Is Mitt Romney Rising Or Falling In Ohio?

At yesterday’s Ohio State home game a Mitt Romney for President blimp circled Ohio Stadium and its vast tailgating areas and drew lots of comments from people favoring and opposing the Republican candidate.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a presidential campaign blimp at an OSU game.

The blimp is an apt metaphor for the overriding question about Battleground Ohio:  is Mitt Romney rising, or deflating?

As always seems to be the case in this unpredictable swing state, the signs are decidedly mixed.  Romney held a huge rally Friday night north of Cincinnati, attracting thousands of people who patiently stood outside listening to speeches on a cold evening.  On the other hand, the final Columbus Dispatch mail poll of Ohio voters, released just this morning, has President Obama up by two points, 50-48.  However, that lead is well within the poll’s 2.2 % margin of error and represents a huge comeback for Romney since the last Dispatch poll, taken before the debates, in which Romney trailed by nine points.  But, the poll shows that Obama has a huge lead among people who have already voted.  On the other hand, the poll is based upon the statements of those who returned it, who represent only 15% of the ballots that were sent out in the first place.

Get the picture?  It’s whisker-close here in the Buckeye State.

My unscientific sense is that the Hurricane Sandy episode helped President Obama stem the Romney momentum that had built since the first debate.  One hurricane, however, isn’t going to be decisive.  From talking to fans craning their necks at that Romney blimp, I think most people have made up their minds.  There may be undecideds ruminating on how to cast their ballot on Tuesday, but the vast majority of Ohioans are ready to be done with this election.  That means that the outcome will hinge on turnout, and the “ground games” we’ve heard so much about over the past few months.  Not coincidentally, both candidates and their proxies are here today and tomorrow, hoping to whip their supporters into a turnout frenzy.

The forecast for Tuesday, incidentally, is for clear skies and temperatures in the 40s — and no storms to discourage people from going to the polls.

Why I’m Voting For Mitt Romney And Paul Ryan

On Tuesday, I’ll walk in to the polling booth at the church in New Albany where we vote and touch the screen for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  I recognize that that decision won’t come as much of a surprise for loyal readers of our family blog.  I think it’s only fair to explain why, if only to add one more person’s perspective to the national conversation about this election.

In my view, the most important issue confronting our country is our federal deficit and national debt — the latter of which has passed the $16 trillion mark.  I care about other issues, of course, but I view our debt as the most fundamental issue of all because it involves basic concepts of national sovereignty.  Our debt is so large, and has existed for so long, that we tend to think of it as a kind of abstraction . . . but every dollar of that debt is a real obligation of our country, reflected in an instrument sold by the U.S. treasury to a willing buyer who will be paid a specified interest rate.  With each additional bit of borrowing, we give those people from whom we are borrowing leverage that may allow them to dictate terms — at first, the terms of the debt instruments, by insisting on higher interest payments, and then eventually the terms of how our government operates, by dictating whether we need to adopt austerity measures in how our country operates if we hope to obtain additional loans.  At that point, our national sovereignty is at stake.

We know this to be the case, because over the past few years we have seen it occur in Iceland and Ireland, and in Greece and Portugal.  Those countries borrowed irresponsibly and saw the interest rates on their debt instruments rise as investors became increasingly concerned that the debts might not be repaid and demanded higher rates as the price for accepting that risk.  And, ultimately, outside forces — the International Monetary Fund, European Union bankers, and others — went to each of those formerly sovereign nations and told them what they needed to do if they hoped to continue to borrow money.  Those governments accepted the conditions and agreed to the austerity measures imposed by outsiders because they had no choice.

I don’t want to see that happen here — yet, over the last four years, we have seen the United States move down that very same path, with annual trillion-dollar deficits that have taken our total debt past the unimaginable sum of $16 trillion.  We also passed a significant milestone on that road to perdition when our national credit rating was downgraded.  I don’t think that downgrade has received the attention it deserves.  Imagine!  Credit rating agencies presuming to raise questions about the credit of the leader of the free world, a country so stable that its currency gave rise to the now-antiquated phrase “sound as a dollar.”  But the ratings agencies are so presumptuous, and we are kidding ourselves if we think our many lenders aren’t also carefully considering our credit-worthiness.

I don’t want to wake up one morning and see that our political leaders are having to dance to the tune called by teams of grey-suited bankers from the IMF, or China, or Germany.  If that happens — and if we continue to rack up trillion-dollar annual deficits, it inevitably will — we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what it would mean.  Does anyone think federal funding of NPR or contraceptives, to identify only two of the issues being discussed during this campaign, would survive under the austerity measures forced upon us by creditors?  Does anyone think the bankers would hesitate to require fundamental changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare?  Does anyone think our country could continue to function as a world leader, and a force for good, as a debtor nation struggling to deal with its overwhelming credit problems?

