated. The overarching Obama problem has long been his unwillingness (and/or inability) as president to forcefully communicate his policies and priorities in ways that bring people aboard — health care reform being, of course, Exhibit A. A telling moment came a month ago, following Obama’s calamitous evening in Denver, when he told supporters that Romney’s debate performance was “salesmanship” not leadership. A president who doesn’t see effective salesmanship as a key aspect of the job is a one-term president waiting to happen.
Divergence in recent weeks between national polls and battleground state polls has many wondering if we might be in for the magic split between popular vote and Electoral College outcome. The prognosticators are dubious— Sam Wang at Princeton makes it a 16-1 longshot — and Dems would obviously prefer the illusion of a governing mandate rooted in a consistent outcome on both fronts over a split decision. (I say Dems because it’s hard to fathom the split happening with a Romney win. The turnout wave that would help Romney overcome his conspicuous battleground-state polling disadvantage would surely carry the popular vote with it.)
But I count myself among those who say mandate schmandate: If we are ever going to get rid of this senseless anachronism we call the Electoral College, it is probably necessary for Republicans to feel its emotionally piercing sting as Democrats did in 2000. Only then we can experience the dawn of true bipartisanship: that gleaming glorious day when the two parties with their gridlock are unable to save the country from its economic doom, but can go hurtling over the fiscal cliff hand in hand knowing that the Electoral College is soaring with them to its long overdue demise.
Now that’s winning!
A version of this post also appears at BruceBarry.net.
 A clear difference. You can spin the year's battles over voter ID, early voting and voting rights in general in numerous ways, and we can expect plenty of litigation on this after the election. There is an inescapable truth, however, that overlays the entire matter: The country has one political party trying to make it possible for more people to vote, and one party doing all it can to see to it that fewer people vote.
 Still no reason to freak out. Last weekend I counseled Obamaphiles to keep their freakout impulses in check because (quoting myself, which is something you just can't do enough) "polls in the aggregate are actually painting a quite consistent picture, one that favors Obama in almost all the important battlegrounds." Well now, a week later, nothing significant has changed on the polling front, except perhaps some slight movement in Obama's direction (but slight). Core observations from polling remain: In Ohio, of the 25 polls going back to October 7, Obama has led in 19 of them, Romney in 2, and 4 have shown a tie; Romney has led in just one of the most recent 10 polls there. In New Hampshire Obama has led in all five polls completed since the final debate. In Wisconsin Romney hasn't led in a poll since mid-August. The story in Iowa is a bit less convincing, and clearly Virginia and Colorado are dodgy, but Obama's path to 270 remains reasonably unhampered.
Mittmentum getting you down? Worried sick that the election is slipping away? Stockpiling water and batteries for the coming apocalypse one might affectionately label a "Romney-Ryan administration"? We have the remedy, and it comes from those dastardly polls.
The campaign endgame began with the conclusion of the final presidential debate last Monday, and since then both sides have felt compelled to frame a piece of their closing argument as "we're winning" — partly as a GOTV turnout strategy and partly as media narrative management strategy. With so many polls now released daily it is somewhat possible for each side to cherry-pick some data to build an impending victory spin.
But get a grip, Obamaphiles: The fact is polls in the aggregate are actually painting a quite consistent picture, one that favors Obama in almost all the important battlegrounds. The picture looks like this: In every key state starting in mid-August (pre-conventions), Obama built a lead, a working margin that was whittled down in the wake of the first debate on Oct. 3 to a substantially smaller lead. And here's the essential part: Since the few days immediately following that first debate (roughly the period Oct. 4-9), the race has been stable ... a smaller but consistent Obama lead, with the raw numbers for Obama and for Romney creeping up in tandem as undecideds break.
You can see this dynamic in every state that matters: Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire. Don't believe me? Then check out the graphic after the jump ...
And how did the other two guys do? In the spirit of the debate’s hexagonal structure, I’ll recap with snap (and perhaps occasionally snappy) judgments of each of the 15-minute block segments.
8:00 pm (pregame): Wolf Blitzer at CNN, just before throwing it over to the debate hall, sets the mood by telling viewers that "one misstatement could cause international ramifications." Way to raise false hopes, WB. If no international incident comes out of this we’re going to be very disappointed.
