Thursday, October 09, 2008

When does the row-back from McCain begin?

As we know, one of the subsidiary psychological factors motivating Decency is the desire to be on the winning side, just once. And so it was that several prominent Men of Decency decided to get their Presidential endorsements in early, taking the part of John McCain, as we documented at the time in a couple of posts. The main reasons for their doing so appeared to be:

1) an anecdote about him nearly punching Malcolm Rifkind, written about but not exactly sourced in a book by Brendan Sims, slightly embellished in the retelling by Nick Cohen, repeated by Oliver Kamm and then embellished once more by Nick Cohen (as noted here at the time. And

2) it looked like he might win.

The Harry's Place[1] comment section, natch, have been mad for McCain, as have many of the front page posters, only held back slightly by Gene. All over the blogosphere, we have certainly had to sit through numerous lectures about how lefties simply don't understand ordinary working people like Sarah Palin (ordinary working-class people who own fucking aeroplanes, that kind of ordinary folks. The Decents are never more disgraceful than when they're playing culture war; it was a major reason for dropping coverage of Nick Cohen).

Now McCain is, shall we say, fucked, when does the row-back start? When does the Votenfreude begin?

[1] I know that some of our readers don't like to see Harry's Place discussed as if they mattered or were worth reading. In general, I have some sympathy with this view, but on balance, I agree with the authors of "Sadly, No! in their manifesto, Principia Wingnuttia. Their point that "C-List wingnuts say what A-List wingnuts think" is entirely applicable to Decency; Kamm, Hoare, McShane etc and even Cohen are always careful to avoid stating the more ludicrously appalling and/or unpopular planks of their political philosophy in so many words, but the Harry's Place comments section can always be relied upon to say it for them. I actually agree with ENGAGE that the traffic on most Israel-protest mailing lists certainly ought to be a matter for concern to any sensible Palestinian rights activist, and that the movement in general ought to do its best to discourage nuts and obsessives. But by the same token, the way in which the Decent Left are seemingly content with a situation where they're always two clicks away from nuts and racists really ought to be taken as indicative of the kind of psychological pool they're happy to be fishing in. (Take this as a sort of trailer for the forthcoming "Decent Racism" post).


Blogger Matthew said...

I never got around to writing a post on it, but I think in a lot of Decent (and right-wing) arguments about Sarah Palin there was the soft anti-Americanism of low expectations. Most Decents don't know much about the US - they used to hate it, now like it - but I think they see your average American person as obsessed with guns and hunting, using a lot of petrol, a bit stupid, etc etc, and so believe that Sarah Palin - whose political views they disagree with - is the best that one can expect.

10/09/2008 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger John B said...

"Now McCain is, shall we say, fucked"

Are we officially allowed to believe this yet? Cos I remember when the state-by-state polls put Kerry 50 electoral votes ahead, but that didn't stop the ratfucking bastards from winning.

10/09/2008 11:47:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Check out the Iowa Electronic Markets or Intrade; while I am not a huge fan of prediction markets as panacea for all ills, informational free lunch etc, they are pretty good as a summary of the available poll information and never had Kerry ahead for material amounts of time (I'd note that Stuart Thiel's "Dr Pollkatz" site also never had Kerry in the lead and followed similar methodology to five

10/09/2008 11:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BB - interesting. It doesn't look as if McCain's coming back. Also worth noting: apparently we wuz robbed in 2000, but probably not in 2004.

10/10/2008 07:08:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

What the fuck is that blip in the second chart?

10/10/2008 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey that Principia Wingnuttia is rather good isn't it and I think it makes some excelent points. There have certainly been moments when those who are generally seen as occupying a space at the less deranged end of Decency have let slip their true nuttiness. One of the best examples can be found here.

I know its probably immoral in some ways but I find myself being pulled back to HP sometimes against my will. Its obviously a political freakshow but it also exerts that kind of carcrash fascination.