I recognize this is a dire scenario, and some believe it just can’t happen here.  My response is to look at what has happened in Europe, to countries that have just been ahead of us on the irresponsible fiscal policy curve.  Their experience shows, I think, that it can happen here — and it will, if we don’t do something about it.  I’m too proud of this country and what it has accomplished to let that happen without trying to change course.

I don’t think President Obama places a high priority on grappling with our deficit and debt problems.  He’s talked about them, but his actions speak louder than his words.  He continues to propose budgets that would result in trillion-dollar debts for years into the future, and continues to propose the creation of new federal agencies and federal programs as the solution for every problem.  He hasn’t used the bully pulpit of the presidency to encourage Congress to act.  I’ve seen nothing from President Obama to indicate that his performance over the next four years on this crucial issue of national sovereignty would be any different than his performance over the past four years.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, on the other hand, do focus on the issue of our deficit and our debt and have proposed approaches.  I think they understand the fundamental nature of the problem and would make working with Congress to address the issues in a meaningful way their top priority.  I want someone in the White House who will tackle the debt problem, not let us drift into catastrophe.  That’s why I’m voting for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

A Modest Proposal From Ohio

An Ohioan’s vote is worth more than a Californian’s, or a Mississipian’s, or a Rhode Islander’s.  The objective facts prove it.  Every presidential election, the candidates visit daily and their campaigns spend like drunken sailors trying to win our vote.  In the Other America, the campaigns aren’t spending bupkis.

Ohio isn’t just the Mother of Presidents, it’s the Chooser of Presidents.  We’re the swingingest of the “Swing States” — the Don Draper on that blue field of 50 stars.  Every presidential election, we tip the balance.  We know it, you know it, and the candidates know it.

So . . . why not let us capitalize on it?  After all, capitalism is the American Way.  Our Ohio votes are like rich mineral rights or another valuable form of property.  We therefore propose that any Ohio citizen who wishes to do so be allowed to sell their suffrage.  The Ohio Secretary of State would establish an eBay-like website where willing Ohio voters would auction the ability to determine the presidential vote on their early voting ballot to the highest bidder during the bidding period.  Some voters won’t want to participate.  Others will want to sell early and get whatever they can for their previously inalienable right.  Still others will want to hold out until the end, taking the risk that their vote might be worth a lot more — or, if the election is by then in the bag for one candidate or another, worth nothing at all.  All sales would be final and the ballots completed according to the terms of the sale and certified as such by the Secretary of State.

Many strong public policy considerations support this modest proposal.

First, this proposal would teach every American that voting has value.  Americans who live in those boring states where the outcomes of elections are foregone conclusions can, for once, know the heady rush of participating in an election where their specially acquired vote will count and might actually be decisive.  We Ohioans are proud people, but we generously are willing to peddle our franchises and allow our fellow Americans to have that experience — for a price.

Second, this proposal would introduce more certainty in the process.  Ardent supporters of candidates who happen to live in other states will no longer need to fret about which way Ohio is heading, or try to make sense of competing polling data.  Instead, they can just visit the Secretary of State website, check out the “votes for sale” section, and get a running tabulation of the current sold vote totals.

Third, this proposal would eliminate the unseemly spectacle of candidates flipping burgers, bagging groceries, and engaging in other demeaning conduct to win votes.  It would end the inefficient, indirect route of enticing votes, through vicious attack ads, cloying TV commercials, and paid campaign staff, and allow for more direct transactions between motivated buyers and willing sellers.  And, in the process, the reduction in negative ads and harsh mischaracterization of opposing positions might actually increase the chance for productive compromise after the election is over.

Fourth, this proposal would increase the percentage of Americans who actually vote.  In Ohio, the percentage of voters likely would approach 100 percent as even politically disinterested people decide to cash in on their votes.  The increased percentages would please those foreign observers who are monitoring our elections and are accustomed to the free elections in their country, where prevailing candidates routinely receive more than 95% of the vote.

Fifth, this proposal would provide a needed stimulus for Battleground Buckeyes and thereby help our economy.  Why should automakers, “green energy” companies, and asphalt manufacturers hog all the money?  Ohio voters who receive thousands of dollars for their swing votes will put that money right back into the marketplace.

Finally, voters in other states will look at the Ohio experience, see how much their vote can be worth, and perhaps reconsider their hard and fast, down-the-ballot support for one party or another.  New Yorkers, Texans, and South Carolinians might decide that there is value to listening to other viewpoints and letting their votes swing, every once in a while.  That wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?

