Category Archives: Elections

Should I go ahead and vote? Have you?

A friend who voted today took this picture while waiting in the queue.

A friend who voted today took this picture while waiting in the queue.

I’m starting to feel doubts. They may not affect my behavior, but I’m having them.

Y’all know how strongly I feel about the importance of turning out and voting with one’s neighbors (which is way communitarian), in person, on actual Election Day. It is to me a major, deeply meaningful ritual of life in America.

But… this is an extraordinary situation, is it not?

First, we have the most important election in my lifetime, one in which we will either save our republic by electing a normal, decent human being as our highest elected official, or drag the country — and the rest of the world, which has been holding its breath for four years waiting for us to fix this — down further and deeper into the mire, the utter degradation.

So, you know, I need to vote, and it needs to count.

Second, we’re in the strangest situation of my life, in which so much about normality has gone out the window. For instance, I may never again go to work at an office, or anywhere other than my home — which overthrows thousands of years of human social and economic behavior. And that’s just one piece of it. I mean, 220,000 Americans are dead from this thing, and it’s far, far from over.

So… maybe I should make an exception in this instance.

Up to now, I’ve held to my resolve to wait until Nov. 3. But each day, more friends and family members go out and vote early — or technically, vote “in-person absentee.”

Which on the one hand supports my plan, by taking pressure off and reducing crowds on the day of. But what if that day is still even more insane, and things break down? I’m pretty sure I’ll get to vote anyway, but what sort of societal breakdown will occur while we’re waiting for all the votes to be counted, and a clear winner to emerge and be accepted?

I dunno. What do y’all think?

For that matter, what do y’all do? What have you done already? Some of you have reported in, but what about everybody else? Who’s voted by mail? Who’s done the “in-person absentee” thing? Who’s waiting for Election Day?

And why?

I would find it helpful to know…

Now they just STEAL the signs

stolen

Remember when my Biden signs were vandalized, so I replaced one of them with a blue one I had in my garage?

Well, a few nights later, that one just disappeared, as you can see above. So I guess they’ve moved on to just stealing them.

So I went on Friday to state Democratic headquarters and picked up a couple of their Biden/Harris signs with the map of South Carolina. They’re not as nice as my old Biden signs, but they’re something.

I told the lady at the door what happened, and she asked me I needed two, or four? I said just two for now, but it was nice to know I could go back for more. I also picked up some Jaime Harrison bumper stickers while I was there. They were out of them at the Harrison HQ.

And I put them up Saturday. But I took them down last night before bed — and put them out again this morning. I don’t mind going downtown to get more, but if I can avoid it by taking them in at night, I will — if I can remember.

Other neighbors keep putting them up.

Other neighbors keep putting them up.

By the way, I saw my second Trump sign in my neighborhood yesterday. Between the first and second ones, of course, more Biden signs had gone up in my Republican precinct. I think there’s about eight Biden or Biden/Harrises — no, seven, because one house that had had them vandalized took all signs in a couple of days ago. Which is a shame.

Of course, while some Democratic signs are placed back away from the street — to make the vandals a little more reluctant to approach them — the two Trump signs are closer to the street, where they show up better.

And I guess what that tells us is that even Trump supporters understand that Biden supporters aren’t the sort to deface or steal other people’s signs… (WHOOPS! Had to correct myself on that!)

One of my new Bidens is in the distance. I also now have a Nikki Setzler sign.

One of my new Bidens is in the distance. I also now have a Nikki Setzler sign.

Hey, this should be easy — no choices to make!

Several months ago, I was thinking my bumper stickers for my state representative Micah Caskey were in sad shape, and I needed some new ones. But then I thought, wait: I don’t think he has opposition (which would mean he probably wouldn’t be buying new ones this year). So I sent him a direct message to check:

Just realized you have no opposition this year (unless I missed something). That’s good, because I hate to see good reps be forced to waste effort and money fighting off gratuitous challenges. But dang — I was hoping to get a new bumper sticker…

But then I thought, if I think my rep’s doing a good job, why not say it publicly? Well, I know the reasons why not (see below), but I did it anyway — adapting that message into a public tweet.

