About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Newtown, and the wages of American cruelty

I really don't know what to say about the events in CT today, so close to where I grew up, at precisely the time my own children were in school. Tragic events like this are, in the end, inexplicable -- but much like the 9/11 attacks, to simply describe what happened as a consequence of 'evil' is, frankly, a moral cop-out. 

We live in a society that lays claim (sometimes a unique claim) to loving our children. But we don't. Not really. We love our own, yes. But not other people's children. Our children will learn and practice love when we provide them with institutions, laws and communities that reflect and reinforce it. We are cruel to the children of the poor, the undocumented, and the incarcerated, more so than any other developed nation. We tolerate -- even revel in -- breathtaking levels of violence and inequality, giving our young people a sense that using other human beings as a means to our own ends is OK. Its Ok in our foreign 
policy. Its OK at work. And its OK in our relationships.

Silenced by a patriarchal culture that reproduces and rewards male aggression, and that devalues and denigrates humility, doubt, interdependence and vulnerability, we underfund the treatment of mental illness while living in a society that produces it in great quantities. We continue to allow the free flow and use of firearms, far beyond any reasonable definition of self-defense and constitutional protection, ensuring that our children -- especially our poorest children -- will grow up experiencing daily stress and insecurity, perpetuating almost everything I've described above.

I don't know what lessons we're supposed to draw from the events in CT today. But I do know that the cruel and bitter edge of American society, there at its very slave-owning birth as a kind of original sin, seems to have become even sharper in the last two decades. Cruelty is all of a piece, woven together, constricting all of us, even the most privileged and safe. But love is all of a piece, too. And it simply isn't enough, in the end, for us to hoard it, household by household, like one more zero-sum game we're trying to win. Once we commit to loving ALL of our children, the society we construct out of that love will finally make this country -- finally -- a source of great hope in the world.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The needle and the damage done? PEDs and the baseball Hall of Fame

This year, for the first time, the Tainted Five of baseball's Steroid Era are eligible for the Hall of Fame:  Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Rafael Palmeiro.

And Royce Clayton is on there too.  This article is not about Royce Clayton.

The arguments below were handcrafted late one night in Providence's venerable Ivy Tavern, with cloudy headed input from Brad and Mason, and intellectual performance enhancements provided by the always lovely Rob Duncanson.  By the end of the evening, I had somewhat surprised myself by arriving at the following conclusion:

Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro and Bonds should all get in the HOF. 

Clemens and Bonds should be first ballot and unanimous Hall of Famers.

Here's the argument.

1.  Perhaps this is obvious, but let's start here:  Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa, Bonds, and perhaps Jeff Bagwell would all be slam dunks for the HOF if performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) were not an issue.  Clemens and Bonds would be first ballot -- even unanimous -- HOFers.  Sosa, McGwire and Palmeiro would all get in in their 2nd or 3rd years, easy.  For Bagwell, it would depend upon who was up against him (he's not getting in over Greg Maddux or Frank Thomas, for example).  In the case of Bonds and Clemens, I would argue that you have the two greatest baseball players of the post-Ruth era.  Brad argued last night that if Bonds and Clemens had both quit at precisely the time when most people believe they started using PEDs (1998-199), they would have been 1st ballot HOFers even then.  I agree. 

2.  Again, obvious, but let's just say it:  all of the above players are now eligible for the HOF, and have been connected, either directly (through testing or confession) or indirectly (rumor, second-hand testimony, sharp and immediate changes in on-field production, the leaked Mitchell Report), to the use of PEDs at some point in their careers.  Palmeiro is the only one who tested positive (in 2005) since drug testing was included in the MLB collective bargaining agreement, with clear penalties attached.  There is no concrete evidence that Palmeiro used for any period before that particular test.  And he served his suspension.  MLB policy then and now doesn't ban a player from baseball for violating the policy.  It carries a series of specific punishments.  You serve the punishment, you can come back and play.

3.  The first testing for steroids took place in secret in 2003.  The names (though not the aggregate data) were supposed to remain secret, as part of the collective bargaining agreement.  MLB officials, in a dishonest power move that both violated labor law and the confidentiality rights of individual players, chose to leak some of that information -- but not enough of it to either provide concrete evidence of guilt, or allow the players to defend their innocence.  For that reason, I don't consider the leaked names on that report to be valid evidence.  I also hasten to point out that drug tests and samples aren't 100% reliable.

4.  While baseball implicitly banned the use of steroids in 1971, and explicitly did so in 1991 (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1151761/1/index.htm), it did not put any machinery in place to enforce that ban until 2003, and didn't ban HGH until 2005.  Because of this, we have no way of knowing who used pre-2003 and who didn't, when, and how much. 

5.  We also don't know, by the way, what effect steroid use has -- on players at different positions, on players with varied skill sets, etc.  Were the career numbers of these players 'enhanced' by the use of PEDs?  Perhaps.  But since they played in an era when hundreds of others were also using (hitters against Clemens, pitchers against Bonds and rest), in an era of franchise expansion (diluting the opposing player talent pool), smaller stadiums, a lively ball, and vast improvements in nutrition, sports medicine, and off-season training, there simply is no objective and fair way to sort any of this out.  Many players have testified that they used steroids or HGH to help them stay on the field and fight through injuries.  What if that actually turns out to be the most reliable benefit of PED use?  Is that actually cheating?

6.  Should these guys be banned from Cooperstown because they 'broke the rules'?  Did they break the rules?  I'm not so sure.  Do recreational users of marijuana break the law when they smoke a joint?  Technically, yes (though thankfully the laws themselves appear to be changing).  But outside of African-American ghettos, marijuana use is fully tolerated by our entire law enforcement apparatus, and the larger culture.  As I noted above, MLB banned the use of steroids in a 1991 memo.  All players, agents, and the union received the memo.  Presumably team owners and general managers did too.  The official message was:  you are not allowed to use PEDs.  The unofficial message, however -- the one that was in actual operational practice in clubhouses and weight rooms across the league -- was that PED use was just fine.  MLB could have enforced its official ban.  It chose not to do so (in part because they profited financially from this oversight).  There is, therefore, a sense in which trying to hold these guys accountable now constitutes an unfair moving of the goalposts, of holding them accountable after the fact for things that were tolerated by all relevant authorities at the time the events took place.

