Monday, August 31, 2009

Take two placebos and call me in the morning.

This story has little or nothing to do with politics, but I guess we can say it is health care related. I just found it so interesting I had to post it here.

Most people are familiar with the "placebo effect." A patient who believes they are being treated for an ailment can show improvement or be cured even if the treatment consists of sugar pills. This is the hurdle pharmaceutical companies must clear when testing a new drug. To be proven effective, a drug must be shown to be more effective than a placebo. Apparently that hurdle is getting higher.

Steve Silberman reports in Wired that placebos are statistically getting stronger and more effective:
"Last November, a new type of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, championed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was abruptly withdrawn from Phase II trials after unexpectedly tanking against placebo. A stem-cell startup called Osiris Therapeutics got a drubbing on Wall Street in March, when it suspended trials of its pill for Crohn's disease, an intestinal ailment, citing an "unusually high" response to placebo. Two days later, Eli Lilly broke off testing of a much-touted new drug for schizophrenia when volunteers showed double the expected level of placebo response.

It's not only trials of new drugs that are crossing the futility boundary. Some products that have been on the market for decades, like Prozac, are faltering in more recent follow-up tests. In many cases, these are the compounds that, in the late '90s, made Big Pharma more profitable than Big Oil. But if these same drugs were vetted now, the FDA might not approve some of them. Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.

It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger."
This is a problem for Big Pharma, who are spending millions designing drugs that are not as effective as the astonishing curative power of belief in a sugar pill. Silberman described the effect in a CNBC interview on Monday:

With billions at stake, drug companies are apparently tinkering with a pill's color, shape, name and labeling in the hope of building a better, more effective um... placebo. Again from the article:
"The most important ingredient in any placebo is the doctor's bedside manner, but according to research, the color of a tablet can boost the effectiveness even of genuine meds—or help convince a patient that a placebo is a potent remedy."

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away." - Philip K. Dick

x-posted at Donklephant.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A K.I.S.S. for Wyden-Bennett
ObamaCare Sales 101 - Lesson #4

UPDATED: 03-Sep-09
Something has been bothering me. A few days ago, in a long post I touted my skills as a software sales professional and offered the President 3 remedial lessons in sales. He obviously needed help with his health care pitch. E.D. Kain linked to the post, called it a "good idea" (thanks!), quoted the most salient paragraph, and posted it under the title "Keep it simple, stupid".

Here is the problem - K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) is a fundamental principle of a good sales pitch. Important enough that we'll call it Lesson #4 in our continuing education series for the President. It was a lesson that I completely ignored in my post.

E.D. Kain did what I should have done. He extracted the most important point of my post - the simple fact that Wyden-Bennett bill (a.k.a. the Healthy Americans Act) is much closer to the Health Care Reform solution that Americans were interested in buying, as opposed to the HR 3200 hairball that the President was selling. That was the key selling point. And I buried it on the second page and last paragraph of a long post.

Like I said, it's been bothering me ever since.

What to do? I need to correct that error and here it is. It has been a while since I put together a Powerpoint sales presentation. Google Docs offers free presentation software in the cloud, the app is a little light on bells and whistles, but functional. Good enough for me to offer this penance for my previous sales sin:

A K.I.S.S. Presentation - only 4 simple slides (excluding title and credits) distilling the reasons why Wyden-Bennett is the better health care reform solution now:

This presentation (and/or the graphic at the top of the post) is for the use of anyone who wants it.

Of course, it was impossible for me to leave well enough alone, so there is a more complicated 11 slide presentation linked here, and embedded in a somewhat more allegorical post at Donklephant.

Yes, we are tilting at windmills. But while the Presidents enjoys a little R&R and retools the healthcare strategy, more and more Democrats are offering unsolicited advice, some better than others. Other Democrats are setting expectations that this will take some time. Who knows? Perhaps there is time enough to reach a full gallop and knock that windmill down.

