His & Hers Candidates: When Love Is Stronger Than Politics

On November 6, the Web Goddess and I will walk down the hill to the Presbyterian church and fulfill our solemn civic duty of canceling each other out at the polls.

It’ll be the third straight election where we support different candidates.  This, combined with my ongoing political advocacy on this blog, makes for some careful conversations at home.

But never anything heated — we don’t “do” acrimony. She’s my summer love in the spring, fall and winter, and I’m sure as hell not going to let differences over healthcare policy or the war in Iraq come between us.

In online forums where I’ve disclosed my “mixed marriage,” I’ve had Republicans ask “how can you stand living with a Democrat”?  Well, I was a lifelong Democrat before becoming a 9-11 Republican — we both supported Mr. Gore in 2000.  I’ve seen demonization of “the other” from both sides, and it’s ugly from any perspective.  Liberalism and conservatism are both vibrant and essential strains of thought, and each deserves its champions in the clash of ideas.  That’s why on this blog I try, with perhaps mixed success, to treat opposing ideas with respect.  We’ve gotta be able to talk with each other.

Perhaps the most prominent example of opposing viewpoints within a marriage is James Carville and Mary Matalin — although a friend just nominated Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.  Carville was the campaign manager for Bill Clinton in 1992, while Matalin was a senior campaign adviser to George H.W. Bush.  A year after the election they got married, had two kids, and by all accounts they’ve been happily married for more than two decades.  (Schwarzenegger and Shriver, not so much, although that had more to do with adultery than politics.)

At the end of the day, of course, as residents of New Jersey it doesn’t matter who either of us votes for.  The Founders in their wisdom created the Electoral College, which means your vote is meaningless if you live in a lopsided state.  No, I’m not bitter — I generally support the idea of federalism, and the Electoral College comes with the package.  So on November 6, the Web Goddess and I will tune in while the election is settled by the good citizens of Ohio, Virginia and [shudder] Florida.  And on November 7 we’ll wake up grateful for the blessings in our lives.

(Photo by Ray Folkman — our neighbor)

“47%” and “You Didn’t Build That”: Two Sides of the Same Coin

It’s funny how each candidate’s biggest gaffe revolves around the topic of government dependency.

When Barack Obama said “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen,” he displayed both a scorn for individual achievement and a reverence for the role of government.

When Mitt Romney clumsily conflated two overlapping-but-separate populations that each weighs in at 47% — people who pay no income tax and people who will vote for Obama “no matter what” — he displayed a scorn for dependency on government and a reverence for self-reliance.

Romney is correct that there are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement.”  That doesn’t describe every Obama voter, as Romney carelessly implied — but the people it does describe most certainly will support Obama.

The election offers a stark choice between competing visions of the proper role for government.  The outcome may hinge on whether voters focus on the gaffes or focus on the underlying conflict.

Never Forget

I’ve published this every September 11 since I began blogging in 2008.  It’s dedicated to the men and women of the United States armed forces, and to every firefighter who has ever run into a burning building — 343 of them in particular.

Some day soon I need to write more extensively about the name of this blog. It comes from something that English statesman Edmund Burke apparently did not actually say, so I’ve felt free to modernize the language:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Regardless of who said it first, that sentence is the purest possible distillation of my worldview, and September 11 is a powerful annual reminder of why I regard it as an enduring truth.

The events of 9/11 were the legacy of more than two decades of doing nothing, or next to nothing, in response to attacks from fascists in Islamic guise.

Militant Islamists declared war on America in November 1979 by taking hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This was followed by 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut; the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie in 1988; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996; the simultaneous 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; along with smaller atrocities too numerous to list.

Only after 9/11 did America, led by a President who despite his substantial flaws was resolute enough to call evil by its name, finally mount a sustained response and take the battle to the enemy. And no, Saddam was not behind the 9/11 attacks — but liberating Iraq and planting a (still-fragile) democracy in the heart of the Islamic Middle East is an essential part of the broader war.

