United States presidential election

Graduating from the Electoral College

We've been electing our president the same way for 200 years. Why do some say it's time for a change?

(Flickr/Occupy Posters)
We all know the states where the 2012 presidential election will be decided. Not New York, which hasn’t voted Republican since 1984, a year when only Minnesota could muster support for Walter Mondale. Not Texas, where you have to stretch back to 1976 to find an election where a Republican victory wasn’t a given. The battlegrounds on which this year’s presidential race will be waged are Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, and Wisconsin, and if you don’t live there, you can forget about the presidential campaigns giving you an ounce of attention. You’re either a given in the candidate’s electoral college tally, or they know you’re out of their league. Is it unfair? That majority of states who get ignored election after election sure thinks so. So why, after over 200 years, are we still using the Electoral College? Let’s explain. Who thought up the Electoral College in the first place? Blame the founders. If you remember your history lessons...

Context Is Everything

President Obama, about to get yelled at. (White House video)
In the wake of Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro's heckling of President Obama the other day (I called him an "asshat," a judgment I'll stand by), many people argued that we should be respecting "the office of the presidency," even if you don't like the person who occupies it. Jonathan Chait says this is wrong: This wave of fretting over respect for the institution implies that we owe the president more respect than we owe other Americans — a common belief, but one at odds with the democratic spirit. In his farewell address, Jimmy Carter (or his speechwriter, Hendrik Hertzberg) summed up that spirit quite pithily when he said that he "will lay down my official responsibilities in this office to take up once more the only title in our democracy superior to that of president, the title of citizen." The problem with Munro's heckling of Obama is that heckling is wrong, whether the speaker is president or a candidate for the PTA. You don’t start screaming at somebody in the middle of...

Obama, Post-Post-Partisanship

(Flickr/Matt Ortega)
Over the past month or two, as the president’s political position has continued to erode and he becomes more vulnerable, an extraordinary and vaguely preposterous conversation has taken shape. Variations on it have been advanced by everyone from former presidents chatting with Hollywood moguls on news cable TV to esteemed Sunday-morning newspaper columnists picking their way through the racial bric-à-brac of the presidential psyche. In a way, it’s the corollary of the birther discussion at the other end of the spectrum, which is to say that it’s a conversation we’ve never had about any other president. The upshot of this conversation is whether it would be a betrayal of everything for which the president has been a metaphor, and of all the attendant mythologies that have accompanied his election and time in office, if he should offer a critique of the record of the man running against him who is running on that same record. In short, as we debate fundamental matters having to do with...

Tomorrow’s Electoral Wildcard

It’s not in Wisconsin, where the recall of Governor Scott Walker can have only two possible outcomes. It’s in California, where Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein—long the most popular pol in the state—is facing a large field of non-entities as she campaigns for re-election, and where the challenger who may well emerge from the pack to take her on is California’s leading birther: Republican dentist Orly Taitz. Twenty-three candidates are vying to take on Feinstein in November, and not one is remotely serious, even if we define seriousness down to having the capacity to raise just a million dollars in America’s most costly state, and to being known as at least a modestly reputable person to 10 percent of the electorate. Essentially, Republicans have given up on running statewide in California, which has no Republican statewide elected officials and lopsidedly Democratic congressional and legislative delegations (likely to become more so after November). In 2010, GOP gubernatorial...

Letting the Right People Vote

(Flickr/Bettina Neufeind)
For some years, the Republican party has tried to convince Americans that they have put their ugly legacy on issues of race behind them, that Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and Willie Horton have no relationship to the GOP of today. They call themselves the "party of Lincoln," hoping people will forget that the Republican and Democratic parties were very different in 1864 than they are today. (Consider: If the likes of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and the rest of the leading lights of the GOP had been alive 150 years ago, which side would they have been on? The answer seems pretty obvious.) Sometimes, they may even go as far as the National Review did recently, publishing an unintentionally hilarious cover article claiming that Republicans are the real civil-rights heroes, because the Democratic party was once home to white Southern segregationists, so there! Never mind that those folks, like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, eventually found their...