For our next lesson - I may have some suggestions for David Axelrod on how to write a viral e-mail. [DONE - LINK HERE]

UPDATE 28-Aug-09
I think I am channeling Charles Krauthammer. Or he is cribbing from me. Or we think alike. Or we are on the same synchronistic harmonic convergence vibe. Or something. Check out this quote from his WaPo column today:
"...selling pain is poor salesmanship. Promise nothing but pleasure -- for now. Make health insurance universal and permanently protected. Tear up the existing bills and write a clean one -- Obamacare 2.0 -- promulgating draconian health-insurance regulation that prohibits (a) denying coverage for preexisting conditions, (b) dropping coverage if the client gets sick and (c) capping insurance company reimbursement. What's not to like? If you have insurance, you'll never lose it. Nor will your children ever be denied coverage for preexisting conditions."
He invokes the poor Obama salesmanship theme as in this post, the recommendation to move from ObamaCare 1.0 to ObamaCare 2.0 as in the slide presentation above, and then we have a strikingly similar quote from my Donklephant post:
"Universal coverage for all, catastrophic illness protection for all, no increase in the deficit and no net new taxes. What’s not to like?"

It is more effective when he puts it together concisely in one paragraph. The lesson to learn? - the hardest sales lesson of all.

Keep it simple stupid.

UPDATE: 03-Sep-09
Added link. Fixed typos.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's baaaaaack...
Divided Government rises from the grave.

After having an electoral stake pounded through its heart last November, after being exposed to the searing media morning light of a "permanent realignment" in the "center-left" American electorate, with a silver bullet in the brain of a "broken GOP brand", and with a garlic necklace strangling it's "sixty's culture war" neck, the corpse of "Divided Government" seemed dead and buried in the media for the foreseeable future.

But last week the undead meme was walking again:

The GOP's Best Weapon In 2010
History Makes The Case For Divided Government

By Gary Andres
"Inclement political weather rocked President Obama and his party this summer. Falling poll numbers and growing voter misgivings open the door for big Republican gains in next year's midterm elections.

But more storm clouds gather. With Democrats controlling the White House and Congress, the GOP can now use voter distrust of unified party control (the same party in charge of the presidency and Congress) as a tool to make major gains in next year's elections--a political weapon both parties could only unsheathe irregularly over the past half century.

Why are voters choosing to neuter a political party after it consolidates power? "Policy balancing" is part of the explanation, according to Fiorina. Does this mean voters say something like, "I voted for a Democrat for president, so now I'll choose a Republican to balance things out." Probably not. He believes voters engage in something a little less premeditated. "While not consciously choosing divided government, people may have a vague appreciation of the overall picture that plays some role in how they vote. People could be voting as if they are making conscious choices to divide government even if their individual decisions are well below the conscious level," Fiorina writes."
Morris Fiorina is a political scientist that wrote the definitive text on Divided Government, titled appropriately enough - "Divided Government". His comment in this piece goes directly to the raison d'ĂȘtre for this blog. To seek an answer to the never-ending DWSUWF question - "Rather than trusting the partisan balancing choice to a subconscious impulse, would we not be much better off if a few percentage of the electorate simply voted consciously for divided government?" Every time. Without exception.

And on that topic, two more recent articles on the same general theme:

Swing time is coming for Dems, GOP
By: Noemie Emery
Examiner Columnist
"Calibrating the balance between the state and the free enterprise system is a delicate business, which is why the "big" and "small" government parties tend to take turns in power, so they can absorb and fine tune one another's achievements, and undo each other's mistakes. When the out-party wins power, it is given a mandate to tweak the controls and make a slight change in the country's direction, the key words being "slight change" and "tweak." Confronted with excess, the country enforces its own equilibrium, as when the Republican Congress crashed into Bill Clinton, frustrating both, but pleasing the country, creating welfare reform and a roaring economy. Divided government is a substitute for a conservative temperament, which is why it is frequently popular. The way things are going, it may shortly be with us again."
It's the big government, stupid.

by Matt Welch

"It's been a hilarious August, watching media supporters of President Obama's health care package puzzle over the obscure motivations of the noncompliant Americans rallying against it.

"Racial anxiety," guessed New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. "Nihilism," theorized Time's Joe Klein. "The crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy," historian Rick Perlstein proclaimed in the Washington Post.

While the commentariat's condescension is almost comical, the whole evil-or-stupid explanation misses the elephant in Obama's room: Americans of all stripes, it turns out, aren't very keen about the government barging into their lives."

One side benefit of watching the undead specter of divided government continue to haunt the media - We're just not hearing about how the United States is really a "center-left" country any more.

It may be a bit early for these proclamations and conclusions. We are still more than a year away from the midterms. But if this keeps up, DWSUWF may have to restore the Carnival of Divided Government to a monthly publication schedule.

I still think it will take until 2012 to get there, but when Chris Dodd, Arlen Specter, and Harry Reid are all in trouble, we can safely say that divided government has risen from the grave.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Audacity of Axelrod

The mainstream media is starting to take a closer look at this guy. So it begins...

Timothy Burger - Bloomberg:
"Two firms that received $343.3 million to handle advertising for Barack Obama’s White House run last year have profited from his top priority as president by taking on his push for health-care overhaul. One is AKPD Message and Media, the Chicago-based firm headed by David Axelrod until he left last Dec. 31 to serve as a senior adviser to the president. Axelrod was Obama’s top campaign strategist and is now helping sell the health-care plan."

Ken Vogel - Politico:
"Critics of President Obama’s health-care overhaul are zeroing in on his senior adviser David Axelrod, whose former partners at a Chicago-based firm are the beneficiaries of huge ad buys—now at $24 million and counting—by White House allies in the reform fight. The unwelcome scrutiny, largely from Republicans, comes at an inopportune time as Obama seeks to shore up support for health care reform. It revolves around two separate $12 million ad campaigns advocating Obama’s health care plan that were produced and placed partly by AKPD Message and Media, a firm founded by Axelrod that employs his son and still owes Axelrod $2 million."

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sales 101 - A primer for the Salesman in Chief

We've seen and heard President Obama at town halls, press conferences, interviews, Saturday radio chats, industry summit meetings and delivering the keynote speech at medical conferences. All focused on health care reform, all covered breathlessly by the new and traditional media. No one can accuse this president of being AWOL in the health care debate.

Some might suggest that yet another Obama presentation on health care reform is as welcome as watching another Sham-Wow! commercial. Overexposure has its risks as well as rewards.

Yet, despite his popularity, despite his much vaunted communication skills, despite his persuasive logic, despite his ubiquitous presence in the media, when the needle of popular sentiment has moved at all, it has moved in the wrong direction for the President's version of reform. The Salesman in Chief can't seem to close the deal with the American people. Moreover, the pundit class across the political spectrum are assessing the President's sales skills, and finding them wanting:

Sell Me!