7.  The Hall of Fame is not a rule or law enforcement body.  MLB has its own procedures for that.  if MLB hasn't banned a player for life, its rules should work like laws do more generally -- you break a law, you serve your time, you're done.  No double jeopardy.  Just because our bigoted mass incarceration system locks young men of color into a lifelong 2nd class status despite having already served their time, doesn't mean baseball has to do the same thing. 

8.  PED use was seen as 'just fine' by MLB because the culture of using any edge to get ahead pre-dated the period we're discussing.  Players long before the so-called Steroid Era used PEDs of various sorts.  Amphetamines were widely used for over a half-century, by players who are already in the HOF.  Steroid use began in the 1970s, when their use wasn't even illegal, let alone banned by baseball.  Pitchers cheated by scuffing balls, using spit and vaseline; teams stole signals (most famously the 1951 NY Giants); batters put cork and rubber balls in bats. 

And don't even get me started on the fact that MLB enforced a white monopoly until 1947, which really should justify giving the individual statistics of ALL PRE-JACKIE ROBINSON PLAYERS a big fucking asterisk.  White supremacy as a PED -- how is that for an argument?  Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Ty Cobb.

9.  Bonds and Clemens are, according to most people, assholes.  That doesn't disqualify them from the Hall of Fame.

A-Rod, Raffy, and PEDs in the post-Steroid Era
My argument to this point has been aimed primarily at trying to sort out the HOF credentials of players in the Steroid Era, when PED use wasn't tested or punished, and therefore was effectively legal. 

But what about players in the post-2003 era (random testing, with punishments, started in 2004 -- there were no punishments for flunking the 2003 test), on whom we have concrete evidence of use, because they flunked a test, or because they admitted use?

If you are a Hall of Fame voter, how do you evaluate these guys?  I think you have to take them on a case by case basis.  Look at the total arc of the career, the evidence you have of use at a specific time, and then assess. 

Presumably evidence of PED use during the prime productive years of a borderline HOF player might keep him out, all things considered, but that would depend upon the player.  With Alex Rodriguez, as you'll see below, you could remove his 3 best years, and he would still be a slam dunk first ballot Hall of Famer. 

I do not think it is justified to simply refuse to consider a player for the Hall of Fame, if he has once flunked a test.  Flunking the test comes with a 50 game suspension.  Once served, he has been punished.  He has not been banned from baseball.

So we assess their entire career, keeping in mind that it is essentially impossible to tell with any degree of accuracy what impact the PED use actually had on their performance.

I'm thinking here of A-Rod and Palmeiro, but perhaps also of Manny Ramirez (and some day, Ryan Braun).  Keep in mind I am disregarding, as I have noted above, the supposedly confidential 2003 test.  Manny and Palmeiro have tested positive in the mandatory testing era.  So has Ryan Braun. 

Let's pretend I'm a HOF voter, A-Rod retires tomorrow, and its 2017 -- his first year of eligibility.

A-Rod's name was on the 2003 test I'm disregarding, but he has since admitted use over a 3 year period (2001-2003) while with the Rangers -- a 3 year period that was of course prior to when players were tested and punished.  In other words, it fell during the period when MLB consciously and actively tolerated widespread PED use, when it could have chosen not to do so.  Based on my argument so far, we should just include his 2001-2003 seasons, and move on, putting him in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

But A-Rod actually admitted use, and gave us a specific time period.  So let's be more strict than my argument would allow.

I still don't see any way that one could argue to keep A-Rod out of the HOF, when his time comes. 

A-Rod was an astonishing, awesome baseball player while in Seattle, and during his first few years in NY, and there is no evidence whatsoever linking him to PED use while he was in either place; but as I argued above, since PED was effectively legal in MLB during his Seattle years anyway, evidence wouldn't be relevant if it did exist.  He put up ridiculous numbers in 2001-2003, when he has admitted using.  But he put up the same numbers in 2005 and 2007, during the random testing era.  And from 1996-2000, when we have no reason to think he used (and again, as I've argued, we really can't argue that it would matter if he did).

A-Rod said he used while in Texas to stay healthy and on the field, to justify that huge contract.  Perhaps, perhaps not.  The reasons aren't relevant.  How should the discerning HOF voter assess this?

Let's take a harsh look at it, and eliminate all 3 years (2001, 2002, 2003).  Pretend he didn't even play.  That is almost certainly not fair to A-Rod, since his career arc before and after indicates that he would have put up terrific numbers anyway.  And again, he used during a period when PEDs were ubiquitous, and unpunished.

His career numbers WITH those 3 years:
In 19 seasons:  2900 hits.  Almost 1900 runs.  647 HRs, and 1950 RBIs.  a .300 batting average.  and just over 300 steals.  A batting title.  5 HR crowns.  2 RBI titles.  MVP 3 times, and in top 3 three other times.

His average over 162 games:  42 HRs, 125 RBIs, 122 runs, 20 stolen bases.  Over 19 years.  CRAZY.  And did the best of it while playing short, where no one else has ever put up numbers even close to this.

His career numbers WITHOUT those 3 seasons:

His career numbers:  458 HRs.  1545 RBIs.  1516 runs.  .300 BA.  Over 200 stolen bases.  2 MVP awards.

162 game average, in 16 seasons:  36 HRs.  123 RBIs.  120 runs.  22 stolen bases.

If a guy averages -- AVERAGES -- 36 homers, 123 RBIs, and 120 runs a year FOR SIXTEEN YEARS...sorry friends, he's going in the Hall of Fame, first ballot, not close.  To give you some perspective, the best year HOFer Mike Schmidt ever had was slightly inferior to what A-Rod averaged in the 16 years we're discussing...and we've excluded 3 of A-Rod's best seasons.

The Palmeiro/PED question is much easier to parse.  While A-Rod supposedly used right in the middle of his most productive years, Palmeiro flunked one test (after passing all previous ones) in 2005 -- his last year in baseball, and at least two years past any seasons you could call reasonably productive.  In all likelihood, he took a little something to help him stay on the field long enough to get his 3000th hit.