10/10/2008 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

The American people were robbed in 2000, but IEM bettors weren't - the IEM contract is based on the winner of the popular vote, and did in fact pay out 100c on Gor and 0c on Bush (fascinating facts!). I think that the "blip" Justin refers to is just an artifice of the fact that these markets really aren't very liquid and quite a modest trade can move them quite a long way; there are always a hell of a lot of allegations of manipulation surrounding the Intrade political markets and my assessment of the way in which they're regulated is pretty sceptical.

10/10/2008 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

You don't think somebody's just entered a digit wrongly? I used to do this when I worked in Oxfordshire County Council, plotting their computer representation of the road network. I'd put in the wrong figure and all of a sudden the map would show a junction originating near Burford and stretching all the way to Denmark.

10/10/2008 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

My favourite metric is the "Electoral Vote Distribution" chart at; it shows the results of their 10,000 daily simulation runs as a frequency chart. The mean has put Obama in the lead throughout, and is currently somewhere around 360, but what interests me is that the distribution has a fat tail on the upside, and the skew is progressively increasing.

10/10/2008 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Common problem. I caught the fact that we'd typed in 1245 not 12.45 in a report once but - doh! - forgot to check the % change calculations hadn't been done from the wrong figure. A month-on-month rise of 10,700% looks really obviously wrong when you see a printed version.

Having said that it's not an obvious typo as it appears in the data stream (look at the high and close value on the 7th October).

Maybe someone thought they had some cast-iron information. Strange Bush didn't fall if that was the case though.

10/10/2008 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

And here's a not very helpful bit about it at the time, seems it was a real trade

Berg Comments On IEM Trader Blip (Chicago Tribune, Oct. 13)
Even gamblers on the presidential election can be hammered by late trading. Last Thursday, a person or persons unknown placed a bet with the online IOWA ELECTRONIC MARKETS suggesting that Democrat John Kerry would win a 70 percent share of the vote "market" against President Bush. Iowa sponsors futures trading related to political events, including presidential elections. The market has a good record for predictions. The Kerry spike, recorded on the University of Iowa Business School's Web site,, apparently indicated a trade near midnight last Thursday, said JOYCE BERG, an accounting professor at the school and a director of the Iowa Electronic Markets. "I don't know what was in the trader's mind," she said. The spike did not last long. "By 2 a.m. [Friday], prices were back to 48," indicating the nearly 50-50 race currently under way, Berg said

10/10/2008 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always though the real reasons for Decent support of McCain - as opposed to the stated reason of 'having once acted in a vaguely mean way towards a Tory' - were 1) he looked likely to win for a while, and as we all know Decents hate losing, but more importantly 2) he's been a consistent champion of intervention, and has consistently committed himself to the iraq war as a cause of personal honour, which is one of the main things Decents love in their politicians, because it's what they've done, too.

In truth, though, most of those Decent embraces ofMcCain are easy to retreat from. Kamm could quite easily argue that he was simply saying that McCain was the best candidate of the Repulicans, which is probably true, although the reason for this (his tendency to go off-message and stand up against torture, and for tax) has essentially disappeared since he won the nomination. Cohen could easily say that his column was only ever designed to 'make lefties think better of him', ignoring the fact that any British lefty interested in American poitics would prefer McCain to amost any other republican, anyway; and Marko, well bless him, he's elsewhere admitted that he only likes McCain because of something to do with the Balkans and has acknowledged that Americans will not be electing someone on that basis.

Of course, Decents (especially Aaro and Cohen, but HP too) have already prepared for their row-back to Obama - and it runs seomthing like 'you lefties won't like obama when he does soemthing you dislike, this means i have proven that you all hate america'...

10/10/2008 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would have been very much more difficult for the Decents to abandon McCain had he adopted stalwart hero Lieberman as VeePee candidate (his first choice apparently).

I can't help feeling that BB's hypothesis deriving Decentism from the urge of ex-Ultra-Lefts to be on the winning side for once might have been inspired by the following:

[Note reply to question 'If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish ...']. Oh dear, is that an example of Principia Wingnuttia? In my defence, there was some irony intended there ...

