Ohio’s Quadrennial Electoral Regrets

Here we go again.  We’ve gone through the first part of the presidential campaign, with votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.  The Democratic and Republican fields have narrowed . . . and weirdness prevails.

Let’s face it:  none of these states is really very demographically or culturally representative of the country as a whole, but still they get to be the filters that sift through the candidates for the rest of us.  So we get to see cardigan-wearing candidates yakking at town halls and hugging distraught young people.  We try to understand obscure delegate selection rules — why caucuses, and not outright elections? — and hear about which Republican is going to appeal most to the born-again crowd.  And Dixville North, New Hampshire gets it’s name on the national newscasts, just as it does every four years.

And each result in these early contests gets blown up to titanic proportions, even if the real differences are small.  Consider yesterday’s Democratic caucuses in Nevada.  Hillary Clinton won with 6,238 votes versus Bernie Sanders 5,589 votes.  That’s less than 650 out of less than 12,000 votes, yet now the pundits say HRC has Big Mo on her side.  And 12,000 votes?  In Ohio we get that many people at some high school football games.  Should a few thousand casino workers in Las Vegas and Reno really have such an influence on presidential politics?

Every four years we seem to ask this question — why don’t states like Ohio have a larger role in the presidential selection process? It’s being asked again this year, too.  Ohio is a state that closely mirrors the country as a whole.  It’s got big cities and rural areas, it’s got labor unions and small businesses, it’s ethnically and culturally diverse, and it’s politically diverse, too.  And, perhaps most importantly, every election cycle Ohio ends up being one of the crucial “battleground states,” whereas no candidates are going to Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina when general elections are in the balance and Election Day is drawing near.  Yet, in the primaries, we don’t get to Ohio until after the candidates wade through predominantly white states like Iowa and New Hampshire and largely evangelical states like Iowa and South Carolina, and some candidates who conceivably might be viable have dropped out because they’ve run out or money or failed to appeal sufficiently to the born again contingent.  This year may present the same kind of scenario.

I know, some people will talk about the historic role of Iowa and New Hampshire, or say that it’s good for candidates to start in “retail” settings before they move to “wholesale” politics, but those are just rationalizations for a candidate selection process that just makes no sense.  So this year we say what we say every four years:  why not start the electoral process where it always ends up — in Ohio?

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A Candidate Of Self-Inflicted Wounds

Voting has started today in the New Hampshire primary.  The polls and pundits are saying that Senator Bernie Sanders is likely to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, further puncturing the air of inevitability that her campaign has sought to project.

Why is Hillary Clinton struggling?  She’s got tons of money, and tons of endorsements, and allies up and down the Democratic Party structure.  She can point to a record that includes service as a Senator and Secretary of State.  She’s the first woman to seriously contend for the presidency and has that historic element to her candidacy.  And she’s got an ex-President always ready to go out and campaign for her.

635615989866784419-ap-dem-2016-clintonSo, why isn’t she wiping the floor with Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-avowed socialist?

I think it’s because Hillary Clinton is the candidate of self-inflicted wounds.  A lot of politics is instinctive, and her instincts just aren’t there.  Time and again, she doesn’t effectively deal with questions or issues, and then rather than changing tack she digs in and just makes the issue more difficult for herself.

The latest example of this is the continuing runout of the Hillary Clinton Goldman Sachs speeches story.  At the most recent Democratic candidate debate, Clinton was asked if she would release the transcripts of those speeches.  Clinton said, guardedly, that she would “look into it.”  It’s a classic non-answer, a deferral in hopes that people will just forget about it.  But, of course, the media is like a dog with a bone — when a story has legs, as the Wall Street speeches story does, the press won’t let go.