Kevin Drum - Mother Jones
"'s all about how it's sold. Everything has to have a constituency if it's going to get passed.... you do have to sell, the same way any salesman anywhere sells stuff. That means understanding your audience, figuring out what they're afraid of, promising them something that will make them better off, overcoming their objections, and then convincing them that they have to call now to take advantage of this one-time offer! Every pitchman on late night TV understands this. Why don't we?"
Obama's sales pitch still needs work
Concord Monitor
"As articulate as he is, Obama nonetheless had a hard time convincing doubters. And doubts are understandable. The president chose not to emulate the Clintons by drafting a reform proposal. Instead, he left it to Congress to craft a health care bill. The result, at this stage, is five competing bills and confusion that's made selling health care reform hard and demonizing it easy. Obama needs to make his case more convincing."
Sales Pitch...
Steve Benen - Washington Monthly
"...when it comes to the success or failure, if the sales pitch were more effective, we'd be talking about how Republicans are trying to figure out how to justify opposing a popular, once-in-a-generation reform package that is obviously, desperately needed. We're not having that conversation at all... For what it's worth, I get the sense the White House recognizes where the administration has come up short on its sales pitch, and is trying to adjust accordingly. Expect a better sales job in August than July. Whether it's too late remains to be seen."
Obama is failing on health reform
Clive Crook - Financial Times
"Mr Obama’s second failure is even more surprising: one of salesmanship. He still pitches for comprehensive reform, but with apparently weakening conviction. In his televised talk on the subject last week, he seemed almost bored. Worse, the president’s message is at odds with the product taking shape in Congress. This is all about controlling costs, he says: without reform, healthcare will bankrupt the country. That would be an excellent line if Congress was seriously trying to build control of costs into its bills, but it is not. Widening coverage is the priority. So it should be, you might argue – but in that case the president has to sell access and health security as things worth paying for, an entirely different proposition."
One More With Feeling
The New Republic
"...more than one commentator came away from Barack Obama's prime-time press conference complaining about the professor-in-chief's tedious explanations...The focus on policy minutiae has crowded out part of the big picture. Health care has become almost entirely a technical discussion, rather than a personal one. It's all about deficit neutrality and bending the curve, instead of making sure every American can get affordable medical care."
In many ways, this is puzzling. The President is justifiably known for his oratorical skills and power to persuade. What is going here? Even the President seems confused. From a Time interview...
"I will say that this has been the most difficult test for me so far in public life, trying to describe in clear, simple terms how important it is that we reform this system. The case is so clear to me...And when you just start hearing the litany of facts, what you say to yourself is this shouldn't be such a hard case to make, because the American consumer is really not getting a good deal." - BHO
Ah... there it is. There's the problem. He's not selling. He's making a case. I guess that should not be surprising. The President has never been in sales. He has never been in business. The president is trained as a lawyer. He is not selling health care reform, he is trying a case on health care reform. Now there are some superficial similarities between a lawyer trying a case and salesman closing a deal - both involve crafting and presenting a persuasive proposition. But there are big differences.

Case in point. If a lawyer overwhelms his opponent with a brilliant, persuasive and unassailable argument in front of a jury, he is going to win the argument, and likely win the case. On the other hand, if a salesman overwhelms a prospect with a brilliant, persuasive and unassailable argument, he is going to win the argument, but lose the sale.

Most people who have never been in sales, do not really understand sales. They think they do, but what they understand is a caricature of sales.

I can help. I was in sales and sales management for a lot of years, selling big complex and expensive enterprise software solutions to large organizations. I can't help much with the policy specifics of the health care reform legislation, but I can help diagnose the sales problems of our president and offer a prescription.

First, by way of disclosure - my current take on the plan itself. I am still trying to get my arms around the various, sundry and generally bad policy permutations presented so far. If I had to put a stake in the ground, I'd lean toward the Wyden-Bennett bill, which is apparently not getting any serious consideration. E.D. Kain offers an effective pitch and the subsequent discussion at Ordinary Gentlemen has been persuasive. The president could learn something about presenting a complex sales from those boys.

I am dead-set against the H.R. 3200 hairball that is apparently the bill of choice being pitched by the President. Partially because I don't understand it all (not for lack of trying), partially because I do understand it and don't like it, and partially because it is clear the President does not fully understand it and is selling smoke. I am seeing a used car salesman pitching a Shelby Cobra Mustang, but when I ask for test drive, he puts me in a car seat mounted in a frame without an engine, tires or steering wheel. And it's wildly expensive. And I think he is offering predatory financing. Guess what? I'm not buying.

Let's get back to salesmanship.

This is a teachable moment Mr. President.

Welcome to sales 101.

Lesson One - Selling is a lot easier if you have the right product.

There are some other choices in the legislature besides H.R. 3200. You may want to reconsider which product will have the best chance of selling to the American people. As you found out, it is possible to be successful selling a lemon (like the stimulus porkfest), but it hurts your credibility and makes the next sale a lot tougher. If the prospect is not buying the Lincoln Town Car you are selling, you have two choices. You can keep pitching that Lincoln, convinced that you know better than the prospect what they really need. That always ends badly. They'll just leave the showroom never to return. Alternatively, you can forget the Lincoln, start pitching the Fiesta, and you might have a sale by the end of the day.

Lesson #2 - There is a difference between Salesmanship and Hucksterism.

