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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)

The fifteen hundred

The fifteen hundred

There was an era in U.S. political life “that began with Ronald Reagan, where there was a conservative dominance powered by conservative voters and Southern whites,” said David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “That era is over.


You know those news stories of religious cults, approaching a day of judgement where they are convinced that they will ascend to some form of heaven, leaving all the unbelievers behind? And they gather on the anointed day, often in some place in an American desert (Utah seems particularly appropriate). And right to the end, they believe that they are correct and everyone else is wrong.

And the time passes. And they don’t go to heaven, but just stand there, all upset, some in denial, many angry, some forever angry, some crying ‘lies’, some broken, some think they have been cheated, some blaming it on a lack of faith and action, some rearranging the date according to a hastily-justified reason, and some bewildered why the non-believers “just don’t get it”.

That was the core of the Republican party on election night. Cue Karl Rove in disbelieving mood. Cue the disbelieving party workers and Romney faithful in Boston. Cue the many viewers of Fox News, now spewing out angry disbelief on the comments sections of a thousand online news reports, and warning that the apocalypse is now upon us and the country is doomed and it’s all the fault of the non-believers, those strange unbelieving liberals who seem inexplicably angry with the prophecy of an imminent Conservative heaven.

Flag-waving "Patriots"

Their day, their moment, of judgement did not come. They weren’t transported to a land of low taxes, no medical cover, abortion or gay rights, ruled by a mean-sounding and uncomfortably white God. They’re still in the USA, a country still beset by significant problems – many of its own making – but one that is slowly, gradually becoming more racially and sexually accepting and socially liberal. More fair.

For them, the cult members, this is not pretty. And on the other, European side of the Atlantic, some rejoice and many are relieved while others, often intolerant extremists from the left who are boringly determined to be miserable about anything and everything Americana, whine about the result to the annoyance of more rational Americans. Maybe there is something in the horseshoe theory after all.

And for some of these more rational people watching from near or far away, it’s weird, this post-election feeling. A mixture of relief, fear, trepidation and exhaustion. The analysis of how Obama won – and why Romney lost, and lost an election many thought they could and should have won – is underway in a myriad of media, political centers, and television studios and smoke-filled back offices across America. The excuses from the losers – careful to point the blame at everyone except themselves – have begun. And so this experiment to change the Presidency by subtly and not-so-subtly brainwashing a significant proportion of the richest country in the history of mankind and throwing a billion dollars at an election, is over. As is a multi-level campaign featuring some of the most hateful and negative electioneering for a while, both widely known and not so widely known.

And, for a complex set of inter-related reasons that people are figuring out, it failed.

US Constitution

Good. And many good moments came out of the election. Possibly one of the most satisfying was the story of the damaging 47% video, shot at a private Romney event ($50,000 a pop to attend) where he dismissed that proportion of the population for allegedly never paying tax, living off handouts and always voting for Obama. And why was this video reveal particularly satisfying? Because the Republican Party, and Romney in particular, had spent many years castigating Jimmy Carter, the 1976 to 1980 US President. And the person who brought the video to the attention of the mass media and voters … was his grandson. A typically American twist of justice.

But the enduring struggle which maybe defines America, and what it means to be an American, goes on.

This ridiculously newly reborn country, where people alive today have watched a witness to Lincoln’s assassination describing it on TV. Where the last verified widow of a civil war veteran died just four years ago. And where the grandchildren of the tenth president, who took office in 1841, are still alive and farm. Heck, it’s less than four hundred years – which is nothing in European or Chinese historical terms – since the Mayflower arrived, had to winter out at sea and half the passengers died.

From here in the “old world”, post-colonial America sometimes seems almost too comically young, like a third grade schoolboy trying to buy beer, to call itself a country.

But it’s managed to pack a lot of turbulence, expansion, internal and external conflict, into those few hundred years. As well as, or possibly resulting in, staggering progress, the only country in history to go from the basic survival of newly arrived immigrants to safely putting its own citizens on the surface of another world within three and a half centuries. That’s pretty damned impressive. But is it the perpetual struggle between the religious and the humanist, the republican and the democrat, the farmer and the land, the homeowner and the tornado, the north and the south, the native and the settler, the free and the enslaved, the President and Congress, which defines America? If these struggles, endless and enduring, somehow ended, would this remove the character, identity which is America? I’m not sure.

