Mid-September Politics

So, I watched two hours of the debate last night.  I haven’t watched any of the previous ones, but decided that with only 10 on stage it would be manageable.  But who decided to make it 3 hours!?  I trend toward political junkiness but even I had had enough.

I came away with lots of questions:  Why is Andrew Yang still on the stage?  Who exactly is supporting him.  He gave precisely one good answer on immigration.  How did Bernie Sanders get to be so old?  He never really looked old in 2016, but three years does make a difference.  And Biden is, well, Biden.  Still with the tangled syntax and rambling answers.  Do I really want to elect another old white guy to succeed the old white guy currently in office?  Is Elizabeth Warren too wonky?  Sometimes her answers, while likely factual, make my eyes glaze over.  (I have to point out here that I worked on her first Senate campaign when I still lived in Massachusetts, but I had the same feelings about her then.)  Maybe she is better suited to the Senate.

The two candidates I liked were Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.  The New York Times only gave them each around 6 out of 10.  (Warren was the highest at 7.5.)  FiveThirtyEight rated them average with most of the others – 3 out of 4 – but they also had Harris slipping in support along with Bernie.  But debate performance is mostly in the eye of the beholder.

So why do I like Harris and Booker?  I think the racial politics right now means we need a black/minority candidate to take on Trump.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think he wouldn’t know what to do against a Harris or Booker:  a smart articulate qualified person who wouldn’t wilt under his racial attacks.  I would pair Harris with Pete Buttigieg or Booker with Amy Klobuchar.  West or east coast with the center.   My single goal is to beat Trump.  I know the polling shows that other candidates can do better in beating him, but it is early days yet and Booker and Harris have decent numbers.   Vox had a story the other day with numbers:

These were the latest numbers in Texas from Latino Decisions, North Star Opinion Research, and the University of Houston:

  • Joe Biden 47 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent
  • Bernie Sanders 48 percent, Donald Trump 42 percent
  • Elizabeth Warren 44 percent, Donald Trump 42 percent
  • Kamala Harris 45 percent, Donald Trump 44 percent
  • Cory Booker 43 percent, Donald Trump 41 percent
  • Julián Castro 44 percent, Donald Trump 41 percent

The real story is in the second half of the column, with Donald Trump stuck between 41 and 44 percent in Texas. Head-to-head polling from the Washington Post and ABC News, fresh off the presses, tells a similar story at the national level among registered voters:

  • Joe Biden 55 percent, Donald Trump 40 percent
  • Bernie Sanders 52 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent
  • Elizabeth Warren 51 percent, Donald Trump 44 percent
  • Kamala Harris 50 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent
  • Pete Buttigieg 47 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent

Once again, the president doesn’t breach even 45 percent against any of his potential Democratic opponents.

 

So let’s not fall into the Bernie-Biden-Warren trap too soon.  We are having debates, but we need to see the ground games of the candidates.  February and the Iowa Caucuses will come soon enough.  For now I will take Harris’ advice, “believe in what can be, unburdened by what has been”.

The Secretaries Kerry

No.  That isn’t a typo.  I’m sure that you know about John Kerry.  He’s the still pretty new Secretary of State.  But you probably don’t know about Cameron Kerry.  Cameron is your acting Secretary of Commerce and John’s younger brother.  This is the first time that brothers have been in the cabinet at the same time.  It won’t last long:  Penny Pritzker will be confirmed one day and Cameron will go back to being General Counsel at Commerce.

The Boston Globe notes

The history-making move is also proving that, well, having two Secretary Kerrys can get quite confusing.

In the Commerce Department, where officialdom prohibits first name usage, staffers have started referring to John Kerry as “the other Secretary Kerry.” When appointments are made at the White House Mess, they now have to specify which Secretary Kerry the reservation is for – and, when paying, Cameron Kerry has been tempted to simply say, “Just put it on his tab.”

Last week, Cameron and John Kerry both signed off on a diplomatic cable to be sent to missions overseas that house employees of both the Commerce and State Departments. The cable said, in all caps, it was from “Secretary Kerry and Acting Secretary of Commerce Kerry.”

“Which is going to confuse the hell out of some people in missions abroad,” Cameron Kerry said.

But as Joe Biden says “Two Kerrys are better than one.”