Mitt Romney's Howard Dean Strategy

Flickr/John P. Hoke
In March 2003, a then fairly obscure former Vermont governor and presidential candidate named Howard Dean stood up in front of a meeting of the California Democratic Party, opened his speech by criticizing the timidity and fearfulness of Democrats in Washington, and said to hearty cheers, "I'm Howard Dean, and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party!" Rank-and-file Democrats were amazed and excited. Dean perfectly captured their frustration with national leaders whom they felt were wimps and capitulators, failing to stand up to a Republican president whom they disliked more than any other in their lifetimes. In short order Dean became the candidate of the most partisan Democrats, and the news media portrayed him as some kind of wild-eyed liberal busting into the race from the extreme fringe. But the truth was that Dean was actually a moderate Democrat. He had opposed the Iraq War from the start, that was true. But he had also been endorsed by the National...

The Wisconsin Recall Won't Determine the Presidential Race

(Flickr/WisPolitics.com)
There's no question the stakes of the Wisconsin recall are high. As I wrote last week, if Governor Scott Walker survives the election next week—no matter how slim the margin—he's likely to claim a mandate. Since he's already a rock star among conservatives and anti-union activists, Walker would be in a good position to push further right. If he loses, it gives the labor movement one of its biggest victories in years. However, the fate of Wisconsin is unlikely to determine the fate of the presidential election. It may not even determine the presidential race in Wisconsin. I realize of course, that a whole lot of people disagree with me. Tea Party groups like Tea Party Express and the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama have raised significant amounts by arguing that a win for Walker will mean a loss for Obama. When I emailed CDBO leader Joe Wierzbicki about the group's emphasis on Wisconsin, he responded the recall was "the opening chapter in the presidential race." Similarly, DNC chair...

The "Vetting" Obsession

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
When the Washington Post story about Mitt Romney's high school years (including an incident in which the former Massachusetts governor forcibly cut the hair of a student whose commitment to conformism was insufficiently vigorous) came out, leading Republicans were fairly quiet about it. Whether the incident happened or not, they said, it tells us virtually nothing about the man Romney is today and the issues at stake in this election. That's a perfectly reasonable argument, but it isn't the one you would have heard from many of the foot soldiers in the Republican base. Among the troops, there was outrage, not so much about the Romney story, but about what they saw as a double-standard. As one e-mailed me after I wrote a piece on the topic, "I saw your article on CNN. When does the vetting of President Obama begin? Have you delved into his past? The next time I read an article about a young Barrack [sic] Obama will be the first." As I replied to this person, there were hundreds, maybe...

High-Ranking Crazy

Arizona Secretary of State and certified nutball Ken Bennett
Astute readers may have noticed that over the past year or so, I've made an effort not to be too knee-jerk about my partisanship. Not that I've changed my beliefs about any substantive issues lately, but I've tried to be as thoughtful as I can about people on the other side, whether it's conservative writers or conservative politicians. I don't always succeed (the occasional insult still filters through now and then), but I'm doing my best. And I understand that writing about how the other side is evil can be satisfying. It's also popular; I've written or co-written four books, and the most partisan one sold the most, even though it's not a book I'd have much appetite to write again. That being said, there are times when it isn't enough to say that conservatives are wrong about a particular matter. Being truthful requires saying that many of them are, in fact, nuts. Not all of them, but many of them. And there are both qualitative and quantitative differences in the nuttiness. One of...

Rich People: Not That Smart

Previously unseen video of shadowy character nobody has ever heard of.
Most of us would agree that Citizens United has been bad for democracy, with corporations and wealthy people now permitted to spend as much as they want to buy the kind of representatives they prefer. But there is one factor that we didn't really anticipate, something that mitigates the harm they can do: it turns out that rich people aren't necessarily that smart with their money. So during the presidential primaries, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent $16.5 million to help out the campaign of Newt Gingrich, whom you might have noticed is not the GOP nominee. And in today's New York Times , we get an interesting story about Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, who is preparing to spend $10 million to defeat Barack Obama. And what is the magic bullet Mr. Ricketts has located, the zinger that will bring down this incumbent president? Jeremiah Wright! Seriously. Jamelle discussed the racial aspect of this story, but I equally interesting is just how naive this demonstrates that...