But there’s one definite thing about America. It can be, often is, a peaceful and relaxed and above all a friendly place, even though it is always at conflict within itself. This perpetual conflict; maybe it’s the lack of post-colonial history, with only fifteen or so generations since the first Europeans walked off the boat into an already populated land, and stayed there. Maybe it’s because the underlying issues, feelings and prejudices which culminated in the civil war are not wholly resolved.

Or maybe it’s because the Declaration of Independence explicitly, optimistically and positively, tells the citizens of the country to go in the pursuit of happiness. Or maybe it’s because much of the Constitution, although written a mere ten generations ago, is open to interpretation, misinterpretation and re-interpretation. Or maybe it’s because within a single digit number of generations of that document, a period of almost impossible growth and advance, the country somehow managed to become the most powerful (in good and not so good ways) in history.

Even now, like unexpected volcanic eruptions off the coast of Iceland spewing out new lands, the United States of America is rapidly changing in terms of population, land mass, size. The lower 48 only became as such a century ago, with the 1912 additions of Arizona and New Mexico. In 1968, when I was born, the population was 200 million. In the 44 years since then, just a couple of generations and 11 presidential elections later, it’s increased to 315 million. Soon, another star may be added to the flag as Puerto Rico moves towards joining the union. (How cool is that? One nation, stretching from the eastern Caribbean to Alaska) Understanding America is difficult because of this constant, rapid, change. Even some of those born and living there, such as many of those Republicans from earlier in the week convinced to the end that America would vote “their man” in on a landslide, miss or don’t understand the rapid changes.

old glory. venice beach, ca. 2012.

And a lot can, and does, change in America during a lifetime. Even in just a few years. In 1,500 days, the country will have dealt (or not dealt) with the fiscal cliff, more hurricanes, economic turbulence, incidents, tragedies and triumphs of almost Shakespearian drama. And it will have voted and decided on (so long as Florida gets its act together) a new president-elect, waiting for inauguration while President Obama sees out the last few weeks of his two terms. Who that president-elect will be no-one knows, but the speculation across the media and the campaigning seems to be well underway.

And beyond 2016, who knows? Perhaps the American political dynasties of the last century will re-emerge; more likely than you may think. Hillary (Clinton) may run in 2016, win, and be re-elected in 2020. Though not yet a politician, her (and Bill’s) daughter, Chelsea Clinton, is racking up media and political experience. Don’t rule out another of Jimmy Carter’s grandchildren, Jason Carter, recently re-elected to the Georgia State Senate. There’s also plenty of Roosevelt’s around, a few of whom are active in politics. Then there’s George Bush. Yes, another one, except this one is the son of Jed, nephew of George Dubya, is half-Latino, speaks fluent Spanish, and is already nicknamed ’47 in relation to which US President he may become.

And finally, this election has also brought a new Kennedy into the House, Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, the grandson of Bobby. He looks like a Kennedy, really like his Grandfather, and talks like one, and is starting to campaign like one. Unlike his Grandfather, he can use social media to promote, and has a twitter account with (at the moment) a mere seven thousand followers. I have a good, hopeful, feeling that, as the next few presidential cycles roll by, we may start to hear a lot more about Joe at the level of US presidential candidate…

The drama and the change and the struggle that is America, continues.

I love the place, and its people, dearly. One day, I’ll be one.

Rick Santorum is fascinating

Rick Santorum is fascinating

At which point, British liberal friends say “Who?” and my American liberal friends say “OMG why John, why, we thought you were one of us?”

Because he’s a Conservative American politician and he’s doing between okay and well in the quest to become the Republican presidential candidate this year, despite having hardly any infrastructure or team or funding compared to Mitt Romney. And I’ve met and chatted with him. And, think I get why he’s doing well.

Also. I like going to meetings where people of a different political persuasion speak. “Know thy enemy to defeat him”, perhaps. Or perhaps it’s because an event where everyone agrees with everyone else gets plain boring. Challenge is good, brings debate. Agreement in a like-minded echo chamber brings … sleep?

I’m a European socialist and liberal in the Scandinavian sense – though with some libertarian leanings, especially on defense – who believes in equality. I agree with Rick on not tying a currency to the gold standard; but on just about every other political issue he’s spoken about, it’s disagreement time. Often extreme disagreement. His views are about as opposite to mine as it is possible to get. On contraception, the separation of church and state, taxation, federal medical care, on … just about everything, I can’t agree with him and probably never will, even if he softened his position.

But here’s the odd thing. There’s a part of me that perhaps oddly admires his political journey this last half year, and there’s also a situation where I’d vote for him. Before my liberal friends stop reading and collectively delete me from all social media “friend” or “follow” lists, hear me out.

