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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.

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…

An American trip: October and November 2008

An American trip: October and November 2008

During October and November of 2008, I took a month-long trip around the US of A. The main mode of transport was Amtrak train, and the trip tied in neatly with two conferences I was speaking at – one of which was in Chicago on the day Barack Obama was elected (and one heck of an evening that was). I did a lot of writing on that trip, thinking it was just a few people in the Outer Hebrides and a few friends and colleagues who were reading it – and not realising until recently that others were too, for various reasons. I’m relieved now I didn’t delete the words.

Since demolishing my blog and, essentially, restarting all of my online presence as new as I can, the diaries have gotten messed up, but they should be restored here as a set of 32 postings.

Don’t know which post was the “best”, but a few folk have said the Surviving New Orleans posting is their choice because of the tweeted engagement story in it. Mine is the Texas one, where I seem to have just lost inhibitions and fears and just … wrote.

Oct 18th – Los Angeles and Santa Monica

Oct 20th – Pictures, not words

Oct 21st – Sleepless in Monterey

Oct 23rd – Monterey aquarium

Pier from the sidewalk

Oct 25th – First overnight trip on Amtrak

Oct 25th – Breakfast in Seattle

Oct 26th – An afternoon in the mountains

Oct 26th – New York deli breakfast in Seattle

Oct 27th – Montana at dawn

Oct 28th – Whitefish, Montana

Oct 29th – Sign of the times

Samantha at Tucson station

Oct 29th – Election, American style

Oct 30th – Do bears…?

Oct 30th – Is black the new ginger?

Oct 30th – Election day events in Chicago

Nov 1st – Whitefish to Chicago by Amtrak

Nov 1st – GLLS2008 food

Nov 2nd – American time, British time, Obama time

Nov 4th – Chicago on election day

Walkway

Nov 4th – Outside, it’s America

Nov 5th – “Oh, you look so beautiful, tonight…”

Nov 5th – The morning after

Nov 6th – In America, academics knit

Nov 7th – Goodbye Chicago

Nov 8th – Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

Nov 8th – Memphis, and the ride to New Orleans

Nov 10th – New Orleans (1)

He won

Nov 10th – New Orleans (2)

Nov 12th – Surviving New Orleans

Nov 13th – Texas: a thousand miles of bugger-all

Nov 13th – The American Dream

Nov 16th – Trip summary

There’s also a set of pictures on Flickr, some of which are embedded in the postings anyway.

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.

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.

A very Irish (US) election

A very Irish (US) election

Genealogy is one of the main uses of the Internet. Not surprisingly, as before the net, research into family ancestory was difficult, slow and costly. Now, various software and many thousands of websites usually make the process a lot quicker. All manner of organisations provide such information online; for example, if you associated the Mormons just with the Osmonds and Mitt Romney, then think again – they maintain one of the largest online databases of ancestral information at www.familysearch.org, and helped me trace a few of my ancestors to 1523-4.

A few days ago, John McCain picked Sarah Palin as VP; she has one heck of a Celtic ancestry. But she’s not alone; it turns out that all four main presidential or vice presidential candidates have Irish ancestry. Surprising – maybe not, considering the history of emigration from European countries to the US. Many contemporary US politicians, such as George W Bush (who btw is 4% Welsh by ancestry), Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Mike Huckabee have “Irish blood” in them.

But it looks like Ireland (population: tiny in comparison) can lay claim to be the birthplace of this election race. Many people have done work on Barack Obama’s family tree; and, it didn’t take too long before Irish ancestry was found. His fourth great-grandfather a shoemaker from the village of Moneygall whose son emigrated to the US in 1850, while his sixth great-granduncle, Michael Kearney, was a wig-maker from Dublin.

Spotlight on Obama (Commentary)

With Jo (or is it Joe?) Biden, you don’t need to go too far back to find Irish connections, having a great grandparent named Finnegan, and a great great grandparent called Patrick Blewitt. The Biden surname came from William Biden, an English emigrant from the early 19th century. Moving on to the Republicans, and John McCain has a greatx4 grandfather, Captain John Young, from County Antrim who married Mary White from the same area before they both emigrated to Virginia. Not surprisingly, the McCain name comes from a Scottish ancestor, his greatx3 grandfather Joseph McCain being born in Scotland in 1773.

Finally, Sarah Palin. Sarah has one great-great-great grandfather, surname Sheeran, from Ireland, and is descended from William I of Scotland via Edmond Hawes (d. 9 Jun 1693). William ruled Scotland from 1165 to 1214. And, for an English angle, she has several ancestors who came over to the US on the Mayflower.

It is slightly disappointing that Barack didn’t pick Claire McCaskill, the senator of Missouri, as the VP candidate. There currently isn’t much about her family ancestry online. However, a few other locals have seen her picture and, before seeing her name – Berneray has many McCaskill connections and several families are McCaskills – commented that she appears “local”.

Out of interest, the current odds on the presidential election at Paddy Power, Ireland’s most well-known online bookmaker, are:

1-2 Barack Obama
6-4 John McCain
1000-1 Paris Hilton

n.b. I forwarded this post to a colleague in Dublin. His txt response: “No Ireland: no America. End of.”