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?

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.

Lake Squam

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We’ve moved a few miles south, to the Rockywold-Deephaven Family Camp in Holderness, New Hampshire. We’ve got our own little cabin, with its own dock stretching out into the beautiful, crystal clear water of Lake Squam.

The picture above really doesn’t do justice to this lovely, peaceful place.

Moosehead Decor

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A stuffed moosehead over a fireplace has become a kitschy item, but this part of the vast grand lobby at the Mount Washington Hotel and Resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire looked like a great place to curl up with a book.

Kish and I have been on the lookout for moose because we’ve seen countless moose crossing signs and warnings that moose-car collisions are bad for both parties. So far, we haven’t seen any of our antlered friends.

At The Tamworth Cemetery

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Yesterday we walked from our bed and breakfast for about a mile down a wooded country road to the center of Tamworth, New Hampshire. On our little journey we explored a pretty and peaceful roadside cemetery.

The cemetery includes graves of Revolutionary War veterans. People still tend the graves of those long-dead men, and mark the graves with a flag and emblem that attests to their service in the first war of a new nation. It’s gratifying to see that their sacrifice is still acknowledged.

Across the street is a memorial you probably could only find in the Granite State: a white marble obelisk erected atop a massive granite boulder. I walked up to the top — how could I resist? — and learned that the obelisk commemorated the career of a War of Independence veteran who went on to become a minister. That backstory fit that peaceful spot perfectly.

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Tamworth Time

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We’re in Tamworth, New Hampshire tonight. It’s a tiny town, quiet and lovely, and about as far away from a bustling law practice in a relatively large city as you can get — which, of course, is the the whole idea. The photo above, of a beautiful home on the outskirts of town, gives you an idea of the tranquility of the place.

I particularly like the silence here. Sitting in a 225-year-old house built by a ship captain that now operates as a bed and breakfast, with not a sound emanating from outside, Columbus seems very far away.

The Race Rolls On, And The Big Issues Linger

The Republican presidential primaries, already seemingly endless, roll on.  With Newt Gingrich’s big win in South Carolina, the race is in disarray.  Gingrich is on the rise, Mitt Romney’s shield of inevitability has been dented, and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are hanging on.

The focus now moves to Florida.  As has come to be the pattern, that means another debate tonight (No!!!!!!), lots more negative ads, and probably some new revelations before Florida goes to the polls on January 31.  We’ll hear lots of buzz words and scripted retorts and talking points, but what we probably won’t hear is much substantive talk about exactly how the remaining contenders are going to tackle the budget deficit.

You can argue about how we select a President in our country, and whether beginning with states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina makes any sense.  The early primary voters never seem to share my perspective on the big issues of the day, but perhaps that is just a reminder that ours is a large and diverse land where people have many different views.  In Iowa, social issues always seem to take center stage.  In South Carolina, the votes for Gingrich seemed to be motivated, at least in part, by anger — anger at the news media, and anger at President Obama — and a desire to select a candidate who, the voters believe, will cut the President to ribbons in debates.

Social issues just aren’t on my radar screen, I’m not mad at the news media, and scoring debating points with glib jabs at the President isn’t important to me.  Instead, I just want to hear how specifics about the candidates will cut our spending, balance our budget, resolve our debt issues, and get our economy growing again.  Those are the issues that are most important to me and, I think, most important to our country.  Maybe — just maybe — some Floridians share that view.

The Economics Of Early Primaries

Don’t look now, but states are jockeying to move up the dates of their primaries, caucuses, and other electoral contrivances.  Florida has indicated that it is going to move its primary to January 31.  If it does so, expect South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Iowa to follow suit, so they can maintain their current positions in the presidential pecking order.  Such a result could mean the Iowa caucuses happen on January 9, 2012.  Happy New Year!  It’s time to vote!

It’s silly to be voting in January, 10 months before the actual election.  No rational person would want to front-load the process because it increases the risk that a flukey candidate might get on a roll and knock everyone out of the race, only to be exposed months later as a hapless lightweight who isn’t ready for prime time.  Rick Perry’s recent bumbling, fumbling, stumbling performance at a Florida debate aptly demonstrates why it makes sense to draw out the process, to give the candidates the chance to mature and to give the public a reasonable amount of time to get to know who they’re voting for.

So why is there this irresistible impetus to keep moving things up?  States might claim it’s to maintain a tradition or because they want to have a say in selecting the candidates, but I think the real reason is money.  Huge sums are spent on political campaigns these days, and the media flocks to the early primary states.  Early primaries have more candidates and more campaigns spending cash, and states want to get their share.  So why not schedule an early primary and then sit back and watch the hordes of candidates, staffers, consultants, pundits, and reporters descend, fill your hotels, restaurants and bars, buy the TV and radio spots and employ the printing presses, and pump up those hospitality and sales tax receipts?

Early primaries are good business.

What If They Gave A Debate, And Nobody Came?

Tonight there was a debate in New Hampshire among declared Republican presidential candidates.  So we got to see Mitt, and Newt, and Tim, and Rick, and Ron, and Michele, and Herman duke it out — more than a year before next year’s election, and six months before the actual New Hampshire primary.  I didn’t watch it.  Did anyone, who wasn’t paid to do so?

Why do Republicans do this to themselves?  Why have a debate at this point, long before the actual issues on which the election will turn have crystallized?  With the economy struggling and the pathetic thrashings of Anthony Weiner dominating the news, why would Republicans want to do anything to change the national discourse?  Why take the chance that one of the announced candidates, who may never have more than fringe appeal, will say or do something stupid that the media can seize upon as the new story of the day?

When things are going badly for the Democrats — as they are — why intrude?  The Republicans should shut up for a while and let the issues play out, without having a bunch of not-ready-for-prime-time-players talking about matters that probably aren’t going to make much difference come election day in November 2012.  We would all be better served if the “debates” were deferred until we were within a month or two of an actual election that had real consequences.  If the Republicans won’t do the decent thing and keep their yaps shut for a few more months, then the American public should just agree that no one should pay any attention to the blatherings and posturings of the would-be candidates until after the leaves turn and the first snow falls.