A professional salesperson works to match a product pitch to a prospect's requirements and budgets. A huckster only cares about the features of the product, and will pitch those features endlessly, regardless of whether the prospect has a need for the features or can afford them. When I look at Axelrod's talking points, I can't help but think of the penultimate huckster pitch, the Ginsu steak knife:
Tired of dealing with Insurance Companies? Fed up with forms? Paying too much for doctor visits? Have we got something for you... Obamacare! Just look at what the amazing Obamacare does! Obamacare eliminates expensive co-pays! Obamacare covers your children, no matter how old they are! You can never run out of coverage with Obamacare. What would you pay for this kind of security? But wait! There's more! Pre-existing conditions? No Problem! Your coverage can never be denied! And there is even more! All your preventive care is FREE FREE FREE! Now what would you pay? Would you pay $2 trillion? $3 trillion? $4 trillion for this peace of mind? STOP! You won't have to pay any of that!! For a limited time only you can have Obamacare for the low low price of ONE TRILLION DOLLARS! Send no money now! If you act in the next 30 days we will borrow it all from the Chinese and then make your kids and rich neighbor pay it back! This is a limited time offer. Don't wait! Act now!!
This approach works well with Ginsu knives on late night TV. For selling a comprehensive solution to Health Care reform? Not so much.

Lesson #3 - What you are selling is not as important as what your prospect is buying.

Enterprise software is a malleable product. It does a lot of stuff and can be customized to meet the specific needs of the client. Generally, it does much more than a client needs, with a large percentage of Enterprise software features not needed at all. If a salesperson focuses on the small percentage of features that actually solves the client business problem, they can usually get the sale. If they spend their time extolling all the wonderful features of the software, whether relevant to the client or not... they don't get the sale.

Mr. President, you and the Democratic party believe you have a mandate from the American people to reform healthcare. I believe you are correct, and said as much before the election. However, a mandate is not a blank check. It behooves you as the mandate grantee to have some appreciation of what the granter is offering.

Expressed in sales terminology, it is far more important to understand what the client wants to buy, vs. hammering them with a pitch of what you want to sell them. The continuing erosion of support for H.R.H. 3200 (House of Representatives Hairball 3200), clearly shows that what you are selling, is not what the American people are buying.

I could be wrong, but if I were to guess what the American people are looking to buy, it would be something that can be articulated pretty simply and emerges from some basic American values of fairness and common sense. I'd say it is really about these three things:
  1. Every American gets a baseline level of solid health care. No one is left behind.
  2. No American need be at risk of financial ruin or bankrupt because they get sick.
  3. The program is manageable (not transformational) and fiscally responsible. Americans want to feel reasonably certain we won't see mushrooming costs like with Medicare and the prescription drug plan.
That's it, Mr. President. We don't need "Free! Free! Free! Preventive Care!" or a set of Ginsu steak knives to sweeten the deal. Put together a package that does these three things, pitch them clearly and simply, and you'll close the sale.

Interestingly, Wyden-Bennett S391 accomplishes all three. HRH 3200 at best accomplishes one of the three. Just sayin...

Class dismissed. Check back Mr. President. We'll be continuing your sales education in a future post.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Audacity of Astroturf

The Democratic leadership made "astroturfing" a hot topic of conversation in the blogosphere and MSM. They've been quick to characterize vocal opponents of the current incarnation of Health Care Reform as faux protests, as examples of manufactured rage, as "astroturfing", specifically referencing scenes like this one at Michigan Congressman John Dingell's recent town hall forum:

So, what is "astroturfing? From Wikipedia:
"Astroturfing is a word in English describing formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous "grassroots" behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass, AstroTurf."
The administration charge is not new. Lloyd Benson is credited with coining the term in 1985, and wikipedia further points to an early example in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar with 'Cassius conducting what might be considered an astroturfing campaign on Brutus: he leaves letters where Brutus will find them encouraging Brutus to act against Caesar, purportedly from concerned citizens but really written by Cassius himself "in several hands".'

