The Political Positions of Obama

This was one of my favorite fivethirtyeight entries, an assessment of the political positons of President-Elect Barack Obama.

nate

The chart was surprisingly hard to find, as it’s no longer included in the fivethirtyeight archive.

A subsequent piece comparing Obama to Democrats in Congress was interesting.

By contrast, there has been no consistent pattern among Democratic presidents. Mr. Obama, according to the system, rates as being slightly more conservative than Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, but slightly more liberal than Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman — although all of the scores among Democratic presidents are close and generally within the system’s margin of sampling error.

Another finding is that the Democratic presidents, including Mr. Obama, have often adopted a different strategy than Republicans. Whereas Democratic presidents usually have scores fairly close (but just slightly to the left of) the median Democratic member of Congress, Republican presidents — with the very clear exception of Eisenhower — articulate legislative positions that are equivalent to those held by one of the most conservative members of their party.

I would disagree, largely because the center has shifted so much, some of FDR, Truman and LBJ’s views would be considered abhorrent.

Another interesting post was one which suggested Michelle Bachmann had a 12 percent chance of winning the Republican party’s nomination in 2012.

My view is that if Ms. Bachmann’s polling settles into the mid-teens, she will have elevated herself from being a wild card to being a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination. In fact, there is probably some upside in the numbers: her name recognition is not yet universal (62 percent of Republicans could identify her in the most recent round of Gallup polls), and as it grows, she may gain support from low-information voters who had previously expressed a preference for well-known politicians like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich.

Of course, her candidacy has its issues. One is that she is a member of the House of Representatives, and members of the House don’t have a very good track record in primary campaigns. I don’t think this is a major drawback. My analysis suggests that while governors perform better than members of Congress there is little difference between how senators and members of the House perform, relative to their polling. And Ms. Bachmann has essentially been a nationalized figure for several years; she is the leader of the Tea Party Caucus, and her re-election campaigns have drawn tens of millions of dollars in contributions, tantamount to what a Senate or gubernatorial candidate would normally receive.

The more significant barrier is that Republicans might be worried about her chances in a general election. Ms. Bachmann’s voting record, according to the objective system DW-Nominate, is roughly as far from the middle of the electorate as George McGovern’s was in 1972 — and her red-meat rhetoric does nothing to disguise those positions. If Ms. Bachmann won Iowa, there would be an effort to rally around some more moderate alternative, most likely the candidate who wins New Hampshire.

Ah, hindsight.

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Spider-Man Image Dump Jr.

Some more Spider-Man images I found. XKCD shows why Spider-Man shouldn’t be too accurate.

XKCD Spider-Man

 

Jack Kirby demonstrated that he can draw a cool Spidey.

Kirby

As did Robert Hough.

Robert Hough

 

JH Williams III focused on wallcrawling.

Williams Spider-Man

John Cassady emphasized the webswinging.

John Cassady's Spider-Man

Let’s finish with a Steve Ditko wide panel.

Amazing Spider-Man 11 Expected

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John Romita Sr Spider-Man Image Gallery

To presumably no one’s surprise, I’ve come across interesting Spider-Man images by John Romita Sr. Many of these are probably from Brian Michael Bendis’s tumblr. Let’s start with Romita’s cover for the Spider-Man rock album.

RockReflections01

 

Then there’s a Sandman commission.

Romita Sandman

And a splash page with his most famous creation: Mary Jane Watson.

Romita

And an obscure cover to commemorate the spider-marriage.

Romita Marvel Age MJ

Some bad guys.

Romita artist edition

And a collaboration with his son.

Romitas

One of my favorite images from his Amazing Spider-Man run comes from issue 62 with a surprisingly scared Green Goblin.

John Romita Sr;s scared Green Goblin

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Can Mitt Romney Run Again?

Mitt Romney looking at his portrait.

There’s some chatter about Mitt Romney for President again. He ‘s a man who wanted to be President, and he has had a terrific year. The Netflix documentary, various media appearances and the flap about statements regarding his black grandson have humanized him. The mess in Russia makes his hawkishness look prescient, and polls show that he’d win in a landslide against Obama if the election were held today. Investigations have hobbled prominent Governors planning to run for the office. And candidates for statewide office are eager to campaign with Romney, and to emphasize his endorsement.

