Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Some political candy for your morning ...

Love the Huff post and this article just makes me giddy with excitement:

Early Voting Flood in Swing States Predicts Obama Tsunami

Did I say giddy? I meant ga-ga ...

It's Election Day, Yay!

Go Vote!

Because somewhere in the country, issues are taking place at the polls ...

Problems in Virginia

Long Lines in Georgia

Power Outages and Paperwork Delays in Florida

Monday, November 3, 2008

God Bless You Madelyn Dunham ...

Most people don't remember this, but Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I've Been To the Mountaintop" speech the day before he was assassinated in 1968.

At this very sad moment, a few of the lines of that speech so very well summarize what I hope Madam Dunham thought on her last days on Earth:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But
I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed
me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised
Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as
a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!"

God bless you Madelyn Dunham, and may God welcome you with open arms this evening.

Legacy Building and the 2008 Election

Legacies and history tend to favor the victors. The corollary to that, of course, is that history tends to forget the losers. So for one moment, let's consider John McCain's legacy if tomorrow is his swan song. How will McCain be remembered by history? Will he be remembered as:

  • A U.S. military hero and POW?
  • A member of the Keating 5?
  • A maverick U.S. Senator?
  • The co-author of McCain-Feingold?
  • A twice defeated presidential candidate?
  • The man who launched Sarah Palin's career?
  • Or something else?

Despite all the negative campaigning and all the distortions of which McCain is guilty this campaign, I can't help but maintain some semblance of respect for the man. It seems that after nearly a decade of being in the public's eye and being the media's darling, I can't seem to convince myself that the 2008 McCain is the true McCain versus the 2000 McCain.

At least I couldn't until I read this piece in Rolling Stone Magazine. First, let me warn you, the article is exceptionally long. But it is also amazingly well researched and documented. And has dozens, if not hundreds, of bullets. You know biting quotes. And one of the lines that may help define McCain's legacy for me is this one:

The myth of John McCain hinges on two transformations -- from pampered flyboy to selfless patriot, and from Keating crony to incorruptible reformer -- that simply never happened. But there is one serious conversion that has taken root in McCain: his transformation from a cautious realist on foreign policy into a reckless cheerleader of neoconservatism.

And it is in this snippet that we see the context under which McCain's political life and career has been defined: A politically convenient chameleon. This is a man who has allowed his ambition to define his life, rather than the opposite. McCain, as this article details, has demons which at once both created a desire to achieve greater acclaim than either his 4-star admiral grandfather or father and at the same instilled in him a privilege complex. Essentially a man who wants fame and fortune but isn't really willing to work for it. Interestingly, when I read more and more about McCain, I see more and more of George W. Bush. A man who got to where he is in life almost solely based on his connections and not his own merit. A man who lacks the intellectual curiousity or capacity to truly hold the most powerful position in the world. But I seriously digress.

The question is this: What is McCain's legacy? And I think the answer is: Rather insignificant. He isn't a titan of policy wonkishness; he isn't some courageous legislator; and he isn't some commanding military presence. At the end of the day, he is somewhat of a middling politician, who crafted a pretty decent bill (McCain-Feingold), which, ironically, may have been eviscerated by Obama's presidential campaign and a small donor network. McCain is neither the type of dogmatician, like Barry Goldwater, nor eloquent speaker, like William Jennings Bryan or Daniel Webster, that will preserve his legacy. The fact is he really isn't much more than a media darling, whose ambition wasn't enough to win him the presidency. He's a man who, as Chuck Todd of MSNBC wrote today, missed his timing. A man who probably could have won the presidential election in 2000, when the country was fat and happy in the midst of a ginormous economic boom and much more eager to fight the salaciousness of Washington, but not in 2008 when the country needs serious ideas by serious men.

McCain is merely a product of late 20th Century and early 21st Century media politics. But that isn't the kind of politician or leader for whom great legacies are created. Tomorrow, McCain may enter the rolls of decent politicians who never won the big prize. And that is probably all he really deserves anyway.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Time to get rid of the electoral college?

I was never the most popular kid in school. I was too talkative. I was that over-anxious kid in class who was way too interested in raising his hand and proving he was smart. Of course, that's my own personal issues, but makes me a bit surprised that I am starting to wonder whether it is time to get rid of the electoral college and replace it with a popularity contest.

