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It isn’t over until it’s over

It isn’t over until it’s over

In younger years and decades, I read a lot of Clive Barker. One of his most famous stories is In the Hills, the Cities. This is about a contest between two cities, who build increasingly higher figures or monsters – made out of their citizens – year on year. Until one year, one of the figures starts to fall apart. Like a lot of Clive Barker’s writing, the story is not for the faint of heart. But I’m reminded of it this year in particular, watching the structures of the US Democrat and Republican parties do their scheduled battle, with the latter “choosing” Trump and the unravelling which, to a degree, is now happening…

Audience

My lifelong fascination and interest with, and visits to, things American continues. Politics has always been predominant, and the experience of traveling 7,000 miles by Amtrak during the run-up to the 2008 US election – and being in Chicago on election day [1] [2] [3] – will be something I won’t forget.

And thus I’ve followed the current US election campaign since pretty much the 2014 mid-terms. That’s two unpredictable, often-bizarre, strange, extreme and tumultuous years, even by US election standards. From the dozen and more Republican candidates, to Scott Walker flaming out, Bernie vs Hillary, the rise of Trump and his opponents and detractors not taking him seriously until it is, or was, too late – all of it. Much of this I’ve done through MetaFilter which is a better online community than most (quite possibly all) for this kind of thing, especially as Twitter turns increasingly toxic, and people build increasingly walled silos around their presence on Facebook.

And the “journey”, as my arty friends are prone to label it, is nearly at an end for us all. Early voting has begun – quite a while now in some states – and the full election day is just fifteen days away. Hopefully, the result will come quickly, and it will be for (Hillary) Clinton – and not for (Donald) Trump.

Dispenser of goodness

Hopefully.

I’m not convinced it will be, nor am I taking this for granted. Part of this is how the Brexit vote went here in Albion, which has … yeah I’d rather talk about that for a while as I’m still angry and I doubt I will ever forgive or reconcile with various attributes of the referendum and its slow-motion ramifications. Part of this is why Americans vote the ways that they do; something oft-unfathomable to non-Americans, but makes sense – a lot of sense – if you are from certain backgrounds and spend a fair bit of time there amongst a variety of demographics. Something for another day, amidst the realization that if I hadn’t chosen to escape my upbringing background and head in an academic direction, I would probably have been a Brexit/Trump supporter and voter.

But part of my worry, perhaps pessimism, with this US election is a whole stack of plausible reasons why Trump may just win this, even though the polls are apparently showing him some way behind. These include (but are not limited to) some combination of:

  1. Voter complacency – I am so bored, annoyed, irritated by seeing variations on “Hillary has got this” when the votes have not been counted and we are still over two weeks away from when most people vote. It also infuriates as some pro-Hillary people may decide not to vote if they keep reading this statement, either because of practical difficulties (US voting, especially on election day, can be a non-trivial exercise) or sheer laziness.
  2. Protest votes, either to a third-party candidate (which is fair enough) or to Trump (which is … oh do go and do one). “Fight the system! Go for a non-politician! Someone from outside the Beltway can clean up Congress!” If you think Trump will magically make the system “better”, then I have some fairy dust to sell you.
  3. The fear of voter intimidation – usually by the more fanatical Trump supporters – keeping Clinton supporters away.
  4. Actual voter intimidation – a high-profile incident or two, either during early voting or early on election day itself, won’t help.
  5. (my main concern) A terrorist incident (or an incident perceived to be a terrorist incident, which is a little different), by agents unknown or ambiguous, conveniently close to election day. This would give Trump a convenient platform to say “If I am president, then I will [some draconian policy against non-white or non-American people] whereas Hillary will do nothing”, possibly gaining some kind of last-minute surge.
  6. Something caused by an overseas agent with the means e.g. Putin, or a fugitive hiding in an Embassy broom cupboard, or a combination of the two, or other.
  7. And speaking of Putin, a wildcard international event which has an influence on the electorate e.g. Russia forces a land corridor to Crimea or causes problems in Narvia (Estonia), or North Korea fires a long-range missile which actually works.
  8. Some kind of anti-Hillary thing that sounds big and serious in simplistic mass media headlines, but on any kind of reasonable examination, has no substance behind it. The damage has been done with wavering and low-information voters by then, though.
  9. (my other main concern) Ridiculously long lines (and more) and many other shenanigans in predominantly Democrat-voting areas on election day, caused by the many tricks that can be, and are, pulled by the Republicans who run various operations at state level (itself an issue caused by Democrats doing poorly in recent mid-term elections, but that’s a different point).
  10. Ill health, either actual or greatly exaggerated in the right-wing press, making some voters reluctant to cast theirs for a candidate who may not see out a term in office. Always a risk when your candidate is 68 or 70 years old, but as we get closer to election day, this probability decreases.
  11. Voting apparatus which may be vulnerable to being compromised.

