On The Cusp Of A Change

The old, tired year 2010 is getting ready to exit stage right, and the bright, shiny year 2011 is getting ready to crawl onto the national stage.  Today we will get the last of the stories looking back at what has happened over the last 12 months.  Tomorrow the focus will be on what might happen over the next 12 months.

On the national scene, there is a lot of uncertainty, which should make 2011 very interesting indeed.  President Obama had a tough 2010, with falling public approval ratings, a bad economy, and mounting public concern about spending and debt, and the Democratic Party took a shellacking in the 2010 election as a result.  But the President nevertheless managed to accomplish some of his initiatives in the lame duck session of Congress, leading some people to talk about a comeback.  In 2011, will we in fact see a comeback by the President and a resurgence of some of the passionate support he received in the 2008 election?

In Congress, the big story will be the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the increased Republican minority in the Senate.  In the past two years, House Republicans have been unified in opposing many of the President’s initiatives, but maintaining unity when you are running the show can be more difficult.  How will the new Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans address spending and debt issues, and will they be able to affect the implementation of the “health care reform” legislation and some of the regulatory initiatives that are of such concern to members of the “tea party”?  In the Senate, where the rules and practices require consensus, how will Harry Reid and his slimmer majority deal with Republicans?  Will the two Houses of Congress, controlled by two different parties, be able to reach agreement on their competing versions of basic legislation like spending bills?  And will President Obama then wield his veto pen?

Pundits may be predicting what will happen, but the reality is that no one knows.  That is what will make 2011 such an interesting year.

Not Dead Yet

The political pundits are dissecting the results of the 2010 election and pontificating about President Obama and his future.  The pundits always seem to grossly overreact to the results of an election, however.  After the 2008 election, many people were shoveling dirt on the Republican Party, arguing that it would be relegated to permanent minority status.  Hey, how did that prediction turn out?

The overreaction to the 2010 election is similar.  We have some Democrats arguing that President Obama should declare that he will not seek reelection, so that he can better deal with our pressing problems.  (It’s hard for me to understand how a voluntary lame duck President would be better situated to get things done, but maybe I just don’t understand politics.)  I think such talk is silly.  For now, at least, we should presume that President Obama is a smart, capable politician who can figure out which way the wind is blowing.  He will make adjustments.  (In fact, Obama Administration officials have been doing some navel-gazing and considering how they can re-energize this presidency and rebuild the coalition that got President Obama elected in the first place.)

In the meantime, the current storyline reminds me of this classic scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Like the unfortunate old man in the mud-spattered village, President Obama isn’t dead yet.

Madly, And Badly, Spinning

Sometimes I wish politicians would just shut up during the days immediately after elections have been held.  They should let the country digest the results and enjoy a few days of peace and quiet after the appalling orgy of political spending and political ads that makes the days just before the election a disgusting spectacle.

Unfortunately, politicians don’t take this advice.  They can’t help themselves.  They just have to issue a press release, send out an e-mail, or appear before the cameras to advance the “messaging” and “spin” that the party bosses have decided must be the post-election party line.

So it has been with this election.  Yesterday and today I have heard a number of Democrats — including Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and outgoing Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, among others — voice the view that this election, in which the Democrats were pulverized in the House, the Senate, and statehouses across the country, was not a rejection of the policies of the Obama Administration and its allies.  Instead, they say it was just the apparently random thrashings of an angry electorate that was frustrated because the change the President and Democrats have begun is not moving fast enough.

Do these politicians really think about the absurdity of this spin before they propound it?  In this case, it is grossly insulting that they apparently believe such ludicrous spin could be swallowed by a gullible populace.  At bottom, their theory is that voters impatient with the slow pace of President Obama’s agenda went to the voting booth — and then voted for Republican after Republican who not only did not promise to speed up the President’s agenda, but instead promised to resist and repeal it.  Does that scenario seem remotely plausible to anyone other than the spinmeisters at national Democratic Party headquarters?

