Media Follies

By Big Tent Democrat

Speaking for me only

I found this passage from Jon Chait amusing:

The spin now is that Obama's delegate lead is "small but almost insurmountable" (USA Today) and that, since neither can clinch the nomination with pledged delegates alone, "the nomination is expected to be in the superdelegates' hands" (Los Angeles Times). These beliefs reflect the mathematical illiteracy that has allowed the press corps to be routinely duped by economic flim-flammery. A lead that's insurmountable is, by definition, not small. . . .

(Emphasis supplied.) Um, noooo. A lead can be large but surmountable and it can be small but insurmountable. An insurmountable lead is not, by definition, large, in my understanding of the English language (admittedly my second language.) And when a contest is to reach a certain number of delegates, the only MATHEMATICALLY insurmountable advantage is when one of the candidates reaches the magic number (2025 or 2214 total delegates being the one ones that matter here, not the majority of the pledged delegates) More . . .

Continuing in this vein, Chait writes:

The notion that the superdelegates will decide the race implies that pledged delegates won't matter--like a sports event that goes to overtime. Obviously, though, the pledged-delegate count determines how many superdelegates each candidate needs.

I find this passage funny as well. To say a game was decided in overtime is not to say the regulation time of the game did not matter. Indeed how the "pledged delegate" "regulation game" has gone is precisely why you now have this "superdelegate overtime." Moreover, that is not even a proper analogy. The nomination "game" requires crossing a delegate threshold (2025 without FL and MI, and 2214 with Florida and Michigan) - there is not a game clock per se. Obama will not cross the threshold solely with pledged delegates (John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill Clinton did, to provide 3 examples.) To wit, in order to capture the nomination, Obama needs to capture a certain number of super delegates. Presumably, if Obama maintains a 100 or so pledged delegate lead, he will need about a hundred less than Clinton.

It is fine to believe that Obama has, beyond a shadow of all doubt, won the nomination. But it ill behooves someone who is ridiculing the supposed "mathematical illiteracy" of people to demonstrate such shocking ignorance and lack of understanding of the English language and, apparently, the nomination process. I submit Chait should stick to making his arguments, and not to making fun of people - he becomes too easy a target when he does.

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    It occurs to me (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Edgar08 on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:32:34 PM EST
    During this long interlude before PA, everything has now already been said, and to say something remotely original requires that one embrace incoherence.

    You are correct. (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by LarryInNYC on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:32:45 PM EST
    While Obama's lead is both small and, mathematically, surmountable it is entirely possible for a lead to be small and insurmountable.

    In fact, it's almost certain that the nomination battle will end exactly that way when all delegates, super and mundane, have been allocated -- with one candidate having a small but completely insurmountable lead.

    The only insurmountable lead I have (none / 0) (#17)
    by FlaDemFem on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 04:05:46 PM EST
    ever seen was Secretariat's in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. No one was going to catch him that day.

    Other than that, nope, no such thing. And people forget that the "pledge" only holds through the first ballot, if that long. So, it's anyone's game at the convention. This is the first time in the history of this country's elections that one candidate has called for the other to drop out.

    If Obama is such a strong candidate, why doesn't he have a much bigger lead?? And why does he feel he has to win by eliminating the competition by asking them to drop out? And if he can't beat Hillary fair and square, how is he going to win the GE?? I mean, come on!!!

    Obama needs to grow a spine, and some brass ones. If he does, he will then be as good a candidate as Hillary. Not as qualified, mind you, but good enough to run a good GE campaign. Whining won't do it, not in the big leagues.


    good question (none / 0) (#20)
    by Kathy on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 04:20:37 PM EST
    And why does he feel he has to win by eliminating the competition by asking them to drop out?

    Answer: because every race Obama has ever won has been won because his competition was either forced off the ballot via legal challenges or had a devestating story leaked (such as sealed divorce papers) that tanked him so that Obama could walk to the win.

    It must be terribly vexing for him to actually have to wage a full campaign.  Must be bringing up bad memories about his loss to Bobby Rush.


    Oh, I know!! And I was giggling over (none / 0) (#23)
    by FlaDemFem on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 06:16:35 PM EST
    his statement that the reaction to the Wright sermons "rattled" him. If that rattled him, the GOP smear machine stuff is going to flatten him like a pancake. I wonder why he and his supporters think the GOP won't pull out all the stops to win, even if it means smearing the current media darling. Remember, McCain was a media darling, and look what the GOP did to him. And he was one of their own. Obama isn't, much as he tries to be some of the time, and they will give him no quarter. Hillary is used to it, been dealing with it for decades. But if the Wright buzz rattled him, he should quit now, before the GOP has a go at him, because he can't handle it.

    Silly (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by hitchhiker on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 03:04:16 PM EST
    A lead that's insurmountable is, by definition, not small. . .

    Maybe he should have looked at the definition before he decided how to apply it in these circumstances.  Insurmountable means impossible to overcome--maybe because it's too late, maybe because the deck is stacked, maybe because the lead is just too large-- the reasons are not restricted.  

    Can I also say that as a math major I cringe every time somebody complains about mathematical illiteracy when they're actually discussing arithmetic?

    Arithmetic -- simple adding and subtracting -- is what we're talking about when we go over the 12 ways to determine the numerical delegate winner.

    Mathematics is a discipline, like law or philosophy or medicine.  

    I agree (none / 0) (#13)
    by Deadalus on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 03:29:11 PM EST
    maybe he's conflating math and language. An insurmountable lead is not "a small deal", but it can mathematically be small. A 1 percent lead with 99 percent reporting is a small, insurmountable lead. Then again, supers and all, no lead is truly insurmountable in this race.

