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POLITICS, LIKE AIRLINES, ARE FOUL
By Joe Brancatelli
November 8, 2012 -- You and I have met in this space most weeks for 15 years, so I trust that you'll trust me when I say that this column is not about politics, but about the airlines.
Over the years, I have tried to explain how airlines--once the Big 10, then the Big Six, now just the Four Legacy Losers--are like the old department stores. I have compared their pricing regimens unfavorably to the cost of Diet Coke. I have ridiculed brand-busting code-shares as the equivalent of Froot Loops in a box of Cheerios.
And as I watched Barack Obama win re-election on Tuesday evening, I realized that our dysfunctional major airlines are disconcertingly similar to the far right of our political spectrum. They seem to inhabit similar echo chambers of self-righteousness, they manifestly refuse to accept facts when they don't fit their respective narratives and, in the end, they refuse to accept reality if they don't like the outcome.
I began forming this thesis way back during the Republican debate-and-primary season. I found Jon Huntsman intriguing. I marveled at the Titanic flaws and the occasional bursts of Titanic brilliance of Newt Gingrich. I regretted the swift departure of the earnest Tim Pawlenty. My libertarian leanings were stirred by Ron Paul.
But I ended with visceral dislike for Mitt Romney because he reminded me of every smug airline chief executive we've ever had to deal with over the years. I looked at Romney and saw Jeff Smisek, who's run the United-Continental merger aground. I listened to Romney and heard Leo Mullin, John Dasburg and Glenn Tilton, airline buccaneers who came, saw, failed and left with millions. More than anything, Romney had the whiff of Stephen Wolf, whose idea of management was repainting aircraft, ludicrous mergers and screwing passengers and employees on his way to untold millions in bonuses, change-of-control clauses and golden parachutes.
Much as we merely tolerate airlines that we are forced to fly, the far right entered a shotgun marriage with Romney. They wanted to beat Obama and Romney reluctantly became their standard bearer. So when Romney had an awful summer and a lackluster convention, the far right did what the airlines do when things don't go their way. They invented their own facts and told the electorate that the objective facts weren't the truth.
I direct your attention to Unskewed Polls, a mind-warping alternate reality mounted by a right-winger named Dean Chambers. As he explained to an interviewer during his 15 minutes of fame, Chambers rejiggered polls that had Romney losing because they "just didn't look right." His solution: Torture the data until they pointed to an overwhelming Romney win. Two weeks before Election Day, Chambers said his reconstituted polls showed that Romney would win 53.6 percent of the popular vote and 359 electoral votes.
Chambers would have been a laughable, forgettable fraud had not his phony polls gotten the attention of the Republican elite. Unskewed Polls even got a tweet out from Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and an unsuccessful 2012 presidential candidate. Just as airlines do, the far right pushed the "polls are biased" meme to the hilt. Just as airlines do when they are caught in a lie, the far right doubled down with Chambers. Romney was winning, they claimed, and if you don't believe us, it's only because the biased, lamestream liberal media are lying to you.
Of course, it's never enough for the airlines and the far right to invent alternate realities. They will attack any truth-teller who challenges their fantasies. This cycle, it was Nate Silver, a sabremetrician who shot to political fame when his data mining correctly predicted 49 of 50 state results in the 2008 elections. No matter what Romney did, including a strong performance in the first Presidential Debate, Silver's statistics-driven model pointed to an Obama win and that drove the far right batty.
Chambers assaulted Silver personally: He "is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice." Other right-wingers were less ad hominem, but they were unrelenting and seemed to hate Silver's work partially because his blog had been purchased by The New York Times, the favored punching bag of conservatives everywhere.
Commentary claimed Silver was "likely to be wrong" and "November 6, 2012 will prove to be [his] Waterloo." The National Review called his model flawed. Breitbart.com claimed Silver was "exposed as an Obama propagandist." Jonah Goldberg said Silver was running a "numbers racket." Even English Tories were enlisted to smear Silver. He is "partisan and wrong," sniffed The Telegraph.
Armed with their own reality and attacking anyone or any pollster who disagreed, right-wingers then did what airlines always do: They declared victory. Gingrich claimed Romney would win more than 53 percent of the popular vote and more than 300 electoral votes. Dick Morris explained that "Romney will win this election by 5 to 10 points...and will carry more than 300 electoral votes." Michael Barone said Romney would win 315 electoral votes. George Will had Romney at 321. Rush Limbaugh said prepare for a Romney "landslide." Karl Rove called it 51-48 percent Romney. Steve Forbes opined that Romney would win "decisively" with 321 electoral votes and might even "pull a couple of upsets" in "states like Oregon, Washington, Michigan and Minnesota."
Election Day came crashing down on the far right much like the monthly Transportation Department Air Travel Consumer Report exposes the failings of the major airlines. Just as the passenger surveys reveal the weaknesses of the major carriers, Tuesday's exit polls demolished most of the myths that the far right had created: Voters didn't particularly hate Obamacare. They weren't necessarily against tax hikes. They don't think Obama destroyed the economy. And women would vote against candidates who trivialized rape and tried to insert the government between them and control of their own bodies.
As major airlines rehash hackneyed memes to defend passenger-offensive, money-losing tactics, the far right's "truths" were exposed on Tuesday: Late-deciding voters don't routinely break against the incumbent. Obama's younger/browner/more urban coalition wasn't a one-off. Voters are not straight-ticket sheeple, which explains why Democrats Jon Tester and Heidi Heitcamp won in states that went for Romney and Republican Dean Heller won in a state that went for Obama. Far-right loons who taunted Al Gore when he lost his home state (Tennessee) and the 2000 election had to watch as Romney lost the state where he was born (Michigan), the state where he lives and once governed (Massachusetts), the state where he spends his summers (New Hampshire) and the state where his vice-presidential running mate was born (Wisconsin).
And just as some airlines refuse to accept the reality that flyers don't buy the shite they are shoveling, some on the far right could not accept political reality, either. Donald Trump went ballistic on Twitter. Karl Rove melted down live on Fox News. Sean Trende believes that Romney would have won if only unhappy white folks voted. And Jonah Goldberg continues to hammer Nate Silver, who didn't just get the top line right on Tuesday, he also got all of the granular details correct.
As I say, this is a column about the airlines, not politics. The far right acted like airlines this time and it reminded us of the ugliest realities of life on the road. Next time, it'll probably be the far left that gets it stupendously wrong and reminds us how badly the airlines act.
As Election Day dawned on Tuesday, Silver gave Obama a 90.9 percent chance of being re-elected. Which, oddly enough, is exactly how often the airlines get it wrong no matter how they try to unskew polls or create an alternate reality or insist the facts aren't actually the truth about the lives we live on the road.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.