Money Well Spent

According to the press, Mike Bloomberg spent somewhere between $500 million and $700 million of his considerable person fortune on his quest for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination for President. We got these two direct mail pieces in the afternoon mail today — a few hours after Hizzoner withdrew from the race.

The two pieces are nice, professionally done, very sturdy mailers. It seems a shame to let them go to waste, so I’m going to keep them to help light our first outdoor fire pit fire of the season this coming weekend.

I wonder if Mayor Bloomberg feels like he threw that $700 million into a fire pit, too?

Can The Caucus

To put it mildly, Monday night’s Iowa Democratic caucus did not go well.  A combination of a new app for reporting caucus results that had some kind of “coding error,” new procedures, and new back-up systems, along with general confusion seemingly caused by inadequate training of the users of the new app and systems, created a chaotic atmosphere and ended up delaying the disclosure of the results.  The Iowa Democratic Party did not release partial results until yesterday, and even now, as of 6 a.m. on Wednesday, the New York Times is reporting results from only 71 percent of precincts.

2020-02-04t151609z_2_lynxmpeg130gw_rtroptp_2_usa-election-iowaThe debacle leaves the Iowa caucus organizers with a huge black eye, and is tremendously unfair to the candidates who endured so many debates and put so much time and effort into the process, hoping for a result that would lift their campaigns and give them that coveted momentum going forward.  Instead, the fiasco left nothing but a muddled mess and confusion in its wake, with no clear winner except the conspiracy theorists who wondered whether some foreign government was trying to interfere in the 2020 election or whether Democratic Party leaders were trying to tinker with the results so favored candidates would prevail.

It’s incredible that, in 2020, an American state cannot promptly report accurate results from an political selection process, but maybe there’s a silver lining in all of this and the political parties will ultimately choose to make lemonade from this year’s Iowa lemon.  Two choices make sense to me.

First, get rid of the Iowa caucus — something that many people are now calling for or predicting.  Iowa follows a weird process that isn’t like an election as most of us understand an election, where we go into a voting booth and cast a secret ballot, or vote absentee, without following convoluted rules that leave people arguing with each other in a high school gym or fire station.  The evening caucus process also isn’t welcoming to participation by working people with family obligations.  Moreover, Iowa isn’t exactly a representative state — nor is New Hampshire.  Rather than adhering to antique notions of who should be first, perhaps political leaders will use the Iowa caucus mayhem as a reason to take a fresh look at the whole process and try to develop a rational approach.

Second, it’s time to call a halt to efforts to be more “cutting edge” in the use of technology in our electoral processes.  Elections don’t need to be as easy as summoning an Uber ride.  It’s clear that at least part of the problem in Iowa was due to rolling out new and insufficiently tested tech, rather than going with tried and true methods.  Using apps and cellphones in elections just raises more concerns about hacking and spoofing and electoral interference, anyway.  How about holding an election the old-fashioned way, with volunteers and voting machines, so that we can have some assurance that everyone knows what they are doing and the results can be counted and released within hours, rather than days?

The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucus isn’t the worst thing that has happened in the history of American politics, but it can be viewed as an opportunity to bring some order to the American electoral calendar and the hodge-podge of processes being used.  Will there be adults in the room who will decide it’s finally time to seize that opportunity?

My Friends And Family Resolution

I’ve thought a bit about what my New Year’s resolution for 2020 should be, and I’ve decided it really is pretty simple:  my resolution is to try to make it to the end of 2020 without irretrievably alienating any of my friends or family.

This may sound like an easy resolution to keep, but I don’t think it is — not really.  In fact, I think 2020 is going to be one of the toughest years, ever, to get through while keeping your coterie of friends, family, and colleagues intact.  That’s because, in this already absurdly super-heated political environment, we’re moving into a year where there will be a presidential campaign, a presidential election, and, apparently, an impeachment trial — all percolating at the same time.  Many of my friends and family members, of all political stripes, feel very passionately about each of those events in isolation.  When you put them all together you’ve got what is probably the most combustible combination of political events in American history.

One year that might be comparable is 1864, when a presidential election took place in the midst of a Civil War, when even the Union, alone, was bitterly divided.  But even 1864 might not really be a good comparator, because in those days the candidates and the country as a whole didn’t need to run a gauntlet of caucuses, primaries, debates, and 24-hour news coverage.  Unfortunately, we’ll be subjected to all of those things.