Palmeiro wasn't the player A-Rod has been (who is?), but he ended his career with over 500 HRs and 3000 hits.  His 162 game average was 33 HRs, 105 RBIs and a .288 BA.  He didn't just reach 500 homers -- he got to 569.  Palmeiro seems almost pedestrian when measured against peers like Griffey, Bonds and A-Rod.  But when measured against everyone else (and the vast majority of players in baseball history), he was exceptional.  He should be in.the Hall of Fame.

It is a fun parlor game to try to figure who used, and when.  Fans can speculate endlessly.  We enjoy it.  But when push comes to shove, I don't believe we have the evidence or the ethical grounding to keep Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Palmeiro and McGwire out.

Fire away, boys.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Ned Flanders, Mitt Romney and liberal schadenfreude

"The billionaire donors I hear are livid ... There is some holy hell to pay. Karl Rove has a lot of explaining to do ... I don't know how you tell your donors that we spent $390 million and got nothing," - A "Republican operative," to HuffPo.
In a 1991 episode of "The Simpsons," Ned Flanders opened a store at the mall selling everyday objects for left-handed people.  His next door neighbor Homer, typically, hoped the store would fail.  When it did, Homer's daughter Lisa sought to stretch her father's emotional intelligence a little bit:
Lisa:  Dad, do you know what schadenfreude is?

Homer:  No, I don't know what 'shaden-frawde' is [sarcastic].  Please tell me, because I'm dying to know.

Lisa:  It's a German term for 'shameful joy,' taking pleasure in the suffering of others.

Homer:  Oh, come on Lisa.  I'm just glad to see him fall flat on his butt! [getting mad]  He's usually all happy and comfortable, and surrounded by loved ones, and it makes me feel...what's the opposite of that shameful joy thing of yours?

Lisa:  Sour grapes.

Homer:  Boy, those Germans have a word for everything!

At times over the past decade, I think my fellow liberals have obsessed a bit too much over the antics and extremism of the conservative media echo chamber.  People like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck spew forth some kind of incendiary bile, twisting the panties of progressives into knots of righteousness indignation...while the plutocrats who actually run the Republican Party (and said media echo chamber) quietly go about their business.

That said, the results on Election Night seem to have turned the right-wing's entire public establishment into a burning ball of incandescent and inchoate rage.  And while Montesquieu is probably right that schaudenfreude is a kind of cowardice, I don't think that applies when the pleasure one takes at the suffering of others is aimed at the comfortable and powerful.  Indeed, one of the most morally repugnant aspects of what passes for American conservatism these days is that its experience of 'shameful joy' tends to manifest itself in a self-righteous and sadistic satisfaction in the struggles of the afflicted.

In an unapologetic elitism, in other words.

Laughing at the failures and foibles of the high and hubristic is (or should be) the very essence of humor in the age of mass democracy.

So, f*ck'em.  If they are stinging from a gigantic karmic bitch-slap, I see no reason for a lefty like me not to groove on the sound.  I'll get back to the thoughtful analysis of what the election of 2012 tells us about our country and its future in other posts in the coming weeks.  But for now, the only responsible thing to do in the face of absurdity -- and the faintest glimpses of an unexpected cosmic justice -- is to laugh your ass off.

And since I'm using funny foreign words in this post, let's pick something in French too, since that'll make them squirm even more.  The phrase 'l'esprit d'escalier' literally means 'the spirit of the staircase."  But in common usage, it refers to the exact moment a person comes up with a clever retort to an embarrassing insult, the sort of thing for which Churchill, Wilde and Parker were renowned.  I don't know about you, but those of us in the 'reality-based' community have had to put up with a wide variety of insults for years now -- to our morality, our patriotism, and our intelligence. 

So what's the clever retort here?

Well, I'm just going to point to the scoreboard.  And give you what's below, for your delectation.  Please note that no mockery or misinterpretation of what follows is necessary.  Just verbatim quotations and images, demonstrating a breathtaking kind of cognitive dissonance, as privileged white males sputter and choke in a desperate refusal to accept the epistemic change that confronts them.

So please know, my fervid conservative friends, that I am temporarily suspending the empathic sensibility that generally informs most of us on the left.  I am not laughing with you, in other words, since you seem capable of neither doubt nor self-deprecation. 

I am laughing at you.  You are welcome to join me.

First, of course, there was the willful denial in the days leading up to the election of the slowly accumulating empirical evidence that Romney wasn't going to have a good night.  This started with the homophobic vilification of Nate Silver.  It continued in the 48 hours before Tuesday, with electoral projections of a Romney landslide by George Will and even Michael Barone, that seemed to be based on nothing but wishful thinking, and the 'conventional wisdom' of others similarly placed and pigmented.

And then there was election night itself, and what followed.

Fox News coverage on election night provided a pitch-perfect peek at the right-wing media echo chamber, and the epistemic closure it seems to foster -- a complete refusal to look at evidence or arguments that don’t come from the like-minded.

The big screens at the Mitt Romney Victory Party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center were on Fox for most of the evening. When Fox broadcast a positive development for Romney (like the early calls in the deep South), the audience would cheer -- at which point Fox would quickly cut to the party at the ballroom, and the crowd would cheer louder, now seeing themselves broadcast on the screens that were looming over them.  It was, in other words, a gigantic and ideologically re-affirming feedback loop, and a perfect symbol for how detached the most active portions of the Republican Party have become from the country they claim to embody.  That feedback loop finally seemed to unravel when Fox News called Ohio for Obama (and Karl Rove unraveled with it).

The Tory Andrew Sullivan, like me, watched a bit of Fox News on election night.  And he also used the word schadenfreude to describe his motivations for doing so, though as a conservative the alloy had a different mix of shame and joy than mine.  His observations are worth quoting at length:
Yes, I watched for Schadenfreude purposes. These charlatans and money-grubbers have turned the broad tradition of Anglo-American conservatism into Southern Fried Fanaticism - and I wanted to see them crackle in their batter. They have replaced empirical doubt with unerring faith in an ideology that had its moment over thirty years ago and is barely relevant to the world we now live in. That faith has been cynically fused with fundamentalist religion to make it virtually impossible for the GOP to accept that women are the majority of voters in this country, that gay couples are equal to straight ones, that 11 million illegal immigrants simply cannot be expected to "self-deport" en masse by a regime of terrifying policing, that war is a last and not a first resort, that the debt we have is primarily a function of two things: George W. Bush's presidency and the economic collapse his term ended with.
Enjoy the crackle, below.

This one, from Charles A Donovan, echoes the apocalyptic tone found on much of the right Tuesday night: 
We may be on the verge of a new Babylonian captivity for religious conservatives. As we know, the story does not end there.
Some conservatives placed the blame for the evening on Sandy, presumably missing the irony of God's decision to intervene in a way that seemed to boost the fortunes of the 'apostate' President. 

Others blamed my people (college professors, not Jews).

David Gelernter, for example, came straight for me:
We’ve seen an important (though far from decisive) battle in the slow-motion civil war the nation is undergoing: The blue states want to secede not from America but from Americanism. They reject the American republic of God-fearing individuals in favor of the European ideal, which has only been government by aristocracy: either an aristocracy of birth or, nowadays, of ruling know-it-alls — of post-religious, globalist intellectuals (a.k.a. PORGIs)...
You can’t graduate class after class after class of left-indoctrinated ignoramuses without paying the price.  Last night was a down payment.
But we’ve won civil wars and preserved the Union before. We’ll do it again — if we face up to the fact that we need to replace our schools and colleges now; the grace period has lasted a generation, but it’s over. I know we can do it and I’m pretty sure we will do it. Americanism is too strong and brilliant and young to die.
From nationally syndicated conservative radio host Mark Levin, comes perhaps the most revealing and unfiltered response to the election.  If his view is widespread in the Tea Party wing of the party, the chances are not good for a Republican re-boot:
We conservatives, we do not accept bipartisanship in the pursuit of tyranny. Period. We will not negotiate the terms of our economic and political servitude. Period. We will not abandon our children to a dark and bleak future. We will not accept a fate that is alien to the legacy we inherited...We will not accept social engineering by politicians and bureaucrats who treat us like lab rats, rather than self-sufficient human beings. There are those in this country who choose tyranny over liberty. They do not speak for us, 57 million of us who voted against this yesterday, and they do not get to dictate to us under our Constitution.

We are the alternative. We will resist. We're not going to surrender to this. We will not be passive, we will not be compliant in our demise. We're not good losers, you better believe we're sore losers! A good loser is a loser forever. Now I hear we're called 'purists.' Conservatives are called purists. The very people who keep nominating moderates, now call us purists the way the left calls us purists. Yeah, things like liberty, and property rights, individual sovereignty, and the Constitution, and capitalism. We're purists now. And we have to hear this crap from conservatives, or pseudo-conservatives, Republicans.
And then there were those who argued that voters had just placed an iron heel on the neck of American freedom:  
Michael Savage said the election results were confirmation that "our society is being turned into a sort of prison camp."

Saturday Night Live alum Victoria Jackson tweeted, "I can't stop crying. America died."
On National Review Online, Ed Whelan wrote that “the great American experiment in constitutional republicanism is in grave peril, if not doomed,” because the nation has been overrun with layabouts: “As the Framers understood, self-government depends on a virtuous citizenry. Instead, we have a growing mass of citizens seemingly wedded to dependency on big-government spending.”
“At the moment, I am convinced America is doomed beyond all hope of redemption, and any talk of the future fills me with dread and horror.”
—Robert Stacey McCain, writing at the American Spectator 
At National Review's The Corner, meanwhile, Mary Matalin stayed classy in her explanation of the evening's events.  She wrote this about President Obama: 
"What happened? A political narcissistic sociopath leveraged fear and ignorance with a campaign marked by mendacity and malice rather than a mandate for resurgence and reform."
And then there is this:

The Republican Party, as Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute has argued, "has become an insurgent outlier in American politics."  It is ideologically extreme, dismissive of compromise, and "unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science."

While it appears that this may be serving the partisan interests of the more centrist and reality-based Democratic Party, Republican extremism has made it nearly impossible for our political system to properly function.  How can we grapple with something like global warming (or inequality), if nearly one-half of our polity refuses to take policy and governance seriously?
As I will argue in a future post, the nation desperately needs a responsible, respectful conservative faction in our public life.  That faction must be prepared to respect empiricism, process and pluralism.  It must respect the loyalty and good intentions of its opponents.  It must inject a sense of limits into our cultural, economic and civic discourse -- and not least, impose that sense of limits on itself too.  None of these things are incompatible with conservatism.  Indeed, upon my reading, these things embody conservatism.

All of us have a stake in what comes next in the Republican Party, and we on the left cannot be so smug as to think that sinking it deeper into the paranoid swamp in the coming years will serve us or the country well.  The panic of the pale and privileged will surely go the way of all flesh eventually.  Tuesday night tells us, perhaps, that they will not take the nation with them.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Congressional delegations FULL of women, Mitt

The next time Mitt Romney chooses to venture down to Washington DC, in search of politically active women of talent and accomplishment, no binders will be necessary.

There are now Congressional delegations full of women -- though of course, the vast majority are Democrats.

Yesterdays election will leave the new 113th Congress with 20 female senators, the most ever.

16 of the 20 will be Democrats, reflecting years of party strategy aimed specifically at deepening the bench of nationally viable female candidates.

Joining the new Senate will be Democrats Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).  All six Democratic women up for reelection -- Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) -- won their races.

It is not unreasonable to believe that the nation's first female president will come from this group.

That said, while 20 women in the US Senate is progress, the overall number remains abysmally low by international (and moral) standards.  

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Ay, oh, way to go Ohio -- Obama is re-elected. And Hope, too.

I'll have more to say about this in a future post, but Obama now has the opportunity to be a truly transformative president.  As the economy improves under his watch, the Affordable Care Act is implemented, and US troops leave Afghanistan, his signal first term accomplishments have the change to be truly historic with a full 8 years.

And what would have happened had Obama lost?  Not only the reversal of what he did, but a rollback of the New Deal too.

And now -- Supreme Court appointments, immigration reform...labor law reform?  Minimum wage indexed to inflation?  A truly fair deal on the deficit?  Global warming legislation?  Universal pre-?


Who knew that 47% was a majority?

Andrew Sullivan nails it:

This election, to my mind, is immensely more important than the breakthrough of 2008, after the catastrophe of Bush-Cheney. What it has done is rip open the complete epistemic closure on the Republican right about what America now is. It has revealed that Fox News, Drudge, and the rest have been engaged in a massive propaganda campaign to create an alternative reality and get the rest of us to go along. Americans saw this. They were not fooled. And they made the right call, as they usually do. What was defeated tonight was not just Romney, a hollow cynic, but a whole mountain of mendacity and delusion. That sound you hear is the cognitive dissonance ringing in the ears of ideologues and cynics. Any true conservative longs for that sound, the sound of reality arriving to pierce through fantasy and fanaticism.

We are the ones we have been waiting for. And now we have entrenched it deeply in the history of America and the world. That matters. May the next four years make it matter even more.

A brief jocular interlude: Todd Akin, the Most Interesting Man in the World

10:52pm:  just watched Todd Akin's concession speech, if you can call it that, in the Missouri race for the US Senate.
The transcript:  "GOD!  JESUS!  BENGHAZI!  JESUS!"
Todd Akin is collecting a number of trophies for his case tonight
Knuckle-Dragging Philistine of the Year! 
Most Valuable Theocrat!
and now, The Most Interesting Comb-over in American politics. 
Dude, you could sail a sunfish with that thing.

Romney's path narrows, Obama looks good, and the great GOP reckoning is nearly at hand

It is now just past 10pm, and New Hampshire has been called for Obama.  According to my projections from earlier today, while this only gets the President 4 electoral votes, it is in fact huge.

Of the swing states, I had Obama winning Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire, to get to 303.  Winning NH enables Obama to lose in VA and OH, and still win, as long as he carries CO, NV, and IA.

Or, Obama can carry Florida...and lose all 3 of the above, and win.  And even North Carolina is still in play.

In other words, my projection looks good -- but more importantly, Obama's re-election has become increasingly likely. 

If Romney does indeed lose, the GOP would clearly have some reassessing to do, regardless of the reason.  While the Party's sharp move to the Right briefly benefited it in 2010, it has cost it more than a half-dozen winnable Senate seats, and perhaps the White House, since.  But more crucially, it has placed the Republican Party on the wrong side of the demographics -- and the wrong side of history.

This election, in practice, has been about race, and the new young multiracial America that is rapidly emerging.

a fault line in the solid South?

9:11pm:  in all the key swing states, the early vote is going pretty much exactly as the Obama campaign expected.

9:08:  Mike Huckabee on Fox:  "I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color. Something we have got to work on."  As I noted in my election night primer, whether the GOP can fully grapple with this issue in the coming year or two is going to determine the future of the party.

9:06pm:  county-by-county numbers in Florida (and to a lesser extent Virginia) seem to be good for Obama -- he is keeping pace where he needs to keep pace.  And North Carolina, surprisingly, is still too close to call.

8:46pm:  In 2008, Obama won 46 percent of Ohio whites. He's now winning 42 percent. That's right at the bottom of what he should be able to get to eke something out. But this poll has the black vote surging as a proportion of turnout, from 11% to 15%. If one of these numbers skews back toward Romney -- like, the black vote falls to 12% -- we're at a tie. But if it doesn't, Obama has buillt a new coalition that wins him the state

8:28pm:  Andrew Sullivan reports that Fox News and Bill Reilly are blaming Sandy.  And the takers.

8:21pm:  nationally, some estimates are that the Latino vote is going everywhere from 62% for Obama in Florida, to 80% in the southwest.  CNN is reporting on air that in Florida, preliminary exit polls show that white voters make up 67 percent of the electorate in the Sunshine State, down from 71 percent in 2008, and Latino voters make up 16 percent, up from 14 percent in 2008.  We may wind up with Romney winning Virginia and Obama winning Florida -- a surprise if it happens, but one that benefits Obama.

update after 8pm: Florida!

8:09pm:  exit polls in Florida have 60% of voters 30 and under voting Obama.  The question is:  did they turnout, like Latinos did?  Obama won the early and absentee vote in Florida, but not by much.  Can he win among those who voted today?  Turnout in Orange County is key, especially if Latino turnout is big.  Again, to reiterate:  hard for Romney to find a path to victory, if Obama surprises in Florida.

8:08pm:  early, but Democratic Senate candidates appear to be winning in MA, CT, MO.

8:06pm:  the exit polls in Ohio indicate a party breakdown that matches the pre-election polls -- which is good for Obama, since the polls have indicated a small but steady lead for the President for weeks.

8:00pm:  everything called as expected thus far.  PA and NH are the key.  If PA drags outs, its trouble for Obama.

7:53pm:  both Florida and -- surprisingly -- North Carolina remain too close to call.  Florida is not a surprise, but NC is a modest one, in Obama's favor.

7:52pm:  long lines at the polls have caused Virginia to delay release of its results until after 8pm.

Live blogging, just before 8pm closings (Latino vote)

7:39pm:  According to Ruy Teixeira, "[T]here will be 23.7 million eligible Hispanic voters this year, an increase of 22 percent over 2008. This has brought the Hispanic share of all eligible voters up to 11 percent, 1.5 percentage points higher than 2008. Recent data also indicates that Hispanic voter enthusiasm, after flagging early in the campaign, is now, if anything, higher than in 2008."  Early exit polls seem to indicate that Latino voters made up 10% of this year's actual voters, up from 9% in 2008.

7:11pm:  the fact that VA opens as too close to call is probably good news for Obama -- or at the very least, its not bad news.  CNN is reporting on air that according to preliminary exit polls, the partisan makeup of the electorate in the swing state of Virginia is 39 percent Democrat, 33 percent Republican and 28 percent unaffiliated voters.  Its 39-30 in favor of Democrats in Ohio.

7:10pm:  CNN is reporting an increase in Latino turnout in Florida and a decrease in white turnout, according to exit polls -- a positive sign for Obama.

How to laugh at white people while waiting to vote

For my friends in swing states waiting on line to vote, here are a few relevant (and funny) things to amuse and entertain you while you wait.

Monty Python's take on election night (Silly Party vs. Sensible Party):

Dave Chapelle's 'black George W. Bush':

And finally, Louie C.K. on white privilege:

Democracy is coming, to the U.S.A... (I hope)

Or so says Leonard Cohen...


An election guide, and a prediction (or two)

Let's get my predictions out of the way first.

Electoral College:
Obama    303
Romney  235

Others (like the ubiquitous Nate Silver) have Obama with a slightly larger margin, but I've chosen to take a more conservative approach to the swing state results.

I have Obama taking Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire.
I have Romney winning Florida and North Carolina, though I have a hunch that Obama could pull off a surprise in Florida.

If it breaks this way, Obama doesn't actually have to win Ohio to win the election.  Indeed, he could lose Ohio and Virginia (the two closest of the states I've put in his column), and still win.  Or, to put it differently, if the networks call either Ohio or Virginia for Obama early in the evening, you can be quite certain of an Obama victory.

I am not going to make a specific prediction on the popular vote, since that would be pure guesswork.  Silver has it at 50.9% to 48.3%.  I agree with him that Obama will ultimately win the popular vote -- but I use the word ultimately, because I believe there is a distinct possibility that the leader in the popular vote may change in the weeks to come.  Don't be surprised if Romney is ahead in the popular vote when you go to bed tonight, but Obama gradually catches and passes him as provisional, absentee and mail-in ballots are counted in California, Ohio and elsewhere.

If you'd like to check out a variety of other predictions (a few of which have Romney winning), go here.

I have been reasonably confident of an Obama victory since last year, and nothing I have seen since has caused my view to change. 

Why?  Three reasons.

First, Obama has been a successful president, particularly given the situation he inherited at home and abroad.  While obviously only half the electorate, perhaps, agrees with me in that judgment, only a very small portion of the country (overwhelmingly white and male, and mostly Southern) strongly disagrees.  And Obama himself remains very popular.

Second, as a consequence of Obama's personal popularity and perceived success, the Republican candidate would have to have the unique talent of holding the extreme elements of the party while broadly appealing to the moderate middle.  The primary field was almost entirely drawn from that extreme element, which would inevitably handicap even the most talented of nominees.  In the aftermath of the two conventions, Romney struck me as one of the weakest Republican candidates for president in years (perhaps since Dole).  The campaign appeared to be poorly run, the candidate headed up a party whose most active and vocal wing was extremist and unrestrained, and Romney himself seemed to lack both personal charisma and a policy argument.  Starting in early October Romney proved himself to be a more formidable candidate than I had anticipated, though not in ways that brought much glory to him or the electorate.  To the extent that he had a policy argument, he abandoned it, tacking toward the center rhetorically.  The extremes of his party, desperately hungry for victory, surprisingly restrained themselves too -- in part because Romney's move to the center appeared to be working after the first debate.  This will have some important consequences for how Republicans interpret their defeat tonight, but I'll save that for a different post.

Finally, the extremism of the Republican Party in recent years, and its racialization in particular, has boxed it in demographically and geographically.  It has become the party of the Confederacy:

Other than among white Southern males, President Obama is going to win a popular vote landslide tonight, and will effectively split the non-southern white vote overall.  If one includes the fact that Obama will win over 70% of Latinos and 90% of blacks (who combined will move toward an electoral majority in the next two decades), and close to 2/3rds of voters under the age of 40, one could argue that only two things made this race competitive:  Obama's race, and the poor economy. 

Things to watch for tonight:
First off, if you read anything on the web this afternoon that claims to use exit polls to give you results, ignore it.  Exit poll interviews skew slightly toward the Democrats, and the early leak of the numbers in 2004 fooled a lot of Democrats (and pundits) into thinking Kerry had it in the bag, before the polls had even closed.  Even the news media won't get the results until 5pm, and barring another leak even they won't release them until actual polling closes.

Polls in parts of Florida and all of Virginia close at 7pm, the first swing states to reveal official results.  I sincerely doubt the networks will be able to call Virginia right at 7pm, and an early result in Florida is even more unlikely, because many polls don't close until 8pm, and voters in heavily Democratic precincts will probably still be in line waiting to cast their ballots.  That said, if either state is called for Obama in the first hour or two after the polls close, you can be quite certain that the president is heading for victory.  If Romney wins Florida, Obama still retains a comfortable path to victory.  However, if both FL and VA are called for Romney, things get MUCH more interesting.

Ohio and North Carolina close at 7:30pm.  I anticipate NC will be called for Romney shortly after that.  In Ohio, however, you are likely to still have people in line (particularly in Democratic areas) past 7:30pm.  In the best case scenario, the networks won't call Ohio until after 11pm, and the Ohio vote won't be determinative anyway.  In the worst case scenario, Ohio becomes the pivot, and we have to wait days -- even weeks -- for all ballots to be counted (and legal challenges to be dispensed with).

Polls in NH and PA close at 8pm.  I would guess that both will be called for Obama shortly thereafter.  Colorado and Wisconsin close at 9pm.  If the scenario I've described above plays out, it may be possible for the networks to call the election for Obama shortly after 9pm, but I doubt they will.  They've been criticized in the past both for calling things too soon, and for interfering with the voting out West by doing so.  On the other hand, there is tremendous pressure to get it right first, so you may find some of the reliable web sources (see below) making the call this early.

Race and voter suppression:

Two other likely stories tonight:  voter suppression (and long lines) in FL and OH, and the Latino turnout. 

Voter suppression presents this country with a serious crisis, that must be addressed in the coming months.  I will follow some of the specifics on this blog as the night goes on, though I don't think suppression efforts will determine the ultimate outcome. 