And of course, I caught some criticism for it, as writers of opinion always do when they say something nice about somebody:

But I let that go, because it’s hard to fully explain on Twitter. But I was alluding to something that’s been a pet peeve of mine for many years.

The critic certainly had a strong point on his side — I’m just sorry he didn’t understand me.

His point is that far too often, incumbents have NO opposition. And many of them are not doing what a fair observer would call a great job. Some of them have no business in public office. Some are complete doofuses. Some are worse than that.

But year in and year out, they glide to reelection without anyone contesting it. And that’s a profound shame. That’s what my critic was talking about.

What I was motivated by was this: Far too often, it seems the only people who DO get opposition are the best people in office. Often (although not so much in Micah’s case — he’s just a good rep without this cause), it’s because of the very thing that makes them good public servants: They represent a district that isn’t drawn to be safe for one party or the other, so they work hard to serve all their constituents. The lack of such districts, by the way, is one of the main reasons the quality of representation has declined.

Anyway, that dynamic causes them to get opposition. Sometimes, it’s as simple as someone in the other party seeing an opportunity because the district is fairly drawn. Other times — and I really hate this with a passion — they have zip to offer, but see the district as drawn more for THEIR party than the other, and think nothing of opposing the good rep just because it’s doable.

Worst of all — although this mainly applies to primaries — they draw opposition because they do such a great job of representing everybody, and the partisan extremists hate that, and run to the far right or (in other parts of the country) left of them, in partisans’ never-ending quest to destroy representative democracy.

Sometimes, good reps draw good opposition. And that can be inspiring, as you get to watch something that should happen ALL the time. Although it tends to make me think: You’re running against a good public servant. Why doesn’t someone like you run against the unopposed idiot in the NEXT district?

In any case, though, such an embarrassment of riches rarely occurs. Usually, the people deciding to take a chance against good reps have little or nothing to offer, and it causes me to hold my breath hoping they don’t win anyway.

So that’s what I meant, and couldn’t say in 280 characters in response to my critic. But as I said, he had a point. And that point is illustrated dramatically by the sample ballot I just pulled up for Nov. 3. Yep, we’ve got some drama going on at the top of the ballot, with wonderful challengers going up against horrendous incumbents — Biden against Trump, Harrison against Graham…

But down at the bottom, it’s pretty sad. Of course, I should make two points about this. First, some of these offices should not be elective offices. It’s ridiculous to ask voters to decide who, say, the coroner is — or even more absurdly, whether that functionary should be a Democrat or a Republican. Second, there’s no opposition in the general because the real election in Lexington County was held in June.

In any case, it’s still sad…

no choices

 

 

 

had no general election opposition

Look at what they did to my Biden signs

defaced 1

As you know, I very proudly put out my campaign signs on Labor Day. I live on a corner at the highest point on a long residential street, so I put one set on each street.

Since signs and bumper stickers are new to me — I just started this in the 2018 election — I put thought into it. First and foremost, they were carefully selected to express support for:

  • Joe Biden — Because I’m one of the people who can’t wait for the chance to get out and save our country on Nov. 3. And of course, as you know, I believe Joe is the perfect candidate to do this. He was the only one of the multitude that put up their hands who is a survivor, an emblem, of the country we were before we went mad — a decent, thoughtful, fair-minded human being who knows all about how to be better than what we see around this. A guy who deeply cares about every American he meets, and will do his best to serve us all. A guy who had done more than enough for his country and deserved to kick back in retirement. But he saw what happened at Charlottesville, and what the malevolent ignoramus in the White House said about it, and that was it. He stepped up.
  • Jaime Harrison — He’s the other one I’m willing to do this for because of two factors: One, Lindsey Graham has to go. As you know, I’ve respected and praised Graham for years, for the intelligence and courage he has displayed over the years, doing his best to play a constructive and unifying role on some of our most divisive issues, such as immigration and judicial selection. For years, he was the kind of senator we need — just as Joe always was. Now, he has lost his character, his courage and his mind. No, he hasn’t lost them — he’s thrown them away, contemptuously. He is opposed by a young man I’ve respected and praised in the few years I’ve known him. Someone I believe would be the kind of senator Graham once was.