Our current circumstances have produced the kind of fervent environment where one ill-chosen word or ill-advised joke could damage feelings beyond repair, end a friendship that has endured for decades, or cause family members to vow never to talk to each other or interact again.  I don’t want that to happen.  I like and respect all of my family members and friends, and I’d like to end 2020 without experiencing any regrets that some stupid blog post, social media comment, or argument after a few adult beverages wrecked things.  So this year will be a year of walking on eggshells, with all things dealing with the presidential election off-limits for me.  Call me a wimp if you want.

This is my own, self-imposed pledge.  I’m not going to shush my friends or try to keep them from expressing their strongly held views in strongly phrased ways.  But as for me, I value my friends and family more than I value my need to engage in political debates.

 

Two-Step Voting

Our election on Tuesday involved a very limited ballot; we voted for Mayor (where the incumbent was running unopposed, which tells you something about the low-key politics in Columbus), City Council seats, a few judges, and a tax levy.  Not surprisingly, turnout was low — which made it a good election to roll out a new, two-step voting system.

3002712465_fa843110d0_zAs an old codger who cut his voting teeth on old metal machines where you moved a bar in one direction to close the curtain, depressed levers to expose a mark next to the candidate of your choice, and then moved the bar back to register your vote with a thunk and open the curtains again, I’m used to changes in the voting process.  I’ve probably voted using about 10 different systems over the years.

The new process involves multiple steps.  After first going to the registration people, showing your driver’s license and signing in, you get a piece of paper that you then present to one of the voting volunteers.  They lead you to a machine, explain the new process, and scan you in.  After you vote on the machine, a paper ballot is printed out, and you walk over to a different area to deposit your completed ballot into a secure box.  The last step is new.  Apparently the new system was introduced to enhance voting security and also to better comply with federal law on accommodating people with disabilities.

The new process worked just fine . . . in an election where the turnout was low and there were no lines to speak of.  But I wonder what it will be like in 2020, where there is likely to be a huge, perhaps even historic, turnout — which is probably one of the few things people at every point on the political spectrum can agree on.  There will be a line to get to the registration table, and then a line to wait for a voting official to walk you to a machine and scan you in, and then presumably wait, again, to deposit your ballot into the secure box.

It’s probably going to be a zoo, which makes me wonder whether I should just plan on doing early voting when the 2020 election rolls around.  It probably would be less of a hassle, but I’m resisting that because I like gathering with my fellow citizens, waiting patiently and solemnly and thinking about what I’m doing, and then exercising my franchise and getting my voting sticker.  It makes me feel good about myself and my country, and I’m not sure that I’m ready to give up that uplifting, shared experience.  At the same time, I’m not sure I’m ready for a three-hour wait in an election where passions will be running at their highest, either.

One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

One of the candidates who came to Columbus for last night’s spirited Democratic candidate’s debate made some news when he announced that, in his view, Ohio can no longer claim to be a “swing state.”

411c7uuosfl._sx425_The candidate, Tom Steyer, is a billionaire who used to run a hedge fund but now is running for the Democratic nomination in 2020.  According to a news story in the Columbus Dispatch, this week on his visit to town Steyer told a group of 15 young Democrats:  “You guys live in a red state. I know people call it purple, but it’s pretty darn red.”  Steyer apparently noted that President Donald Trump won Ohio by 8 points in 2016 and that Republicans dominated statewide elections in 2018.  Steyer then said, however, that if Trump loses in Ohio and the rest of the country in 2020, it will represent a shift that will leave Republicans losing “forever.”

I don’t know much about Tom Steyer, but I do know this:  he’s off base in his views about Ohio.  The Buckeye State is a classic “swing state,” as the results of presidential elections over the past few cycles will confirm.  Before going for President Trump in 2016, Ohio had voted for President Obama twice, President George Bush twice, and President Clinton twice.  In short, in the last seven presidential elections Ohio has voted for the Democratic candidate four times and the Republican candidate three times.  Equally important, in none of those races did the winning candidate get more than 52 percent of the vote in Ohio.  That record sounds like the very definition of a “swing state.”

But there’s even more that’s wrong in what Steyer is saying.  He’s apparently one of those “classifying” people who like to put people into buckets.  To him, you’re a red state or a blue state, and if you change that change will be for “forever.”  That’s not my experience with Ohioans, at least.  In Ohio, as in any state, there are groups that are solidly for one party or another — but the key to Ohio is the group in the middle who will look carefully at the competing candidates and make their best judgment about who deserves their vote.  Their votes can change because their views, informed by experience and current events, can and do change.  Anyone who thinks Ohio is moving “forever” into one category or another is going to be proven wrong in the not-too-distant future.