There are other reasons and concerns, of differing weighting and probability, a few of which I’d rather not write publicly because repercussions. Those listed above are enough to be getting on with.

At this point I am not confident. At best, it feels like it will be close, especially remembering that the Electoral College can give a false impression of how votes are cast nationally. For example, Florida, with its large net of EC votes, was won by Obama by a very small margin in 2012; a loss there and in a few other close states and the US would currently be coming to the end of President Romney’s first term. 270 to win, and all of the candidates start on zero.

School pupil project

Will Trump actually win, then? I don’t know. No-one really does. A US presidential election is pretty much a pre-scheduled war between two opposing political party structures (and a bunch of other oft-floaty people), which takes place across tens of thousands of local “battlefields”. Voter registrations, identifications, lobbying, campaigning, getting out the vote, suppressing and hindering the oppositions vote, and a myriad of other tactics and issues come into play. Outside of the US, we usually see the national picture, with fleeting footage of the odd local battle or two. But it’s on those tens of thousands of local battlegrounds where the war is won or lost.

Anyway. I hope I am (very) wrong and am unduly pessimistic (still perhaps scarred by the life-changing experience of Brexit) and these six things happen:

  1. A clear and unchallengeable win for Hillary. She’s not perfect by a long way (and I would have preferred Elizabeth Warren), but in terms of experience and dealing with politics and politicians, there’s utterly no contest amongst the options, especially Hillary vs Donald. I still find it difficult to believe it came to this, but there you go, and you reap what you sow, Republicans.
  2. The Democrats take the Senate by a comfortable margin.
  3. Taking the House is too much to hope for, but a significant reduction in the Republican majority would be good.
  4. Iowa votes for Hillary and not Donald, for personal and affectionate reasons for the state in the USA which most felt like “home” out of the 29 I’ve so far visited.
  5. The percentage by which the Republican POTUS candidate takes Texas is severely reduced. Because that, more than most things, will cause utter panic amongst the Republican machinery.
  6. The indictment(s) I hope are waiting to be served, but currently aren’t because doing so on a US presidential candidate close to an election is just too hot, are served. Payback time, both literally and figuratively.

Yeah.

Pig sale

After the election – assuming it goes well for the Democrats – there’s two years before what appears to be a tough 2018 set of mid-term elections to get some things done. These must include sorting out the Supreme Court, and simply making it easier for people to vote (or, more difficult for people to be hindered in the act of voting). There’ll be a whole load of other big things to sort out (e.g. the increasing effects of climate change, the largely unresolved issues around US rural poverty, the largely unresolved US healthcare erm system, trade negotiations with a post-brexit UK, and did I mention Putin?) so it’ll be an interesting time for the new POTUS and their probably quite important and much-younger VP.

Also, I hope Michelle and Barack have a seriously long and good break from the artificial and 24/7 life of the White House bubble, because after the last eight years, heck, they deserve and need it.

Good luck on election day.

A plate of deep fried oreos

(Pictures from the county fair in Grinnell, Iowa, 2015)

One year to the 2012 US presidential election

One year to the 2012 US presidential election

It’s exactly a year to the day till the next election for POTUS (President Of The United States). On November 6th 2012, millions of people will vote for who they want to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as well as a load of other politicians at national and local levels.

The presidential race, in particular, is exciting and interesting – in some ways because of the whole ridiculousness of the thing. Campaigns last for a significant part of the four years. Millions (no, billions) of dollars are thrown into slagging off the other side. Debates turn into high drama (or low farce). The media gorge on the whole thing like an obese man at a Vegas hotel all-you-can-eat buffet, hyping it up out of self-interest.