8:00-8:15. First up was Libya, and with his first tepid answer it was quickly apparent that Mitt Romney came to play it safe, avoid conflict, show off memorized factoids (he mentioned Mali twice in the first ten minutes, for crying out loud), and generally focus on the “appear presidential” thing. Obama made it just as quickly obvious that he wasn’t playing the same game, telling Romney that “every time you’ve offered an opinion you’ve been wrong.” Romney shot back that “attacking me is not an agenda,” which quickly trended bigtime in the right wing Twittersphere, even if attacking him actually is a quite effective agenda, in a debate anyway. Obama wrapped up the segment lecturing Romney to “listen up, punk” (“Here’s one thing I’ve learned as Commander in Chief” was the exact phrase) on the need to be clear to allies and foes "about where you stand and what you mean." Romney’s face: not happy. Advantage Obama.
It might be tempting to interpret the YouGov poll's 5% margin of error — which means the real number for each candidate has a 95% probability of falling within plus-or-minus 5 points of the poll result — as an indicator that the race could theoretically be tied (given that the nine-point gap is inside the ten-point doubling of the margin of error). Tempting, but technically incorrect.
For any given polling result between two candidates you could double the margin of error to get a rough approximation of the margin of error of the difference, but an accurate estimation requires a calculation that takes into account the actual polling numbers involved. Doing that calculation on the new YouGov result using this worksheet reveals a margin of error for the difference between them of +/- 8.6%. So Romney's 9-point lead is beyond the margin of error.
Second sign that a debate didn’t go very well for your side: when your dominant post-debate spin theme is an obsessive attempt to read earth-shaking subterfuge into an unremarkable short phrase in a presidential statement on a narrow issue that very few people care about. The subject here, of course, is Libya, and it was one of the most heated exchanges of the evening. Taking umbrage at Romney’s suggestion that he wasn’t on the ball right after the 9/11 attack in Benghazi, Obama pointed out that he stood in the Rose Garden the next day and said it was an act of terror. Romney, effectively calling the president a liar, insisted that “it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.” Obama shot back, “Get the transcript.” What that transcript shows is Obama saying on 9/12: “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.” The meaning here and its connection to the Benghazi raid is patently obvious, yet many Repubs were beside themselves after the debate denying this clear semantic reality (for instance, a Karl Rove tweet: “Obama didn’t directly call Lybia attack ‘act of terror’ in Rose Garden — broadly referred to acts of terror”). This is not to say that the Obama administration might not still have a bit of a Libya problem. It is to say that if you're building your post-debate spin on a dubious parsing of words in a month-old statement, it didn’t go very well for your side.
The definition of a draw in a vice presidential debate has three elements: (1) each side can say with a reasonably straight face that its guy did well and prevailed; (2) each side can say with similar face that the other side’s guy was, well, faced; and (3) both sides can make these claims publicly without coming off as delusional or hallucinatory. All three conditions were met at Thursday’s debate, and a pair of instant polls right after piled on with a mixed verdict: a CBS survey of uncommitted voters gave Joe Biden the win by 19 points (50-31), while a CNN survey had Paul Ryan up by 4 points (48-44). Taken as a whole it adds up to a night where everyone finds a reason to come away happy and nobody goes to bed grumpy, as huge swaths of blue America did last week.
There was good and bad in each candidate’s performance. Biden was frequently assertive and substantive — when he wasn’t being snide and dismissive. On the down side, he had trouble at times stopping himself from being overly snide and dismissive. Yes, several of Ryan’s vapid little prepared speechlet-answers invited dismissiveness in spades, but the act of being dismissive eats valuable time that could have been used to cry bullshit in far more substantive ways.
Much will be said about Biden’s occasional high-amp grinning and eye-rolling while listening to Ryan speak. OK, we get it — the debate coaches wanted upbeat and engaged, not dour like Obama last week — but this was overcompensating. It seriously overstates the case to call it, as Fox News’s Brit Hume did, “derisive sneering,” but it did grow off-putting. Fortunately, as the debate wore on Biden managed to dial back the split-screen mugging. Early on Biden seemed to have difficulty finding his way into the right give-and-take rhythm with opponent and moderator, but he found his footing in the second half, spending more time orchestrating the conversation rather than just reacting to it. He also knew how to look straight into the camera at times and address the folks at home directly — this worked well. It wasn’t clear that Ryan had any idea where the camera was.
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