Friday, May 16, 2008

Corker Dionne and Playboy

The excellent E.J. Dionne has a nice column about Republican panic. He notes, among other things, that the iron party discipline appears to be breaking. Mainly, he interviews Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn). Corker hints at something very important

And Corker said voters did not believe the Republicans were "solving the major problems," notably guaranteeing Americans health coverage. "We just haven't been responsible," Corker said. "We deserve to be where we are. I hope we right ourselves."

Oh my. That is a Republican senator who just said that he wants to guarantee Americans health coverage. Corker is saying that if the Democrats are looking for a few Republican votes for Cloture on health care reform in 2009, he is ready to deal.

However, I am going to focus on something very unimportant. Corker was the only Republican to win a close race for the Senate in 2006, so he is a natural person to ask what the other Republicans are doing wrong. However, Corker's version of the 2006 Tennessee senate race is totally false.

Yet the national party almost blew the race near the end, Corker said, by running an ad that many saw as racist. The commercial, aired without Corker's knowledge, included a young, blonde, white actress declaring that she had met Ford "at the Playboy party." It ended with her whispering the words: "Harold, call me."

Corker was furious, and not just because his six-point lead melted into a four-point deficit. The party eventually pulled the radioactive ad, and Corker won narrowly.

At the time, lefty bloggers argued that the ad would help Corker, then argued that it had helped Corker. I wasn't following it, but it seems that ABC news agreed with Corker's recent claim that the ad backfired

You can guess the rest.

Hard data, that is polls, show that lefty bloggers were right, that ABC news was clueless and that the excellent E.J. Dionne allowed Corker to lie mislead about recent history by cherry picking two polls, which, in contrast to the overall average of polls, suggest that his support fell when the ad aired.

The ad came out in late October 2006. In September and early October, the polls were almost exactly tied. At the time of the ad controversy, Corker pulled ahead. Then he won. I recall that, at the time, people argued that the shift occurred because Ford confronted Corker at a Corker campaign event and not because of the ad. No one denied the shift and the coincidence in timing. Two years later an agreed fact has made it down the memory hole.

Here is the report with a graph of polls from

E.J. Dionne should know better than to leave a Republican's fact claim unchecked.

update: tipo corrictid


Brendan said...

Good catch, and a salute to you for careful reading.

Just to play devil's advocate: I could imagine that Dionne went with Corker's spin, whether knowing it was inaccurate or not, because it serves Dionne's larger agenda -- to encourage the Republicans to get out of the sewer in their campaign tactics.

Robert said...

To be angel's advocate, I suspect that Dionne knew or suspected that Corker was lying. This makes me disapprove of Dionne's choice even more. I think pundits should not accept lies (notice I said pundits not politicians). Accepting useful lies has a cost. In this case, the benefit is zero.

The Republicans will certainly not stop dishonest negative campaigning (it is all they have right now). Nor, I expect, will Democrats.

Political consultants look at old polls to see what worked. Dionne will not trick them into playing fair. However, by claiming that such tridcks don't work when the data shows that they do, he might trick semi involved citizens with good intentions into underestimating the threat and not bothering to fight back, say at the water cooler.

In fact, knowingly allowing false claims to stand in the paper (or on TV) is part of the very damaging wink wink nudge nudge we insiders know the facts, but we won't tell the rubes attitude which is very damaging.

To be charitable, I will assume that Dionne didn't follow the 2004 Tennessee race and was honestly tricked by Corker. The possibility that he chose to pass on the lie for strategic reasons would seriously endanger my respect for Dionne's integrity and intelligence.

Brendan said...

The devil slinks away.