Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Race, Rush, Hillary & Hugh

Jonathan Chait, Matthew Yglesias and Maureen Dowd all depict the Democratic primary battle between Hillary and Obama in terms of race and gender.

Yglesias takes the cake with his assertion that Hillary won because of "the crucial racist vote." This is based wholly on an MSNBC exit poll that showed 20 percent of Ohio Democratic primary voters Tuesday said the race of the candidate was important, and of those, Clinton topped Obama by a 14-point margin, 57-43.

Question: Has Matthew Yglesias ever studied statistics? Because if my math is correct, 14 percent of 20 percent is 2.8 percent, which is surely less than the margin of error in that exit poll.
Given the inherent sampling problems, exit polls are very hard to read, and you certainly can't put a lot of faith in a 14-point gap on the 35th question in a survey. If you get a 2-to-1 margin on a question like that, OK, then maybe it's fair to declare that a "crucial" factor. But 14 percent? No way.

Besides which, you can't say those are "racist" voters, because there's no demographic breakdown of the respondents on that question. It's well known that many black Democrats are supporting Hillary because they don't think America will elect a black candidate. So it may well have been black voters (and Hillary got 12% of the black vote in Ohio, according to that poll) who gave Hillary her edge on that question. Either way, it's still just an exit poll, and as such, it's too flimsy evidence to justify hurling the word "racist" around (even if it's amusing to see Democrats called "racist" for supporting the wife of Our First Black President).

Meanwhile, Hugh Hewitt appears shocked at the thought that Rush Limbaugh's radio campaign to encourage Republicans to vote for Hillary in the Democratic primaries may have actually saved her hopes for the nomination.

The difference between Hugh and Rush, I think, boils down to this: Hewitt is a linear thinker, whose natural tendency is to plot the most direct and efficient path from Point A to Point B. Limbaugh, on the other hand, is an improvisational thinker, always considering contingencies and alternatives, trying to keep his options open as he looks forward to a future of unanticipated outcomes.

If you're a football fan, you could compare Hewitt to a classic dropback quarterback (Johnny Unitas) who stays in the pocket, counts on his blockers to contain the pressure and looks for the assigned receiver, whereas Limbaugh is like Fran Tarkenton or Ken Stabler, calling audibles, scrambling out toward the sidelines, changing the play even after the ball is snapped.

If you're a real football fan, you know that most Super Bowls are won by classic-type quarterbacks, who also account for most quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame. But there are exceptions to the rule, and in 1977 Stabler -- the left-handed wild man from Foley, Alabama, they called the "Snake" -- led the Oakland Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI over Fran Tarkenton's Minnesota Vikings. (Tarkenton's in the NFL Hall of Fame; why Stabler has been snubbed three times by Canton is puzzling.)

So while Limbaugh's (tactical) endorsement of Hillary may seem mysterious to some people -- including a Johnny U. kind of guy like Hugh Hewitt -- I remain confident in Rush. His latest move make look as crazy as Stabler or Tarkenton scrambling on a broken play, but Limbaugh knows exactly what he's doing.


  1. Since you are talking about quarterbacks with Alabama ties, does this turn Ann Coulter into Joe Namath?

  2. I call them checkers players or chess players. I don't "do" football. Still, whichever analogy, you're right, I think.
    And Rush may be right as well - if Clinton wins the nomination, there are several factors that come into play - race is one of them, of course. If blacks see that Clinton has "stolen" the nomination from their guy - and many blacks will _never_ admit that their guy _lost_ will be _stolen_ as far as they're concerned - there will be real anger. Plenty of indifferent voters will be motivated to vote because they _dislike_ Clinton, as well as those who will vote because they think McCain is a centrist.(which I find debatable).

    Certainly this is one election that is going to be interesting...! Chinese curse comes to mind...!

  3. Stacy, I got the footbal examples, but a more current comparison would be Payton Manning to Brett Favre. With Manning you know he'll execute the plan precisely. With Favre, who knows?

    Did Rush's gambit work? I don't know. If it did it's the first case I know of that tactical voting worked. I still don't support it simply because of the few times it succeeds.