How Much Did Race Affect Obama

Seth Stephens-DavidowitzJamelle Bouie wrote an interesting article over at The American Prospect this morning, Did Obama Lose Votes Because of His Race? In it, he reported on some very clever research by Harvard economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. He combined regional voting patterns from 2004 with regional Google searches of “racially-charged material.” By comparing how voting in different locations changed based upon the prevalence of these searches, he was able to discern a racist signature.

An example will help. Consider Denver, CO and Wheeling, WV. Both of these areas voted about 50% for John Kerry in 2004. Taking into account demographic changes, Denver voted as much for Obama as they had for Kerry. Denver, had a very low rate of “racially-charged material” searches. So that’s as it should be: little racial effect, little effect on voting. However, support for Obama in Wheeling was way less than it was for Kerry. What’s more: lots of “racially-charged material” searching in Wheeling. Do enough comparisons like this and you can figure out how many people were not voting for Obama because he was black.

Stephens-Davidowitz found that the effect in 2008 and 2012 was between 3 and 5 percentage points! Not excited? That’s just because you are one of those dull human beings who does not live and breathe statistics. Let’s assume that it is the lower number: 3 percentage points. That would mean that correcting for the bigot vote, Obama would have beat Romney 55%-45%: a ten percentage point defeat. What’s more Obama would have beat him by more than 12 million votes. (For the 5% number: 57%-43%, almost 18 million votes.)

Admittedly, there are enough caveats to this research to fill my new 2 TB hard drive. One that I don’t think matters, but I’ll bring up because it relates to my life: the meaning of “racially-charged material.” The truth is, I very often search for things that make me feel very uncomfortable. Now, I know that the nature of my research is always clear in the context of many searches. Just the same, I often feel queasy that people will see my search string in their Google Analytics. (For the record, it mostly has to do with Nazism and fascism, not racism; but I’m not keen on people thinking me a neo-Nazi.)

But assuming that the research is correct (in direction if not amount), Bouie notes that this means that 2016 looks very good indeed for the Democratic Party. And screw it, I’m going to take any good news I can get right now.

Thatcher Gets No Credit for Ozone

Arctic Ozone HoleThere was a very interesting discussion on All In about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. I quite agree with what Chris Hayes says at the beginning of the clip below. But at one point, he asks Cass Sunstein if there is anything about Thatcher that liberals should applaud. Sunstein mentions the ozone layer: Thatcher and Reagan both pushed for the ban of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Let’s stop right there. (We might as well, he doesn’t mention anything else that liberals might like about Thatcher.)

The reason that we got the ban on CFCs is that DuPont wanted CFC-11 and CFC-12 banned. Why? The patents were running out and they had brand new patents on the replacement compounds. So as usual, these great lions of conservatism were just doing what the corporations wanted. I assure you that there would be a stampede of Republicans calling for carbon taxes if it were to Chevron’s and Exxon’s economic advantage.

So no. Liberals should not give even the slightest bit of respect to the Rusted Out Iron Lady. In banning CFCs Thatcher was doing exactly what she did when she privatized state utilities: the bidding of the power elite. That’s all she (or for that matter Reagan) ever did.

Afterword

Cass Sunstein also says that the ozone hole causes skin cancer. That’s not really true. The only thing known at that time was that the ozone layer over the south pole was decimated. At that time, global stratospheric ozone had not been shown to be decreasing. This is an issues that has long confused lay people. But this is not to say that the ozone hole isn’t important. Environmental problems don’t have to affect humans directly to be important.

Tramp the Dirt Down

Margaret ThatcherMargaret Thatcher was an evil woman. Now she’s dead. At the end of her term in office, Elvis Costello released a song about her, “Tramp the Dirt Down.” In it he sang, “And when they finally put you in the ground; I’ll stand there laughing; And tramp the dirt down.” I agree completely about that sentiment. It would be one thing if Thatcher had only ruined the United Kingdom, but she had a pernicious effect all over the globe. Nowhere was the effect greater than in the good ol’ United States of America under Ronald Reagan. Thatcher England led the western world into the abyss of free market authoritarianism (fascism without the explicit racism). It hardly matters that she’s dead now.

It would have helped so much if she had died at 50, say. Of course, I tend to think that the world was destined to go through this proto-fascist phase that (on good days) I think we are slowly clawing our way out of.

I’m glad she’s dead, but I do not look forward to all the hagiographic obituaries. Because you know how it goes in American papers. The obituaries of leftists have to be evenhanded and talk about the good and the bad. The obituaries of rightists only talk about what good men/women/gargoyles they were.

I love the anger in this song; it is Costello at his best:

Thatcher was a good example of the kind of person I wrote about last night, Cynical Son of a Bitch.

Adieu Jacques Je T’aimais Bien Tu Sais

Jacques BrelMary Pickford was born in 1892 on this day. According to Wikipedia, she was an alcoholic. But if she was, how did she live to be 87? Really. The definition of alcoholic has really gotten out of hand when it is applied to Pickford. The great economist John Hicks was born in 1904. And another alleged alcoholic, Betty Ford, was born in 1918. She lived to be 93.

Comedian Shecky Greene is 87 today. The great investigative journalist Seymour Hersh is 76. Special effects master Douglas Trumbull is 71. John Madden, director of Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, is 64. And actresses Robin Wright and Patricia Arquette are 47 and 45.

But the day belongs to the great Jacques Brel who was born in 1929, but died unacceptably young in 1978. Like many musicians who died young, he left us much to remember him by.

Adieu Jacques je t’aimais bien tu sais!

For my analysis of this song, see It’s Hard to Die in French.