A couple days ago I saw a headline on either MSNBC, Huffington Post, or Politico where a columnist was writing about this very topic. I'll admit that I didn't take the time to read the article then and I can't find it now. So instead to bone up on the topic I bit, I read this semi-slanted, but historically interesting piece put out by the Federal Election Commission. Discounting its obviously biased omission about the 2000 election not electing the victor of the popular vote, it is definitely worth a read if you want to get a sense of why we have the electoral college in the first place. To try to summarize it as best as I can, basically the decision was made for three reasons: (1) the country wanted to safeguard against states essentially voting for a popular son; (2) the forefathers didn't trust political parties; and (3) citizens at that time believed that gentlemen should not campaign for office, and as the author of the piece, William C. Kimberling points out, the saying of the time was: "The office should seek the man, the man should not seek the office."

So with that as a backdrop and without going into details about the various iterations that the electoral college has gone through, we have our current system which gives each state a handful (or in a few states' cases quite a few handfuls) of votes based on the number of representatives in Congress that state has. In other words, it is a popularity contest that is, for the most part, based on 50 1/2 "people" deciding who is president, with each of those 50 1/2 people being more important than the next.

But a goofy thing happened on the ole trip to the electoral college store: Political parties got big. And TV, radio, and the Internet made it convenient not to campaign everywhere. And states got awfully partisan. To the point that now, presidential politics is basically a game fighting over usually 9-12 states. In some years, you might see an election where a few extra states are in play, but usually (and for at least the last 3 election cycles) you see the same states in play. Those states are: Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Florida. And all the other states? Well unless you have a $1000 or more plate fundraiser being held in your state, no visits for the real average Joes of the country.

Which is where the problem is in my mind. Because most states are either safely blue or safely red, the locus of power in the country ends up being in these 9-12 states that swing back and forth. Now, I have no empirical evidence to back this up, but I really wouldn't be surprised to see that politics ends up seeping itself into a presidential candidate's mind when voting on bills. You think that maybe Ohio or Florida sees a pet project go its way based on a later plan of a candidate to campaign there?

So, seeing Obama and Biden and the Clintons and McCain and Palin going to the same places, again and again and again, this campaign season, it has gotten me to wondering. And my wonderment takes me to these questions: Is this truly a problem? And is there a simple solution?

And interestingly, the thought that is percolating in my head arose after watching the way Obama has campaigned this season. A funny thing happened in the 2008 election: Obama forgot or didn't realize that there are red states and that there are blue states. He forgot to read the memo that says in presidential politics, you forget about the red states and focus on the 9-12 purple states. Instead, Obama branched out. Now, I suspect that the only reason he was in a position to do this was: (a) because the primary season was as long as it was; and (b) because he's raised nearly $600 million this campaign season. Name recognition and loads of cash make that sort of strategy feasible.

But it did something else: It started energizing Democrats in states that hadn't been terribly energized in the past 40 something years. Think about this: with 12 days before the election, multiple polls show Obama ahead in states like Indiana, Colorado, Montana, Virginia, North Carolina, and Nevada.

Think about that while at the same time understanding this: The last time those states voted for a Democrat were:

  • Indiana = 1964
  • Colorado = 1992
  • Montana = 1992
  • Virginia = 1964
  • North Carolina = 1976
  • Nevada = 1996

It isn't like any of these states are exactly bastions of Democratic voters. But Obama is competing there. And guess what each of those states have in common? Democrats have actually campaigned there this campaign season.

So what we actually see is that people get a whole heckuva lot more excited about a campaign when candidates actually show up in the state. Now, I'm not naive enough to believe that the only correlation between this new interest is based solely on the visits and not the fact that we have huge domestic issues, a war that has been an extremely divisive issue over the last six years, a historically unpopular president, and a wildly dynamic Democratic candidate. But the campaigning there can't have hurt.

And here's the point: If candidates can boost electoral participation based on simply visiting a state, isn't that a good thing? And wouldn't we ensure that candidates would visit more places if a state's votes weren't a foregone conclusion? Since 2000, this country has taken huge steps forward trying to make sure that voters aren't disenfranchised, instituting early voting in many states, offering additional finances to states to update their voting machines, and a larger focus from both major parties in GOTV efforts and registering new voters. Wouldn't one of the next step be to make sure that every vote actually counted? You know, by making presidential politics a popular vote? Every other elected office in the country is decided by the popular vote and we seem to do okay there.

