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    Blog

    Anecdotal Observations On History & Politics

    Monday
    Feb172014

    LBJ Sightings in Frank Underwood's Office

    Recognize the man in those photographs? It's President Johnson, one of the inspirations for the character of Frank Underwood in House of Cards. Executive Producer Beau Willimon described Underwood as being, "Two scoops of LBJ with a dash of Richard III and a pinch of Hannibal Lecter."

    These photographs depict what was known as the "Johnson treatment" - bending legislators to his will, and turning them to his side.

    Tuesday
    Dec102013

    Mapping Partisanship in the US Senate: 1989-2013

    Everyone knows that dysfunction in Washington has reached new lows, but now there's a fascinating way to visualize just how bad it's become.
     
    In a new study of polarization in the Senate, Harvard computer science student Renzo Lucioni has created a model to graph the voting relationships of Senators across party lines. What began as a senior class project has since made its way from the online depths of Reddit to publication in the latest issue of “The Economist”.
     
    Using data from every vote of every Senator from each session of Congress since 1989, Lucioni used red and blue dots represent Republican and Democratic Senators, respectively. The lines connecting them denote the instances when one Senator has voted with another, and the model graphs those with most votes across party lines closest to the middle. The more overlap you see in the graph, the greater the bipartisanship in that particular session of Congress.
     
    If you fast-forward through the years, you’ll see the dots gradually retreat behind their respective party lines: it evolves from a tightly-knit sphere to two distinctive clusters. The increasing trend towards polarization becomes most apparent over the last decade, from 2003, through President Obama's Administration, to the present. The 113th Congress appears as you might expect: split down the middle.

    Images Courtesy Renzo Lucioni, govtrack.us
    The Economist described the visuals with a more colorful analogy: "Though America's political polarization has become a fact of life, it has never been seen so graphically: as a diseased brain, with few neural pathways between the two hemispheres."
     
    Though Lucioni warned against over-interpreting the results, “Be careful not to read into it too much, it shows that Senators are working across the aisle less, but it doesn’t measure their ideological ‘placement’ – it’s missing an absolute center.”
     
    He says he was surprised by the attention he’s received so far.  “My intent was only to share it on Reddit,” but added that “Government is an interesting space to apply these methods, it’s not commonly done.”

    Wednesday
    Dec042013

    Rare New Footage: JFK on First Debate with Nixon

    JFK discusses historic first debate with Richard Nixon in candid, newly discovered footage, as seen on HardballFrom my original post at MSNBC.com, Nov. 20.

    “As a Democrat, I can say I don’t know what we’d do without television.”

    That was Jack Kennedy, reflecting on the now-legendary first debate with Richard Nixon of the 1960 presidential campaign. Newly discovered footage from the NBC News Archive shows Jack Kennedy speaking candidly as he puts on make-up, just four days after the famous confrontation played out on live television.

    The first presidential debate of 1960 was the first one ever televised. More than sixty million people watched and what they saw proved to be more important than what they heard: a haggard Nixon, just back from the hospital, pale, with sweat on his chin and upper lip.

    By comparison, Kennedy was cool and confident, projecting the “winning” image that would take him to the White House.

    The story goes that Nixon relied on make-up that failed to hold up under the hot lights of the studio. The newspapers had a field day with the story, and “The Chicago Daily News” went as far as to suggest that Nixon’s make up may have been intentionally sabotaged by a Democratic make-up artist.

    That story turned out to be untrue, but the “make-up issue” was as hotly debated as the debate itself.

    This clip is a rare glimpse behind the curtain at Jack Kennedy’s off-air persona as he prepared for an interview with David Brinkley and Chet Huntley of NBC News. It was taken at his home in Hyannis on Sept. 30, 1960.

    Historian Michael Beschloss discussed the importance of the recently-discovered footage on Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC on November 20th, 2013:

    For additional information, please contact Hardball staff or the NBC News Video Archive team.

    Courtesy Chicago Public Library

    New, candid footage of JFK's off-air conversation before an interview with NBC News is discovered

    New off-air footage of Kennedy using eye-drops prior to interview with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley of NBC News discovered in archive

    Rare, candid footage of JFK having makeup applied is discovered in NBC News Archive, featured on Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC

    Transcript:

    KENNEDY:  See that story about the Democratic makeup man that sabotaged Nixon?
    OFF-CAMERA:  [inaudible]
    KENNEDY: Yeah, who did make him up?
    OFF-CAMERA:  [inaudible]
    KENNEDY:  Yeah, then why-
    OFF-CAMERA:  Who was it Len, do you know?
    OFF-CAMERA:  No, he has a man who does that for a long time.
    KENNEDY:  Same fellow, but why doesn’t Chicago Daily news have that?
    OFF-CAMERA:  They weren’t looking for it. [inaudible]
    […]
    KENNEDY: I must say, all these newspapers keep putting a’ knock now on the debate. I think it’s just (pause) media rivalry. Isn’t it?
    OFF-CAMERA: Well there’s some of that.
    […]
    KENNEDY: …as a Democrat, I can say I don’t know what we’d do without television. I look at print and…
    (shakes head)

    Wednesday
    Nov062013

    Political Costumes & Masks on Halloween 2013

    Halloween 2013 may have received a boost from the dysfunction in Washington. The $7 billion dollar industry usually sees it's highest sales of political costumes in election years, but this time around some retailers are seeing a "bump", which they attribute to the government shutdown in early October. Here's our package on Halloween 2013, and the history of political costumes: