Friday, November 09, 2012

Thoughts and Observations on the Election

As we all know, Tuesday evening, November 6th, 2012, we had another Presidential election.  It was in fact the 54th election in our country's short history and with Mr. Obama's reelection, he is the 44th man to hold the office.

Many things have become apparent, (at least to me) as a result of this election.  I'll list a few, and I'm sure many of you have more than what will be detailed below, but the most compelling things that occurred to me are below.

1.  President Obama and his team know how to win elections.  From the outset of the campaigns, and with the exception of the poor performance of the President in the 1st debate with Governor Romney, there have been very few mistakes made by Team Obama.  They defined their opposition very well, continued to focus on the Get Out The Vote efforts that were so successful for them in 2008 and remarkably even better this time around.  In fact, the campaign was so successful in establishing its on the ground team, that they actually increased the African American voter turnout in Ohio by 33%.    I suppose having been a Community Organizer in one's past experience can pay some dividends.

2. The Republican Party didn't lose this by running the wrong candidate. No doubt exists that  Mr. Romney was not a good campaigner. He was indeed very stiff and came off as someone who would have rather been looking at a spreadsheet than talking to a person.  But, even with that, he wasn't the problem.  The problem is that the Republican Party lost this race because they focused on the wrong message.  Of course, the economy should have been the appropriate message to drive home, but not in the manner by which they did this.  They conflated the notion that economic issues encompass all other issues and that is just not so.  The President captured the woman's vote, the minority vote and the young vote by an astounding margin, and Governor Romney's base shrunk.  He won white males by a significant amount and married women by a small margin, but beyond that, every other major demographic went the President's way. Why? Because social issues do matter to people.  Women's issues, immigration issues, personal liberty issues and others were either poorly dealt with (I'm talking to you Todd Aiken, Richard Mourdoch, Paul Ryan) as in the case of the "rape" discussions, or just not talked about at all.  I believe Mr. Romney was poorly advised.  He stood firm on not providing in insight into himself (not releasing his Tax Returns), into his policies (no specifics on programs such as his tax plan) and refused to get specific on his foreign policy agenda.  This election like any other is a job interview, and the advice I believe Mr. Romney received was to focus on how the other guy failed and "trust me", I'm a business expert, so I'll make everything better.   People actually are expecting a little more.  Mr. Obama was in a precarious position given the performance of the economy, yet the results are telling.  332 electoral votes compared with Mr. Romney's 206.  26 states going to the President versus 24 to the challenger.  More than 50% of the popular vote going to the President than Governor Romney. Given the economic circumstances (the analogy here is 1980), one could have easily predicted the results being reversed in the Republicans favor.  Many did predict that, like Karl Rove.  However,  the approach the Romney campaign took toward the electorate came off to me as "You don't need to know the details, just elect me and it will be OK" came off as arrogant and ultimately a failure.

Snidely Whiplash
3. The country is not a conservative country. It is not a liberal country.  The country is a centrist country.  This election, as much as any other I've seen in the past 20 years was chock full of extreme nonsense from both parties.  The left screamed about Mitt Romney's being this guy over here ------>
and that his approach to governing would put the uber rich before every one else.  Derision abounded about the aristocratic manner the Romney family had toward "Real Americans".  It was stupid and it was wrong.  Sure Mr. Romney's stature as a rich, venture (or in Rick Perry's words "Vulture Capitalist) capitalist and Bain's history didn't play very well, especially when Bain was going about the business of shutting down plants like the Sensata Plant in Freemont, Illinois (see reason 2 in this post for why Romney lost.  Why in the world would you not get in front of this with your connections at Bain and say "Hold off on the decision to shut the plant guys, it might not play well for me in the election."?).  The left played this theme "Romney doesn't care about you. He only cares about his rich buddies" and while it worked to define Romney, I don't think it is entirely true.  Of course, the 47% video went along way to reinforce this idea that Romney was a three dimensional Montgomery Burns.