10/10/2008 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said... runs seomthing like 'you lefties won't like obama when he does soemthing you dislike, this means i have proven that you all hate america'...

I'd go a step further and say that it's more like You lefties will protest any idiotic, destructive and counterproductive bombing campaigns a President Obama initiates, which proves that you are unserious and filled with hate.

Note that this notional bombing is assumed to be essentially noble, and if not outright honourable then at least relatively benign. There's simply no consideration given to the possibility that an Obama-ordered military adventure might actually be a really, really bad idea.

Hence, opposition to such an event could not possibly spring from logical objections to misguided policy, and must spring from that old Debil anti-Americanissum. The very idea that an American bombing campaign might be the wrong thing to do in any circumstance now appears to be seen as verging on heresy in Decent circles, marking out the speaker as a lunatic.

It makes no damn sense at all to me, but there it is. Let's not forget that many Decents come from a generation that could never believe that LBJ - possibly the United States' most liberal president ever - could bomb democracy into Vietnam, but have blithely accepted the notion that the most reactionary American president in a century could bomb it into Baghdad with ease.

If they can buy that, I doubt they'll have any trouble buying a vision of Obama as a saint crudely victimised by leftofascists.

10/10/2008 02:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the urge of ex-Ultra-Lefts to be on the winning side for once

I'm more in agreement with ejh who sees Decency as primarily consisting of the right wing of the Labour party. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be on the right side in history's eyes; there's something wrong with basing your political positions on that desire. Ergo, decents all seem to love Blair because not only did he win elections, but he got out while the 'going was good' (even if he was to all intents and purposes universally reviled long before leaving office). They went for Iraq because not only did it look so easy, but they could score cheap 'moral' points against their enemies (ie the left-wing of the party, the non-Labour left-wing parties, and the Lib Dems (who they really hate).

I doubt they'll have any trouble buying a vision of Obama as a saint crudely victimised by leftofascists.

Sadly I can see that happening, and they'll also presumably try to dig up evidence that leftofascists used to venerate him, when Decency was venerating McCain and generally disparaging Obama for things he never did (ie Jeremiah Wright) - Eliot Weinberger's piece on Obama in the LRB earlier this year is a convenient aticle, proving that leftofascists hate america and Decents are always right etc zzz zz zz

I wouldn't dwell too much on what is called 'lunacy' by decents. in the HP comments sections, opposing anything the Israeli govt does is seen as not only antisemitism but also insanity.

10/10/2008 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

who sees Decency as primarily consisting of the right wing of the Labour party

Well, not quite. I think they have their origins more in Labour Party Wars and less in the Far Left than is sometimes supposed: but that's not to say that these two things are separate and nor is it to deny that a fair few Decents (and Decent heroes) are indeed people who have travelled the ideological road from Far Left to Obsessed-By-the-Far Left or to Blairite or for that matter, to both.

Moreover, there is (or was) Labour Right and Labour Right - not everybody on the Labour Right was a gung-ho Atlanticist, for instance.

But yes, it's true that there are elements of Decency which are perhaps more difficult to see, and to trace, if you weren't on the Left side in the Labour Party - and trade union - conflicts in the Eighties (and Nineties). It's an element which shouldn't be missed if we're trying to give a full account.

10/10/2008 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bubby: I know its probably immoral in some ways but I find myself being pulled back to HP sometimes against my will. Its obviously a political freakshow but it also exerts that kind of carcrash fascination.

I had a brioef flirtation round about 2005, when harry was still being seen as vaguely New Labourish. Much like Nick Cohen, I saw they they were heading only in one direction, and gave up soon after. This site saves me the bother of even trying to provoke them, let alone read them.


10/10/2008 04:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the Labour Right used to be "ultra" left as well, of course, so the two sets overlap. Milburn was a Trot, Reid in the CP, etc.

Actually Milburn reminds of one of those creeps who always wanted to be close to the action (let me do it, let me do it) but was always so crap that you wanted to keep him well out of the way. No wonder he gravitated to New Labour.

