The NCAA makes up for a bad call

Joe Paterno is dead. We can assume that, to the extent that final justice exists, he is getting whatever he deserves. His long time defensive coordinator and convicted predator Jerry Sandusky is in jail, where he can’t hurt anyone. Justice for him is delayed but inevitable.

The NCAA was right to reinstate the Penn State football wins which were stripped from the program after it was revealed Sandusky as a serial pedophile. It was a trivial penalty to begin with because the NCAA had no place in a scandal of this magnitude.

The scandal that rocked State College was unusual for big-time college football. This wasn’t under-the-table money to encourage recruits, or extra perks for current players; this was a legitimate question about whether a former coach was using his charity to abuse children – and whether the leaders of Penn State, including Paterno, swept it under the rug.

The sports czars have no authority over what was, and is, a criminal matter, but their actions are understandable. When big news breaks, people tend to look for immediate action. Penn State fired Paterno quickly and tore a statue of him down, despite little understanding of how or if he was involved. The NCAA stripped Penn State of its wins from 1998 to 2011, despite little understanding of how or if the school had moved to cover up Sandusky’s abuses.

But in a situation like this, that the scandal’s main actors are associated with the football program is irrelevant. Ultimately, Sandusky and any enablers had to answer to law enforcement, and Penn State’s board of trustees had to decide if the failures in leadership necessitated changes in leadership. The NCAA deals with sports, which really isn’t all that important.

Answering the Sandusky allegations with a football-related response doesn’t give the situation the attention and gravity it deserves. But I’m sure it made some people at the NCAA headquarters feel like they accomplished something.

$#!% Ed Rendell says

Outgoing Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was displeased by the cancellation of the Sunday night Eagles-Vikings game:

“My biggest beef is that this is part of what’s happened in this country,” Rendell said.

“We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything,” he added. “If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”

Because, as we all know, Asians are good at math, right?  While the Governor talks off the cuff somewhat frequently – especially now that he probably isn’t facing re-election, it’s somewhat incredulous that no one is complaining about that calculus remark, isn’t it? It’s a good thing he didn’t go with any of these rejected lines:

  • “If this was in Ireland, people would have been stumbling down to the stadium, taking occasional breaks to urinate in the snow, and singing ‘Fields of Athenry’ the whole way down.”
  • “If this was in Germany, people would be goose-stepping down to the stadium, taking over the Polish section of Philadelphia on the way down.”
  • “If this was in China, people would have been marching down to the stadium, doing calculus, because the murderous Communist regime would beat them to death if they didn’t.”

Still, the Chinese stereotyping wasn’t the dumbest thing about Rendell said.  For that, you have to consider that, in the Governor’s mind, cancelling a football game symbolizes a nation lacking in backbone.

See, if I were looking for an example of a lack of discipline, I might pick having a state government that’s $8.4 billion in debt, or a state debt tally that grew 39% during its current governor’s eight-year term.  In fairness, the governor that approved all that spending isn’t necessarily a wus; maybe he’s just bad at math.

Too bad he isn’t Chinese.

Obama’s play action

The big story at the infrequently traveled intersection of sports and politics this week is the President’s congratulatory phone call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie about installing renewable energy equipment at Lincoln Financial Field.  During their discussion, they also mentioned quarterback Michael Vick, which seems to be drawing more attention.

There’s no word yet on whether the President will be calling the other team just north of DC on I-95, the Baltimore Ravens.  While the gave Vick a second chance, the Ravens have taken in wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, who served a month for DUI manslaughter.  They have also stuck by linebacker Ray Lewis, who beat the rap on murder charges by rolling on his accomplices and went on to have an excellent career and win a Superbowl.  (By the way, did you know that a group of ravens is actually called a murder?)  On the other hand, Obama might be slow getting there – after all, the Eagles really gave Vick his second chance about a year and a half ago.

So why make this call now?

A possible explanation is to give his enemies something to talk about, and allow them to use a slow news cycle to work themselves into a lather about something that is, essentially, a non-issue.  Coming after a productive lame duck session, this could permit the administration to take a high road while its opponents chatter about Vick and dogfighting.  It would be the messaging equivalent of a draw or a play action pass – tricking the opposition into being out of position.

Of course, this isn’t a football game, but electoral politics – and voters don’t largely pay attention.  Riding a winning streak as the President is, why expose your administration to negative messages by wading into issues that people actually care about?