"The Donald"

The right continually derided the President as being un-American.  Vicious and simply ridiculous statements about his past, his beliefs, his plans were run non-stop by the talking buffoonery on the right like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Brent Bozell, etc. etc. Since President Obama was elected, the right categorized this man as something other than a legitimate President.  Well, guess what?  He's not.  He's a real American citizen, who is about as normal as anyone else.   The biggest example of the stupidity on the Right Wing regarding this campaign can be summed up by this picture of the biggest clown involved in the campaign, one Mr. Donald Trump.  Yes, The Donald was an erstwhile President Candidate for about 5 minutes.  Yes, he's a loud-mouth attention seeking celebrity. Yes, he had "the goods" on the President's birth certificate.  He, Joe Arpaio and all the rest of the lunatics on the right turned off this electorate in general.  Mr. Trump's utter foolishness might have excited the hard right base of the party, but hey Donald (The hard right base of the party is shrinking rapidly and you can't win with them).

No, none of the extremism on either party worked. What ultimately came across is that this country has a center-right view on some things and a center-left view on others. This was exemplified by Romney's 180 degree turn in the first debate back to "Moderate Mitt", which resulted in the race getting much tighter than it was.   No, what the country demands is a leader and Congress that will work together to get something done.  The GOP's hopes in the Senate were crushed.  They actually lost more popular votes in the House races than the Democrats even though they retained a majority.  A clear signal was sent that the country is fatigued with the in-fighting and stupidity that was displayed during the campaign and wants the folks we send to Washington to get off their keisters and accomplish something.  The absolutist perspective of the Tea Party and the evangelical Right Wing was repudiated on Tuesday.  More than that, the election exposed the weak under-belly of the general message of the idea that we should all be acolytes of Grover Norquist and Pat Robertson.  Time will tell, if this sticks or we go back to our respective corners and become ideologues again.  The first big test on whether or not Washington will actually do something positive is coming up regarding the fiscal cliff.  We shall see.

4.  Big, secret money didn't work.  Romney's war chest and Obama's war chest was about equal in terms of traditional campaign financing. Collectively the campaigns spent about 1 Billion dollars on the election which is absurd and somewhat obscene. One wonders why it has gotten to this point, but it is what it is.  The non-affiliated money pouring into this race from the Super-PACs or other methods is uncounted but estimated to be almost another half a billion dollars.  The Koch Brothers (The real Snidely Whiplashes of the race, see the note above), Sheldon Adelson and others poured hundreds of millions of dollars into machines designed to obliterate the President.  I wonder how Karl Rove is explaining the ROI of the race to those guys right now?   It's apparent that while money is important, it is not the be-all end-all of campaigns.  Ask Linda McMahon, who over the last two senate races in Connecticut spent about $100 Million of her own money just to lose.  Ask Meg Whitman, who spend $30M of her own money in 2010 against Jerry Brown for the governorship in California only to lose. No, while money is important, there has to be something else there. There has to be a coherent, and encompassing message that the electorate at large agrees with.  The GOP doesn't have that message right now, and if they keep doing what they are doing, we can soon begin to refer to them as the Whig Party.  Given the visual of those people on the East Coast devastated by Hurricane Sandy who were pleading for assistance and compare that with the visual of private jets, $25,000 a plate fund-raisers and you can easily see who will win and who will lose in the messaging contest.

5. Math matters.  All hail Nate Silver!  For those of you who don't know Nate Silver, he runs a blog site called Five Thirty Eight.  which conducts polling aggregation, or in other words, gathers data from all the polling services like Gallup, Pew Research and others and models outcomes based on the polls.  Guess what?  Silver hit the outcome on the nose.  He was derided by the Right because his blog is associated with the New York Times, a well know liberal commie rag. But, regardless of association, math works.  Statistics work.  One positive outcome of this election i hope is that enrollment in statistics and math classes will jump as a result.  Silver is the proto-typical geek, dark framed eyeglasses and all, and boy, was he right on the mark with his election predictions.  Look for future campaigns to be very focused on polling in the manner of Sliver and his colleagues going forward. 

6. Finally, it boils down to what the voter thinks as they walk into that precinct to cast their vote.  I think the general population casting their votes simply thought the President was doing a credible job and deserved another term.  I also think people trust this President and were somewhat scared off by Romney's lack of candor and detail on what he intended to do.  It comes down to who you trust more.  In the end,  They trusted this guy more than the other one. 

Tell me what you think.