Unsurprisingly, the Chairman of the company that manufactures the fake grass and trademarked the name is not amused, but I digress.

Are these protests examples of astroturfing funded by the health care industry? Or is something else going on? Is it wise for the administration to slap this pejorative on their opposition? Or is it this administration that is doing the astroturfing? In this post I'll provide a selection of views from across the political spectrum about the protests, but will broaden the topic to a more general essay on the care and feeding of astroturf.

From the left:
This Kos diarist attended the Dingell Town Hall as a supporter with a "cut to the front of the line" pass, regrets being outnumbered by opponents and concludes they are all insane.

Matt Yglesias explains that the reason irrational opponents outnumber rational supporters at these meetings, is that the rational supporters are waiting to learn what is actually in the bill. Matt is certain that the supporters will outnumber opponents once the bill is out, even though he does not know what will be in the bill.

Boo Man at Booman Tribune thinks it is perfectly fine for protesters to exercise their first amendment rights, unless, of course, they don't understand what they are protesting. So I guess protesters need to be given a competence test first... or something.

From the administration:
The administration and Democratic leadership weigh in to explain exactly what the opposition is all about.

Robert Gibbs disses the "Brooks Brother Brigade" and calls the opposition "manufactured anger" all paid for by the official administration designated demon of the day (cue scary music) The Insurance Companies.

Barbara Boxer picks up on the sartorial theme, explaining that you can tell the protesters are fake, because - well- they are too well dressed.

Harry Reid waves a piece of astroturf as a prop to dismiss opposition "as phony as this grass."

Nancy Pelosi agrees that it is all phony astroturf and throws in a few nazi references to boot.

Finally, the DNC runs an ad to make sure everyone knows that the opposition to the President's healthcare plan are just an ugly angry mob that storms out on to the streets at the beck and call of (cue scary music) The Insurance Companies - or something.

Not from the left:
This kind of partisan political posturing (like astroturfing itself) is par for the course. Pretty much the same old tried and true game of demonizing opposition to rally your team and get your bill passed. Not exactly "hope and change", more like "same ol' shit", but it doesn't bother me. It can create problems though - if you don't finesse it just right.

One problem is when Democrats start believing their own BS. Then you get situations like this - where a Democratic Representative at a town hall meeting calls out one of the "manufactured", "astroturf", "hijacker", "mob" participants that is disrupting the meeting...

... only to later learn the guy asking the question is a Doctor, Democrat, constituent, and is just trying to get a question answered.

Another possible problem is when union members and other Obama supporters (not astroturf - genuine grassroots) spontaneously begin showing up in numbers at Town Hall meetings and take White House rhetoric from political strategists David Axelrod and Jim Messina to "punch back twice as hard" a little too literally.

Not all Democrats are buying into the Axelrod strategy. Claire McCaskill was quick to distance herself from the White House with this tweet:
“I disagree that the people showing concern over some healthcare proposals are “manufactured” Real folks, strong opinions.”
Not sure what she is thinking. Why wouldn't she want to get on board insulting and belittling her constituents?

The Audacity of Axelrod
This is where it gets surreal. We have the administration and leading Democrats throwing the "astroturf" pejorative at Republicans and (cue scary music) The Insurance Companies and yet - the guy who practically invented the term "astroturfing" ...The guy who is known as "The Astroturf King"... is none other than Obama's right hand man and political adviser - David Axelrod.

Recall that prior to the campaign Axelrod was a founding partner in two firms co-located in the same office. One, the political consulting firm hired by the Obama campaign, and the other ASK Public Strategies - the gold standard in astroturf consulting firms (Axelrod is the A in ASK).

The MSM mostly gave him a pass during the campaign as he claimed he was on leave from ASK (while working in the same office for the co-located political consulting firm) and said he had no intention of being part of the administration. I highlighted this relationship during the campaign, when I though it a little too cozy that ATT was a big client of ASK, and Senator Obama conveniently flip-flopped on Telecom Immunity. But nobody really cared about that, so let's move on.