    Maybe Chait has (none / 0) (#1)
    by madamab on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:25:01 PM EST
    "The Math." ;-)

    Well played sir. n/t (none / 0) (#2)
    by Faust on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:32:10 PM EST

    No Such Thing as an Insurmountable Lead (none / 0) (#5)
    by kaleidescope on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:38:23 PM EST
    Since the DNC rules allow "pledged" or "non-automatic" delegates to vote any way they want once they get to the floor of the convention.  So, in that sense, it isn't really anymore hopeless for Mike Gravel than it is for Hillary Clinton.

    If Obama, Clinton, Dodd, Biden, Richardson and Kucinich were all caught in bed together with a passel of live boys and dead girls, then all of the delegates -- including non-automatic delegates -- could vote to nominate Gravel.

    Gravel was a fool to drop out.

    Oh Come On (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by blogtopus on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:46:02 PM EST
    Don't you know that Obama would demand that we both ignore the dead children he was photographed with while running nonstop stories (including interviews with family of the deceased) of how Hillary will kill YOUR children to live forever as President.

    Really, though, how different is that analogy from what is really happening regarding contributions from oil company employees and ex-lobbyists?

    Thank goodness for the fact that delegates can vote for who they want once they hit the floor.


    Hmmm (none / 0) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:40:54 PM EST
    Kind of a failed attempt at a smart ass comment if you ask me.

    I think I sliced your boy up pretty good in this post. Your comment is like comparing Clinton to Nader, as Chait did. I think the two of you should stick to arguments and leave the snark to better practitioners.


    You rang??? (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Kathy on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:59:53 PM EST
    you should stick to arguments and leave the snark to better practitioners.

    It seems to me that there has been a subtle shift from "she should drop out!" to "she has no chance!" to "she can still win, but it'll be really, really hard."

    I'm waiting, as the weeks go on, for it to get to, "hey, they're really close and the upcoming primaries are the only way this is going to be decided!"

    Because it seems to me that is where we are heading.  Someone upthread claimed that everything has been said before--well, this would be the new thing.  The media love a comeback story, even if it's a Clinton.  I really, really feel that PA is going to be a watershed.  All the polling, all the pundits--they're crap compared to what the actual voters say when they are in the privcay of the voting booth.  How many times do we need to be taught this same lesson?


    Same lesson? (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by RalphB on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 03:11:51 PM EST
    I would say about 7000 times between now and May should make the lesson stick.  But maybe not :-)

    Seems to me the main thing Hillary has to worry about in PA is her vote being suppressed by all these "she can't win" stories.  If people stay home, Obama might pull it off but that's about the only way.


    Ralph (none / 0) (#11)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 03:13:30 PM EST
    You owe Meteor Blades an apology.

    Ya think? (none / 0) (#16)
    by RalphB on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 04:02:53 PM EST
    Seemed to me he was not being honest.

    He is always honest (none / 0) (#18)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 04:10:15 PM EST
    He is often wrong.

    You have to start with "wrong" (none / 0) (#19)
    by rilkefan on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 04:12:23 PM EST
    You then have to convince yourself that the other person understands your objections and can't rationally disagree.  You then have to eliminate other explanations.

    At least if you want to engage in civilized discourse.


    Your Hope Is . . . . . (2.00 / 1) (#14)
    by kaleidescope on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 03:43:12 PM EST

    But calling Obama my "boy" is racially offensive even though, I thought, he was yours.


    Chait was your boy (none / 0) (#15)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 03:44:53 PM EST
    in my comment. Obama is not responsible for Chait's stupidity. Or yours for that matter.

    You attempt to gin up outrage is duly noted. You need to work on it.


    Who is Chait? (none / 0) (#25)
    by kaleidescope on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 09:11:40 PM EST
    Ehh (none / 0) (#12)
    by rilkefan on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 03:23:42 PM EST
    "Small" has different meanings in different contexts or even in identical contexts for different people.  If Obama has a one-vote delegate lead at the end, that will be insurmountable - whether it's small depends on whether HRC has a sizable lead in the popular vote (and perhaps the current polls).  In my view not worth Chait or BTD getting worked up about.

    The magic number... (none / 0) (#21)
    by mike in dc on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 04:22:41 PM EST
    ...given about 250 SD endrosements apiece at the moment, is the number of SDs required to clinch the nomination.  Assuming Obama retains a lead of about 150 pledged delegates after the primaries end (which would be a net gain of +14 for Clinton in the remaining contests), he then needs 75 out of 300 remaining SDs in order to clinch, a fairly unchallenging hurdle.  Clinton would need about 225 out of 300, or 3 out of 4 uncommitted SDs, which is a pretty steep bar.  If we factor FL/MI in, and award 4 out of 5 uncommitted MI delegates to Obama, he then needs about half the uncommitted SDs to clinch, still not too daunting.  Clinton improves her situation somewhat, picking up about 200 net delegates(to bring her baseline support to about 2000), but still needs about 2 out of 3 SD endorsements.  To lower her bar to half, she'd need to sweep the uncommitted and edwards delegates.

    The math does get better for her if she sweeps the remaining contests by large margins, and somehow ensures that FL/MI are seated as is.  But that seems unlikely at this point.

    Chait's general point is valid (none / 0) (#22)
    by AF on Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 05:47:58 PM EST
    But he deserves to have his chain yanked for calling others "mathematically illiterate" and then making a point in a way that is equally vague and imprecise.