I met Rick last August in Grinnell, Iowa. It was months before the state GOP caucus, and before the Ames Straw Poll, a somewhat poisoned chalice where the winner gets a brief moment of fame in the media, and then quickly burns out. Michelle Bachmann won that, then plummeted in the GOP polls and quit the race not that long afterwards.

At the time, Rick was on less than 1% in the polling. In the TV debates, he’d be the one right on the side, not getting any questions as the interviewer focused on whoever was the Republican flavor of the month / week / day. His campaign had pretty much no money. However, his style of campaigning involved going from small town to small town, speaking at every small hall and library around. He spent many days “on the ground”, and eventually went to every one of Iowa’s counties. And, unlike Bachmann who also visited every county, but in just a few days and with extremely brief stops in each, Rick took several hours out at each stop to give his speech and answer – in surprising detail and length – questions put to him.

Rick Santorum

He turned up at Grinnell (the only other Republican candidate who went there was Tim Pawlenty) and I wandered along to the event, expecting there to be a crowd of dozens, maybe a hundred or more people crammed into the room at the public library. Um, there wasn’t – I got there a little early and was the first one. I chatted to his organiser, an enthusiastic and pleasant Iowa student of politics. And a few other people, and Rick turned up. Shook his hand, chatted briefly and awkwardly, I think mostly about Iowa cuisine on which he’d become an expert of late. He picked up on my European-ess, and commented on it.

The room sort of filled a bit, but the attendees peaked at less than twenty, to be outnumbered by the media and Rick’s family at one point. Rick’s style of speaking was to give a long monologue, with no notes, on his campaign, his beliefs, on Obama, on the state of America, on how Europe had gone very wrong (he glanced over at me a few times while saying that; I smiled back) and how America should not go that way.

And his policies, which are now widely known, not just nationally across America, but internationally. I started, then stopped live-tweeting the event, as DMs from British followers were sceptical about whether these were honest tweets (yes) or made up. I’ve never heard rhetoric at an event like it. (Thinks) actually … not true. When living in the Outer Hebrides for half a decade, at funerals and other obligatory community services, the minister would sometimes veer off into fire and brimstone rhetoric. There’s not much as surreal as being at a funeral and the minister informing everyone that they will burn in hell.

And that’s not far off Rick’s message. Which is also that the best status for a woman is barefoot and pregnant, contraception is wrong, anything apart from a heterosexual relationship is wrong, Europeans are lazy which is why their economies are wrecked, Iran should be attacked, and that wealth inequality is a good and necessary thing.

But it was the reaction of the audience that was the most interesting. The older the member of the audience, the more vocal they spoke in favor of, and to, Rick. One lady who must have been 80, if not a lot older, had a mini-rant about the evils of “socialistic Obama policies”. Seniors nodded and muttered agreement when Rick argued for “Obamacare” to be repealed, as I sat there and thought “Hang on; aren’t you some of the main beneficiaries of medicare and medicaid? Especially you there, in the front row, in your federal funded electric wheelchair?”

Press

Rick spoke for over an hour. Then he took questions; any questions, and didn’t duck any. His minder / driver pointedly looked at his watch. Then it finished. One lady who’d been sitting at the back said to him:

“I don’t agree with what you said, but I appreciate you coming to our town and putting your case and beliefs forward.”

Her companion agreed with her. And that’s part of why Rick is popular, and picking up votes, with many people.

  1. He puts the effort in, and goes to the places which other candidates think are “not worth it”. Locals appreciate this.
  2. When he’s there, he doesn’t do a five minute script then gets back onto a plane, but talks and answers questions at length. The other candidates don’t, apart from Ron Paul sometimes.
  3. He’s vocally honest about what he believes in. To the extent that his campaign is unusual. Pick an issue; any issue. Do you honestly know how Mitt Romney will act on this issue if/when he becomes president? No. Mitt tailors his response to the audience and situation. Whereas Rick has probably come out with an unambiguous policy on the issue, even if it is one which most Americans will not agree with.

Those three things add up to the “Protestant Work Ethic” and basic honesty of opinion that appeals to a lot of Americans. Especially in places such as rural Iowa. That’s from Republican voters I’ve chatted to there, and it’s obviously getting him a lot of votes.