Proposing A “Secretary Of Business” Is The Last Straw

President Obama wants to be seen as friendly to business.  He’s recently touted the idea of creating a “Secretary of Business” — a new, Cabinet-level position that would “consolidate” different federal agencies that deal with business and trade issues and create “one-stop shopping” for regulatory oversight.

This one proposal, I think, reflects President Obama’s deeply held view of the world — and why I must conclude, regrettably, that he will never truly grapple with our soaring budget deficits and federal debt, which I believe are the two most crucial problems facing our country.

In the President’s view, if business is struggling, we need to create a new government position to address the problem and shuffle existing agencies in a bureaucratic reorganization to try to “streamline” regulations.  His reflexive solution to all issues is new government positions, new government agencies, and new government initiatives.  If he needs to burnish his credentials with the business world, he thinks the proper response to to create a new government regime that shows that he cares.

President Obama has been our President for four years.  He’s seen our economy flounder, witnessed the loss of huge numbers of jobs and the departure of millions of disappointed job-seekers from the job market, watched our deficit and debt skyrocket, and heard complaints about excessive regulatory burdens, crony capitalism, and taxes stifling business investment and growth.  The fact that he nevertheless believes that he would aid business by creating a “Secretary of Business” who would help businessmen navigate through the thicket of federal regulations, and assist companies as they seek federal loans and grants and other assistance, speaks volumes about his fundamental mindset.  He’s not going to change if he’s elected to a second term.

If, like me, you believe that we need to eliminate Cabinet-level positions and federal agencies, not create them, if you believe that we need to reduce federal regulations, not hire new federal employees to assist overwhelmed businessmen in dealing with those regulations, if you believe that we need to cut spending, not maximize opportunities for people to get more federal loans and aid, how can you vote to re-elect President Obama?

(In)Tolerance

Recently, I was having lunch with a friend for whom I have great respect.  She expressed that she believes she possesses great tolerance — with the exception, she said, of those with a differing political opinion.

That statement was a great clarifying moment for me.  Here was this person, highly educated and intelligent, who is basically saying that she just can’t tolerate differing political opinions.  I think of that conversation as an “a-ha moment,” an epiphany of sorts, as to all that I find troubling in today’s political environment.

There is nothing original in saying this, but I must say it nonetheless:  I am sick, to the point of a primal scream, of this presidential contest, and of our political landscape in general.   I have reached the point where I can barely stand to watch television.   MSNBC or Fox — really, what’s the difference anymore?  Their viewpoints, sure.  But their rigid dogmas and rabid discourse?  It’s just different sides of the same coin.   I enjoyed every minute of watching the debates (as flawed as they are, the pureist thing yet in this election), but had to tune out as soon as the debates ended and segued into the talking heads and spin room.

Where is reason?   Where is intelligent, respectful discourse?  Where is objective reporting?   My j-school professor Marty Brian, God bless her, must be turning in her grave….  There is no presumption of good will or good intentions, no even slight extending of the benefit of the doubt.  They are bad; we are good.  They are wrong; we are right.  They are evil; we are honorable.

My friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances are about equally Republicans and Democrats (is that unusual these days?), and I know that it’s not that clear-cut.  I have a “D” after my name, but my friends of differing political opinions are good people — but also people whose life experiences and independence of thought (imagine!) have led them to reach different points of view from my own.   My Republican friends (my Republican-leaning husband included) don’t hate gays. They aren’t racist.  And my Democratic friends aren’t looking to create a welfare socialist state that redistributes all income and suppresses free enterprise.

Some will say I’m naive — and maybe I am.  I can see shades of gray (does that make me squishy?  I don’t think so).  But before you label me naive,  remember how inspired so many of us were, four years ago, by that gentleman who encouraged us to rise above dogma and reach across the aisle and try to get along?  Sadly, that particular experiment didn’t work out so well (there’s plenty of blame to spread around), and today those words seem almost provincial.

Of course I have my “line in the sand,” and I know there are extremist people out there who wish others ill will.   But in my humble opinion, the vast, vast majority of the people in this country, regardless of their political persuasion, have good intentions and aren’t the extremists we are led to believe.  We can’t reasonably assume that one’s party affiliation tells us the content of one’s character.

As I was writing this, I happened upon an interesting article addressing this same notion.  (In the spirit of keeping it non-partisan, I won’t credit the publication.)  It more artfully captures what I find so disappointing and divisive in today’s political environment.   Allow me to quote just a few passages….

“For the past generation or two, Washington has been the not so hallowed ground for a political war. This conflict resembles trench warfare, with fixed positions, hourly exchanges of fire, heavy casualties on both sides, and little territory gained or lost. The combatants wear red or blue, and their struggle is intensely ideological.