Now is the time to get rid of an outdated campaign system that doesn't really count many of our votes. Now is the time to force campaigns and candidates and the political parties to not consider any state or any vote is a foregone conclusion. Now is the time for the political parties and the presidential candidates realize that if you are going to represent all of America then all of America deserves to see you in its states before it puts you in the highest office in the land. Now is the time to get rid of the electoral college.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What the hell is Con-Con and why you might just want to vote for it.

This is probably more specific to any Illinois readers, but one of the toughest decisions that I had to make when I voted yesterday was whether to vote for Con-Con. Or better known as the Constitutional Convention and making this even more clear, whether to initiate a new Illinois Constitutional Convention. You see built into Illinois's constitution is a provision that requires that every 20 years a vote be put before the state on whether to initiate another Con-Con.

This is that year. So why the big debate on whether to vote for this or not? Well, constitutional conventions are big things. There have only been 5 in Illinois history and only 2 within the last 100 years (with 1970 being the last one). And Con-Cons aren't cheap either (estimates put the current one somewhere between $23 million at the low end and $78-80 million at the high end). Not to mention that many people fear Con-Cons because there might be malarkey during one. And there are a whole bunch of groups who fear change in the constitution as it is currently written. And finally, there is a whole group of people who say why fix what ain't broken.

Now, I've never been a big believer in Thomas Jefferson's belief that we should redraft the constitution every generation (and for those of you who believe that Jefferson advocated a bloody revolution every 10 years, (like this guy), I for the life of me can't find support for that belief), but there are points where we need to consider whether it is time to redraft the constitution.

And I'm starting to think that it is time for Illinois to get out its red pen and try to do some good. These are the reasons I think it is time for another Con-Con:
  1. We desperately need to redo the structure for funding schools in Illinois. This is a hot-button issue and almost certainly will be addressed this time around.
  2. There is a large majority of democrats in this state, which almost assures that interest groups supported by Dems will be fairly represented (i.e., teachers, unions, workers, etc.).
  3. This may be the perfect means by which to get a constitutional amendment on the books that would allow gay marriage in Illinois (or at least greater rights than what are currently allowed).
  4. It is time to increase the amount of state representatives and senators are in Illinois. That number was reduced greatly during the last Con-Con, and now is the time to repair the damage that was done.
  5. We'll need to redistrict in 2010 anyway, so we might as well use a Con-Con to set up some sort of fair way to do it.
  6. It is time to do away with voting on the retention of judges in Illinois and find a new method for judges to be appointed/elected or otherwise. On this point, I'm particularly passionate. Here I am a practicing attorney of 4+ years and yesterday when I voted, I had to vote to retain 50 something judges. I knew 4 of them. Now, if I only know a very small amount of the judges who are up for retention, how is a non-lawyer expected to make a decision on whether to retain a judge or not? Not to mention, what makes a good Democratic politician (or Republican politician, for that matter) doesn't always make a good judge. It is a terrible system to decide who should stay a judge and who shouldn't.
  7. Government Ethics. This state looks broken. Our last chief executive was indicted, the current one might be, and we have too many stories of dirty politicians in this state. Time to get an omnibus ethics bill out there and what better way to do it than putting it in the constitution.
  8. What's the harm? Even if we have a Con-Con, the new Constitution would still need to be ratified by the state in the 2010 election. If the new Constitution is terrible, then all we've cost ourselves is a relatively small amount of money (from a government spending standpoint).

Now, there are also some pretty severe "cons" to this as well. Among the ones I can think of off the top of my head are:

  1. Pensions, pensions, pensions. Right now we have a huge deficit in the pension program in the state and Blago did try to reduce future pension payments a few years ago, but there are plenty of very loyal Dems who could be impacted by any messing with the pension programs, including teachers. Now, it is important to note that by federal law, a state can't reduce current pension payments. But it can reduce future ones. With a big deficit, it is possible that some people and industries may see cuts to government pensions.
  2. Business. Now I won't fall on the sword for big corporations too often, even if they do represent 95% of my client base, but Illinois has fairly favorable laws in place right now. Those could be impacted in a Con-Con. And as much as we'd like to see big business pay higher taxes, if another state doesn't have those same restrictions in place, then Illinois could lose business to others states and that also would mean losing jobs. Illinois workers and families don't need that.
  3. Cost. $23 million to $78 million isn't chump change. It would be really expensive to have a Con-Con, especially considering that people run for delegate seats.
  4. Current Administration. Lots of people will point out that Springfield is as dysfunctional as they come right now. Lots of people will also think that a dysfunctional Springfield is a terrible atmosphere for a Con-Con. I don't disagree that Springfield is dysfunctional, but it is worth pointing out that delegates are elected. In the last Con-Con in 1970, there were but a handful of politicians serving.
  5. A Ploy To Recall Blago. This is one many people seem to fear. In fact, the last question that someone in Illinois will vote for is whether or not to allow recall votes of politicians. I'm a bit fearful of that provision myself. Mob mentalities don't always have the coolest heads, but this is something that might emerge from a Con-Con (good or bad, you decide).