It’s also his honesty of opinion – combined with that opinion being extreme on issues such as sexuality – that has made Rick such a controversial person. If you don’t know why, Google Santorum. When you’ve recoiled from this, find out why it came about. This is also why many in the US media are enjoying this, seeing how frequently they can use the phrase “Santorum surge” to summarise his current polling popularity, as well as fronting other innuendo such as this article title. And we thought the Brits were best at smut?

But seriously, it is a bizarre situation, when a candidate says things hostile to a woman’s ability to choose contraception, or even what to do in the most extreme of situations…

…but many women still want to vote for him to be president. This clip from the Daily Show is a good analysis of his frank approach.

So I admire him for his (bizarrely politically suicidal) honesty and his work rate. But at the same time, I am appalled by his policies. After his event, I took a cookie offered by his daughter and went back into the library proper to borrow his book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. I managed to get a quarter of the way through it before realising … I just could not read any more. Too much, in a bad way; if Rick became president, it would be bad for America, especially for anyone who wasn’t a rich white male, and bad the world. I wouldn’t like to be a woman, relying on health care and in a low paid job, in Rick’s America.

So there’s a situation where I’d vote for Rick?! I do not believe he will be the Republican candidate for several reasons. The main one being that he is unelectable in the presidential election proper, as independents and lots of other demographics will vote to keep him out. The GOP hierarchy know that Mitt Romney is far more electable against Obama, and will ensure that Mitt is the candidate, no matter what. I’m expecting Mitt to take Michigan and Arizona – the latter by a wide margin – this tuesday, and most of the primaries on Super Tuesday. It’s inconceivable that the wider Republican Party and Conservative coalition will let any other situation occur.

Also, because of his strategy Rick has done well in the caucuses but badly in the primaries. Unfortunately, the contorted nature of the process means that those caucus wins will not translate to many conference delegates (most may go to Ron Paul) and it’s quite possible that come the Republican Party convention in August, Santorum will have “won” many more states than Paul but have fewer delegates (think of them as bargaining chips). There are other reasons, but I’m sticking with my prediction that Mitt Romney will be the Republican Party candidate, and will win the presidency in November 2012. Even though I don’t want that to happen.

So if I was an eligible voter, and if I was in a state with a caucus or an open primary (where you don’t have to be a registered Republican to vote), I would vote for Rick. Not because I want him to win. But because every vote against Romney, and especially every state he loses, destabilizes him a little bit. And Romney, and the supporting SuperPACs, have to pour more of their finite money into the Republican race, leaving them with less to fight Obama in the autumn. Unfair tactics? No. It’s legal, and both parties push the legality of what they can do as far as they can.

But to reassure my liberal chums, if any have not given up in disgust and are still reading this, come the presidential election proper, no matter what there would only be one vote for me (if I could vote):

Obama 2012 Rally—New York City, June 23rd, 2011

I still believe in hope. And a Barack Obama, used to the mechanisms of presidency and free from compromising to get re-elected, could have a much more progressive second term than his first.

If he wins in November…

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…

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.

Oh, you look so beautiful tonight…

Oh, you look so beautiful tonight…

The lyric to a U2 song and, indeed, the backdrop of sparkling Chicago skyscrapers is lovely to look at. And more impressive when between you and it are a million people going deliriously happy because their man won the presidency.

City lights

The Four Librarians Of The Apocalypse, a new group borne out of #glls2008, went down to Grant Park in Chicago along with a million other people. We saw the results come in, at first nervously and then with increasing cheer.

Where's the grass?

TV and radio crews were everywhere. I got interviewed by a radio station and um Fox news of some description.

Interview

At the end, McCain conceded (in a dignified fashion) and Obama arrived. He took to the stage in the next field and it was relayed to a now delerious million or so people onto giant screens:

Newly elected president speaks

As we left to try and work out how to beat a million people to the nearest taxi, the song was played that on the giant speakers around the park. Anyway, despite the lack of adequate tea facilities in Grant Park, Chicago, a most enjoyable evening was had by all (perhaps a more accurate observation: 1 million people were giddy with happiness and excitement). Wednesday is a rest day when it’s time to say goodbye to some good friends; then I’m off on the Amtrak to follow the Mississippi to New Orleans, stopping off at Memphis to visit Graceland and Sun Records on the way.

Outside, it’s America…

Outside, it’s America…

There was this moment, about 10:30am this morning.

I was in our joint presentation; my co-speaker had the brilliant idea of awarding cash prizes to people who could identify the Nintendo games in her part. To speed things up, I started to throw dollar bills at people who came up with the right answers, like some kind of Las Vegas pimp on a night out in a joint on the strip.