And the TV adverts, when a politician wants to get elected in the USA, are … welljustbeyond belief. And easy to parody.

It’s bizarre watching the whole thing from afar – and from close up. Real close up, like attending town hall meetings and little gatherings to hear Republican candidates such as Santorum speak (interesting and alarming in possibly equal measure). Or traveling round the USA during and after a US presidential election (pictures on this post from that trip) and talking to people, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Socialists and the like. It’s interesting, exciting, worrying, scary – but never dull.

As for who will win the presidency in 2012; who knows. Everyone is a pundit, and the betting markets currently have Obama as a 50/50 chance to be reelected. The political junkies at the New York Times have recently undertaken a detailed analysis which also leans towards GOP.

I’m not a journalist, or a politician, or even an America. Instead, an obsessive follower of all things American political. My selection for some time has been a Republican ticket of Romney and Rubio. That’s not the same as who I want to win; that would be Obama against any of the GOP candidates. My own personal politics are a little more complex, being roughly two parts democrat, one part socialist (in the Scandinavian sense) and one part libertarian (in the “let’s stop occupying other countries and spending $1.5 trillion dollars a year doing so” military sense).

Obama '08

First, why Romney? It’s become apparent for months now that the Republican candidate race is a sham, with a lot of heavy media manipulation of varying degrees of subtlety. Various GOP presidential wannabees had their day in the sunshine of high figures in the polls, then been found wanting either in debates, on the road, in commitment, or ethic. Bachmann, Perry and Cain being the latest three. Gingrich is too divisive a figure, Santorum too conservative, and Huntsman too liberal, for many Republican tastes.

While all this has been happening, Romney has stayed above the fray with his amused, sometimes a bit smug, smile. He’s not so much running for the candidacy as coasting towards it, while the other candidates briefly flourish, then flounder. He’s not too liberal, not too conservative, speaks and debates well (or not as badly as many of the other Republican candidates), and has no problem in changing or reversing his position to suit whichever group of votes he needs. He also “looks” like a president, in the Reaganesque mould, and has so obviously modelled his demeanor on the 80 to 88 president. Many Americans revere Reagan, a phenomena that often baffles non-Americans.

And why Rubio? He brings the Florida political machine more into the Republican court, and Romney needs the large block of electoral college votes from that state; if Florida stays Democrat, it become significantly more difficult for Romney to become president. Rubio is also young, photogenic, a Tea Party favorite, with one eye on being president in the future. And he arguably brings the Latino demographic slightly more into the equation, which helps keep states such as Arizona in the red column.

Though I’m a little less sure of Rubio as VP pick than Romney to win the presidential candidacy. Susana Martinez could well get the nod, especially if Romney is confident of taking Florida anyway. Her state political machinery may help deliver New Mexico to Romney, as well as (like Rubio) a higher percentage of the Latino demograph, and possibly some votes for people who want to see a female president. Though this approach didn’t greatly help McCain in 2008, or Mondale in 1984. But, she appears to have weathered the scrutiny about recent ancestors moving to the US better than Rubio has.

Obama wins

Why am I leaning towards a Romney/Rubio win? In their favor, they have:

  • The ability of three years of Obama’s performance as president to attack; which also means that, unlike in 2008, Obama cannot blame economic issues solely on the past eight years of a Republican presidency.
  • A giant political and media machine behind them, which is more finely-tuned after the last three years.
  • The sometimes-support of the Tea Party movement.
  • An experienced candidate in Romney, who’s run for the GOP presidential position before. He’s undergone the scrutiny, and knows the ropes of running a campaign to be the Republican candidate. And it’s not uncommon to become the candidate after multiple attempts.
  • The electoral college system moves towards the Republicans by a net gain of six votes for the 2012 election. In addition, the crucial state of Florida gets an increase in voting power.
  • Unemployment and economy figures that are not getting better – though with a year to go, this may change for the better (but this needs to start soon).
  • Petrol – okay, gasoline – prices. Once they get above $4 a gallon, it starts to look bad for the incumbent president. If they manage to get above $5, or anywhere close, that’s probably game over for Obama. Americans love their freedom to drive, and see it as a base liberty. Make it too expensive, and someone’s gonna pay.
  • Those voters who got carried away in 2008 and voted (some for the first time) for Obama, with unrealistic expectations of what he would or could do. This time, they aren’t voting, or voting for the Republican candidate.
  • This time around, the Republicans are unlikely to pick someone as the vice-presidential candidate who manages to divide the electorate to such an extent that many floating voters, independents and even Republicans vote for Obama.
  • The age-old liberal problem of liberals living in liberal places, speaking to other liberals and watching liberal TV programmes aimed solely at liberals.

This last one is especially annoying. Book after book on US politics discusses this, how most liberals will not leave their liberal comfort zone to talk, debate, lobby. Which right-wingers and conservatives often have no problem in doing. Liberals gonna vote liberal; conservatives gonna vote conservative; he or she who grabs the rest, wins. If you’re a liberal and you don’t want 4 or 8 years under President Romney, don’t spend all your time listening to NPR, watching the Daily Show and chatting to liberal friends; go out of the echo chamber comfort zone and talk to a few undecided voters. And that’s actually talk, not lecture to them from afar; that just winds them up and doesn’t work.

In Obama’s favor, he has:

  • The natural advantage of incumbency, with the machinery of the White House, presidential press conferences et al at his disposal.
  • A record of taking out specific enemies, such as Osama Bin Laden, which the Bush administration failed to do in two terms.
  • Been a better president than many cynics, or people who thought that the world would cave in, thought he would be.
  • Not flip-flopped on as many issues as Romney has. Come to think of it, hardly any modern US politician has flip-flopped as much as Romney.

Then there’s a few things that could throw the race:

  • A black swan event. It could be an act of terrorism (possibly home-grown; in the cycle of Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma et al, this is arguably overdue). Or something economic, such as a sudden collapse of the Euro (though that’s slightly predictable), or military, such as China invading and taking control of Taiwan. Or something darker, perhaps. Something that will overshadow everything else, and make the response of the president crucial. Why do I have a gut feeling that, with a year to go, a black swan event is likely, even inevitable?

More t-shirts

  • A marked economic recovery. The unemployment rate starts to fall. And keeps falling, showing a trend downwards. If that happens, unlikely though it feels, Obama can run on a “We’re going in the right direction: why risk it?” platform.
  • A key endorsement. In 2008, the moment I realised that Obama would probably win happened in a hotel in Monterey. Breakfast, and the dining room is full of people who you’d think would be prime Republican voters. The news on the TV cuts to Colin Powell speaking, endorsing Obama. Many people stop eating, listen to him, nod. That was the big turning point, when the possibility of Obama winning suddenly looked real. And he could well do with that kind of endorsement, from a nationally respected figure, again. And you can bet anything that both the Democrats and the Republicans are frantically trying to court Colin, behind the scenes, for next October.

But the biggest factor is possibly the one that’s happening, state by state, now – the eligibility to vote becoming gradually harder, disproportionately affecting Democrat voters. It’s been going on for a while now; the Guardian have an okay piece on this, as does the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post; Politico has an excellent piece on this too.

The fact is, not thousands but millions of people who were eligible to vote in 2008, cannot vote without some kind of ID enhancement (not always easy to get) in 2012. And, surprise surprise, a disproportionate number of those people are naturally Democrat leaning. Expect this to be a major story over the next year, and especially on and after election day.

At first glance, Obama won by a landslide in 2008, with 365 electoral college votes to 173. But that’s the way the system works, with the margins in some of the states that have lots of EC votes being small. And this is Obama’s big problem; the five states that he won with the smallest percentage margins – Virginia (6.3%), Ohio (4.58%), Florida (2.81%), Indiana (1.03%), North Carolina (0.33%) – all have sizeable electoral college votes. Move just those five into the Republican column and that huge EC vote majority is wiped out. Blocking likely Democrat supporters from voting, in any significant number, would help with this.

USA

The Democrat strategy? Heck, if they were insane enough to hire me to run their campaign, it would be:

  • Go negative on Romney. He’s going to go negative on Obama, and nice guys in a tough battle lose. I give you Carter vs Reagan, George H. Bush vs Clinton. Romney has also flip-flopped on just about every issue possible. Tell the electorate this, over and over. And even though Romney is relatively clean compared to the other Republican candidates, he has still provided lots of material that he can be attacked with. Use it.
  • Fight dirty. The Republicans will fight dirty. It will win them votes. This “be dignified in defeat” ethos is bull. You’re defeated, and the other guy/gal is running the show.
  • Focus resources on those key five states that the Republicans want. Yes, keep fighting in other Democrat states, but to be honest if you lose Pennsylvanian (Dem: 10.31%) and Minnesota (Dem: 10.24%) then the White House is lost in a landslide anyway.
  • Also, put significant resources in campaigning in four states in particular which didn’t have large Republican majorities in 2008, namely Missouri (0.13%), Georgia (5.2%), Arizona (8.48%) and North Carolina (8.98%). In 2008, those were worth 44 electoral college votes, and Arizona in particular looks vulnerable to a Democrat win (there’s a whole essay on why this is possible).
  • Find a way to counter the simplistic “Millionaires are job creators, so cut their taxes and they will create jobs” mantra that the right are using. It doesn’t even stand up to the briefest of analysis, but when it’s pummeled into the electorate relentlessly for years before the election, some – possibly many – will take it as fact and believe it.
  • Point out, in ways which the key voting demographics will grasp, that the stimulus did create jobs, and without it the unemployment rates would be worse.
  • Related to that last point, another stimulus. This time, focus on the education system (especially the schools) and the infrastructure, especially the roads and broadband. Ram it home why education and infrastructure are essential, providing the basis of a functioning economy. No infrastructure or education, no economy.
  • A battle that, somehow, the Democrats are already losing. News reports of Republican rallies filled with wheelchair and scooter enabled enthusiastic senior voters have aired regularly. Point out to those who rely on Medicare and Medicaid that if the other guy wins, then their health benefits may be cut.
  • At the state level, throw everything to fight restrictions on voting. At the grass roots level, make sure every potential Democrat voter is aware of what’s going on, and help them attain legal voting status, especially if they have unwittingly lost it. Build a more politically savvy ACORN for 2012. Without it, the election is probably lost for Obama, no matter what else he does. Win the argument but lose the vote.

Anyway, that’s my three part prediction with exactly a year to go:

  1. The Republicans to choose Romney as their candidate.
  2. Romney to probably choose Marco Rubio as his running mate.
  3. Romney to beat Obama narrowly for the presidency. Then again, I was pessimistic about Obama’s victory margin prospects three years ago.

And a fourth prediction:

  1. Civil unrest in some urban places on November 6th 2012 when many people find out they are now unable to vote.

The silver lining on the cloud for Democrats? There’s two. Not all of the states will swing heavily Republican, and many states will go red by small margins, making them key for the 2016 contest. And there may be surprises; Texas, with its huge electoral college vote, should stay red but quite possibly with a smaller margin in 2012 than 2008 (contrary to liberal opinion, not everyone in Texas likes the local ex-president).

But the larger silver lining? Romney will probably be a terrible president. In good economic times, he would be moderately okay. In bad times; as ineffectual as GH Bush. When large demographics of his (eligible) voters – people in trailer parks, in factories, on medicare and medicaid, discover they are worse off during his time, he’ll be a one-termer. If the Democrats can find a good enough candidate over the four years after 2012. And, approaching the end of 2011, it’s starting to look like Hillary will run in 2016, which would be excellent.

So the race for the 2016 US presidency probably starts a year from tomorrow…

Where liberty is, there is my country

Where liberty is, there is my country

You know an image affects you when you keep returning to look at it “one more time”. And wandering around on Flickr, there’s one image I keep returning to. The photographer has given permission for it to be used here; you can find it yourself on Flickr, or click on the image for the larger version:

Chatting to the photographer, and looking around her Flickr pictures, reveals some connections. Maryann is a school librarian in the midwest, currently “teaching my students how to find material in the library and how to use the online catalog”. The picture was taken in Iowa, while she was cycling RAGBRAI. That’s an annual cross-state biking event that stops overnight in Grinnell, which (from my non-cyclist, resident, perspective) results in lots of temporary new food options.

The picture is pure Iowa, a US state to be enjoyed for the wide open prairie outside. It’s filled, as Iowa seems to be, with sky and corn – tall corn. A barn emerges from the corn, the symbol of western European-immigrant rural settlement, work, and living off the land. Outside the barn, the unmistakably potent identity marker of the country, the stars and stripes, an emblem I’ve been obsessed with since touching the earliest surviving incarnation of it in the village church before being old enough to speak. Christened John after JFK, and with a thousand cultural references and influences permeating every aspect of living for the last 43 years, America feels like its run through my veins since birth. A complex picture of why I “feel” more American than British/English is starting to come clear.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the cooler founding fathers. He advocated tolerance for all churches, freed “his” slaves and became an abolitionist. He was interested in, well, just about everything, but specialised in science, diplomacy and nationality. Benjamin formed the first public lending library in America through his book donation, and was the first US postmaster general, helping to form the first national communication infrastructure. Benjamin was pretty much the Tim Berners-Lee of the age, 200 years before the Internet.

The phrase “Where liberty is, there is my country” is interesting, liberty being an ever-debated principle that underpins the USA, from Lincoln’s “Conceived in liberty” Gettysburg address and before, through to the current 2012 presidential race. The concept weaves its way through many of the books I’ve been reading these last three year on American politics, society, history and rural culture, as well as what’s being said when listening to American politicians, Democrat and Republican, speak. It’s a strange country, when the European immigrant history and national formation is so very recent but is still so argued over. A quarter of that time has been spent travelling through, and living, there; three years ago today was spent on an Amtrak train heading up the west coast towards Seattle, as part of a 7,000 loop around the western half of the country.

When Becky and myself buy our first place together (hopefully something like this), this picture, large and framed, will be going on the wall. It’s good to see, a reminder of the personally important things in life. (Looks again) yeah; time to do some more writing and work my way back to the place that feels like home…

Goodbye Chicago

Goodbye Chicago

Thanks for an unbelievable five days. As night falls and the skyscrapers light up, the calling of passengers for the overnight train following the Mississippi down to Memphis and New Orleans is imminent.

Chicago skyline

Highlights? Too many to remember coherently or put in one posting. The obvious one is 10pm on tuesday when the result of the election was announced, and what seemed like a million people in the park went in search of tea … no, I mean went delirious.

Rather a lot of people

Am still sorting through pictures and videos I took, and the camera is not good at night – but here’s a few videos from the event:

Other things that come to mind:

  • Seeing the crowds for the first time and getting a weird, really tight feeling in my stomach.
  • Counting down the 10 seconds to 10pm when we’d figured out that would be the moment.
  • The huge reaction of Oprah when she appeared.
  • Two black women, I presume sisters, skipping madly down the street shouting “He’s going to the White House, he’s going to the White House”.
  • People wandering down the street offering food from huge containers to anyone who wanted it.
  • The utter multiculturalism of the crowd.
  • Being interviewed by some Fox News outlet (thanks, Amy).
  • The reaction of a Chicago policeman in the park when I asked him where I could purchase a cup of tea.
  • The crowd starting to stampede when one of the big screens was switched from CNN to the park TV.
  • Obama entering the stage on the big screen.
  • One of the crowd next to us saying “Hey, you’re librarians, you know everything or where to find it.”
  • Speaking to lots of different people about anything and everything. But especially Obama.

That’s my train being announced. Gotta go. Goodbye, Chicago, and thank you.

Is black the new ginger?

Is black the new ginger?

Next week is the culmination of an epic contest that has gone on for much of the year. Hundreds of millions of people have followed it with increasing fanaticism. The favourite has swapped around a few times in recent months. And there’s been controversy, mess-ups on all sides, vast amounts of media coverage and opinion, and worldwide interest. But currently it looks like, for the first time, a black man will win; he’s up by a few points on his rival with only a few days to go. Though I fear, as the recent trend has shown, that legal courts will have the final say. Therefore, good luck to Lewis Hamilton in the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday. Yay, a Brit, the first since Damon Hill. I’ll be missing the first hour of the ALA conference in Chicago (sorry Jenny, but I have money on this) to watch it, somewhere, on TV.

Oh yeah, there’s that other contest as well. Who’s going to win that? I’ve asked loads of people so far. Democrats and left-leaners think it’ll be Obama. A few Republicans said, very unhappily, that it would be close or a toss-up (am guessing that some of them couldn’t bring themselves to say they thought Obama would win). The Obama signs have outnumbered the McCain signs in communities close to the sea, adding weight to the “Fly over” theory. In Seattle, the signs were predominantly Democrat, except in the rich neighbourhoods where they were 50/50. I wanted to get a few pictures of Republican signs in these neighbourhoods, but my Seattle chums were nervous about stopping for any length of time there in case they got hassled.

