Explaining negative politics

Stephen Pearlstein sees a shift in the campaign strategies of both sides:

The winning strategy is no longer to be more moderate than your opponent, to offer a bigger tent. Instead, it is to be more zealous and committed to your party’s ideology.

This transformation has its roots in what has become the dominant reality of American politics: the arms race in campaign finance. Candidates and parties now raise and spend enormous sums, well beyond what would reasonably be needed to provide for a well-informed electorate and well beyond what is raised and spent in other advanced democracies.

These days, the average Senate candidate raises and spends $9 million to win election, which works out to slightly more than $4,000 for each day of a six-year term. For the average House candidate, it’s $1.4 million, or just under $2,000 per day in office (including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays). These sums are several times what they were 25 years ago.

Given this dramatic increase in campaign spending by those with the most intimate knowledge of campaigns, and with the most at stake in the outcomes, it’s probably safe to conclude that this spending must work — that it can determine the outcome of close contests. In fact, it appears to work so well that it has now been embraced by a growing legion of “independent” entities with their own fundraising and campaign spending.

And how is the money spent? Anyone with a telephone, TV set or Internet connection has surely noticed that it is mainly used to produce an ever-increasing volume of negative, distorting and ideologically tinged advertising about opposing candidates and parties.

Contrary to what many believe, the central effect of such negative advertising isn’t to move voters from supporting another candidate to backing yours, as Mitt Romney and his allies have discovered during this primary season. The main effect is not even to move undecided voters into your column. No, the real effect of negative advertising is to energize and solidify support among your ideological base while turning everyone else off to the other candidate, the campaign and the entire electoral process. Negative advertising isn’t about changing minds; it’s about altering the composition of the voter pool on Election Day by turning moderate voters into non-voters.

This is particularly true in low-turnout elections such as primaries and midterm contests. But it is even true these days in high-turnout elections. . . .

Energizing the base has another important advantage: It increases campaign contributions from both small donors and rich zealots. That money can be plowed back into yet more negative advertising along with sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day. This self-reinforcing cycle creates a strong incentive for politicians to abandon the center and move permanently to the ideological extreme. You do not energize the base through moderation and compromise. . . .

There is a vigorous academic debate over whether negative advertising depresses or increases voter turnout. I suspect it does both, depressing turnout among moderates and independents while stimulating it at the ideological extremes. In that process, what has changed is the composition of the turnout rather than its overall level.

via Today’s paper.


Mormonism & Islam

Brigham Young University has its first non-Mormon student body president.  He’s a Muslim.  This is being reported like it’s an example of Mormon tolerance, but is it really so unusual?  I mean this with all due respect to both religions, but isn’t Mormonism much closer to Islam than to Christianity?

Both Mormonism and Islam reportedly had their origins in a prophet receiving a supernatural book from an angel.  Both involve elaborate systems of laws, including dietary rules and regulation of virtually every facet of life.  Both have practiced or currently practice polygamy.  Both promise an afterlife that includes sex and sensual pleasure.  Both recognize Jesus but consider Him as being less than true God.  Both reject the Trinity.  Both believe in salvation by works-righteousness.

Shouldn’t Mormonism and Islam be classified together as very similar religions?  Aren’t they both together on the other end of the extreme from Christianity, which is about God’s incarnation, grace, and redemption from the Law?

Muslim becomes BYU-Hawaii’s first non-Mormon student president | Following Faith | The Salt Lake Tribune.

Life Full Voice

Some of you may remember Lori Lewis who occasionally has frequented this blog.  At one point she was all involved in radio and contemporary Christian music, but then she became a confessional Lutheran and an outspoken critic of that musical scene.  More recently she has gotten involved with opera, both as a singer and as a popularizer of that artform via radio and writing.  Her latest project, though, is a webzine entitled  Eveyday Opera.  It’s not  about opera; rather, it uses opera as a metaphor for what she describes in the site’s slogan as “Life Full Voice.”  Here is how she described it to me:

A little over 2 years ago I started Everyday Opera out of the need to find a platform for my own art.
I had gone through a down time but out of it grew this idea…Making Classic Art an Everyday Event.
Personality driven, non intimidating, but with the theory that Art lifts us in our everyday experience.  In a culture full of junk food, and I eat plenty of my share, I’m a mini-evangelist for expanding one’s horizon’s.
Opera is the metaphor here for living Live Full Voice. That is how an Opera Singer sings…Full Voice
We encourage the thinking that all of life can be lived Full Voice, whether you are a great singer,
a great chef, wine maker, farmer, mother, teacher, and on and on. (Isn’t it really modeled after
The Spirituality of the Cross? The book that help me be free as a christian to be free as a person.)