Still, it should be pointed out that for much of American history interference with and restriction of the franchise has been the norm, not the exception.  In the first four decades or so after World War II the franchise was expanded, most significantly in the Jim Crow south.  But we have witnessed a contraction over the past few decades, with voter ID laws as only a part of a broader trend.  The most egregious example is the disenfranchisement of ex-felons, which keeps over 5 million mostly black American men from voting each election. 

The great danger here is that voter suppression, particularly of the poor and minorities, is now in the exclusive and direct self-interest of one of our two political parties -- and demographic changes will push it further in that direction, unless the leadership of the party chooses another path in the wake of Romney's defeat.  Starting in 2000, and picking up great speed since 2008, the Republican Party has deployed a strategy of state-level voter suppression, particularly after a conservative Supreme Court supported it in its 2008 ruling on Indiana's voter ID law.  For the good of the nation, one hopes that Romney's defeat -- and political reality -- fosters a change in Republican strategy.

The U.S. was one of the last countries in the developed world to attain universal suffrage, and even now we do not have a federally protected right to vote.  Voting is not mentioned in the Bill of Rights, and the details of voting and election law are determined and enforced by the states, even for national elections.  Not until 1868 did the phrase 'right to vote' even appear in the Constitution, when the 14th amendment was passed.  According to the majority in Bush v. Gore (2000), "the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States."  Americans can vote in presidential elections only if their state legislatures offer them the opportunity, and only under the conditions determined by those legislatures.

For over a decade -- since the 2000 election debacle -- a proposed amendment to the US Constitution has languished on Capitol Hill.  The amendment, proposed by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), is officially known as House Joint Resolution 28.  It declares that all citizens of the US aged 18 and over "shall have the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides," and that right cannot be denied or abridged by the federal government, state and local governments, individuals, or public and private entities.  While the amendment has dozens of sponsors, it has never gotten out of committee.  And it has no Republican co-sponsors.

Latino turnout in 2012, if it is high, will not only ease Obama's path to victory -- it will clearly and irreversibly mark the transition to a new multi-racial America.  Because this transition is and will be resisted, this country should seriously consider making the vote a federally protected right.  This may be the last national election in which any party can build a winning coalition with white men at its core, as the Republicans have sought to do.  Latinos were 13% of the vote in swing state Colorado in 2008, for example.  If we find out after 5pm that the number has risen to, say, 18-20%, it is likely to herald a strong showing by Obama.  If turnout of black and young voters is comparable to or greater than 2008, one can draw the same conclusion.

Where to get reliable and interesting information tonight:
I have a few favorite places that I will be checking in on.  Since I don't have any independent sources of information, I will primarily draw on the sites below for what I write here and on Facebook.  All of them are fact-based, and will resist feverish conspiracy mongering and impulsive judgments.

Assuming the site doesn't crash, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight is going to give you the best information on the exit polls, and projections.  If the numbers he's been providing are substantially off, he'll let you know. 

Josh Marshall's TalkingPointsMemo is a really good site to follow as well.  Marshall will be live blogging the election, and reporting on stories and results from around the country in real time.  It will be a particularly good place for information on voting controversies, and he also has stuff on the Senate races and referenda.

Ezra Klein's WonkBlog at the Washington Post is a great site for meta-commentary.

Finally, I'm a huge fan of Andrew Sullivan's blog at the Daily Beast.  You really can't beat the perspective of a witty, well-read gay British conservative Obama supporter.  More to the point, he's the only political blogger I know who keeps a foot in both camps.  So if you want simultaneous information on the election, and left and right commentary, go there.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Romney as the minority candidate

It says quite a bit about race in this country, that the person whose viability as a presidential candidate depends entirely on his deep support from one racial group (Romney, and white men over the age of 40) is portrayed by the mainstream media as having wide appeal...while the candidate who is supported by a strong majority of those voters who will increasingly dominate the electorate in the decades to come (Obama) is depicted as being almost entirely dependent upon 'minorities.'

Privileged and older white men ARE a minority group, people, and will become even more so over time. And their votes count the same as everyone else's. 

And they no longer represent the 'center' or 'core' of anything.  Other than the Republican Party, that is.

Crazy election scenarios, part 1: an electoral college tie

Could the 2012 presidential election result in a tie in the Electoral College?
Yes, and the scenario -- while unlikely -- isn't wildly improbable either.
In order to be elected president, a candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes.  If you tweak the potential results in 7 battleground states, for example, and assume no surprises in those places already assumed to be in one column or the other, you can get to a 269-269 tie.
Three states with 22 electoral votes (Iowa, Nevada, and Wisconsin) would have to be in the Obama camp (all are thought to be leaning that way), while four states with 69 electoral votes (Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia) would have to be in the Romney camp.  Of these 4 only Florida appears to be leaning toward Romney, but all are very close.
Here is the state-by-state breakdown, under this scenario.  The 7 battlegrounds are marked with an '*' (sorry if the formatting is wonky): 
Obama                                                      Romney                                  
California                        55                    Alabama                       9
Connecticut                       7                    Alaska                           3
Delaware                           3                    Arizona                       11
D.C.                                   3                   Arkansas                       6
Hawaii                               4                    Colorado*                    9
Illinois                             20                    Florida*                     29
Iowa*                                6                    Georgia                       16
Maine                                4                    Idaho                             4
Maryland                         10                    Indiana                        11
Massachusetts                 11                    Kansas                           6
Michigan                         16                    Kentucky                       8
Minnesota                        10                    Louisiana                      8
Missouri                          10                    Mississippi                    6
Nevada*                            6                    Montana                        3
New Jersey                      14                    Nebraska                       5
New Mexico                     5                    New Hampshire             4
New York                        29                    North Carolina             15
Oregon                               7                    North Dakota                3
Pennsylvania                   20                    Ohio*                           18
Rhode Island                      4                    Oklahoma                      7
Vermont                            3                    South Carolina                9
Washington                     12                    South Dakota                  3
Wisconsin*                     10                   Tennessee                     11
                                                                Texas                            38
                                                                Utah                                6
                                                                Virginia*                       13
                                                                West Virginia                   3
                                                                Wyoming                         3   

Total                              269                    Total                         269
The 12th amendment to the Constitution is quite clear about what would happen next.  The presidency would be decided by the newly elected House of Representatives, with each state delegation casting one vote.  Barring a highly unlikely Democratic takeover of the House tomorrow, the end result would almost certainly be a party line vote in favor of Mitt Romney.  While Obama's support largely comes from the most populous states, Romney would have support from a higher number of states.  And even in some of the states Obama is likely to win -- like PA, OH, and WI -- the majority of their House delegations are Republican.