Elite donors still like him. The biggest surprise may have been the encouragement from a Democrat, former Montana governor Brian Schweit­zer, who told reporters, “He would be a giant in a field of midgets.” It is a bit unusual for a potential Democratic candidate to attend a conference for a prominent Republican, and compliment him. Before Republicans consider the electoral strengths of a Romney/ Schweitzer unity ticket, it is worth noting other motives for Schweitzer’s actions. Since Romney seems unlikely to run, he could have just been laying the seeds for criticism of the Republican field. Republicans might say nice things about Joe Biden for the same reason. But it was an unusual quote.

While Romney made some obvious mistakes in 2012, it’s not clear that he was a bad candidate. He overperformed most Republican candidates for statewide office, and lost narrowly in the popular vote (the difference between him and Obama was less than 1/25th of the vote) in a political environment that favored Obama. The economy was improving, Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy was well-received, Osama Bin Laden was still dead and Americans have a tendency to support incumbents. The nominee in 2016 will run under historically more favorable circumstances, and Romney would have less of a learning curve than anyone else.

There are some significant negatives. He’s not exactly a fresh face, and a few months older than Hillary Clinton, so he wouldn’t be able to beat her the way Obama did in ’08. All of his political campaigns have meant that there are a lot of public statements to scrutinize and attack.

If Romney still wants to be president, this would be his last shot. It wouldn’t make sense for Romney to wait until 2020. It’s a few months before the 2016 primary is officially underway, and Romney’s considered such a strong contender because of a series of lucky breaks unlikely to repeat in a different environment. The field is fractured. Establishment frontrunners include a guy under investigation, and George W Bush’s little brother. He would have the advantage of name recognition, in addition to dedicated support in the business community and among Mormons. Plus, he would have an existing campaign infrastructure.

If the election were held today, Romney would beat Obama.

There are arguments that the political environment typically doesn’t favor General Election losers, although that is mainly due to the small sample set. The reasons that Gerald Ford, Walter Mondale and Bob Dole didn’t run for president again don’t apply to Mitt Romney. Looking at losers of presidential elections; Papa Bush, Ford and Carter were incumbent Presidents who lost. Dole and McCain were in their early 70s when nominated. Mondale, Mcgovern and Dukakis suffered more embarrassing losses.

That leaves Humphrey, Kerry and Gore. Gore didn’t want to run in 2004, even though he polled rather well. Humphrey came relatively close in 1972, losing to a candidate who ran a savvy campaign and had stronger appeal to the base.

Kerry’s biggest problem was the 2008 primary field. For a party that values diversity, he would have been the third choice, at best, in a group that included a young African American Senator and a female Senator with 100% name recognition and a popular husband. 2008 ended up being a long hard-fought primary, although that was between figures Democrats generally liked with similar policy positions. The 2016 Republican primary is likely to be more divided, which leaves more openings.

Kerry was also blamed for losing to George W Bush. Republicans hate Obama as much as Democrats hated Bush eight years ago, and there will be a section of the party that blames Romney for Obama’s reelection. However, Republicans do seem to have more respect for Obama’s political talent than Democrats had for Bush.

Romney might hope for similarities to Ronald Reagan, a former coastal Governor who won the presidency in his third go-around at age 69, fourteen years after first being elected to statewide office.

During the 2012 campaign, there were some comparisons between Romney and Dewey, a Northeastern Governor who ran a safe campaign against a troubled incumbent President and lost. His record of three presidential campaigns does not set an impressive precedent for Romney. Dewey ran for the Republican nomination in 1936, and lost. He then ran for the nomination in 1940 as a northeastern Governor, and won the nomination but lost the general. He sought the nomination again in 1944, and once again lost the general.

A third scenario is Al Smith, a northeastern governor who sought the nomination in 1924 and lost. He won the nomination four years later and lost the general. And he sought the nomination again in 1932 and lost in the effort. Romney would rather be Reagan than Dewey or Smith.

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Bryan Cranston’s Strategy

Bryan Cranston's diverse roles.

Yesterday, I came across a profile of Bryan Cranston in The New Yorker. And I thought this part was pretty cool, detailing the strategy he used to get the most out of seemingly thankless roles.

As he was often the last person cast on a show or film, his strategy was to play the opposite of what the ensemble already had. Drama is conflict, after all. When he auditioned for the father on “Malcolm in the Middle,” the Fox sitcom about a crew of unruly brothers, he knew that the boys’ mother was bombastic, fearless, and insightful, so he played the father as gentle, timid, and obtuse. “It was a genius way to make an underwritten part work,” Linwood Boomer, the show’s creator, says. “By the third episode, we realized we had to do a lot more writing for the guy.”