Anyway, that’s what those signs represent. And a lot more, of course. In fact, I’ve often thought about putting a third sign up that says, “To understand what these signs mean, read my blog,” with the URL for a relevant post.

I’ve told you about some of my neighbors who have put up the same or similar signs in their yards. And I noticed something I hadn’t seen before: They had placed them far from the road, near their houses. I didn’t talk to them about it, but this indicated to me that they worried about having the signs defaced or destroyed by hostile passersby.

They were less 'polite' on this side.

They were less ‘polite’ on this side.

But I didn’t do that. Not because I’m bold or defiant or anything, but because I wanted them to be seen as easily as possible, from the most advantageous angles. And I’ve worked in a campaign, so my attitude is that you can always get more signs.

So now I’m going to some more signs now, after what they did last night to mine. Or rather, to my Biden signs. They left the ones for Jaime untouched. Interesting. Why on Earth would anyone hate Joe Biden — one of the most likable people on the planet — enough to do this? And why spare Jaime, who is running in essentially the same cause — saving the country from people like Trump and Graham?

Anyway, it means that this time I only have to replace two signs. Next time, maybe it will be more. I’ll keep doing that until I can’t get anymore signs. I suppose I’ll be stuck with some Biden/Harris replacement, as the signs I was using from the primary were rarer. Which I regret, because for me it’s about Joe. Nothing in particular against Kamala; she just wouldn’t have been my first choice, and Joe was my guy, 100 percent, from the start. As I say, I’m particular about the signs I put up — I have to be really, REALLY on board.

But I’ll put up what I can get, if it supports Joe.

As you can see below, I’ve already replaced one of them, with the last primary sign I had in the garage. I’ll get more.

I had to clean some dust off this one from the garage, but I put it up.

I had to clean some dust off this one from the garage, but I put it up.

Well, my signs are out now. Happy Labor Day, y’all!

I live on a corner, and if you look over the hill to the right, you can see one of the signs I have posted on the OTHER street.

I live on a corner, and if you look over the hill to the right, you can see the very top of one of the signs I have posted on the OTHER street.

I had a nice surprise this morning. My mobile rang, and it was E.J. Dionne! I hadn’t spoken with him in a while, so assuming he was looking for a quote about S.C. or something, I took another swallow of coffee in a desperate and vain effort to make myself sound intelligent.

John

One of my neighbors’.

But no, he had just called to chat. Turns out he is, like me, obsessive about getting his steps in every day, and this is what he has taken to doing while walking — calling people. (I find myself doing the same — that, and listening to podcasts.) We had a wide-ranging conversation. At one point, we got to talking about yard signs. He mentioned having recently discovered a commonality with Rep. Abigail Spanberger — the former CIA officer who was among the cadre of moderates who gave Democrats their House majority by winning purple districts in 2018. They are both big believers in yard signs.

What a coincidence, I said. This being Labor Day, I’m about to put out my yard signs! And now I have, as you can see above.

This, of course, is only my second time ever. My first was 2018, when I dramatically broke with a lifetime in which I was not allowed to do such things. I put out the signs, and proclaimed, “I refuse to be an ‘idiot.’ I’m joining the ranks of the involved.” Those signs were for James Smith (this was a few weeks before I joined his campaign) and Micah Caskey. This time, my Republican state House member has no opposition, so the two candidates are ones James, too, would enthusiastically support: Joe Biden and Jaime Harrison.

