The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Political junkies like me have seen two broad narratives about what will happen in tomorrow’s presidential election between Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The most popular call is that this is a dead heat, a toss-up, and we might not know the winner until Wednesday or even later if ballots in Ohio, Florida or some other electoral disaster state to be named about 10 o’clock Tuesday night come into question.
Then there are the statisticians who don’t see things being quite so tight. Chief among them is Nate Silver, creator of the Five Thirty Eight blog, now part of the New York Times, who called all but one state correctly in 2008 and all of the Senate races that year. He didn’t do quite as well in 2010, correctly calling 34 of 37 U.S. Senate races. This year, Silver has never had President Obama behind and currently (9 a.m. Nov. 5) gives him an 86.3 percent chance of winning and projects he’ll get 307.2 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to win the election, and 50.6 percent of the popular vote. Silver has become a controversial figure in the political media world, in a large way by frequently debunking some of the popular narratives about the election. Just this morning, he has a post disputing the idea that Hurricane Sandy stopped Romney’s momentum after the first debate, Oct. 3, in Denver.
A third theory being posited this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe is that there is this groundswell of enthusiasm for Romney that will rise up and flip a number of states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that seem to be in Obama’s column. Even partisans including show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican U.S. representative from Florida, say there is nothing really to back that up, and others point out that a lot of losing candidates have had throngs of enthusiastic supporters show up to their rallies in the days before the election. They include U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) who lost a narrow election to incumbent George W. Bush in 2004, an election that this year’s contest is being heavily compared to.
Certainly the first and last scenarios are most useful for hyping interest in the election and keeping people from watching Full House or Real Housewives reruns Tuesday night instead of election coverage. Journalists are often accused of harboring political biases, but what they tend to root for is the best story. A close election is inherently more interesting than a blowout.
One thing we can be sure of is that by tomorrow, it will all be over but the counting, and the analysis, and the second-guessing. What will be interesting is the final analysis: Will it be an election we should have seen coming, or the kind of surprise that can make and break media careers?
Joseph-Beth Booksellers has announced that Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman from Florida who now hosts the hit political chat show Morning Joe on MSNBC, will be at the Lexington Green store at 7 p.m. June 24.
Scarborough will be there to sign copies of his new book, The Last Best Hope. In the book, Scarborough, “tells Republican Party bosses what they don’t want to hear, explains why Democrats are making matters so much worse, and then shows leaders of both parties the way forward,” according to a Joseph-Beth press release. On Morning Joe, Scarborough has been critical of President Barack Obama and the Democratic-led congress, but also has harsh words for his own Republican Party and its leadership.
Line tickets are required for the signing and are available with a purchase of The Last Best Hope at Jospeh-Beth.
As Oscars surprises go, Sean Penn besting Mickey Rourke in the best actor race was not Juliet Binoche jumping ahead of Lauren Bacall in 1996 or Shakespeare in Love stunning Saving Private Ryan in 1998.
But the conventional wisdom was that Penn, nominated for Milk, was a fairly recent winner (2004 for Mystic River), and Mickey was the hot new comeback tale with The Wrestler. Rourke had already won a number of pre-Oscar acting prizes, including the Golden Globe. So, a lot of observers, including me, installed Mick as the favorite to win for a moving, harrowing performance that included being stapled by a real-life wrestler called the Necro Butcher.
But when the envelope was opened, Penn’s name was called, and he stepped to the stage to thank, “You commie, homo-loving sons of guns.” Some saw it as reflexive. On Morning Joe, conservative commentator Joe Scarborough called awarding Penn for playing the trailblazing gay rights activist Harvey Milk, “Pavlovian,” saying he predicted it the moment he saw Penn was playing Milk. That’s a vast oversimplification, invoking a Pavlovian reflex by many conservatives to paint Hollywood as obsessed with boosting liberal politics.
Penn’s victory could have been predicted for a variety of reasons, and was by some media outlets including Enterainment Weekly, which I expect will probably offer up a report on how Penn won. In its annual article where it has some voters anonymously reveal their picks, two-out-of-three commentators chose Penn, and in reporting from a variety of sources, you could sense an undercurrent of support for the film and the performance. Late in the weekend, I was wondering if Louisville’s Gus Van Sant, who directed Milk, would have been a better upset pick for director than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘s David Fincher, who I incorrectly guessed.
But it turned out it was Penn with the Milk upset, and really it could have been predicted by ruling in one piece of conventional wisdom and ruling out another. It would have been good to remember that actors who play real people tend to do well at the Oscars. With Penn’s win, four out of the last five best actor winners have played historical figures. And the idea he’d won too recently was overplayed. Kevin Spacey won best supporting actor for The Usual Suspects in 1995 and best actor for American Beauty in 1999. Jodie Foster’s best actress honors were 1988 for The Accused and 1991 for Silence of the Lambs, Meryl Streep’s Oscars came in in 1979 and 1982, and, of course, there were Tom Hanks’ back-to-back best actor nods in 1993 and ’94. Clearly, Oscar does not have a problem awarding two trophies to actors who turn in strong performances in close succession.
And yes, some of the strong feeling for Milk is fueled by past and present social issues that both Penn and Dustin Lance Black, who won best original screenplay for Milk, addressed those from the stage, last night. But Penn did not win for a reflexive left-wing bias and he didn’t steal an honor from Rourke. He earned the prize for being one of the best actors of our day, and the victory was more predictable than we might have thought.
The political addiction built during the 2008 presidential campaign wasn’t that hard to break after all.
Once the votes were counted, it became easier to miss those appointments with Chris Matthews, Campbell Brown and the other cable news and commentary shows that saw their ratings soar during the months leading up to the election.
In the new year, with Jack Bauer back to save the nation, American Idol gearing up with some local rooting interest, 30 Rock as the focus of Tina Fey’s work, and plain old lives to lead, the compulsion to tune in to Rachel Maddow or Hannity-now-minus-Colmes isn’t there.
But I’ve still gotta have my Morning Joe.
We’re talking about MSNBC’s 6-to-9 a.m. chat show featuring Joe Scarborough, a former Republican representative from Florida; Mika Brzezinski, a veteran broadcaster and daughter of former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and a rotating band of regular guests led by Boston writer Mike Barnicle, conservative icon Pat Buchanan, and former Democratic Tennessee representative Harold Ford, Jr.
There is an obvious reason I still keep this appointment: Many mornings, I am on a treadmill shortly after 7 a.m., and TV is the easiest way for me to get my mind off of walking in place for nearly an hour. But there have been mornings when the prospect of watching Joe has kept me from skipping the walk, and there have been occasions I’ve extended my time because I was interested in an upcoming guest. Yes, Morning Joe helped me burn calories.
Then again, I don’t have to have that excuse at all.
Mornings I haven’t hit the treadmill, I’ve tuned in — made a point of it.
The show has bucked this political junkie’s trend for several reasons.
First, it’s a bipartisan show. In the evening, the trend has been to race to an ideological extreme: Bill O’Reilly on the right on Fox News while Keith Olbermann is on the left at MSNBC at 8 p.m. every night. After a while, these shows get really predictable, and you sort of have to be part of the choir to stay interested.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich