Our problems remain epistemological.

Friday, January 11, 2008

No More Bradley

Brrrr. It was a cold day in New Hampshire, where Hillary Clinton had climbed off the mat to post a significant, if less than decisive, victory. This coincided, oddly enough, with the day on which Barack Obama had come down off the mountaintop to post a significant, if less than decisive, defeat. The Iowa Bounce effect had bumped up against the Spalding-off-the-Wall effect which states: “Every bounce must be answered by an equal and opposite bounce.”
The scarier theory for Obama underperforming his overhyped overcoming of underdog status is known as the Bradley Effect. This refers to the actor Karl Malden who, after playing General Omar Bradley in the movie Patton, became the spokesman for American Express, repeating the slogan: “Don’t leave home without it.” People could buy their travelers checks and fantasize they were off to Normandy to fight the Krauts instead of sitting like beached whales in loud ill-fitting swim trunks on the beach. In the case of Obama, winning a caucus where people vote in the open air led him to fantasize that he could win in a closed booth.
Ha, ha, just kidding. The Bradley Effect actually refers to the New York Knickerbockers championship NBA basketball team in 1989, in which Princeton grad Bill Bradley injected a cerebral element into the game by “moving without the ball”. This later led to him becoming a United States Senator from New Jersey who did not have very much on the ball. Barack Obama played some high school ball in Hawaii, and mistakenly thought that he could beat Hillary Clinton one-on-one in New Hampshire. He found out that white women can jumpstart a campaign from a sitting position. Add to that the fact that Senator Bradley endorsed Obama just two days ago, and you can see the whole thing unfolding, or perhaps unraveling.
Ha, ha, just kidding yet again. The Bradley Effect actually refers to philosopher Francis Herbert Bradley (1846-1924), a leader of the Idealist school. These idealists make the classic mistake of thinking that nice guys don’t really finish last. They assume their underlying sincerity will serve them well, not realizing that no one is more adept at underhanded lying than the Clintons of this world. Bradley fought against the school known as Hedonism, which believed that morality is designed to create a more pleasurable world. The parallel to trying to defeat a Clinton is undeniable.
Well, if you must know, I fooled you one last time. Now that my credibility is totally shot (although the points are not without validity) I will fill you in on the real deal. The Bradley Effect was based on former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley leading George Deukmejian in the polls of the gubernatorial race, then losing on Election Day. The theory was that white voters will tell pollsters, especially members of minority groups, that they will vote for the black candidate. But when Election Day dawns, they dump the dusky fellow and go with the alabaster.
You would think that the questioners in these polls would learn how to factor in these biases. A good follow-up question might identify subtle leanings that the yes-or-no format fails to elicit accurately. Here are some sample indicators of the Bradley Effect in cross-examining potential voters. “I would be thrilled to vote for a black guy for President, especially if he invites me to the White House for fried chicken and watermelon.” “I think it is high time those people got their chance just like everyone else.” “This is wonderful. Some of my best friends are blacks. Boy, my cleaning lady will be so thrilled!”
All in all, I suspect all of this is baloney, the result of too many pundits trying to slice the salami. The fact is that Obama and Hillary share this quality of being a historical vote, at least in the bean-counting modern world where race and gender stats are painstakingly tabulated. The Republicans had hoped to capture some of this energy by promoting Colin Powell a few years ago, but he would not bite. Bottom line, the country is disgusted with the absurd allegation that they would reject the better candidate for lack of testosterone or excess of melanin.
From my perspective, neither of these candidates is good for America. Black or white, man or woman, I need someone unafraid to send the Bradley tank out into the world’s hot spots. Until then, it is a cold day in New Hampshire. Brrr.


James F. Elliott said...

The best refutation of any "Bradley Effect" arguments from New Hampshire's primary is simply that Obama received almost precisely the percentage of votes he was predicted to. Hence, no such effect. Ain't much more that needs to be said.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hehe. Great essay, Jay. You had me twisting and turning every step of the way.

As for the "Bradley Effect," James, I think your explanation is probably right; Hillary just tapped an unexpected extra women's vote.

But I heard the full argument elsewhere, that performance below poll expectations has been quantified in certain elections that involved black candidates, that folks voted differently than their expressed preference on the phone once the voting booth curtain closed.

We shall see.

In the meantime, Bill Clinton is bowing and scraping and atoning and groveling before a Great American Race-Baiter, Al Sharpton.

It does appear that America might not be ready for a black presidential candidate if he cannot be criticized for his record without the ugly specter of race being dragged in.

This observation came from a Democrat friend of mine. His formulation hadn't actually occurred to me. If there were a young, passionate and charismatic black man running as right-conservative as Obama is left-liberal, he'd be getting a lot more out of me than the lousy fifty bucks I sent Fred Thompson.

Mike Golch said...

It seems that on the Dem side it is going to be a slug fest between Hillery and Obama,with this being said don't count out Edwards.
On the Repub side it seems that time will tell which one wins the slug fest.