I’m hardly the first in my neighborhood. Others didn’t quite wait for this official start of the general election season. Two of my neighbors already had up signs for Joe and Jaime. They had obtained them from me. A couple of months back, one of them — a retired Methodist minister — stopped me on one of my walks to say he needed some signs, and he figured I knew how to get them. I said I’d try to help.

Another neighbor.

Another neighbor.

The Jaime Harrison sign was easy. His finance director had the same job in James’ and Mandy’s campaign, so I reached out to her, and she fixed me up with several. But Biden had shut down his Columbia campaign office immediately after the primary (the resources being needed elsewhere), so I wasn’t sure where to go. As it turned out, another fellow Smith/Norrell veteran — now-college student Noah Barker — drove over and dropped some off in the bed of my truck.

So I gave them to John and Jim, and they put them out, so that’s three of us now in my Republican neighborhood who have signs out for both Joe and Jaime.

And when I took my own walk after talking with E.J., I saw a new Harrison sign on my street, which was great, as this was five minutes after I’d put out my own. And it hadn’t been there yesterday. (Obviously, this neighbor is also strict about following the traditional calendar.)

The new one on my street.

The new one on my street.

But no Biden sign. Which reminds me of my brother’s yard in Greenville. We went to see him back in the first week of August, and he already had a Harrison sign out. Which both pleased me and made me feel guilty. I had obtained one for him when I got those from my friend on the campaign, but had forgotten to take it to him. He got this one from a neighbor who had an extra.

And that one, and the new one in my neighborhood, bring up a worry: I think maybe it’s easier to get Jaime Harrison signs than Joe Biden signs here in South Carolina. Jaime has an active, well-funded, energized campaign going here in the state (and I celebrate all of that), but Joe had no reason for a campaign office after Feb. 29. Those resources were needed elsewhere.

So where do you get Biden signs? Well, I suppose you could get some from the state Democratic Party, but I don’t know; I haven’t checked. Having my own sources, I haven’t needed to — but I suppose that’s where I’d have gone next. But if you live in a Republican neighborhood, like mine or my brother’s, do you think in those terms? Probably not.

I’m going to poke around on this a little more. If there are people out there who would put up Biden signs if they had them, they need to be more available than they are now. Because like E.J. and Rep. Spanberger, I think they help…

My brother had this one up a month ago, in Greenville.

My brother had this one up a month ago, in Greenville.

Here’s why I’m worried about voting on Election Day

I had an enjoyable chat with Bryan Caskey via Zoom today, but I didn’t see this Tweet of his until after:

So I guess I’ll answer it here.

First, it’s not save enough to shop in grocery stores. But we’ve got to do it. Gotta eat. And finally, in recent weeks, people are playing it pretty safe in every store I visit — people wearing masks, staying away from each other, and so forth. Not perfect, but WAY better than a couple of months ago.

Second, grocery shopping is way different from voting.

To give you an idea what I mean… check out this photo from Election Day 2008. It took me an hour and forty minutes to vote that day. Look at the picture and you’ll see why (sorry about the quality):

voting4

And that’s what’s got me worried.

Here’s the thing:

I don’t plan on voting by mail. Y’all know how I am. When it comes to turning out with my neighbors and voting, I’m a fierce traditionalist. I get to talking about it, and I’m like Oliver Wendell Douglas on “Green Acres,” blathering on about the importance of the American farmer, with the fife playing “Yankee Doodle” in the background.

And this may be the most important election of my life. I don’t intend to miss it. My wife will probably vote by mail, as she did for the primary. But not me, baby. Election Day is the day, and I do it in person.

But here’s the thing: What if it’s like 2008? OK, so first, we’d have to spread all those people out. That’s probably doable, but what if there are other complicating factors, and what if, when the day is over, I didn’t get to vote?