This kind of over-the-top “messaging” just reflects contempt for the intelligence of the American voter.  I think it is one of the reasons why so many Americans voted to throw the bums out only two days ago.

An Ohio Sweep And A National Message

Although there are still some races that are too close to call, the general outlines of the 2010 election are clear. It was a bad night for Democrats at the hands of voters who wanted to send a message — and did.

In Ohio, the entire slate of statewide offices went RepublicanJohn Kasich ousted Governor Ted Strickland in a very close contest.  I think Strickland was generally perceived to be a good man who was caught up in larger forces not of his making, and the fact that the contest was as close as it was reflected that.  Now Kasich will need to grapple with the state’s pressing budget issues.  The Republican sweep means that Republicans will control the state redistricting process and also means that other capable officeholders, such as Attorney General Richard Cordray, will be leaving office.

In federal races, the results in Ohio mirrored those in America as a whole.  The Republicans handily won the race for the U.S. Senate seat in Ohio and knocked off a number of Democratic incumbents in contests for seats in the House of Representatives.  Nationally, the Republicans picked up at least six Senate seats and 60 House seats.  Although some Democratic Senators, like Majority Leader Harry Reid, managed to hold on to their seats, a series of long-time Democratic Representatives went down to defeat.

The voters have served their message to their representatives, and the ball is now in President Obama’s court.  He will begin to respond at a press conference today, although the real test will come when the talking ends and the governing begins — and that includes the decisions that are made in any post-election, “lame duck” session of the current Congress.

I hope the President avoids the temptation to rationalize the results as a reflection of a “know-nothing” electorate or to blame the results on economic conditions caused by others and instead sincerely accepts the undeniable fact that American voters are not happy with the direction in which the President is steering this country and want him to change course.   They think he has overreached.  His challenge now will be to find areas of common ground with the voters and members of Congress who are worried about overspending, explosive growth in our national debt, and intrusive government.

Kilroy Was Here

ABC News is calling the 15th District here in Ohio for Republican Steve Stivers over incumbent Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy.  With 92 percent of the precincts reporting, Stivers leads Kilroy, 54 percent to 41 percent.

Kilroy, who was swept in to office with the Obama win in 2008, was a faithful proponent of the “health care reform” legislation and the House Democratic agenda.  She was also one of UJ’s favorites.

This is another race where a post mortem would be instructive.  In 2008, Kilroy won with a 2300-vote margin, but there were many more votes cast in 2008 than in 2010.  In fact, Stivers received fewer votes in 2010 than he did in his losing campaign in 2010.  In view of that, you have to wonder how much of Kilroy’s defeat was due to the “enthusiasm gap” and the lack of turnout by her core constituency.

ABC also has called the race in our district, the 12th, and has concluded that Republican Pat Tiberi will be returned to Congress.

Empty Space

One of the bellwether U.S House races in Ohio in this election was District 18, where incumbent Democrat Zack Space faced a stiff challenge from Republican Bob Gibbs.

The 18th is a big, sprawling district just to the east of us, so ads for the race were run on some of the Columbus TV stations.  The negative ads — which was about all we saw — depicted Gibbs as a job-killer who wanted to outsource jobs to China, whereas Space was portrayed as a Nancy Pelosi clone.

The race has now been called in favor of Gibbs, who leads by a surprisingly large 14 percentage point margin with 92 percent of the votes counted.  This race will be well worth reviewing in retrospect, to see what motivated the voters to turn on Space to such an extent.  I suspect that the economy and government spending will be cited by most voters as the key reasons for their decision.

Ohio, The Swing State

As the night progresses, we’ve seen significant swings in the Ohio Governor’s race.  In early returns, Republican John Kasich led, then incumbent Democratic Governor Ted Strickland surged into the lead, and now Kasich has moved into a slight lead.