So the media reports that transcripts of the speeches were required by contracts covering the speeches, at Clinton’s insistence, and that she owns the transcripts and controls the ability to release them.  Then, when the Clinton campaign doesn’t promptly announce its decision after “looking into” the issue, the press asks about it, which leads to stories speculating about why she wouldn’t release the transcripts — unless there’s something bad in them.  Days later, Clinton tries to stop the bleeding by saying she’ll release her transcripts if every other candidate who has given a speech for money agrees to release those transcripts.  It’s another non-answer and deferral technique, because nobody is seeking every transcript of every speech by every other candidate — they just want to know what Hillary Clinton said at Goldman Sachs.

It must be frustrating for Clinton’s supporters and campaign staff, to deal with the constant drip, drip, drip of stories about issues that won’t go away and that won’t allow Clinton to try to deliver her own, coherent campaign message.  Why won’t she just release the damn transcripts and be done with it?  If Hillary Clinton doesn’t beat Bernie Sanders, she should just look in the mirror for the culprit, because she is the candidate of self-inflicted wounds.

What If They Gave A Debate And Nobody Watched?

Tonight, at 9 p.m. on NBC, Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will square off in a primetime debate between the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for President.

Will you be watching?  If so, you might not have much company.

rtx1zf68-1024x696The ratings for the Democratic presidential candidate debates have, well, suffered by comparison to the ratings for the Republican contests.  The most recent Democratic debate, on ABC in December, attracted 6.7 million viewers.  The Republican debate in December on CNN, in contrast, got 18 million viewers, and earlier debates among the GOP field pulled in 25 million and 24 million viewers.  The most recent Republican debate, earlier this week on the Fox Business Network, was watched by 11 million Americans.

Why are the Democratic debates getting trounced?  Some simply attribute it to the Donald Trump factor, reasoning that his supporters watch the debates because they like what he has to say, his detractors watch hoping he puts his foot in his mouth, and non-political people watch because he’s entertaining.  Others think the Republican debates simply have more uncertainty and drama than the Democratic contests, where it was widely believed that the debates are just a formality on Hillary Clinton’s inevitable march to the nomination.

Still others (like the Sanders campaign) note that the Democratic debates have been scheduled on Saturday nights, traditionally not a heavy TV-watching period, and argue the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign may have made those arrangements specifically to keep people from hearing what Bernie Sanders has to say.  It is weird that the debates have been set for dates and times that aren’t exactly prime viewing periods, and it seems at least plausible that the Clinton campaign’s ultra-cautious, play-it-safe approach was a factor in the scheduling.  If so, that’s kind of strange, when you think about it.  Either the Clinton people think Hillary can’t out-debate a self-declared Socialist, or — perhaps more likely — they think the voters in Democratic primaries and caucuses are so liberal that Sander’s socialist positions will be attractive if the likely primary voters just find out what he is saying.

If that’s the Clinton camp’s strategy, is it working?  It’s not entirely clear.  Sanders apparently has closed the gap in Iowa and is doing well in New Hampshire, although Clinton has increased her lead in national polls. But the national polls really don’t mean a lot when it comes to primaries and caucuses, and if Sanders can pull upsets in Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s not hard to imagine Clinton’s big national lead, and the sense of inevitability that her supporters have tried to project, melting away in favor of the new guy.  In fact, the New York Times is reporting that some members of the Clinton campaign — including Bill Clinton — think it was a mistake to not come out swinging against Sanders at the outset.  Part of a more aggressive approach, of course, would have meant holding debates at times when people might actually be inclined to tune in.

So, will you be watching tonight, or not?  After all, a new episode of Downton Abbey is airing on PBS.

Rockywold Deephaven Family Camp

IMG_2658Kish’s and my road trip last week was one of the most enjoyable vacations we’ve ever had, and part of the reason was our two-day visit to the Rockywold Deephaven Family Camp near Holderness, New Hampshire.  I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get away from the hurly burly of the modern world for a while, reconnect with their family, and relax.

I’m not going to try to describe the camp, its history, or its activities, you can find that information at the RDC website.  Instead, I just want to list a few reasons why I think this place is special.

First, Squam Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, anywhere.  Remarkably clear water, physically beautiful, perfect for sailing, canoeing, kayaking, or using the motorboat for a tube run.  We used it mostly for swimming and floating and basking in the warm sunshine.  Even better, it is absolutely, perfectly, breathtakingly quiet in the morning.