So, these are a few of the things that I think present themselves as both pros and cons for a Con-Con. At the end of the day, I decided to give the Con-Con a try and voted for it. In this political climate and with the prospect of a President Obama, perhaps I'm just too giddy with faith in people and the positive opportunities a Con-Con presents. Or maybe at the very least I just think it is time to fix our school funding situation and see this as the best opportunity to get it done.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why You Are a Good American And Why Sarah Palin Should Be Damn Happy About That

There are so many quotes about why history is important and why people are doomed to repeat their predecessors' mistakes when they don't know about history. My favorite has always been: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" (George Santayana).

But there is a twist on that quote that many politicians just don't realize: If you don't know your history, you are doomed to say really, really stupid and embarrassing things.

Which brings us to Sarah Palin (and to a lesser extent John McCain and the Republican Party). Last Thursday night, Palin said in a campaign rally in Greensboro, North Carolina: "We believe that the best of America is in the small towns that we get to visit, and in the wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation." CNN 10/17 Campaign Wrap. Tie that to McCain's recent panderings to his base about Obama being a socialist and we see "Red Scare" politics reemerging.

And here is where Palin and McCain's failure to understand history really comes into play. You see, America is a country that embraces all ideas. It embraces those that no one can stand and it embraces those that are clearly the majority's sentiment. So long as those ideas aren't ones that incite violence or are the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, then people are given the right to say what they want and express what they like. In the past eight years, too many times the executive branch forgot that mantra. And now McCain and Palin are trying to manipulate the fear that accompanies the "us v. them" mentality.

The beauty of this country, the beauty of the American ideal is that this country expects and encourages its citizens to question the ruling class. It is the reason that anyone and everyone who questions the establishment is a true American, a pro-American. And it is the reason that these comments are ludicrous.

But even as ludicrous as they are, these "Red Scare" politics only work in democracies. Only in a country that embraces almost all freedoms of expression could a group of people spread out and out falsehoods about other candidates and not face some sort of consequences. You see non-democracies don't tolerate questioning the ruling class. People aren't allowed to attack the corrupt nature of politicians. Instead, in dictatorships or faux-democracies, you see roving bands of mercenaries killing dissenters; you see government sponsored pogroms of terror; and you see dissidents imprisoned.

Which brings us back to history and "Red Scare" politics. And ties directly into Sarah Palin being able to see Russia. Now we all know that Sarah can't see Russia, but if she could, she'd be staring directly at Siberia. And you know what you found in Siberia in Stalin-era Russia? Well besides lots of snow, you'd find Gulags. And you know who they put in Gulags? Political dissenters, among others. Like Sarah Palin in 2006. You know when she was attacking Frank Murkowski. Or like John McCain when he was all mavericky back in the day. You know like when John McCain lambasted the Bush tax cuts. So these mavericky mavericks who seem to have problems with people they don't find American enough are both the beneficiaries of America's promise and mission to protect freedom of expression.

So the next time that Sarah Palin or John McCain denigrate non-Republicans as un-American, they should remember that they are direct beneficiaries of the protections of this country. And while they talk about socialists and true Americans versus non-Americans, a bit of history might have taught them that it could be much, much worse for them: They could have been born in the U.S.S.R. in the 1930s ...

Early voting and the Electoral Map

I just voted today. I realize I live in Cook County, Illinois, home of the Democratic machine, but I couldn't help but be impressed by the early voting turnout. I've been a very big proponent of citizens voting since I was in college. I'm proud to say that I helped organize a non-partisan GOTV effort at my then-1200 person college that had a 62.5% turnout rate. Sure it helped that Wisconsin had same day registration, but overall I believe that people should vote, regardless of political affiliation and if for no other reason than voting is the epitome of our freedom as Americans. But I digress. Today, I decided to vote. And waited over 30 minutes to do so. I estimate that over 200 people were in line when I showed up and I'd estimate that at least as many were in line there when I left. It was a beautiful thing.