In Ohio, the issue of where the votes have been counted can be highly significant.  Although Ohio, as a whole, is a swing state, the Buckeye State really is a bunch of enclaves.  When you consider interim statewide results, you must consider whether it is Democratic strongholds that been counted or Republican areas that have been tallied first.

Here in central Ohio, the Stivers-Kilroy case in the 15th District has not been called, although Stivers has a significant lead with more than half of the votes counted.  In our district, the 12th, about a third of the votes have been counted and Republican incumbent Pat Tiberi has a surprisingly small lead over Democratic challenger Paula Brooks.

As of 10:20 p.m. Eastern time, there is still a lot to be decided.

Goodbye, Charlie

In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio is projected to defeat Independent Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

Charlie Crist

I don’t know much about Rubio, but I am glad to see Crist go down to defeat.  Crist lost to Rubio in the Republican primary and promptly decided to run as an Independent.  In my view, Crist’s willingness to say and do anything to try to get elected epitomizes everything that is wrong with American politicians.  Principles obviously meant little to him; his campaign was all about voting for Charlie Crist.  Voters apparently decided they would rather vote for a candidate who stood for something other than his own advancement.

It will be interesting to see how Rubio performs on the national stage.  As a conservative son of Cuban immigrants, he will be the focus of some significant media attention.

Watching The Returns

For the first time, we at Webner House are trying some live-blogging (not that anyone cares, I imagine).  Kish and I are camped out in front of the TV, channel surfing to watch the returns.  The polls haven’t closed yet in Ohio, but they have closed in several states.

When Richard and I went to vote this morning at about 7 a.m., our polling place was not very busy.  There were people at every station, but Richard and I did not need to wait for more than a few minutes.  Kish went to vote at about 4:45, and there was no real line then, either — although she had to wait for one or two people to finish up.  The Ohio Secretary of State apparently is talking about a light turnout.  The conventional wisdom, I think, would be that that bodes well for the Republicans.

What to watch when the polls close in Ohio?  The Strickland-Kasich race looks like a close one.  Here in central Ohio, we’ll be looking to see whether Steve Stivers can beat Mary Jo Kilroy in the 15th District.  And elsewhere in Ohio, is there really a chance that Dennis Kucinich might lose?

Voting Makes Me Feel Good

In a few minutes Richard and I will go to our polling place and cast our ballots on Election Day 2010.  I’m looking forward to the experience, because voting always makes me feel good.

We will drive down Route 62 to the All Saints Episcopal Church.  We will wait in line with our fellow New Albany residents and prove our identities to the kindly senior citizens who always staff the registration table, then we will sign in, get our voting registration slips, and be escorted to the voting booths.  We will work the touch screens, choose our candidates, and push the green “Vote” button.  Afterward, we will get our “I Voted Today” stickers, and I will feel the familiar, warm feelings I always feel when I have voted.

Why does voting make me feel good?  Part of it is just being proud to be a citizen, to be trusted with having a say in how our country, our state, and our district are governed.  Part of it is feeling personal satisfaction at fulfilling my civic duty.  But a significant part of it, too, is relishing my personal participation in the experience of a fundamental collective activity of the American people.  Today, across this magnificent country of ours, Americans will be quietly going to their neighborhood schools, libraries, and places of worship to exercise their franchise, choose their representatives, and decide whether to authorize taxes or change fundamental policies.  Democrat and Republican, self-proclaimed progressives and Tea Partiers, they all will make their decisions behind the voting booth curtain.

It is awesome and humbling to be a little part of that grand affirmation of the American idea.  That is why voting makes me feel good.

Keeping Track On Election Night

Let’s say you want to celebrate the end of this seemingly interminable mid-term campaign tomorrow night with an adult beverage.  You want to plop yourself down in front of the TV and watch the returns to see if your team is going to win.  You want to know whether the Democrats will hold on to the House and Senate, or whether discontent with the status quo will bring a “wave election” that sweeps Republicans to power.  But with so many congressional seats up for grabs, how will you know which team is doing well and which isn’t?

