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August 09, 2010


Judging from Brendan's tweets, "bizarre" is the hoity-toity academic version of "amazing" as seen on "The Bachelorette."

I do like the word, but the (unintended) repetition was largely a function of tweeting before coffee -- never a good idea.

As for the criticism of Michelle Obama's Spanish vacation, let it be noted that the trip was necessary to comfort a grieving friend. As Robert Gibbs pointed out, it was just a brief private trip. The presence of six White House advance staffers and the First Lady's Chief of Staff and personal assistant were obviously necessary so the private trip would be exquisito.

How much memes like the Michelle as Marie Antoinette meme hurt Obama is hard to judge. The economy and war/peace are certainly much more influential, but those factors still leave a significant amount of variability in the historic results unexplained (i.e., their R-squared is well short of 1). And some of that variability may well be due to the popular impression of a presidency that attaches.

As Brendan well knows, people tend to filter news through the prism of their existing attitudes. If people believed George Bush was dumb, or insufficiently thoughtful, or a cowboy, then most every bit of news was perceived as reinforcing those beliefs. Did this affect Bush's popularity ratings and his 2004 election results? Almost certainly yes, even though the amount may have been small. But sometimes elections turn on small differences in numbers, and any politician who doesn't worry about what memes he or she is fostering is potentially tossing away a percentage point or two that might prove to be critical.

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