10/10/2008 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Some of the Labour Right used to be "ultra" left as well, of course, so the two sets overlap

Of course, though:

(a) not necessarily so many as sometimes supposed ;
(b) I was actually thinking of the Old Labour Right. Mind you, Denis Healey.

The other thing to say is (and I said this before when I tried to list some of the characteristics of Decency) is that there's been a long political and intellectual trend, accelerating in the last couple of decades, away from far left positions (and for that matter, any sort of socialist positions) and into aggressive support for the West: you can't really look at Decency without bearing that background in mind.

10/10/2008 04:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there's been a long political and intellectual trend, accelerating in the last couple of decades, away from far left positions (and for that matter, any sort of socialist positions) and into aggressive support for the West

I think this is correct and you can see many catalysts. The fall of the USSR discredited in many people eyes anything far-leftish, and led to a ideological crisis for some of the far-left. The interventions in the Balkans were morally arguable at least, and this also split the left. We've had an enormous amount of triumphalism over the 'success' of capitalism made more persuasive, for a period, by a credit-fueled boom. And last but not least 9/11 which appears to have caused a fair number of people to completely lose their marbles.

There's also the long term decline in trade union membership, the enormous rise of individualism and consumerism and the fact that these ideas don't find any expression anywhere in the mass media.

10/10/2008 07:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair, most of the Decents did leave themselves outs. Ollie has already taken his on the grounds of Palin's creationism, which apparently shows McCain to be Unserious. And if Marko does fancy an orderly retreat, I would point out that Biden's record of Serb-bashing is even more extensive than McCain's. (Although Marko's declaration that Obama was a puppet of the Greeks and Serbs does look a bit embarrassing now.)

But it does show, doesn't it, that the Decents really aren't interested in domestic policy but only in their particular foreign policy hobbyhorses. It's like Nick saying that the Tories had better policies on health etc while Labour couldn't be trusted with anything except invading foreign countries.

I'm quite taken with that Principia Wingnuttia, btw. Thanks for the tip.

10/11/2008 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Part of the fun has been the turning of Christopher Hitchens. Don't Patronize Sarah Palin (Sept. 8): he admits that she's inarticulate and doesn't seem to know her own history, but Bill Clinton! and Obama says he believes in Christ! Also a Gore Vidal scripted film whose relevance is unclear. Don't forget Biden's lifelong allegiance to the most anti-"choice" church on the planet. (Tony Blair is a Catholic now too, and George Bush is anti-abortion.) Apparently anyone less sceptical than, say, Richard Dawkins cannot criticise anyone else's religious beliefs.

Pakistan Is the Problem: And Barack Obama seems to be the only candidate willing to face it. Pretty much what it says in the subtitle. (I think he exonerates Saudi Arabia from supporting the Taliban, which is clearly a mistake.)

Both Candidates Kowtowed To The Disgraceful Kissinger. Only Obama Cited Him Correctly. This is the real rift, and the point where Palin started to look really dim. I'm not really sure who Hitch sides with here, apart from it not being Palin because she wanted Kissinger's endorsement while clearly not understanding him. Nonetheless, asked if such talks should be "at a very high level right out of the box," his [Kissinger's] response was to say, "Initially, yes," which is as much as to say "yes." He then said: "I do not believe we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations," which would appear to justify the use of the term unconditional in conjunction with "very high level." Hitchens doesn't argue with this point other than urging that if Henry Kissinger believes something it must be bad.

Finally, (via Norman Geras) Massoumeh Torfeh wrote for Comment is Free: A lucrative narcotics business is also continuing to fund the Taliban's terrorist activity What does Hitchens suggest? The United States should buy Afghanistan's poppy crop instead of trying to eradicate it and here he makes a good case. Torfeh's piece is really dire, BTW. (To be clear: she wants to destroy the poppy fields; Hitchens, correctly in my view, believes this to be impossible.)

Hitchens has clearly given up any attempt to make McCain-Palin look credible. He may be correct that Obama will get the US into further wars (NATO troops inside Pakistan now look inevitable to me; though I don't think the current cold war with Iran will heat up under Obama). His position on Obama now is pretty much, "you libs won't like him when he's in power". Um, probably, but we'll take our chances.

10/11/2008 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Sorry for the length of the above, BTW. And for the length of the Kamm/Obama post BB linked to in the post.

John B: we are now.

Actually, I'm as nervous as you, but it's starting to look like the biggest landslide since Reagan if not the one before (Nixon's victory over McGovern, not that that ended well).

10/11/2008 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know our gracious hosts are attempting to stay away 'Decency on the arts' (well, Nick Cohen's godawful STandpoint columns anyway) but surely someone will have something fantastically stupid to say about this.

Von Pseud

10/11/2008 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger BenSix said...

Hitchens has clearly given up any attempt to make McCain-Palin look credible.

He's come out for Obama, actually (well, against McCain, so he's only 'objectively' pro-Obama).

There's a fair bit of good-natured Palin patronisation as well.

10/11/2008 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Be careful. That's the Christopher Hitchens who writes for the Daily Mirror, not the Republican who plys his trade in the US. We've noted the distinction on this site before.

10/11/2008 07:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know we're not doing Nick Cohen any more but the Observer yesterday had two case studies in Decents missing the point completely - Nick Cohen (TV columnist) claiming, in another nonsensical piece, that Shameless is awful because it mocks the working classes, thus proving that he's never watched it (much like his ludicrous claims about Tate modern in fact). And Andrew Anthony proving, again, that not only does he not understand comedy, but he doesn't actually know what 'political correctness' means. Might be worth looking at pre-Decent racism post for the muddled conflation of 'multiculturalism' and 'PC', the standing against a bogeyman 'PC' without a clear idea of what it is, and (in standard Decent practice) invoking something someone once said out of context to render them 'un-serious'...

10/13/2008 07:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Iain Dale's decision to go for Obama is, i think, symptomatic of a lot of Decent backtracking:

I'm not sure how this man is considered some sort of Tory blogging god. he doesn't seem to have many strong opinions on anything.

10/13/2008 09:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leave him (Andrew Anthony), he's not worth it. All he's really doing is "they're all crap except the good ones", which is how Julie Burchill's been making a living since 1977 ("compared to the Tom Robinson Band, the rest are just wanking in the wind") - and I don't think it was a new idea then.

As for the last paragraph, well, naturally the least we expect of anyone who's ever said something that sounds a bit dodgy out of context is that they recant that specific statement every time they appear in public forever after - how else could they ever earn our respect? (Come to think of it, that last bit is very Decent.)

10/13/2008 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Anthony in general isn't worth it, particularly not on TV or the arts in general, but he's undoubtedly going to feature in the 'Decent Racism' argument, and the muddled, wrongheaded approach to PC in that piece struck me as characteristic of Decent Arts criticism as well as AA's own peculiar take on race etc.

10/13/2008 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hitchens: cards on table

10/13/2008 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Jesus Christ. Gene of H'sP calls that one 'grudging' and he's right. I was for Obama a long time ago, mostly for good reasons: there was only one vote that separated his and Senator Clinton's records. He was right about Iraq and she wasn't. I was pro-him on less solid ground too: he was self-made; she was the wife of a President (and we'd just had the son of a President; physical intimacy does not confer ability FFS).

I now offer a short version for what I consider the real reason behind the Hitchens conversion.

Christopher Hitchens (for it is he, yada yada yada): Good evening, Senator McCain, I am Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair, at your service sir. [Much bowing and possibly some scraping depending on the state of the Hitch's back and knees.]
McCain: Aren't you that hippy who opposed Vietnam, indeed supported the Viet Cong?
Hitchens: I I I...
McCain: Fuck you and the donkey you rode in on.
CH: You won't forget this you [VF/Slate sub-eds: insert witty back talk here]

10/13/2008 06:51:00 PM  

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