How about an update now that the Astroturf King is Obama's right hand man in the White House and his bio has disappeared from ASK's website?

Per the Sun-Times, when he accepted the position with the administration in January, he "sold" his stake for $3M to be paid out out over 5 years. It was also disclosed that he received a partnership check of $151,914 from ASK in 2008. That was in 2008, when he was on "leave" from ASK. I guess it was a paid leave. So in 2008, ATT money went to ASK and ASK money went to Axelrod. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Let's walk through this buyout again. ASK Public strategies is a going concern, and will continue to have funds flow from their corporate "astroturf" clients into their coffers. Then money from the ASK coffers will flow into "Astroturf King" David Axelrod's pockets to compensate him for the buyout over the next five years, - coincidentally - exactly enough time to get past Obama's first term and election campaign. Of course, by then, he may get tired of politics, and ASK may want sell his share of the partnership right back to him. Who knows? It could happen.



Just when you think it cannot get more surreal, we move into Salvador Dali territory. Although Democratic leadership is decrying the "astroturfing" of town hall meetings, well funded Democratic non-profits are actually advertising and paying people to show up and demonstrate for Obamacare. Which is pretty much the definition of astroturfing. Or maybe to paraphrase Richard Nixon "Its not astroturfing when we do it."

has it (among many others): "Astroturfing: Make $$$ doing something you love!"

H/T - Fausta

There is nothing wrong with this activity. It is just the breathtaking hypocrisy of Democratic leadership demonizing the protesters for activity that does not hold a candle to the astroturfing efforts they have underway.

I have a couple of unemployed nephews that recently graduated from college. I'll send them this list. The administration may not be fostering the creation of many private sector jobs, but they do appear to be stimulating the market for astroturfing.

Cross-posted at Donklephant.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

2010 Senate Race Redux -
Divided Government When?

UPDATED 31-August-10
Shortly after the November election, I posted an analysis on the prospect of restoring divided government in 2010 or 2012. This summary/conclusion is paraphrased from that post:
After the 2008 election (with 8 seats still undecided) the Democrats picked up an additional 20 seats and will have a crushing 81+ seat majority in the House. Given the difficulty of changing majorities in the House, there is almost no likelihood of Republicans retaking the majority before 2014 and probably longer (even with hurricane force political winds at their back the Democrats only picked up about 20 seats in'08 - do the math). That leaves the Senate as the only determinant of whether divided government can be restored in 2010. In 2012, either re-taking the Senate or the presidency are possibilities for restoring divided government, as the house will likely remain out of reach...

2010 The Democrats will again have a structural advantage. 34 Senate seats will be contested. Of these, 19 are held by Republicans and 15 are held by Democrats. To retake the Senate, the Republicans would have to hold all their seats, and take more than half of the Democratic seats up for re-election. Obama and the Democrats would have to screw-up on a scale of how the Republicans screwed up in 2000-2006. They would have to pile up a record of corruption and incompetence in two years comparable to what the Republicans did in six. I won't say it is impossible, but it does seem unlikely. The best the Republicans can expect in 2010 is to either hold serve, not lose any more seats, not lose the filibuster, or pick up a couple of seats and narrow the Democratic Majority.

In 2012 the Republicans will finally have a huge structural advantage in the Senate elections. Of the 33 seats contested, 24 are held by Democrats and 9 by Republican. From this distance, the Republican seats look safe, and after four years of One Party Rule by Democrats, the electorate may be ready for some changes. If the Republicans can pick up two seats in 2010, they will only need to take six of the 24 Democratic seats to regain the majority.

Conclusion / Predictions
  • We will have One Party Rule under the Democrats for at least four years.
  • The next opportunity to restore divided government will be in 2012.
  • The Republicans will have two ways to get there, so I will go out on a limb and make the prediction that divided government will be restored in 2012, either through the Republicans winning the presidency or (more likely) a majority in the Senate. If the latter, we will be in the interesting situation that we have a divided congress, and regardless of which party wins the presidency - a divided government. That's a good thing.
  • No telling what shape the country will be in by then.
DWSUWF stands by the overall thesis of that post, but a few things have changed. Time for an update.