The New York Times‘ 538 blog has posted an excellent hour-by-hour guide that tracks key races based on the hours in which the polls close in various states.  The guide also tries to predict whether, based on the results, there is evidence of a big Republican wave.  So, for example, the polls will close at 6 p.m. in Indiana and Kentucky.  If you are following the Democrats, you will look to see whether they can win the seats in Indiana’s districts 8 and 9.  If you are hoping to detect a Republican tide, you’ll check out Kentucky district 3, to see whether the Republican candidate who has been trailing the incumbent has been lifted to victory.

In Ohio, where the polls close at 7:30, the guide lists several races that might indicates broader national trends.  For Democrats hoping to hang on to the House of Representatives, it is the 15th, where the polls indicate that incumbent Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy trails Republican challenger Steve Stivers.  For Republicans looking for a big night, it will be Ohio 18, a district just to the east of us, where incumbent Democrat Zach Space is trying to fend of Republican Bob Gibbs.

Our endless electoral campaigns are a pain, but election night TV-watching can be fun — like watching a bunch of football games to see whether you did well in the office pool.

Beginning To Question The Dude

As we close in on Election Day, the professional punditry is talking a lot about President Obama.  They are arguing about whether it was smart for him to appear on The Daily Show, where he was called “dude” and his administration was the butt of gibes by Jon Stewart.  (Stewart’s reference to the President as “dude” made me laugh and think of Richard’s classic post, The Follies of Dudism.) They are speculating about whether he will “pivot” or “triangulate” or pull a Bill Clinton if the Republicans take over the House of Representatives.  They are questioning whether the President has lost the communications war and failed to explain the many “accomplishments” of his Administration to the American people.  John Kerry, for example, apparently thinks the American people are becoming a bunch of ignorant “know-nothings.”

Maureen Dowd’s column yesterday is along such lines.  She is starting to question the President and wondering when he is going to show the political deftness and communications skills he was hailed for in 2008.  You can see that some skepticism is beginning to creep in — she notes, for example, that the President will need to summon “political skills that he has not yet shown he has” — but she still speaks of the mysterious failure to convince the public of his “achievements.”  She suggests that he hasn’t used his “charm” as effectively as he could have and didn’t realize he needed to “sell” his ideas or respond to attacks, all of which has caused people to rush into the arms of “disturbingly inferior pols.”

I don’t remember President Obama being shy about talking to us about why he believed that the “health care reform” legislation was great, or how the “stimulus” legislation would be an engine for job creation, or why we needed to bail out GM and Chrysler and shield them from the consequences of decades of crappy products and poor business decisions.  I think there is a simpler explanation for the President’s current predicament:  the American people do understand what he has done and don’t really consider most of it to be an “achievement.”  And at some point, the punditry may come to recognize that, perhaps, President Obama is not quite the infinitely charming, brilliant, awesomely superior politician they still consider him to be.  They may look at his actual political record and realize that no master politician would have managed to take a sweeping electoral victory, huge majorities in both Houses of Congress, and the legitimate good wishes of a large majority of the American people and in two short years fritter it away to the point where the President’s party is on the brink of absorbing an historic defeat at the polls.

I think it will be good for both the President and the country when the public comes to realize that he is not some otherworldly figure.  He will be able to serve in his office unburdened by unattainable expectations.  The American people, on the other hand, will learn once again that we should not look to politicians for immediate salvation.

An Election (And A Map) In The Balance

We’re now less than a week from Election Day, and the furious last-minute push of radio and TV ads, mailings, and get out the vote calling and canvassing is underway.

In Ohio, the marquee races are a gubernatorial contest between incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican challenger that appears to be close and a U.S. Senate race between Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Lee Fisher that polls are indicating will be a Portman blowout.  Along with those two headline races, Ohioans will vote for a full slate of statewide offices, Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court, the U.S. House of Representatives, and members of the Ohio Senate and Ohio House.  It will take a while to complete our ballots come Tuesday.