The view from Bungalow bench

The view from the bench in front of our cabin, Bungalow

Second, you have lots of lodging choices.  We were going to stay in a communal lodge, where guests share common areas, but there had been a cancellation and we got a small cottage instead.  Ours was a one-bedroom enclave called Bungalow, and the cabin options — all of which have their own names — run the gamut from one bedroom to cabins large enough to accommodate multiple generations of a family.  Our cabin had a porch that faced the water, a bench that was right on the shoreline with a great view, and its own little dock where we did our swimming.  It was ideal for us.

Third, there’s not a lot of clutter with modern amenities.  Don’t worry, there are plugs so you can recharge every one of your 50 electrical devices, and we had good cell phone and wireless coverage in our cabin, so you can still get your technology fix.  But there was no TV, no refrigerator, no stereo or radio in our cabin — which encouraged you to get off your duff, walk the grounds, breathe deep the fresh air, hike, swim, fish, read, or join in one of the communal activities, and otherwise avoid the insipid cat videos and internet mindlessness that otherwise fill so much of our lives.

The Deephaven bell tower

The Deephaven bell tower

Fourth, there was an interesting tradition and dynamic at the camp.  Many of the guests when we were visiting had been coming there for years, if not generations, and the RDC encourages that by using a kind of seniority system to assign cabins and tables at the dining hall.  And because there is some separation between the Rockywold and Deephaven parts, which have different dining halls for example, the old pros have formed strong allegiances to their respective sides.  Our cabin was in the Deephaven section, and when we got to talking to other Deepers at a picnic lunch it was clear that they would never consider the prospect of ever staying on the Rockywold side.  Horrors!

Finally, the dining was all done in a communal dining hall.  Meals were served at set times and announced by a bell ringing at the bell tower.  The food was good, and plentiful, and served buffet style, and every family sits at its own assigned table.  It was a pleasure to see parents, kids, and grandparents as they ate their meals together.  There were other communal activities, too — a chance to make tie-dyed shirts, a picnic, a family movie (Frozen, of course), a talent show where little kids were the stars for a night, boat cruises, an ultimate Frisbee match — and all of them seemed to involve kids, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  I’d wager that the families that spend a week at the RDC grow stronger and closer in the process, which is probably why they come back.

The Rockywold Deephaven Camp has been around since 1897.  It probably hasn’t changed much, while the world around it has changed a lot.  It’s part of the reason why it’s such a great place.  I wish we had known about it when Richard and Russell were kids.

The Deephaven dining hall

The Deephaven dining hall

Sunrise Over Squam Lake

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Another day dawns over Squam Lake, and there is absolute silence as the sun rises. It is so quiet that the sound of stones crunching underfoot seems to echo to the ends of the earth.

Every city dweller should make a trip to a place like this to learn and appreciate the meaning of quiet.

Swimming To The Floating Dock

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Yesterday we went swimming in Lake Squam. The water was cold when we first plopped in, but soon became comfortable as we got acclimated.

About 40 yards away from the end of our dock was a floating dock. I felt my inner 10-year-old decide that I was going to swim over and check out that dock, and before I knew it I was following that mental command and swimming freestyle toward the dock.

Yikes! My swimming skills are ridiculously rusty, and the lifeguard who taught UJ and me to swim decades ago would have had lots of strong comments about my form as I floundered toward the dock, breathing to the side every few strokes. Still, I made it, and it felt good to feel the steps of the floating dock ladder, cool and slick with algae, under my palms.

I ended up making several round trips to that dock, sometimes diving down toward the bottom of the lake, which was clearly visible through the cool water. A few fish swam lazily by, and I experimented with the back stroke and breast stroke as I went. Lake swimming is the best swimming if all, with no chlorine or salt to bother you or keep you from opening your eyes underwater.

The sun shone down and glinted off the surface of the water, and in the distance I heard the thrum of a motorboat. For a while I felt like a kid again.