All of this is why, despite profound disagreements with the Republican Party on social issues, despite voting for Bill Clinton three times (including 2000), I can no longer vote for Democrats for President. Not until the party has a standard-bearer who understands the cost of meekness in the face of fascism, and who is prepared to stay on the offensive against people for whom “death to America” is not a metaphor.

2012 update: Obama has turned out to be more willing to use force than I expected when I wrote the last paragraph above during the 2008 campaign.  The takedown of Osama bin Laden was a genuine triumph.  But at the end of the day, economic strength is also a national security issue, and I’ll feel (somewhat) safer on that front with Republicans in charge.

Why Do People Make Tendentious Statements As Though They Were Established Fact?

Pictures from WikipediaAn op-ed teaser on the homepage of the Washington Post this morning promised to explain “Why the presidential campaign is so negative.” To my mind there’s a fairly simple answer — because negative campaigning works — but I clicked through to the column to see if the author could put some flesh on those bones.

Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory University, describes a message grid with four quadrants — the positive stories each candidate tells about himself, and the negative stories each tells about the other candidate.  He offers bipartisan examples of positive messages that have been successful in the past — Bill Clinton as “the man from Hope” (Arkansas) and Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” ad.  As a long-time PR guy, I see Westen’s grid as a useful intellectual construct, and I read on.

Until I get to this passage:

In 2008, for example, the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, pulled ahead of Obama for the first time at the beginning of September, in part because Obama sought to run almost entirely in one quadrant of the grid — telling his own story and rarely mentioning the name of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Although that might seem virtuous, it would probably have seemed less so if McCain had won the election and continued many of the policies that destroyed the economy.

Gracious.  However fervently Professor Westen may believe that Republican policies were responsible for the financial crisis, that’s an opinion, not a fact.  It’s a storyline that fits squarely into one of Westen’s quadrants.  In another quadrant, some of us would argue that the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act played a major role in the housing crisis that damaged (not “destroyed”) the economy, by providing mortgages to a lot of people who were not financially able to pay them.  CRA was championed by Democrats, signed by President Carter, and tinkered with over the decades by Republicans and Democrats alike*.

By changing just a few words, Westen could easily have couched his statement as an opinion.  With a few more words, he could have mentioned and found fault with particular Republican policies. But by taking his partisan shot in an “everybody-knows-this” tone of voice, he lost me.  It’s like the friend who once started an argument, during the closing months of the second Bush presidency, with the words “now that George Bush is generally agreed to be the worst president in history…” The mind reels, and everything that follows is tainted.

As an overlay for Professor Westen’s grid, I would distinguish between “messages intended to arouse the base” and “messages intended to persuade the persuadable.”  To me, opinion writing is about persuasion, and on this blog I try, not always successfully, to treat opposing viewpoints with respect.  I was a lifelong Democrat until I became a 9/11 Republican, and I see liberalism and conservatism as two potent and worthy champions in the clash of ideas that has helped make America the most powerful and successful country in the history of the world.  People who treat the opposition as fools or knaves or worse need to understand that they’re not likely to change any votes that way.

Photographs from Wikipedia.  This post initially stated that the CRA was signed in 1997, it has been corrected above to 1977.

* A vigorous discussion about this post on Facebook has convinced me that I did not sufficiently explain my point about the CRA.  The 1977 law itself may have had only a very limited effect on the housing market, but it opened the door for further social engineering over the next 30 years, including a 1995 legislative change that provided penalties for banks that did not issue a sufficient volume of sub-prime loans. In the post above I linked to a 2008 blog post that traces the dots more thoroughly, at http://blog.kirkpetersen.net/2008/10/in-defense-of-wall-street-greed.html . In any event, the point of bringing up CRA at all was to establish that Westen shouldn’t say that McCain would have “continued many of the policies that destroyed the economy” in the same tone that he might say “the sky is blue.”   

The Video Clip Jon Stewart Would Make if He Were a Republican

This is brilliant — a compilation of near-identical sound bites from Obama’s campaign speeches in 2008 and 2012.  Well worth a minute & 58 seconds of your time.  If Obama loses in November, it will be because late deciders and marginal 2008 supporters realize that Obama is not the Obamessiah — he’s one more politician who makes promises he can’t keep.

(Hat tip: Jonah)

What National Election? Electoral College Is the Only Tally That Counts

This is a static snapshot of today - the version in the side column will be updated dynamically.

It’s time once again to launch Electoral-Vote.com’s tracking widget — almost exactly four years to the day after it made its first appearance on my humble blog.

For better or worse, we don’t have national elections in America. We have 51 state elections.  Occasionally this matters a lot — just ask President Gore about his half-million-vote “national victory” in 2000.

It takes 270 electoral votes to win, so if the election were held today, polls indicate Obama would win with 284 electoral votes (plus or minus 13, depending on Virginia, which currently is deadlocked). Looks like the Senate would be deadlocked at 49-49, with two seats too close to call.

But the races can be volatile.  Four years ago this week, the same widget predicted 275 EV for Obama, 250 for McCain.  On Election Day, Obama actually won 365 electoral votes, more than twice McCain’s total of 173.

This year on Nov. 6, the Web Goddess and I will cast presidential votes that are utterly meaningless — not just because we’ll cancel each other out, but also because there is zero chance that Romney will carry New Jersey. The states that matter most this year are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

As near as I can tell, every poll ever taken on the subject shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans think the Electoral College should be eliminated in favor of direct national elections.  But don’t look for a Constitutional amendment any time soon — the amendment process is even more strongly skewed in favor of smaller states than the Electoral College itself.

A non-profit called National Popular Vote Inc. has been pushing a proposal that would technically retain the Electoral College, even while rendering it irrelevant.  From their homepage:

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill preserves the Electoral College, while ensuring that every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election. The National Popular Vote law has been enacted by states possessing 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate it.

Interestingly, the big state vs. small state struggle doesn’t seem to come into play.  Jurisdictions that have passed the NPV bill range from the smallest of the small — Vermont and District of Columbia, with three electoral votes each — to California, the biggest jackpot, with 55 electoral votes.

No, the divide that matters is on red-blue lines.  The other states that have enacted the bill include New Jersey (which managed to enact it in 2008 without me noticing), Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington.  Every single one of these states has gone to the Democratic candidate in each of the past five presidential elections, going back to 1992.

Maybe the red-blue split has something to do with the fact that the only election in living memory that would have gone the other way in the absence of the Electoral College is Bush vs. Gore in 2000.  The last time before that was Harrison vs. Cleveland in 1888.

Veepstakes: What a Difference Four Years Makes!

In 2008, I hadn’t paid much attention to the speculation about whom the candidates would name as their running mates.  Obama picked Joe Biden, and I was like, yeah, OK.

Then McCain swung for the fences with Sarah Palin, leading to a post that has lived ever since in my “Favorites” column: “Five Stages of Adjusting to Palin.”  The stages: “Confusion; Rationalization; Annoyance; Gloom; Reconsidering My Vote.”  An excerpt from Stage Two:

OK, so it’s not a great pick, but maybe it will help McCain get elected by shoring up his relationship with social conservatives, and attracting disaffected Hillary voters who already are considering McCain.

This stage lasted the rest of the day Friday, while I hunted for reasons to reassure myself that she’s not a terrible choice.

That was then.  This morning, up early with a touch of insomnia, I flipped on the little TV in the kitchen while the coffee brewed and listened to one of CNN’s talking heads say something along the lines of: “We have breaking news — Mitt Romney will announce his vice presidential running mate later today.”

OMG… I quite literally held my breath.  “Sources say he will name House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan…”

Fist pump. YES!

Ryan first landed on my blogging radar screen in early 2010 as a forceful and articulate fiscal conservative, when he pushed back hard against what was not yet known as Obamacare. In 2011, I praised his “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal, in which he bluntly declared, “both parties have squandered the public’s trust.”  At 42, Ryan is two years younger than Sarah Palin was in 2008, but he has a gravitas that she will never attain.

I continue to believe we have a ridiculous system for choosing a vice president.  I’m just happy that this time, my favored candidate made a good choice.