Montana is about 50/50 from the small fraction I’ve seen, as was Salinas. Montana is interesting, as to a person everyone I’ve met has been genuinely pleasant and genuinely friendly. But many of these people have said they’re voting for McCain, giving a wide range of reasons. So nice people can be Republicans, and vice versa. Interestingly, I’ve also met several people who are going to vote for Ron Paul(!) instead of McCain, but I have no idea if this means anything significant. Overall, surely it’ll be a lot closer than various national polls (what a waste of time they are, as it’s the Electoral College votes that matter) are saying?

obama-manassas-va-rally13

Pennsylvania is, not surprisingly, turning out to be a key state – whoever wins that has a massive chance of being in the White House, and the demographics make me think it may be a long night here. Especially as that is one of the few states that doesn’t have early voting, so problems, queues et al. are expected on election day. The Tom Bradley effect will play a part; in fact, the 1992 UK general election keeps returning to mind over these past few weeks. Up until the last few days, Labour looked like they’d do it. But, with a week to go, they held their triumphant rally in Sheffield. Bad mistake; they looked like they had won, were arrogant, and slipped dramatically in the polls the next day.

Combined with an English version of the Bradley effect (people not, in the end, voting for someone who was Welsh and/or ginger – remember the “Welsh ginger windbag” stuff that was thrown around by a lot of people?), and people not admitting to pollsters that they were going to vote for the (unfashionable) right wing party though they did, Labour lost. So the 30 minute infomercial by Obama last night looks like& quite possibly an unwise move, and it’s an obvious line of attack by the Republicans to say that OB has already picked his staff and is claiming victory. Really unwise ;for Obama to be sitting in a presidential-like office on TV (and ripe for spoofing over the next few days). So if Obama loses, then black is the new ginger. And the Chicago fire department will have a very busy evening.

My prediction: The Republicans to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Obama et al over these last few days. Pastor Wright will be brought up; the ‘clinging to guns and bible’ will be played big in Pennsylvania. Various not-officially-affiliated groups will insinuate and claim everything about OB. If that doesn’t work, they’ll just straight lie. Actually that’s already started with Dole’s “Godless” ad against Hagan in North Carolina. Palin to further make sure she doesn’t have the mud stick to her if the Republicans lose, so she can run in 2012; which is quite possible. Divisive though she is, she does seem extremely popular amongst many people.

Obama to win by 280 Electoral Colleges Votes to 258. The result will not come out until the afternoon or evening of the 5th due to problems just waiting to happen, partially through that no early voting and legal challenges in Pennsylvania. Of the swing states, Obama to take Ohio, Colorado and Virginia, while McCain takes New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Further prediction: After the election, there’s going to be a lot of angry people. No matter who wins. If Obama wins, I hope that the security services are up to the job of protecting him from extremists of which there’ll be many, and a similar long-term political onslaught that Clinton faced in term two. It’ll start on day one. If McCain wins, then I fear there will be a lot of fires of the man-made variety, and my plans post-Chicago may need revising.

Election, American style

Election, American style

I love American elections. Every aspect of them. The spin, the manoevering, the PR, the coverage, the political humour (Daily Show, Colbert Report and Fox News), the candidates, the campaigns, the lot. I’ve been following this political election since before people were saying “Barack who?”, and when most ‘commentators’ reckoned it would be a straight fight between Rudy and Hillary. Boy, they got that one wrong.

We have a lot of coverage in the UK but, not surprisingly, once in the US it’s wall-to-wall and in your face. There are 65 channels on the TV in my hotel room. Last night I went through them in one sweep and found 21, at the same time, with some kind of election coverage, news, opinion or comment. Add on that the newspapers, other media, and the posters, stickers and signs. Which are everywhere, and range from hippy lefty stuff (below) through to right wing stuff, and libertarian stuff (which seems to be “We don’t need any government whatsoever”).

