Taking the oath

President Obama just became the 16th President to take the oath of office for the second time.  There have been 57 inaugurations.

President Barack Obama is officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts in the Blue Room of the White House. | AP Photo

Josh Gerstein commented on Politico

Barack Obama and John Roberts were all smiles when the chief justice swore in  the president on Sunday — and they’ll likely repeat the performance on  Monday.

But the serene tableau obscures the tumultuous relationship between the two  men since their first awkward public interaction during the botched oath of  office four years ago.

On Sunday, Roberts read the oath from a piece of paper — and both men seemed  relieved when it was over. They exchanged congratulations and thanks, and then  Obama turned to his daughter Sasha. “I did it,” he told her.

Vice President Joe Biden was sworn in earlier by Justice Sotomayor.

Vice-president Joe Biden takes the oath

Obama Photograph AP

Biden photograph Carolyn Kaster/AP

Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator

The day we’ve been waiting for.  This picture is from one of her three swearing-ins.  All the Senators get sworn in together and then they get sworn in individually by Vice President, Joe Biden.  Her third, which I plan to attend will be here in Boston, just down the street from me, on Saturday.  Justice Elena Kagan will do the honors.

Elizabeth Warren being sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden

Elizabeth Warren being sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden

The Boston Globe reports

Elizabeth Warren arrived at the Capitol on Thursday morning carrying a black L.L. Bean backpack in the manner of a student in one of her former Harvard classes. Inside was her treasured, tattered King James Bible, used since third grade and chosen for her Senate swearing-in.

“I know people come with big fancy family Bibles,” Warren said in an interview before her induction. “Mine’s a little more modest.”

As she waited, the first woman elected to the Senate from Massachusetts mused about the moment.

“This chair, this particular Senate seat, was held by John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, [Charles] Sumner — and of course Senator [Edward M.] Kennedy for half a century,” Warren said. “Men of principle, men who fought hard for the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and for this country.”

All of us who worked for her election – and those who didn’t – should wish her well.  She has history to live up to and we know she will join the list as a great Senator.

[And I just realized I forgot to mention Bruce Mann, Warren’s husband, in the caption to the picture.]

Photograph Chip Somadevilla / Getty Images

The Democratic House Women of the 113th Congress

The New York Times Caucus blog has posted this picture.

Female members of the House Democratic caucus posed for a photograph on Thursday on the steps of the Capitol.

This is most of the 61 women of the Democratic House caucus.

Favoring hues of deep reds and blues, they gathered in the chilly January air, waving to old friends and greeting the new. They laughed and joked, cheekily inviting Representative Barney Frank, a departing Democrat from Massachusetts, to hop in the picture. (He politely demurred.) At one point, a young male aide to Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, scurried up to grab some of the members’ coats, juggling the fur and wool throw-overs in his left hand while trying to snap iPhone photos with his right.

As latecomers wandered up, the women called for the photographer to wait, pointing out the stragglers.

There will be 20 women in the Senate and 81 in the House – a record.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz is among the missing from the photograph, however.

But Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida emerged from the House moments too late, just as the group was dispersing. However, all was not lost; the photographer took some shots of the late arrivals, and the caucus plans to Photoshop them in.

What did we do before Photoshop?  And don’t the women who did make it look wonderful?

Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The electoral college votes

The Electoral College voted on Monday.

As the Washington Post pointed out

President Obama hasn’t officially secured a second term in the White House. Technically, that won’t happen until the electoral college casts its ballots Monday — presumably in favor of the winner for each state.

Even then, Congress has to formally declare Obama the victor after counting the electoral votes on Jan. 6.

Other than saying that every state has an elector for each senator and representative, the Constitution provides little guidance.  Federal law provides the framework.

Federal law requires state electors to meet in their respective state capitals every four years to cast their votes for president and vice president on the Monday after the second Wednesday of December. Otherwise, states largely set their own rules. In most states, an equal number of electors pledge themselves to each candidate, and the popular vote dictates which team of electors casts its votes.

So how did the voting go on Monday?  The Boston Globe had two stories:  One on the voting generally and one on Massachusetts.  I quote from both.

Ceremonies around the country had their share of pomp and electors in red, white and blue ties. Wisconsin’s electors donned pin-on buttons with headshots of the president. A bit of controversy erupted in Arizona, where a few electors voiced doubts that Obama was ‘‘properly vetted as a legitimate candidate for president’’ by raising debunked claims about his birth certificate.

In New Hampshire, electors supporting Obama signed their four ballots and then certificates that were sealed in envelopes with wax that has been in the secretary of state’s office for more than 70 years.

Vermont’s meeting of three electors was witnessed by a fifth-grade class.

Connecticut’s electors convened in the state Senate chamber and solemnly remembered the victims of last week’s school shooting before carrying out their task.

In Mississippi, which Romney carried comfortably, six men chosen earlier as electors met in a small committee room in the state Capitol and cast their votes for the GOP candidate. Well aware they were doing so in a lost cause, they opted for humor. The state’s Republican governor, Phil Bryant, joked that Billy Mounger, an 86-year-old elector, probably wished to vote for Calvin Coolidge, a renowned small-government conservative president in the 1920s.

And is Massachusetts

The electors, who are chosen by the respective state party committees, entered the chamber  dressed in formal attire to a standing ovation.

Galvin [Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin]  said afterward that each party committee chooses a slate of people to sit on the Electoral College, and the slate from the winning party casts the final vote. Though they are not legally bound to vote for the winner of the November election, all of them have pledged to, Galvin said.

“It was a nice visit to history,” he said of the ceremony, which included classical music from Project Step, a group that provides musical instruction to minority youth, and a rendition of the national anthem from the Boston Children’s Chorus.

Now we wait for Congress to count the votes on January 6.  Then the re-election of Barack Obama will be official.  Until then some historical perspective.

Votes in the Electoral College, 1824.

Votes in the Electoral College, 1824. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The death of the Republican party? Part 2

Maureen Dowd calls them  “A Lost civilization”. likening them to the lost tribes of civilization.

The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world: the G.O.P. universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys.

Just another vanishing tribe that fought the cultural and demographic tides of history.

Someday, it will be the subject of a National Geographic special, or a Mel Gibson movie, where archaeologists piece together who the lost tribe was, where it came from, and what happened to it. The experts will sift through the ruins of the Reagan Presidential Library, Dick Cheney’s shotgun casings, Orca poll monitoring hieroglyphics, remnants of triumphal rants by Dick Morris on Fox News, faded photos of Clint Eastwood and an empty chair, and scraps of ancient tape in which a tall, stiff man, his name long forgotten, gnashes his teeth about the 47 percent of moochers and the “gifts” they got.

Instead of smallpox, plagues, drought and Conquistadors, the Republican decline will be traced to a stubborn refusal to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count.

As the historian Will Durant observed, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Who would ever have thought blacks would get out and support the first black president? Who would ever have thought women would shy away from the party of transvaginal probes? Who would ever have thought gays would work against a party that treated them as immoral and subhuman? Who would have ever thought young people would desert a party that ignored science and hectored on social issues? Who would ever have thought Latinos would scorn a party that expected them to finish up their chores and self-deport?

Calvin Trillin puts it this way

Mitt Romney Explains Why He Lost

Obama was clever as clever could be;
To targeted groups he gave gifts that were free:
Say, healthcare for free until age 26,
And free contraceptives (for sex just for kicks).
Debates in the primaries left our team bruised
From harsh accusations the White House then used.
Whatever the reason for losing might be,
Of one thing I’m sure: it could not have been me.
I’m perfect.

But those of us on the other side should remember that the Democrats have also had some near-death experiences – like after the 1972 election – and we have spent our time in the wilderness, too.  The party has had internal struggles and differences, but, correct me if I’m wrong, there has never been a point where the Democratic party was this close to making itself irrelevant.

Trillin again.

Republican Soul Searching   

We’re searching our souls and we’re wondering why
We got beat so badly our rivals are gloating.
It’s obvious now where our campaign went wrong:
We should have prevented more people from voting.

Why did Mitt Romney think he was a winner?

We all know that Mitt Romney was stunned when he lost.  It is said that he didn’t even have a concession speech written thus accounting for the delay between everyone including Fox calling the election and his speech.  And Logan Airport in Boston was crowded with private jets belonging to donors who were there to celebrate at Mitt’s cash bar.  But the party was spoiled because his internal polls were not only wrong, they were garbage.