Joanne Bamberger of AOL’s Politics Daily points out that Pennsylvania’s electoral votes will be in serious play in 2012, and suggests Obama is building good will now.  That certainly makes sense, but 2012 is still a long way away, and making nice with fickle Eagles fans now won’t necessarily pay dividends in 22 months.  Heck, if Vick throws four interceptions in a playoff game, or isn’t playing with the Eagles next year, those comments may do nothing in 22 months. Much more important to Obama, as Bamberger alludes, is Lurie’s checkbook – which, when not being used to pay rehabilitating NFL players, makes large donations to Democrat presidential candidates.  And keep in mind that Lurie, and not the administration, made the details of the conversation public.

It is most likely that the President did not intend for the conversation to be public – not that it was secret, but just that it wasn’t intended as a public statement.  And, in that private conversation – which was, remember, also about renewable energy – the President took some time to blow even more smoke up the rear end of a potential donor.

It must have worked – otherwise, Lurie wouldn’t be so proud about spilling the beans.

It’s still better than WGN

Looking to keep stories about the White House’s dabbling in primary elections alive, the RNC launched the “Obama Chicago Network” in an email to supporters this afternoon.

The site boasts four “shows” that deal with various negative stories surrounding the Sestak/Romanoff could-have-been-bribery affairs, plus Rod Blagojevich thrown in for fun:

Even if it is somewhat dated in the pop culture references (some of the shows they are spoofing are past their prime or canceled), it’s pretty funny, makes good use of news clips, and has a poll to collect people’s contact information.  With Blagojevich in the news, it does a good job of tying the administration As a lead generator, the site is good, but it’s missing something that could make it a really useful tool for Republican messaging: a section where users could “pitch” their own shows.  Not only is audience participation a good thing, but it might make for some must-see TV.

Is that one of the “jobs created or saved”?

The White House may or may not have offered Joe Sestak a job to stay out of the primary he won last week.  Either way, it certainly isn’t doing him any favors now.

Sestak is the clean one in this controversy – no matter what the White House offered, he didn’t take it.  That could turn out to be a positive for the Congressman.  But with neither side talking about it, it continues to be an issue – and even though it isn’t damaging to Sestak, it certainly is distracting.  He probably has a lot of things he’d like to give stump speeches about that don’t involve the fact that his story and the company line don’t exactly match:

The reality of anti-incumbentism

Many of the analysts have been trying paint this week’s elections with a very broad brush as general examples of popular unrest with Washington, D.C.  While true in part, this overlooks an important fact: each race that happened this week happened in a unique set of circumstances.

Pennsylvania Democrats did not repudiate the concept of incumbency when they cast their vote for a sitting Member of Congress; they did repudiate Arlen Specter.  Specter was not a Democrat, as Joe Sestak so successfully pointed out:

Similarly, the idea that Sen. Blanche Lincoln is “too conservative” for Arkansas Democrats doesn’t hold water, either.  The state has a long-standing strong history of dumping incumbent Senators in primaries.  And Lt. Governor Bill Halter’s national appeal to liberal special interests helped his campaign infrastructure, but it didn’t necessarily win him votes:

The darling of national liberals and labor unions got powered into a Democratic U.S. Senate runoff in Arkansas on Tuesday by the support of good ol’ boys in South Arkansas who either didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t care, both entirely plausible… Halter waltzed into a runoff using liberal money and a conservative backlash.

There is a strong undercurrent of unrest with national elected officials, but that alone doesn’t win an election.  That spirit may have manifested itself in similar way in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, with incumbent Senators underperforming, but it came about for different reasons.

How NOT to handle criticism

This week, Pennsylvania Attorney General (and candidate for Governor) Tom Corbett issued a subpoena to force Twitter to reveal the identities of two members who have been highly critical of him. The official line from the AG office is that the identity could be relevant to an ongoing criminal case:

A spokesman for Mr. Corbett, Kevin Harley, said the subpoena had nothing to do with the criticism of the attorney general… He said the subpoena was related to a criminal case concerning Brett Cott, a former political aide convicted in a political scandal known as Bonusgate. That long-running investigation concerns bonuses paid to legislative staff members and whether they were illegally related to political campaign work.

For Corbett’s sake, I hope this isn’t simply an attempt to shut up anonymous critics, because it’s hard to think of a  less effective way to do it.  Consider that, between them both, the accounts probably have no more than 1,000 unique followers, and that comes after a round of national press coverage that has surely inflated those totals.  Everything Corbett has done has only driven more eyeballs their way.  And any type of censorship – or perceived censorship – of political speech tends to be a bad issue for a candidate.

Puttin’ on the Critz

New Media Campaigns wasted no time in posting an instant case study on their role in Mark Critz’s win in PA-12 this week. Amazingly, the driving theme of the online campaign was a driving theme of most offline campaigns: speed kills.