Now that he’s better known, he has a new formula for picking roles.

In his trailer, Cranston told me that when he trumpeted a few recent offers to his wife the skeptical tilt of her head made him realize that he’d been indiscriminate. He wanted to carve out time to pursue a deal he’d made with Sony Television to produce his own shows, and also wanted to pick roles that forced him to stretch. “You never want to repeat yourself,” he told me. “Otherwise, it’s just”—he named a well-known actor—“doing his thing.” He leaped to his feet, raised an imaginary pistol, and shouted, “Get down! Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam!,” followed by “Because right now you’re safest with me!” and “He’s my son!” He shrugged. “You can write the dialogue before you see the film.”

So he’d constructed a grid in blue ballpoint: the Cranston Project Assessment Scale. On the left were rankings from Very Good to Poor, and across the top, in decreasing order of importance, were Story, Script, Role, Director, and Cast. A very good story was worth ten points, a very good cast only two. Story and script count the most, he said, because “an actor can only raise the level of bad writing by a grade. C writing, and I don’t care if you’re Meryl Streep—you can only raise it to a B.” After factoring in bonus points (high salary = +1; significant time away from family = –3), he’d pass on a project that scored less than 16 points, consider one from 16 to 20, accept one from 21 to 25, and accept with alacrity one from 26 to 32. “ ‘Argo’ was a twenty-eight,” he explained, showing his addition. “Ben was a three as a director—he was ‘good’—and now he’s a four, ‘Argo’ says. ‘Godzilla’ was a twenty, on the high end of ‘consider.’ I was dubious, but when I read the script I was surprised—you care about these people, and you’ve got Godzilla.”

The article was written just before the final episodes of Breaking Bad were aired, so it does contain some spoilers.

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When the Same People Keep Winning Emmys

Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston Breaking Bad Emmy Awards

The Emmys are notorious for rewarding the same people over and over again. Yesterday might have been the most egregious example. Seven of the eight actors to win for their performances in dramas and comedies had won the same Emmys before for the same exact role. The one exception was Alison Janney, who had won four times for The West Wing, and had been awarded a week earlier for her guest appearance in Masters of Work. In the movie/ mini-series category, the two winning actresses had Academy Awards and the two winning actors were movie stars.

There are several reasons for the same people to keep getting the same award. It’s possible that they just deserve it. If merit is rewarded, the actors who win are more likely to win again. The most interesting character on television in a previous year may very well be the most interesting character on television the next year. Someone talented enough to become a major movie star will probably give a better than average performance in a mini-series.

Sometimes it’s clearly not merit. In the 55th Emmys, Alison Janney won a fourth Emmy for The West Wing‘s fifth season, that year between Aaron Sorkin’s departure, also known as the season that sucked. A common argument is that Emmy voters just feel comfortable rewarding people who have already won.

Julia Louis Dreyfus at the Emmys

My solution is to retire a performance from consideration after someone wins an Emmy for it.

Kevin Drum agrees with me, posting on twitter…

Seriously, Emmys need a rule that you can only win once for a role, and that’s it. JLD not even all that funny, let alone 3-Emmy funny.

Ace of Spades has a cynical theory for why this is unlikely to change: It’s in the best interests of working actors to keep voting for the same people.

If you assume that everyone in the industry is a jealous, bitter egomaniac, Is it in your own best egotistical interest to give the award to Ty Burrell every single year or to spread the awards around?

I say it’s in your own best interest to just pile so many awards onto Ty Burrell that he can’t even walk. Because, if you’re a bitter, jealous egomaniac, it’s better that all the awards to go one guy, because, 1, he can’t possibly enjoy them much after the second, so you’re really not helping him much at this point, and, more importantly, 2, it keeps awards from going to other people.

If Ty Burrell has all the awards, this can’t hurt you as a competitive matter too much, assuming you’re not competing with Ty Burrell for a part.

But the more you spread them around, the higher the odds that you’ll be giving an Emmy to someone you are in direct competition with at some point, and thus will cede the winner an advantage over you.

It does make sense in an evil kinda way. Casting directors are not changing their rolodexes because of any of these wins.

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Possible Villains For The Amazing Spider-Man 3

Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man

I made the argument before that Spider-Man movies seem to work best with one main antagonist. The focus on Peter Parker’s private life just means that there’s less room to introduce more than one villain, which may partly explain why Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were so chaotic.