Last night on Hardball, John Brabender, the Republican campaign official, did not answer Chris Matthew’s direct question as to how the Romney polls could have been so wrong.  This morning, Nate Silver, the man the Republicans trashed but who turned out to be correct, explains what happened.

In this morning’s FiveThirtyEight, Silver writes

Pollsters can expect to take their share of blame when their campaigns lose, and this year has been no exception. Not long after Barack Obama and Democrats had a strong night on Nov. 6, Republicans began to complain publicly that the polls conducted by their campaigns and by affiliated groups implied considerably more optimistic outcomes for them than actually occurred.

Perhaps these Republicans shouldn’t have been so surprised. When public polls conducted by independent organizations clash with the internal polls released by campaigns, the public polls usually prove more reliable.

Take, for example, the gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin earlier this year. Independent polls had the Republican incumbent, Scott Walker, favored to retain his office by about six percentage points. A series of polls conducted for Democratic groups showed a roughly tied race instead.

Mr. Walker in fact won by seven points: the independent polls called the outcome almost exactly, while the internal polls were far from the mark.

Take note any Republicans reading this:  This is a Democratic error.  And, generally speaking, internal polls are not worth much as predictors of the outcome.

But when campaigns release internal polls to the public, their goal is usually not to provide the most accurate information. Instead, they are most likely trying to create a favorable news narrative – and they may fiddle with these assumptions until they get the desired result.

The Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman, who testified under oath in the federal case against John Edwards, put this bluntly, describing the release of internal polls to the news media as a form of “propaganda”:

Hickman testified that when circulating the polls, he didn’t much care if they were accurate. “I didn’t necessarily take any of these as for — as you would say, for the truth of the matter. I took them more as something that could be used as propaganda for the campaign,” the veteran pollster said.

Some reporters make the mistake of assuming that information is valuable simply because it is private or proprietary. But the information that makes it to the reporter’s ears, or into his in-box, may be something that the campaign wants him to hear or see.

During the campaign Republican polling data was released to the New Republic and subsequently to Silver.

Silver explains

In fact, Mr. Obama won all seven states, and by an average margin of 5.7 percentage points based on the ballots counted so far. (Several of the states have yet to certify their results.) Therefore, the polls were biased in Mr. Romney’s direction by nearly five percentage points, on average.

It should be mentioned that most of the independent polls this year were also slightly biased (in a statistical sense) toward Mr. Romney. In the same seven states, the final Real Clear Politics averages overrated Mr. Romney’s standing by 2.5 percentage points. The final FiveThirtyEight forecasts were less biased statistically, in part because our forecast model was designed to respond aggressively to movement in the polls in the closing days of the campaign, which favored Mr. Obama after Hurricane Sandy. Still, our forecasts in these seven states had a one-point bias toward Mr. Romney, on average, compared against the actual results.

The curious, but little known, thing about the Romney internal polls is that it appears they never projected him to win the Electoral College.

Further, the Romney campaign’s polls did not have him winning the Electoral College, as they had Mr. Romney behind in Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to Mr. Scheiber. Assuming that the campaign also had Mr. Romney trailing in Nevada and Michigan, but leading in Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, then Mr. Romney would have been leading in states containing 261 electoral votes, but trailing Mr. Obama in states containing 271. Mr. Romney’s internal polls implied better chances for him than the public polls did – but if Mr. Scheiber’s reporting is right, they still had him as the underdog.

My husband points out that Mitt the self-described data guy seems to have only looked at his internal polling data.  Did he look at Real Clear Politics?  Or the daily reporting of poll results from the Daily Kos?  Or even FiveThirtyEight?  These were sources readily available to him.  He could just have had staff compile all the public polling these sources used each day in a special report just for him.

Internal polls are used for a lot a purposes other than showing a candidates standing in the race.  They can be used to measure effectiveness of message or standing among a specific demographic.  But they should be taken with caution by the candidate and certainly their public release can be dangerous.  In this case, the campaign also sold all the folks on Fox. Silver concludes

But most important, campaigns would be wise not to have their pollsters serve as public spokesmen or spin doctors for the campaign. Campaigns have other personnel who specialize in those tasks.

The role of the pollster should be just the opposite of this, in fact: to provide a reality check such that the campaign does not begin to believe its own spin.

Mitt didn’t write a concession speech because he believed his own spin.  And there will likely be only one picture of him in the Oval Office.

White House Photo

Photograph from the White House.