Big Sky's the Limit

(AP/Andrea Helling)
M ontana knows all about buying elections. In 1899, just ten years after it became a state, William Andrews Clark, known as the Copper King, spent an estimated $400,000—the equivalent of $11 million today—to buy the votes of state legislators to send him to the United States Senate. After a lengthy investigation, Clark resigned before the Senate could boot him out. The scandal turned from shocking to farcical when Clark, who bragged that he “never bought a man who wasn’t for sale,” returned to Montana and the lieutenant governor reappointed him to the position from which he’d just been removed. The governor later revoked the appointment, but Clark's third attempt at higher office proved the charm: After spending enough on political campaigns to ensure a state legislature amenable to his re-re - election, he prevailed and sat in the Senate until 1907. Mark Twain said of the affair that Clark had “so sweetened corruption that in Montana it no longer has an offensive smell.” In the early...

Mitt Romney Reads Rob Portman's Amazon Reviews

Not whom Mitt Romney will pick as his running mate. (Flickr/Marc Nozell)
I don't know about you, but when I have to make a large consumer decision — pretty much anything over $100 — I put way too much thought into it. This is partly the curse of the internet, where there is a near-infinite amount of information available about everything. So I read a million reviews, obsessing over every detail, trying in vain to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of every conceivable feature, eventually reaching a point where every option seems like the wrong one and I'm sure I'll be disappointed no matter what I choose. The last time I bought a smartphone it took me about six months. I suspect that Mitt Romney is going through something similar right about now. Romney is a famously methodical thinker, and I picture him with a ten-page pro/con list for every possible vice-presidential candidate, going over and over them all until none of them looks like a winner. All his options have weaknesses, and none of them seems to have the ability to do anything but make Romney...

An Evolution Too Little, Too Late?

Obama still has a chance to lead on LGBT rights—if he takes it.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last June, President Obama was pressed at a news conference on how his famous “evolution” on marriage equality was coming along. "I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one," he said . It was another in a long line of wink-wink statements indicating that the president’s stated opposition to same-sex marriage was shifting. Everybody knew the “different answer” was coming—just not when. Now we know. “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts today. The interview, which will air in full on tomorrow’s Good Morning America, was hastily arranged when Obama’s “I’m getting there” position on same-sex marriage went from being merely annoying to utterly ludicrous. After Vice President Biden and two cabinet members declared their support for gay marriage, the president’s spokespeople were finding it impossible...

Coming to Dinner at Clooney's?

(AP Photo/Jonathan Short)
As you may have heard, Michelle Obama recently invited me to have dinner with George Clooney. And her own hubby too, of course—not that I think Barack really wants to hear my two cents about NDAA. As it happens, I know already that Clooney doesn't have a whole hell of a lot of use for my advice about his acting career. Pretty charming invite, though. Here's what FLOTUS wrote, in an email subject-lined "A Little Fun": "Thomas [she always calls me that, like a stern middle-school teacher. Does The Mich know how to tap my fantasies, or what?] — "Barack and I know how hard so many of you are working on this campaign—and we're grateful for it. "But sometimes you just need to have a little fun, too . . ." Followed by a nudge to make a "grassroots donation" if I want a chance to chow down with the President chez George on May 10. Amount unspecified, though I gather $3 is the minimum. Not to boast, but I've dropped more than that in Vegas a few times. The problem was that the menu was also...

Dreams from My President

E very president plays a symbolic, almost mythological role that’s hard to talk about, much less quantify—it’s like trying to grab a ball of mercury. I’m not referring to using the bully pulpit to shape the national agenda but to the way that the president, as America’s most inescapably powerful figure, colors the emotional climate of the country. John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did this affirmatively, expressing ideals that shaped the whole culture. Setting a buoyant tone, they didn’t just change movies, music, and television; they changed attitudes. Other presidents did the same, only unpleasantly. Richard Nixon created a mood of angry paranoia, Jimmy Carter one of dreary defeatism, and George W. Bush, especially in that seemingly endless second term, managed to do both at once. While Barack Obama’s election left a joyous imprint on American culture—most of us were thrilled to discover that we could sometimes be what we want to think we are—his presidency almost immediately began...

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