Even Dana Milbank Can No Longer Stomach Harry Reid

Long-time conservative piñata Dana Milbank comes down pretty hard today on the loathsome Harry Reid, he of “this war is lost” fame in 2007.

It makes sense that Reid wouldn’t want to be questioned on the particulars of his outlandish accusation that Romney is the tax deadbeat of the decade. But those close to the senator tell me that he’s delighted with the conflagration he sparked last week and that he is determined to keep it going. This soft-spoken Mormon from rural Nevada is quite deliberately turning himself into the mad dog of the 2012 campaign.

“Mad Dog Reid” — I kinda like it.

 

Romney Should Use Tax Return Release to Make the Moral Case for Capitalism

Much as it pains me to link to the outfit that threw the odious Keith Olbermann a lifeline when even MSNBC could no longer stomach him, Current.com has a useful roundup entitled “List of Republicans calling on Mitt to release returns keeps growing and growing.”

Author Jonathan Kuperberg starts with a lead nearly as snarky as mine on this post, then plays it straight while quoting Rick Perry, Bill Kristol, Haley Barbour, Bret Hume, Richard Lugar, Michael Steele and a dozen more conservatives (or Republicans) calling on Romney to release more tax returns.  George Will describes the perception Romney is creating:

“The cost of not releasing the returns are clear,” Will said. “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

I suspect that when he inevitably releases them, the returns will establish that Romney is really, really, really rich.  Master of the Universe rich.  Maybe “Forbes 400″ rich, although Forbes doesn’t currently think so.  In an op-ed titled “Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem,” Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute describes why Romney should not run from the fact of his wealth:

Mitt Romney’s résumé at Bain should be a slam dunk. He has been a successful capitalist, and capitalism is the best thing that has ever happened to the material condition of the human race. From the dawn of history until the 18th century, every society in the world was impoverished, with only the thinnest film of wealth on top. Then came capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere that capitalism subsequently took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fall. Everywhere that capitalism didn’t take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased.

Capitalism has lifted the world out of poverty because it gives people a chance to get rich by creating value and reaping the rewards. Who better to be president of the greatest of all capitalist nations than a man who got rich by being a brilliant capitalist?

I suspect it also will turn out that Romney has aggressively made use of tax-minimization strategies that are not practical for people of lesser means.  Assuming everything he did was legal, I say good for him.  If Obama supporters want to claim that it is somehow immoral to take advantage of loopholes in the law for financial benefit, they should take a one-question quiz: Who is the first major presidential candidate ever to opt out of the system of public funding of campaigns, even while supporting that system on “principle”? Hint: he’s running again this year, and his name is not Romney.

Granted, any rich man traipsing through a defense of capitalism will encounter pitfalls, and Romney no doubt would blunder into some of them.  But this election is shaping up as the clearest choice in memory between the champions of free enterprise and the champions of bigger government, and Romney should make no apology for playing hard for the team to which he belongs.

 

“Governor Awesome” Is Unsuitable for Higher Office


With the important exception of same-sex marriage, I’ve been a big fan of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.  Here’s me about a year and a half ago:

I love watching clips of Christie speaking to voters like adults.  Whether he’s describing his own state as a “failed experiment” or jousting with his favorite piñata, the teacher’s union, it’s refreshing to watch him.

Since then I’ve shrugged off a few times when I’ve thought his candor has lapsed into bullying.  But the ugly confrontation on Saturday is simply appalling.

At an impromptu news conference about a major water-treatment emergency in Monmouth County, Christie had specified that he would take questions only about the current topic.  When a reporter dared to ask an innocuous question on a different subject, Christie snarled, “”Did I say on topic?! Are you stupid?! On topic! On topic. Next question.” He doubled-down seconds later, ending the session with “Thank you all very much — and I’m sorry for that idiot over there.”

“Governor Awesome” (an unregistered trademark of Tigerhawk) has been talked about as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney.  I’ve been hoping Romney will look elsewhere so that Christie can continue his efforts to put the state on a more solid financial footing.  But now I’m also very leery of putting a man with appalling judgment and serious anger-management issues a heartbeat away from the nuclear codes.