First, based on the completely insane deficit spending in the first six months of Single Party Democratic Rule, we now have an answer to the last bullet. We will be in very sorry economic shape by the 2012 election, with a debased currency, wild inflation, and eclipsed by China (or far along in the process) as the pre-eminent economic engine on the planet. The only question now is whether the continuing Single Party Democratic Rule will make it even worse.

Second, there have been some changes in the structural elements of the 2010 Senate races. Republican Arlen Specter changed his party affiliation, and the Missouri race was finally decided. With Al Franken now in the Senate, there are 60 Senators who caucus Democrat and 40 Senators who caucus Republican. With special elections in New York to replace Hillary Clinton and in Delaware to replace Joe Biden, we now have 36 Senate seats up for grabs in 2010, with 18 held by Republicans and 18 held by Democrats. Perversely, the Republican hand in 2010 was strengthened by their unrelenting poor performance in 2008-09. Instead of defending 19 of 34 seats as outlined in my previous post, they are defending 18 of 36 seats, exactly like the Democrats, and on a structurally even playing field in 2010. They are in too deep a hole to have any chance of retaking the majority in 2010, but if they can take 2 or 3 seats, they will be in an excellent position to retake the Senate in 2012 when they will have significant structural factors in their favor.

As such, DWSUWF believes that the Senate remains the best chance to divide this government in 2012. While Barack Obama's poll numbers have predictably eroded from the stratospheric level he enjoyed earlier in the year, he still has a deep reservoir of goodwill and personal popularity with voters. He is personable, likable, smart, and as Joe Biden noted - "clean and articulate". Predictions three years out are probably foolish but barring some as of yet unrevealed scandal close to the President, DWSUWF expects him to be reelected.

This means the best chance to restore fiscal rationality in 2012 is for Republicans to take the Senate, and that will take two election cycles. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so lets get started. The first step is for Republicans to pick up a couple of seats in 2010. Two races have my early interest.

Pat Toomey is a solid fiscal conservative. His primary challenge to Arlen Specter is widely attributed to be the reason Specter changed his party affiliation. Ironically, if Specter survives a Democratic Party primary challenge, he could still easily lose to Toomey in the general election. I like Toomey's chances. I like what he says about divided government. And I really like the way he acquitted himself in a laughably hostile Hardball appearance on Tuesday August 4:

Does Chris Matthews think birthers are a litmus test for the GOP?

Pat Toomey's Senatorial campaign is DWSUWF's first recommended candidate contribution for the 2010 election and a link to his campaign will soon appear in the sidebar.

Another campaign of interest - Democratic Senator Chris Dodd's Connecticut seat. This blog had some positive things to say about Chris Dodd during his brief presidential run. That was then. This is now. A lot of questions emerged about his close relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, a sweetheart mortgage from Countrywide Financial and cozy relationships with banking lobbyists. Net net - This is a race that should be a slam dunk and a safe seat for Democrats, but is now up for grabs. Recent polls show that Dodd is trailing former Republican congressman Rob Simmons. Simmons would be a fine choice. But there is another interesting challenger in Connecticut. Money manager and financial soothsayer Peter Schiff is also considering a run for this seat.

Your loyal blogger describes himself as a "libertarian leaning independent". There are few libertarian voices in our federal government, but they do exist, and they are beacons of clarity and integrity in the fog of Congressional rhetoric. During the 2007 Iraq funding debate, DWSUWF took note of speeches by Ron Paul and Jeff Flake as welcome examples of intellectual honesty and clarity. We could use a libertarian voice in the Senate. Peter Schiff could be that voice. I have no idea whether he has a chance, but he's got money, and I'd like to see him run. He certainly will make the campaign more interesting, as well as inject ideas into the national political dialog that otherwise may never emerge above noise level. I will be contributing to his "moneybomb" effort tomorrow and encourage like-minded DWSUWF readers to do the same.

UPDATED 31-August-10: 2010 Senate Race prediction revised and updated in a new post - Ten in Ten.