Kind words about my book.  She makes an interesting connection between Christian freedom through the Gospel, personal freedom, and vocation.  Anyway,   Eveyday Opera has articles about travel, food, art, literature, wine, music, and other pleasures of life.  It doesn’t get into theology, as such, though I’d say it has a Christian view of the world, though many Christians have arguably hung back from living life “full voice.”  (Why is that, do you think?  Do you agree that Christians are freed to appreciate things like these?)

Anyway, Lori has enlisted me to write for the site occasionally, so I wrote a piece on literary style that I’ll link to in a separate post.

The Art of Words

This is a topic that Lori Lewis asked me to address at her webzine Everyday Opera, trying to help people appreciate all the different literary styles:

“I can’t stand all of those flowery descriptions in classic literature. Why don’t the authors just get to the action?” “I don’t like opera with all of that over-the-top emotion.” “Those old writers are just not realistic!” Those are common complaints, but they deserve an answer.

First of all, literature is an art form that consists of language. Whereas a painter uses daubs of paint, an author uses daubs of words. Whereas a musical composer works with individual musical notes, working them together into complex harmonies, rhythms, and melodies, an author creates the effects of a novel or a poem with individual words.

This is to say, an author can’t just “get to the action” because a story is not just a matter of action. It’s words. Plays, including the dramatic production that is a movie, do consist of action. But even a visualized story generally depends on the language of dialogue, which actors use to create their characters. Purists who want only action might restrict themselves to silent movies. But even silent movies—as with all dramatic scripts—have to be written.

Words are multi-dimensional and can create an infinite number of effects–including the illusion that the words are doing nothing. Those who are impatient with “style” often don’t realize that “realism” is also a style.

continue reading.

Feds gone wild

What can be said about the federal agencies caught in decadent scandals?  The Secret Service, traditionally known for its probity and integirty, has 11 agents who were in Columbia arranging for the president’s security for a summit meeting getting caught with 21 prostitutes.  The General Services Administration, which handles procurement for the federal government, procured a Las Vegas resort to host a lavish retreat to the tune of $823,000 in taxpayer money.  (And it is coming out that this is not the first time the GSA hosted that kind of junket, as the link above.)

The most ludicrous comment I’ve come across is that the GSA has been trying to emulate the private sector, insinuating that private companies do this sort of thing all the time and that this is what we get for trying to privatize government functions.

It is true that private companies also sometimes blow fortunes on this sort of thing, but that’s between them and their shareholders.  But let’s draw a lesson here for everyone.  What bothers me more than the indulgence in expensive food and drink is how lame the expensive programming was.  A mind-reader who doubles as a motivational speaker (cost:  $3,200 plus expenses).  A team-building exercise in which everyone broke into small groups to assemble a bicycle (cost:  $73,000).

Can we just all agree to stop paying for motivational speakers?  And could we cut out all team-building exercises?  That includes falling back into someone’s arms and doing things with ropes.

Would not all of you who have been subjected to such things whether you are from the private or the public or the church sector, agree that these are ALWAYS worthless and a waste of time and money?  And that they are invariably excruciating to endure and unutterably LAME?

Dick Clark dies

The seemingly ageless Dick Clark passed away.  He was 82.  Through radio, the long-lived TV dance show “American Bandstand,” his New Year’s Eve specials, and as an overall music impresario, Clark presided over practically the whole gamut of American pop music, from the very beginnings of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950s through today’s rap music. Here is a good survey of his life and career:  Dick Clark of ‘American Bandstand’ fame dies at 82 – latimes.com.

“American Bandstand” introduced rock ‘n’ roll to the teen-aged masses.  I liked the part where he would play a new song for a couple to rate.  Whereupon we would often get this critical analysis:  “It’s got a good beat. It’s easy to dance to.”