Cameron Kerry

Cameron Kerry

Photograph: Drew Angerer for the Boston Globe

Marco and Barack and the State of the Union

The President did not awkwardly reach for a bottle of water during his speech.  In fact, I don’t remember him drinking at all.  John Boehner, however, seemed to be sipping from his glass often.  When he wasn’t looking dour, that is.  I’ll write more about substance later, but this post is about impressions.

The best description of the Speaker is from Joan Walsh in Salon

But Boehner’s disdain was unrivaled. He also managed not to rise even for a shout-out to “wounded warriors,” or 102-year-old Deseline Victor, who waited seven hours to vote in Miami on Election Day. It was sometimes hilarious to watch him next to Vice President Joe Biden, who looked like a happy Easter Bunny with his white hair, lavender tie, pink-tinted glasses and green Newtown ribbon. Biden seemed to occasionally enjoy standing up, clapping while looking down at Boehner sulking in his chair.

This is what she means.

When John Boehner just sat there

And then we can move on to Maureen Dowd on Marco Rubio.

The ubiquitous 41-year-old — who’s on the cover of Time as “The Republican Savior” — looked as if he needed some saving himself Tuesday night as he delivered the party’s response to the State of the Union address in English (and Spanish). He seemed parched, shaky and sweaty, rubbing his face and at one point lunging off-camera to grab a bottle of water.

Oh, that water lunge.  How it will haunt poor Marco!

John Cassidy writing for the New Yorker, calls him “Water Boy”.

To be fair to Rubio, with a combination of eye contact and vigorous hand  gestures, he was doing a decent job with the tough task of delivering a lengthy  speech to a camera in an empty room. But then, for some reason—and it must have  seemed like an urgent one to him—he decided to reach for a small plastic bottle  on a nearby table and take a swig, thereby almost ducking out of the camera shot  and sending the Twitterverse into hysterics. “Uh-oh. Water gulp—really bad TV  optics,” Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of  Virginia, tweeted. “SNL, Colbert, Stewart…here they come.” After that  diversion, Rubio appeared to realize his error, and he looked a bit shaken. For  some reason, the camera closed in on his face, which didn’t improve things. As  the Democratic pundit Paul Begala cruelly noted on Twitter, the Senator was sporting a sheen  of sweat that inspired memories of Richard Nixon.

Meanwhile, the President looked confident and sometimes very passionate as when he mentioned the need for Congress to vote on gun safety legislation.

The Republicans looked more like their leader.

That is Paul Ryan in the center.

For right now, the President has the upper hand.  Neither Marco Rubio nor Rand Paul advanced any ideas beyond those from the last election – which they lost.  Plus they presented a bad image all around.  Maybe the Republicans are right in saying the President offered nothing new, nothing really that he didn’t talk about during the campaign, but there is a big difference:  Barack Obama won based in large measure on those ideas.  No wonder they look like four year olds being told they can’t have desert.  And poor Marco.  Only time will tell if he can overcome his reach for water.

Photographs AP/Charles Dharapak, Bill O’Leary/Post, Melina Mara/Post

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

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)

Race: the elephant in the room

If you look behind the numbers of most polls, President Obama is losing the white male, and to a lesser extent, the white female voter.  Why you may ask yourself are these folks voting against their own self-interest?  There is a fear of change.  Fear of loss of power.  And race is at the core.  If I had any doubts about this, they were ended with the reactions of John McCain and John Sununu about Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Obama yesterday.

John Sununu who is not known for his rationality said in an interview with Piers Morgan

“When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama,” Mr. Sununu said.

Mr. Morgan asked flatly, “What reason would that be?”

Mr. Sununu responded, “Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.”

Do you think Sununu has endorsed Mitt Romney because Romney is white?  I don’t think so.

Sununu later released this statement

Colin Powell is a friend and I respect the endorsement decision he made, I do not doubt that it was based on anything but his support of the President’s policies. Piers Morgan’s question was whether Colin Powell should leave the party, and I don’t think he should.

John McCain was not as overt saying

Mr. Powell had “harmed” his legacy by endorsing Mr. Obama a second time. Appearing on Brian Kilmeade’s radio program, Mr.  McCain said “General Powell, you disappoint us and you have harmed your legacy even further by defending what is clearly the most feckless foreign policy in my lifetime.”

Remarks like these from leaders of the Republican party help to fuel the ugly streak we see in the election.  The billboards in minority communities telling people voter fraud is a crime, the t-shirts with the logo “put the white back in the White House”, and the persistent view that the President is not a citizen and certainly not Christian.  David Sirota wrote a piece titled “5 Signs Racism Still Rules Politics”  which is quite instructive.