More bumper stickers

There was one key moment in this election campaign when things went from fifth gear to hyper-turbo drive in terms of opinion, publicity and comment – it’s the moment when Sarah Palin was announced as the Republican VP pick. And it’s been interesting that talk (many conversations) between four random strangers thrown together at meal times has always been civilised and respectful about the politics and election, even when you have staunch Republicans and Democrats at the same table.

Until SP comes up in conversation…

Example. Breakfast on Monday morning on the train consisted of me, a friendly typical 50-something cowboy (18 stone, hat, big white moustach, “Howdy”) and a timid-looking older lady, similar to the stereotypical bun-of-white-hair image of librarians that isn’t actually true. Me and Mr Cowboy got talking. It was going fine until Mr Cowboy made a comment about Sarah Palin being “real smart” and having much more foreign experience than Obama and Biden.

Mouse-like women next to me practically spits out her omelette and states SHE IS AN INSULT TO ALL INTELLIGENT WOMEN in a voice that could be heard several carriages away. Mr Cowboy, spotting the butter knife she’s now holding in a stabbing action, rapidly backtracks and declared he was an Independent who voted for Kerry in 2004. At this point, the announcer blurbled that we were pulling into Whitefish, so I left them to it.After listening to a lot of people, reading and watching the coverage, I’ve come to my own conclusion. The Republicans are basically the playground bullies, who like to shove other people around and steal their dinner money. The Democrats are the school geeks; smarter but wimps when it comes to one-on-one battles. That’s a massive generalisation, I know. I’ve met several quite reasonable and friendly Republicans.

Obama '08

…though I do note that the one occasion I got an unfriendly welcome was when I wandered, out of curiosity, into a Republican party county office, to be met by an unsmiling assistant who asked me “Are you a commie?”. I remembered then that I was, by coincidence, wearing my Che Guevera t-shirt (oops), and I probably compounded any faux pas by saying the first thing that came into my head. Which was “No, I’m with the Woolwich.” (My head is full of junk pop music and tv ads from the 80’s and 90’s). I exited, which was a really good idea.

Librarians may play a key role in this election. Eh? Well, take a look at how many qualified or certified librarians there are in the US. The American Library Association has 65,000 members alone, and that’s only a small fraction of them. In 2000, there was some anti-Gore feelings in the library sector due to the censorship ethos of Tipper Gore. This time, I haven’t yet found a Republican-leaning librarian, an issue not helped for them by the book censorship controversy of Ms Palin. If there’s one sure-fire way to really piss off massive numbers of librarians it’s to start messing with censorship in libraries.

Street stall

One thing I like about the US Presidential election is that they get to choose the top guy. Twice in the last two decades, we in the UK have ended up with a Prime Minister who we didn’t vote for. Hmph. Another thing is that it isn’t just the President and VP who are being voted for. Far from it. The dazzling array of signs for court judge, police super, airport board, fire dept controller, just about every position of tax-payer funded authority, the residents get to vote on. Which leads to signs everywhere across the country; it’s common to come across a major road intersection and see a dozen or more signs for candidates. Though I’ve yet to see one for “Head Librarian”. Wouldn’t that be so cool, if we could have elections to determine who was in charge of local libraries? Or even University libraries :-)

Vote for me! And me!

Local candidates don’t just confine themselves to signs. Turn on local TV and the ad spots are taken by very local candidates slagging each other off, in professionally made commercials. I’ve already got a rough feel of the main issues between the competing local candidates here, which is bizarre. It would be like, in the Outer Hebrides, members of the Comhairle running TV ads bashing each other come election time. Which, bearing in mind the current bout of in-fighting, I’m surprised some haven’t tried yet.  As well as being able to vote for all manner of people, you can also vote on propositions. These are on all manner of things, such as whether to fund public swimming pools in a particular county, do various things with parks, or even determine whether same-sex couples have the right to marry in California. Again, various TV ads from coalitions of supporters or detractors fill the airwave.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, we have … sod all in the way of referendum. I’m still waiting for this vote on the Euro/EU they’ve been talking about for years. It would be interesting in the Outer Hebrides if we had “What do you want to spend the money on” propositions that we could vote on e.g. “Do you want X percent of local taxation spent on Gaelic preservation and the arts, or on building five new schools?” That would let the councillors off the hook and force the issue onto the residents/taxpayers – which may be a good thing? More on who will win, here in the US, in a few days.