Although they haven’t commanded as much attention, two statewide races, for Secretary of State and Auditor, will have great long-term significance.  The occupants of those two offices, along with the Governor and one representative each of the Republican and Democratic parties, will form the Apportionment Board that will redraw the map of Ohio’s legislative districts after the 2010 census results are released.  The results of the Auditor’s race and the Secretary of State’s race therefore will determine whether the Ohio legislative districts are gerrymandered to benefit Democrats, or gerrymandered to benefit Republicans — or maybe, just maybe, drawn to reflect logical geographical and social factors in a way that results in more fairly competitive races for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate.  (But who am I kidding?)

Edited to correct my mistake in the original post, which stated that the Apportionment Board redraws Ohio’s congressional districts.  Instead, it redraws Ohio’s state legislative districts.  The redrawing of congressional districts is reserved for the Ohio General Assembly.  Thanks to the Philosopher King of the Fifth Floor for steering me in the right direction on an embarrassing error.

On A Possible Republican Sweep, And The Political Lessons To Be Learned From The Tale Of Brave Sir Robin

If the polls are to be believed — and that remains an open question in my mind — Republicans are likely to win the House of Representatives and have a long shot chance of assuming control of the Senate.  If that occurs, voters will find out whether the Republicans mean what they have been saying during the campaign or whether they will instead be like Brave Sir Robin.

Remember Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python and the Holy Grail?  He was the publicity-hungry knight who desperately wanted to join in the search for the Grail.  He left on his quest accompanied by a minstrel and a cadre of musicians who sang constantly about his adventures.  And yet, when the going got tough and the giant three-headed knight awaited, Brave Sir Robin made no attempt to fight.  As his minstrel sang:

When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled
Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly he chickened out
Bravely talking to his feet
He beat a very brave retreat
Bravest of the brave, Sir Robin

I’m tired of politicians who talk a good game but don’t deliver.  I’m hoping that, if Republicans in fact sweep to victory this November, they will indeed slash spending, reduce the deficit, and restore fiscal sanity to our federal government.  If they instead act like Brave Sir Robin, I think that will be it for me and the Republicans.  I’ll have to start looking for Sir Lancelot elsewhere.

Cell Phones, Land Lines, And Survey Results

Public opinion surveys have been a staple of American politics for years.  They have a proven track record — at least, they do when the pollsters figure out how to identify an appropriate sample that mirrors the people who actually will cast ballots in the election and then reach those people to learn their views.  If you can’t accurately do both, you risk results that are as misguided as the infamous 1936 Literary Digest poll that embarrassingly predicted that Alf Landon would beat FDR in a landslide when in fact the exact opposite occurred.

In the modern cell phone and smart phone world, can pollsters know with any assurance that they have reached an appropriate sample of voters?  For years, pollsters relied on land line telephones to conduct their surveys.  Recently, however, many Americans have dropped their land line phones as a nuisance and unnecessary expense.  In 2007, nearly 13 percent of American households had no land line phone.  By 2008, that number had jumped to 20 percent and it has only increased since then as millions more — including Kish and me — have gone totally wireless.

The question for pollsters is whether the demographic and political characteristics of wireless households are different from those of households that still cling (bitterly?) to their land lines.  Some pollsters think that may be the case, reasoning that cell phone-only people probably are younger, unmarried, don’t own a home, and so forth.  That may have been true initially, but my guess is that as wireless-only status has become more common, and even old farts like Kish and me have joined that segment of the population, the differences have been minimized.  The important point, in any case, is that no one really knows.

So, in these days leading up to Election Day, let’s not pay too much attention to the polls and their competing results.  The only poll that really matters is the one that will occur on November 2, and all registered voters — be they wireless Gen Xers or land line fogies — will have an equal opportunity to be counted.