Some of my own ramblings, as I stood in line to vote today, I couldn't help but think about why we so desperately should have a voting holiday in this country. I think it is such a positive step that many states now have early voting, but I can't understand why we don't support a national day to vote. Every 4 years, we, as citizens, are asked to elect a person to set the agenda and lead us as a country (and in some respects, lead the world), but we as a nation don't support those voters in the same way. I understand the politics behind not having a national day of voting -- especially from particular parties that don't want high turnout. But if our country can support national holidays for dozens of days throughout the year, why shouldn't we have one on what -- from a nationalistic/democracy perspective -- is the most important day of the year?

Lately, I also have found myself looking at the election map and trying to project what might happen on election day. I typically use MSNBC's map because, well, I'm addicted to Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, and that tends to be convenient for me. Anyway, right now that map has Obama ahead with 264 electoral votes to McCain with 163, and 111 in the toss up category. It seems every night I turn on the news, it seems that some newscaster is trying to temper my enthusiasm -- talking about races tightening in battle ground states, a potential bin Laden-like message in 2004, or just generally about how this race isn't in the bag. As a Cubs fan, I'm predisposed to panic at the first sign of problems, so I've found myself doubting an Obama win more and more. And then I started doing some trusty math. You see, if Obama does hold onto the states he is currently projected to win, he only needs to win one of the following states: Colorado or Missouri or Indiana or Ohio or Virginia or North Carolina or Florida. McCain on the other hand? He'd need to win ALL of those states to win the election. Oh and he'd still need to win Nevada as well. In other words, in order for McCain to win the election, he needs to win each and every single toss-up state on MSNBC's map. When I think about it like that, I can't wait for election night.

Finally, when I watch Obama and McCain's campaigns, I can't help but notice what a contrast in difference each is. Usually every year I curse Democratic candidates for their lack of unity, clarity of message, and inability to set the agenda. And if one thing is certain about presidential politics, whoever sets the tone/message of the campaign season will almost definitely win. Republicans seem to be masters at that. Especially Karl Rove and his disciples. But this year it is so wonderful to see the shoe on the other foot. For once, it is the Republican party that seems to be lacking a coherent message, has no campaign discipline, and is mired in negative press coverage over inane things. (Honestly, John McCain, do you really think it is a smart idea to banish Maureen Dowd (New York Times) or Joe Klein (Time Magazine) from your planes? Do you really think it is a good idea to indirectly bash George Will as a Georgetown socialite? You may be trying to win the hearts and minds of Joe Six Pack or Joe the Plumber, but at the end of the day is it really the best idea to alienate the reporters who cover your campaign and send your message to millions of Americans?)

And now the Republicans find themselves about to become embroiled in an even bigger sensation than McCain suspending his campaign: McCain and others questioning the patriotism of Americans. You see, this country will put up with a lot of things, but when there isn't a reason to be afraid, it is hard to convince Americans that the boogie man is waiting around the corner. You might have been able to get away with McCarthyism during the Cold War and you might have been able to get away with claiming that Democrats couldn't react to a terrorist attack post-9/11, but it doesn't work as well when you are trying to drum up the same message on the economy. Because, here's the thing: Democrats are seen as infinitely better at dealing with the economy and this message isn't and doesn't resonate with swing voters. On the economy, between FDR and Clinton, some of the biggest and best bull markets have seemingly come on Democrats watch. Voters seem to trust Democrats to deal with the economy. I sincerely doubt how much Dems have had to do with that, but they seem to be the party people trust in times of financial crisis. And on the swing voters, one thing seems to have become abundantly clear in the post-debate independent voter polls: Indies aren't interested in hearing partisan bickering. They want solutions. Claiming that certain portions of the country are true Americans and others aren't isn't the way to convince Indies.

What seems so incredible to me is that McCain's staff should know this. McCain is acting almost desperate now. Focusing on states that should be in his bag, abandoning all Blue states, but Pennsylvania, and rallying a base with divisive messages and anti-media rhetoric. If I were a political historian, this might look a lot more like a guy who is trying not to get blown out by McGovern-like proportions than a guy trying to win a seat in the Oval Office ...