It would be quite something, no question, if this were the result -- among other things, it might be incredibly destabilizing politically, particularly if a case could be made that GOP voter suppression efforts (voter ID laws) played a role in swinging even one state (Florida would be, once again, the most likely culprit).  Of course, if that case cannot be legitimately made, the Constitution says what the Constitution says, and Mitt Romney would rightfully become the 45th president.

Perhaps the strangest part of this whole scenario actually involves the selection of the vice-president.  The Senate makes this decision, which at first blush appears to mean that Romney would be joined by Joe Biden.  However, the 12th amendment (and Senate rules) are silent on whether a minority of US Senators could use the filibuster to frustrate the will of the (Democratic) majority.  If the Senate parliamentarian allows the use of the filibuster, the presiding officer of the Senate (who would be, of course, VP Biden) could ignore that advice, and call for a straight-up vote.

Which could result in a 50-50 tie.  However, unlike other decisions over which the Senate regularly presides, Biden could NOT then break the tie.  The 12th amendment calls for a majority.
No one knows what would happen at that point.  Presumably they could continue to deliberate, until 1 person changes their mind.  It is possible some other individual -- not Joe Biden, and not Paul Ryan -- could be selected, if 51 senators could agree.

There will, of course, be a great deal of pressure for the Senate to select Ryan, since the House will decide first.  But if Obama-Biden won the popular vote on Election Day, there will also be a great deal of pressure to select Biden.  One probably shouldn't discount the fact that Biden was a US Senator himself for a very long time, and has many friends on both sides of the aisle.

That said, I think this scenario is extremely unlikely, because Colorado and especially Ohio are most likely going to wind up in Obama's column.  Obama also holds a small but steady lead in the polls in Virginia, and demographic changes since 2008 make a surprise Obama victory in Florida a decent possibility too. 

One should also keep in mind that there still are a couple of states (Maine, Nebraska) that allow the splitting of electoral votes.  While this is unlikely, its not impossible, and it could break the deadlock before it gets to the House (most likely in Romney's favor).

Making the perfect the enemy of the good, or why you can't vote 'none of the above' this year

Two anti-Obama articles by progressives have gotten quite a bit of attention in the blogosphere recently:  Matt Stoller's piece on Salon, and Conor Friedersdorf's article on the Atlantic Online website.  Both call for people on the left to refuse to vote for Obama.

I obviously disagree, and strongly.

These kinds of arguments tend to piss me off, I have to confess, because they make the perfect the enemy of the good, and seem to be based on a breathtakingly simple notion of how the world actually works.  This is particularly true for libertarian arguments (Friedersdorf is a libertarian).

Like most arguments from the left that claim there is no difference between the two parties (and candidates), I just think they are stunningly naive.  Stoller in particular writes as if he suddenly and recently discovered that both parties support corporate capitalism -- like an undergrad the first time they read Marx.

Really, the parties support corporate capitalism, and are more inclined to listen to the powerful?  No sh*t. 

Welcome to politics in the modern developed world, much as it has looked for 8 decades.  C'mon in and join the battle, Matt and Conor.  The water, I can assure you, is tepid.  Want it to get hotter?  Then get jump in, get wet, and heat it up.

To argue, as both of them do, that since both sides do bad things, I no longer have a moral obligation to choose the lesser of two evils, seems to me to be morally irresponsible.  You know why the lesser of two evils is better?  Because it involves less evil.  When I worked briefly as a labor organizer in my early 20s I constantly encountered this argument.  Hell, I think I made it too.  There is nothing easier than stepping outside the field of battle, and judging, keeping ones moral views pristine, while real lives are affected by real change.

But, as Edmund Burke once said, the only thing needed for evil to prevail in the world is for good men to do nothing.

Voting for a third party, or not voting, or arguing there is no difference between the two options, is doing nothing.  It is also empirically inaccurate.  These are the same arguments people made when advocating a vote for Nader in 2000.  How did that work out?

As an alternative, these two authors propose...what, exactly?  Voting for a third party?  Really?  Why not just not vote?  Hell, why not just vote for Romney?  When I was doing the labor stuff, I remember a number of colleagues saying that if we can push the system to a crisis point, then real change can take place.  This is basically what Stoller argues. 

But what tends to happen historically, when things go from bad to worse, is that they then go from worse to even more worse.  Revolutions end in blood.  States based on formal equality, with liberal institutions and the rule of law, that at least make some pretense to trying to balance capitalism and mass democracy, have only been the norm (even if frequently dishonored) for a very tiny portion of human history.  Even now, the vast majority of the world's population does not live in such places.  And these things do not persist of their own accord, and once they're gone, there is no guarantee whatsoever that they can be reconstructed.  And the fundamentals of that liberal system are under attack here especially, but in Europe too, in ways that Stoller notes.  To observe that they are being attacked and undermined through both political parties tells us nothing, when the differences between the two are otherwise so stark -- wider than they've been since the 1860s.

There is NO path to change in this country that goes through a third party, unless somehow that third party emerges from within the Democratic Party.  None.  There are only two -- interconnected -- paths to real change:  social movements for economic justice, and working within and pushing the Democratic Party.  Friedersdorf is concerned with drone attacks and civil liberties.  Stoller is concerned with inequality and the power of the financial sector.  Personally I'm much more concerned about the second one than the first one, but I just think it is stunningly naive to think that progress on either would be possible with today's GOP in control of 2.5 of the 3 branches of the federal government.

To vote third party this year, or to not vote at all, is an act of moral cowardice.

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.