The online team employed a phased rollout approach, recognizing that the need to have something up online early trumped the need to launch a website with all the bells and whistles.  And the back end content management system of the site was built so that anyone could update it – in other words, instead of the “website guy” having the keys and being the only one able to drive the campaign’s online presence, everyone got their own car.  It provided for a streamlined, slick, and – ultimately – victorious campaign.

The online campaign didn’t win PA-12 for Mark Critz by itself, but no online campaign is capable of that.  It was successful by the measure that matters: it didn’t get in the way of a the other parts of a well-run campaign.

The last week of Arlen Specter’s political career

Sen. Arlen Specter finds himself in the same spot he was six years ago.  He’s a long-term incumbent Senator, locked in a tight primary with a candidate favored by his party’s grassroots, and he’s hoping that support from a President whose approval ratings have dropped precipitously will give him enough credibility with the base to drag him over the finish line.

But there’s a big difference between Specter’s 2010 fortunes and the landscape in 2004 – and no, it’s not the letter next to his name, or that Garry Shandling seemed to spoof the senior Senator from Pennsylvania in Iron Man 2.

In 2004, when Specter squeaked past Pat Toomey in the Republican primary, there were many Republicans who held their noses and voted for him anyway in the general election.  There were also many grassroots activists who deliberately voted against Specter or stayed home.  That was in a year with a Presidential election race, when the GOTV machine that was the Bush-Cheney was dragging every last vote possible to the polls, and when independents tended to break Republican.

This year, the anti-incumbent energy knows no party lines, as Specter and Sen. Blanche Lincoln can surely attest.  It doesn’t help that Specter’s strongest message seems to be based on his incumbency:

“Why would you want to trade 30 years of experience and seniority…for somebody who’s a back-bencher?” is how Specter himself put it in his remarks to the Pittsburgh-area Democrats after he rattled off all the funding he’s directed to the region thanks to his perch on the Appropriations Committee.

Here’s a fearless prediction: Supporters of Rep. Joe Sestak will not be good little soldiers if Specter beats him in the primary next week.  They may vote for him, but they won’t make phone calls, knock on doors, or do any of the other things that have to be done for an election victory.

This isn’t a contested primary along the lines of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008, where the eventual winner could make a credible case for support to the supporters of the eventual loser.  Whether or not Specter pulls out the victory on Tuesday, he may already be a lame duck.  A Sestak/Toomey race would be a battle of ideas; a Specter/Toomey race would really just be about Arlen Specter in a year where incumbents are contributing to the unemployment figures in more ways than one.

Untold Tales of Massachusetts

In discussing the Scott Brown victory with friends and colleagues over the past few days, some angles of the race incredibly haven’t been picked up by the endless mainstream news media coverage.

#1: Specter’s Swap caused the Bay State flop

A casual conversation with a veteran campaign operative brought up an interesting angle to Brown’s victory: that  Arlen Specter may have unwittingly delivered this seat to Republican control with his April party switch.

Back in April, Specter’s switch didn’t just make the rallying cry of “The 41st Vote” relevant, it also eliminated the Republican primary between the liberal Specter and conservative Pat Toomey.  Remember Toomey had just barely lost a 2004 primary challenge and was poised to overtake Specter in 2010 – if he had the right resources.

If you were a conservative donor somewhere outside of Massachusetts or Pennsylvania, to whom would you donate money if you had to choose: a well-known candidate who had legitimate shot to help return the Senate to its roots, or a long-shot barely-known state senator trying to take Ted Kennedy’s seat?  Specter’s swap in April made Brown the best investment when his nine point poll deficit was announced earlier this month.

Who said Arlen Specter never helped the GOP?

#2:  Speaking of polling…

Remember how Democrats were roundly criticizing Rasmussen polls for supposedly being skewed in favor of Republicans?  Well, it was Rasmussen who first signaled that this race may be closer than the conventional wisdom would suggest it could be.

#3: Jack E. Robinson helped break the “color barrier” for the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation

No, it isn’t THAT Jackie Robinson, and that “color barrier” is, of course, blue.  Robinson has been a Republican candidate for multiple state offices since his 2000 challenge of Ted Kennedy, but is considered something of a joke among Massachusetts Republicans.  Yet Brown took him at least semi-seriously in their primary match-up.

The contested primary was no contest – Brown won 89% of the vote.  But Mike Rossettie, who blogs at RedMassGroup (and used to run the political machine that was the UMass Republican Club) made the point that the primary was an opportunity to campaign, drum up name recognition, and win endorsements and free media.