Many of us, myself included, were astonished to see President Trump win Ohio by such a significant margin in 2016.  Rather than concluding that the 2016 results mean that Ohio is now a “red state,” candidates like Tom Steyer would be better served by looking carefully at why the middle group of Ohioans voted as they did in the last presidential election and thinking carefully about how they can appeal to that group to change their direction when the 2020 vote rolls around.  If you want Ohio to swing your way in the next election, that’s what you need to do.

How Old Is “Too Old”?

This week former Vice President Joe Biden formally declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.  He joins a very crowded field of politicians vying for the chance to square off against President Donald Trump in 2020.

bernie-and-joe-like-donald-trumpJoe Biden is 76 years old.  He was born on November 20, 1942; if he were to be elected, he would be 77 on Election Day, and 78 when he takes office.  Bernie Sanders, who is another candidate for the Democratic nomination, is 77 years old and, being born on September 8, 1941, would be 79 on Election Day in 2020.  If either of those candidates won, they would easily set a new record for the oldest person to be newly elected to the presidency — a record now held by the current occupant of the White House, who was a mere 70 when he was inaugurated.  (The oldest President to be elected, period, was Ronald Reagan, who was 73 when he won reelection in a landslide in 1984 — a record that would be obliterated if the 2020 race turned out to be either Trump-Biden or Trump-Sanders.)

There have been some old Presidents in American history — some good, some not so much — and clearly people’s perceptions of what it means to be old in our current day are changing.  As average life spans increase and medical care, diet, fitness, and general attention to health improve, some people argue that aging is really all about a state of mind, and “60 is the new 40.”  And no doubt Biden and Sanders will produce medical reports that show that they are healthy, active, vibrant, and ready to handle the demands of an incredibly taxing job.

Still, Biden and Sanders are really pushing the presidential age envelope into uncharted territory.  How will people react when, as Election Day nears, they really ponder the prospect of an 80-year-old President?  No doubt people will be looking carefully at all three of the septuagenarians — Trump, Biden, and Sanders — for signs of age-related physical feebleness and mental slippage.  Age is something that can’t be hidden, and one serious memory glitch during a debate could be all she wrote for a candidacy.

I don’t think it is improperly ageist to wonder about how age affects fitness for the Oval Office.  In 2020, we may be answering the question:  “How old is too old?”

Presidential Debates, Just Around The Corner

In case you haven’t had your fill of politics already, with an important election only a few weeks away and political stories of one kind or another dominating every newscast, here’s some encouraging news — the first Democratic presidential candidate debates for the 2020 election are just around the corner.

t1larg-debate-stage-empty-t1largPolitico is reporting that the first debates will probably occur in the spring of 2019, months before the first primaries and caucuses, and a full year and a half before the 2020 election.  And even though that seems ridiculously early to non-political types like me, it’s apparently causing all of the would-be candidates to ramp up their activities now.  It’s expected that there will be a lot of people who will be vying for the chance to square off against President Trump in 2020 — more people, in fact, that can reasonably fit on one debate stage.  And if sheet numbers mean there will be two debate stages and two sets of debaters, all of the candidates want to be sure that they appear on the stage that includes all of the perceived “real contenders,” and are not relegated to the “everybody else” stage.  So everybody who is contemplating throwing their hat in the ring is out there raising money, hiring staff, visiting Iowa and New Hampshire, and trying to make news and start showing up in the polls.

Who are the “real contenders” for the Democrats?  According to the Politico article, only one person — a Congressman named John Delaney, who I’ve never even heard of — has formally declared his candidacy at this point.  Among the people who reportedly are considering a bid are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.  Some people think Hillary Clinton might run, or Michael Bloomberg, and no doubt there are mayors, governors, other senators and representatives, and corporate figures who may launch campaigns.  If only a few of these folks actually run, you’ve already got a pretty crowded stage.

It’s hard to believe that we’re at the point of gearing up for another presidential election already, but politics being what it is, I am sure that there are a lot of Democrats out there thinking very seriously about running for President.  Why not?  After all, if Donald Trump can win the Republican nomination and actually get elected, just about anything is possible.  So why not take a shot — and do whatever you can to make sure that you get onto the coveted “contenders” stage?