1. Joe Biden Is almost never called a socialist or a Marxist. Despite a Senate voting record and presidential policymaking record that align him with moderate Republicans from a mere decade ago, Obama is regularly derided as a socialist, a communist or a Marxist. By contrast, Obama’s own white running mate, Joe Biden, has as liberal — or at times even more liberal — a voting record as Obama, but (save for the occasional Newt Gingrich  outburst) is almost never referred to in such inflammatory terms.

2. Romneycare is Obamacare, yet the latter is criticized. It’s a well-known, undisputed fact that Romneycare was a conservative health insurance model constructed by the right-wing  Heritage Foundation , and that it was Massachusetts’ state-level  model for the federal healthcare bill ultimately championed by President Obama. Nonetheless, under the first African-American president, the very same healthcare model the GOP championed is now being held up by the GOP as a redistributionist boondoggle

3. A white president would never be criticized for these statements about Trayvon Martin. No white president has ever been blamed for the varied and disparate transgressions committed by white folk.

What the President said was

“When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together.”

4. America would neither ignore nor laugh off a young black male relative of Obama publicly fantasizing about violence against a presidential candidate. As I reported last week, Romney’s son, Tagg Romney, cheerily riffed on his fantasies about committing an act of violence against a sitting president of the United States.

5. If one of Obama’s teenage daughters was unmarried and pregnant, it wouldn’t be considered a “private” matter.When Sarah Palin was put on the Republican ticket in 2008, Bristol Palin’s pregnancy did not initiate a national discussion about the issue of teen pregnancy, unprotected sex or promiscuous fornication outside of wedlock.

Pictures show the difference between the crowds at rallies.  You rarely see any brown or black faces at Romney rallies.  His crowds tend to be older and whiter.

Mitt Romney arrives to campaign at Worthington Industries, a metal processing company, in Worthington, Ohio, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012.  | AP Photo

Let me end with some observations from Eugene Robinson.

This election is only tangentially a fight over policy. It is also a fight about meaning and identity — and that’s one reason voters are so polarized. It’s about who we are and who we aspire to be.President Obama enters the final days of the campaign with a substantial lead among women — about 11 points, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll — and enormous leads among Latinos and African Americans, the nation’s two largest minority groups. Mitt Romney leads among white voters, with an incredible 2-to-1 advantage among white men.
It is too simplistic to conclude that demography equals destiny. Both men are being sincere when they vow to serve the interests of all Americans. But it would be disingenuous to pretend not to notice the obvious cleavage between those who have long held power in this society and those who are beginning to attain it.When Republicans vow to “take back our country,” they never say from whom. But we can guess.
Robinson concludes

Issues may explain our sharp political divisions, but they can’t be the cause of our demographic polarization. White men need medical care, too. African Americans and Latinos understand the need to get our fiscal house in order. The recession and the slow recovery have taken a toll across the board.

Some of Obama’s opponents have tried to delegitimize his presidency because he doesn’t embody the America they once knew. He embodies the America of now.

I can’t help but feel that if President Obama wins a second term we will have turned a corner –  whether the Republicans can accept it or not.  If the country is not to continue on this divided path the Republicans deal the elephant of race.

UPDATE:

Charles Blow has an interesting chart in Saturday’s New York Times.

Both photographs by AP.

The Vice Presidential debate in song

Very clever, those Gregory Brothers .

The Gregory Brothers — Andrew, Michael, Evan and Sarah (who is married to Evan) Gregory — are best known for their YouTube music-video mash-ups, including the series Auto-Tune the News and Songify This!, in which they make songs out of non-songs and unintentional singers out of intentional speakers. They live in Brooklyn.

we present you the vice-presidential debate as it should be: Songified. It is our hope that someday, the vice-presidential candidates of the future will learn a lesson and just sing the whole thing to begin with.

http://www.nytimes.com/export_html/common/new_article_post.html?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2012%2F10%2F12%2Fopinion%2Fvice-presidential-debate-highlights-songified.html%3Fsmid%3Dpl-share&title=%E2%80%98V.P.%20Debate%20Highlights%2C%20Songified%E2%80%99&summary=The%20Gregory%20Brothers%20present%20a%20musical%20mash-up%20video%20of%20the%20vice%20presidential%20debate.

Enjoy!