I’d have liked to see Sony drop their plans for the Sinister Six and Venom spinoffs, and to focus on one main villain for the next one. Instead Sony’s decided to announce a Sinister Six film for Summer 2016, and wait until Summer 2018 to do the next Amazing Spider-Man sequel. I’m hoping that without the need to set up characters for a spinoff, the next film could have a more streamlined narrative with just one bad guy.

One problem is that not all Spider-Man villains can support a two hour film. But I think the following are possibilities.

Mysterio: The master of an illusion is an A-list Spider-Man villain with an excellent visually interesting power-set. He also hasn’t appeared in any of the Raimi films, so it would be something moviegoers haven’t seen before. A stuntman turned bad is also an appropriate movie villain, and his motives have been varied enough to allow him to fit whatever narrative works best for Peter Parker. Does Marc Webb need a crime boss for a story? Mysterio has done that. Would an A-plot about a villain pretending to be a hero work better? That was Mysterio’s first appearance.

The Hobgoblin: He’s an A-lister who hasn’t appeared in the films before. A newcomer using the Osborn technology for his own purposes allows Webb and company to build on plot threads introduced in earlier films without making things difficult for filmgoers who didn’t see Amazing Spider-Man 2. A new Goblin could also force Peter Parker to deal with the aftermath of Gwen’s death, and tie into his new relationships. However, audiences might have goblin fatigue after previous appearances by other goblins in the Raimi trilogy, Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the Sinister Six film.

Gear for the Vulture and Doctor Octopus from Amazing Spider-Man 2

Doctor Octopus: The tentacles were teased as the end of ASM 2, there’ll be a fourteen year gap between Spider-Man 2 and Amazing Spider-Man 3, and Sony can have a take on Doc Ock different from what Alfred Molina did. He was considered the best villain in the Raimi trilogy, so bringing him back could result in good publicity for the Webb sequels. Toby Jones or Patton Oswalt could do the role justice, depicting a quirky, brilliant middle-aged outsider who suddenly gains obscene power.

The Vulture: In the comics, the Vulture was an elderly inventor who turned to crime after he was ripped off by his business partner, using a suit that gave him the powers of flight and super-strength. He may be tough to cast. A younger actor doesn’t really seem appropriate, and Webb would have to take care in the action sequences to make sure that it doesn’t look like Spider-Man is just beating up an old man for two hours. However, the Vulture is about something, and can suit a movie that’s about generational conflicts, and credit where credit’s due. A Bryan Cranston or Samuel L Jackson could convince viewers that he’s the unappreciated loser in the first act, and capable of beating up Spidey in the second.

One last villain who can work in Amazing Spider-Man 3 has been associated with some of the worst Spider-Man comics ever made. He’s been in some good comics, but he does not rate as one of my favorite rogues. However, he’s a good fit for Peter Parker’s journey, considering the events of the last few movies.

The Jackal: He was the Big Bad of Gerry Conway’s Amazing Spider-Man run, a mad scientist revealed to be Peter Parker’s science professor, driven insane by the death of Gwen Stacy, his favorite student. The obsession could open up some serious emotional wounds for Peter, especially since there isn’t really anyone in the supporting cast who would really miss the recently deceased love of his life. A Colin Firth could play the role easily, a science dork in love with Emma Stone who turns to extreme measures after her loss. They’ve worked together before.

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in Magic In the Moonlight

The Jackal could have a role similar to Norman Osborn in the first Raimi Spider-Man, someone similar to Peter but with a twisted sensibility, teaching him what it means to use power responsibly. For a long time, the Jackal of the comics was associated exclusively with the clone saga, an overly convoluted mess with duplicates of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. But that changed with Spider Island, an acclaimed eight-part arc in which he gave hundreds of people in New York the powers of Spider-Man, a plot point that could easily be borrowed by the films.

It’s always possible to have a composite villain, the way Raimi’s Mary Jane was essentially a mix of several of Peter Parker’s love interests in the comics. They might have a Doctor Octopus who shares the Jackal’s obsession with Gwen Stacy, or a Mysterio with the motivations of the Vulture.

While having one main villain would be a positive step in terms of the discipline it would introduce to a creative process that’s been rather muddled, the more important thing is to make those decisions based on Peter Parker’s story. In the weaker Spider-Man films, the tail is wagging the dog, as the story of one of the best protagonists in fiction is secondary to getting the villains that will sell the most toys, or launch potential spinoffs. Results have been better when the antagonist matches Peter Parker’s story.

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