Monday, November 05, 2012

A Gift

We have all  read or seen or heard about the devastation and tragedy that occurred when Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast of the United States last week.  Over 80 people lost their lives, thousands of homes were destroyed, millions of people lost power and and it is estimated the storm damage cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 billion dollars.  It was by all accounts one of the worst storms to hit the United States.  We all have seen the news and read accounts of this destruction and the impacts to places like Atlantic City, Staten Island and other locations along the eastern seaboard.  For those of us who don't live in this area, we understand the impacts that are being felt by those the storm touched, but we understand this mostly in the abstract.  We often lose sight of the impact to the individual, as the numbers are so large that it brings to mind that old statement attributed to Joe Stalin who presumably told Winston Churchill:  When one man dies it's a tragedy, when thousands die, it's statistics.  Now, Stalin was evil incarnate, and I don't want to give this terrible man any credit, but he had a point.  When we are separated from tragedy by a distance, we often don't experience the emotional impact as those who were directly affected by it.   We acknowledge the sadness of the event, we contribute through donations to try and help, but generally those who aren't directly involved are somewhat immunized from the personal impact of such events. 

That all changed for me this morning.  I found out from a former colleague of mine, that another former employee of mine was killed along with her husband during the storm.  The woman's name was Elizabeth, and she was more than just a former employee of mine.  Over the course of our working relationship together, which lasted about 5 years, Beth became a friend.  Not a close friend, but a friend nonetheless.   As I worked with Beth and got to know more about her, I realized we had much in common. We were both interested in science. We both loved and owned horses. We both had kids the same age and experienced much of the same joys and difficulties that being a parent brings.  Beth was a great colleague, always professional and dedicated to doing a good job on whatever task she was asked to take on.  I respected and admired her ability to handle her job and balance her life as a wife and mother.

The accident that took her life occurred when she and her husband and her two youngest children were returning from the equestrian center that they owned where they had gone to secure the horses when a tree over one hundred feet tall and three feet in diameter fell on their car and crushed Beth and her husband Rich to death immediately.  The boys, in the back of the SUV survived but were seriously injured.  Beth and her husband had four children, two girls one who is in college and another in her last year of high school along with the two boys, ages 10 and 12.   In an instant those kids were made orphans.  Their parents, in their late 40's were excellent people.  Both held doctorate degrees in the science disciplines, and both parents were heavily involved in their children's lives and activities.  By all accounts, they were model parents and I know from my association with Beth, terrific people.

It is terrible to lose someone you know and counted as a friend.  It provides a stark reminder that we are here only temporarily and that at any moment, because of any reason, we could be gone.  Life as we know it is full of frustrations and irritations and nuisances and we get very angry on very petty things. It is natural. We get caught up in the minutiae of the moment. We get distracted and deeply engaged by things that don't really matter in the main, and in a flash, our lives, or the lives of our loved ones can be over.  How many people did you know during your life that have passed on and you thought that you hadn't talked to them enough?  We get busy with our jobs, with our hobbies, with our numerous mundane tasks that seem to take all of our time.  Most of us on reflection would say we haven't spent enough time on the things that matter.  In general, if you are a parent, you probably have thought at one time or another that you haven't spent enough time with your kids. If you have parents still alive, you probably have thought you haven't called your mom or dad enough, or if you are lucky enough to live close by, not gone and seen them enough.  I think we can all look back on our lives and find those moments we missed that we'd like to have back again. I know from personal experience that I missed too many baseball games, too many tea parties and dance recitals, too many events that I wish I hadn't. Those days are gone and will never return.  But, I can rethink the present.  I can behave differently regarding those things that really matter. 

I lost a friend in the storm.   Life is a gift.  Our friends and families are gifts.  We don't get to keep them forever.  I'm reminded how fragile we are.  Thinking about Beth and how she and Rich were suddenly taken has made me think that I will as long as I'm able, try and focus on the things that matter, which to me are my family and friends.

Please,  if you can and have not yet done so, go to the Red Cross website and donate to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. If you have already done so, thank you. If you haven't yet, please do so as your donation will help provide shelter, medical care, a meal or even just some emotional support.  I'm donating again tonight because it just got personal.

Please help those who need it if you can. Take a moment and hug your spouse, call your kids, your parents, your friends.  Tell them they are important in your life and you are better for knowing them.  Do it soon, because you may not get a chance to later.

Tomorrow is promised to no one.