Outside the building, long lines of people are waiting to vote, even in states with early voting. In Ohio, the police have got riot gear on already. In Virginia, a crucial swing state, voting machines are breaking down. In Pennsylvania, another key state where there was no early voting, the queues to vote are extending up to a mile.

IMG_0156.JPG

18 miles from here, the police are trying to organise an event where Obama accepts the presidency, and up to half a million people are expected to turn up. Part of me wants desperately to go to it. But another part of me is terrified at the thought.

The news is wall to wall election – there is no other news – it’s election on 80 channels; rumours and anecdotes feed into the less-than-insulated event here in a Chicago hotel. The conference organisers, attendees, librarians, gamers, and gamer-librarians, seem pumped up, nervous. Someone threw up their breakfast this morning, ran off to the restroom. Her colleague turned to the rest of the table and just said “Election”. And it’s pretty clear, from the reaction in the room to the last slide of my half of the presentation…

…which way the political allegiances of the attendees leans.

Chicago seems on edge; locals stopped smiling when the election was mentioned from about a couple of days ago. But that moment; it must have been some kind of hyper-moment, throwing dollar bills at people while being aware of some of the extreme events happening for hundreds, thousands of miles in every direction as over 130 million people cast votes to decide who will be their collective president. Suddenly it felt … yes. Yes, this is America.

Chicago on election day

Chicago on election day

The TV news is awesome this morning; a country appears to be queuing to vote. View from hotel room balcony below. Apologies to other guests a few minutes ago who were opening their curtains; I should probably have put some clothes on first. Your day can only get better (depending on who wins).

Good morning America...

America time, British time, Obama time

America time, British time, Obama time

In Chicago, and the city seems different from when I was here last summer. Not surprising, as in a few days (though we aren’t sure when), one of its own may become president.

Or will lose.

Whatever happens, I get the feeling that Chicago will be very busy. Unfortunately, if he loses, for the wrong reasons. A hasty retreat onto a plane may not be possible as (a) flights are very busy out of the US next week and (b) from mine and another delegates experience, the taxi drivers of Chicago collectively don’t have a clue where this conference hotel is.

I suspect it’ll be difficult getting a taxi on tuesday to downtown anyway. Americans do things earlier than Brits. This is why Amtrak meal times have been driving me slowly mad. Breakfast at 6:30am, Lunch at 11:45pm, Dinner at the time when decent, civilised British people are conducting afternoon tea. Did you guys forget EVERYTHING we taught you before 1776.

It’s the same at academic and library conferences, like this one. Here, everyone went to bed by 11:30 at the latest. Effectively 10:30, as the clocks go back an hour here tonight. So I just went to the redneck bar and drank interesting beer on my own, while the other patrons (definitely NOT delegates at this conference) glared at my choice of political badge. And the clock changing thing makes it even more difficult to calculate when the Brazilian Grand Prix will start, US Central Time, tomorrow. As I have a lot of money on Lewis to win the championship (on the grounds that surely he can’t mess this up two years in a row), I’m keen to see it, even though this means missing the start of the conference.

The loop

Some of the delegates here are having a meeting at 8:30 tomorrow morning. And on Monday, conference breakfast is from 7:30 to 8:30, with the first speaker starting then. I’ve noticed this at lots of conferences. And it’s always easy to spot the US delegates (they’re the one waiting patiently for breakfast to open at 6:30) and British delegates (they’re the ones staggering in at 8:58 asking “Are you still serving?”). The graphic memory of a certain JISC event in 1996 at the University of Warwick, where three of us literally sprinted to get the last remaining croissant at that time is still vivid.

I think I’m the only Brit at this conference, so the breakfast zone is unlikely to be a barren wilderness of empty tables. Talk is already of what will happen on Tuesday and where we’ll go. Unfortunately getting a taxi looks like a rubbish option based on today’s experiences, and we are nowhere near any kind of bus or train route. Or are we? If the result is delayed (possible), or he loses fairly (possible), or the electronic voting machines are rigged so he loses (according to some here, possible), then things will get … interesting. It looks like the Virginia call (polls close at 7pm) will give the first indications.

One way or the other history will be made. We have some information on crowd prevention measures in Chicago which will come into play, but as yet no fixed plan for tuesday. Anyway; my fellow speaker has checked in (hurrah!) so once have emerged from breakfast and a hopefully Lewis-winning morning, I’ll be ready to conference.