“Before the 1970s, most Republicans in official Washington accepted the institution of the welfare state,  and most Democrats agreed with the logic of the Cold War. Despite the passions over various issues, government functioned pretty well. Legislators routinely crossed party lines when they voted, and when they drank;  filibusters in the Senate were reserved for the biggest bills;  think tanks produced independent research, not partisan talking points. The “D” or “R” after a politician’s name did not tell you everything you thought about him.

“….The people Washington attracts now tend to be committed activists, who think of themselves as locked in an existential struggle over the fate of the country, and are unwilling to yield an inch of ground.

“…The War Between the Colors reflects a real divide in the country, the sorting of Americans into ideologically separate districts and lives.

” …the fighting never really stops.”

A “National” Election, Fought Only In A Handful Of States

Our “national” elections have become increasingly odd.  Many states are written off by the campaigns from the start as being solidly in one column or the other.  Residents of those states never see candidates (except for the occasional quick fundraising trip) and don’t have to endure the avalanche of TV commercials, robocalls, in-person visits, and candidate motorcades.

If you look at the RealClearPolitics electoral map, you see huge states that have become “flyover country” for the campaigns.  In California, Illinois, and New York — three of our most populous states — the President is far ahead.  The average of recent California polls, for example, has the President up by 14 points.  I’m sure many people in those states wonder what the heck the fuss is about; they go about their daily lives and rarely encounter people who support the other guy.  The same is true, but in the other direction, in states like Texas — where the most recent poll, taken at the end of September, has Mitt Romney leading by 19 points — and across a huge swath of the South and Midwest.  People in those states no doubt are similarly astonished that President Obama is even keeping it close.

That’s why it is so curious to live here in “Battleground Ohio.”  Everyone is focused on us.  The Washington Post carried a story yesterday calling Ohio the “Bull’s-Eye State.”  The National Review website has a special section called “Battleground Ohio” that features stories exclusively about Ohio.  The National Journal running total of ad spending shows that more than $160 million has been spent in Ohio alone, and as the last week before the election approaches the spending of the President, Mitt Romney, and their supporters are spiking.

Here in Ohio, you can’t watch any TV program without seeing a host of political ads.  Yesterday, in our tiny sliver of northeast Franklin County, located in the middle of the state, we had campaign workers visit our door (we used hyped-up Penny and Kasey as an excuse not to talk to them) and today we’ll probably see more.  The candidates keep coming, and coming, and coming, holding rallies on airport tarmacs and in high school football stadiums.  We’ve grown used to the ads, the stopped traffic as candidate limousines barrel past, and all of this attention.

I do wonder, however:  what is the reality in this supposedly national election?  It is the frenzied activity in Ohio and a handful of other “battleground states,” or is it the quiet inactivity in the vast majority of the country?  How can an election produce any kind of meaningful mandate when the experience of voters during the campaign is so profoundly, diametrically different?

The President’s Speech

During a recent interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama said that kids have “good instincts” and added:  “They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.’”  Does it matter that the President used “bullshitter” in an apparent reference to Mitt Romney?  It’s just one word, after all.

I think it does matter, for two reasons.  First, the presidency remains an aspirational position — although I recognize that may be an old-fashioned view.  The President is the Leader of the Free World and the head of the world’s greatest democracy.  We want the President, through his words and deeds, to represent the best about America.  It’s what people mean when they talk about a candidate for the job appearing to be “presidential.”

Prior Presidents understood this, and paid careful attention to their public conduct and public speech.  They were careful to keep their vulgarities hidden behind the walls of the Oval Office.  When President Obama forsakes the high tones that traditionally accompany that office and uses crass language like “bullshitter” instead, it reflects a depressing coarsening of our culture.  If even the President uses gutter language to refer to his opponent, in an on-the-record comment, what does that say about our society and American culture?

Second, the President’s comment, as well as much of his recent behavior, is fundamentally contrary to the approach and persona that attracted and inspired so many people in 2008.  In that election, reporters covering an Obama speech often referred to his “soaring rhetoric” — and it was soaring.  During his “hope and change” campaign, the President consciously sounded high-minded themes that were fully consistent with the aspirational aspect of the presidency, and refrained from name-calling, cheap stunts, and other tawdry political tactics.

That is what makes the “bullshitter” reference so jarring.  It suggests that the Obama that so many found so appealing in 2012 is gone, if he ever existed.  It’s hard to envision the 2008 Obama calling someone a “bullshitter,” or making the harsh and patronizing comments about aircraft carriers and submarines in the most recent debate, among other less than idealistic behavior the President has exhibited during this campaign.  That conduct directly undercuts some of the most appealing aspects of candidate Obama in 2008, and makes people feel like they were hoodwinked when they pulled the lever for that candidate four years ago.  Americans don’t like to feel like they’ve been played for fools.