Or worse, what if I actually GOT the coronavirus, a few days before Election Day, and I can’t go vote — and it’s way too late to apply to do it the other way?

I keep thinking, maybe I should GET a mail-in ballot, but not use it unless for some reason I can’t vote on the DAY, and mail it in then? But I’m pretty sure that’s against the rules.

Anyway, I’ve been worrying about it. You?

Quail Hollow precinct, Nov. 4, 2008.

Quail Hollow precinct, Nov. 4, 2008. Sorry about the quality.

Your reactions to Kamala Harris announcement?

Joe and Kamala

I’ve been too busy to write another full post this afternoon, and will be for awhile.

But I thought I’d give you a place to discuss Joe Biden’s decision to name Kamala Harris as his running mate.

A couple of you have mentioned it already on other posts. For instance, Randle said:

Biden chose wisely. Not my first choice, but it gives us another window into his character. No grudges, a willingness to accept criticism and no fear of an “ambitious “ woman. Onward.

That says it well. It’s so much a part of who Joe is that he dismissed my biggest objection to her — her particularly egregious attempt to sabotage him in that first debate. Joe doesn’t care. Maybe I shouldn’t, either.

But now that I’m faced with it, I realize that was more or less my only objection. By contrast, I had many profound objections to Elizabeth Warren, and we all dodged a number of bullets when he didn’t name Susan Rice. I was worrying again about her just this morning. In a piece that was pretty much a roadmap to the problems the GOP could have thrown at her, Bret Stephens reminded me why she was my least-favorite member of Obama’s national security team.

So, welcome, Kamala. Let’s get this done now.

If y’all start discussing it, I’ll join in later….

 

We could have had a lieutenant governor to remember

From today's email...

From today’s email…

The headline on this email is a relief to me, because it shows I’m far from alone.

Of course, they sort of knew her name, because they spelled it correctly (I think) on the flier. But what I saw first, what jumped out at me and stuck, was the “Lt. Gov. Evettee” in the headline of the email.

Ms. Evettee is not alone here. I started using the term Gov Lite a long time ago, because the office — and therefore the people holding it — were forgettable. Even though all the ones before this one hypothetically had actual job duties — presiding over the Senate and (after senators took pity on Andre Bauer and gave him the additional duty) the Office on Aging.

After I came home to S.C. in 1987 as governmental affairs editor, I found I had little trouble remembering Nick Theodore’s name — not because his duties compelled my awareness, but because he was running so hard for governor from the time I arrived until 1994. He managed to build up his name recognition enough to, just barely, edge out the vastly, infinitely better qualified Joe Riley in a squeaker primary runoff. Joe had been too busy being the best mayor in the country. (That was the most heartbreaking election result in all my years in South Carolina. Joe lost by less than one vote per precinct. Our history would have been quite different — as in, much better — if he had turned out one more person at each polling place. He would have run right over recent party-switcher David Beasley in the general.)

But Nick’s successors were easier to ignore, when they weren’t crashing planes or something.

The current one, the first one to take office after running as the governor’s electoral mate, is remarkably invisible even for a Gov Lite. That was predestined to happen, given that Henry picked someone who made us all say “Who?” and the office being stripped of duties. So it was that when I saw her (at least, I think it was her behind that mask) in this picture from Henry’s inexcusable announcement about giving millions to private schools, I for a moment thought, “Oh, look, there’s…” and couldn’t come up with the name.

“Predestined,” that is, as long as she and Henry won. Had James and Mandy won, you’d have seen something startlingly different.

James had a compelling vision for the role his lieutenant governor would play, and Mandy endorsed it wholeheartedly. She would have been every bit a full partner in governing. She would have been a dynamo, having dramatic impact on events left, right and up the middle.

That moment — with the changes to the office, especially the fact that everything the job had previously entailed was being stripped away, and the fact that the person would be elected in unison with the governor — was a huge opportunity for anyone who truly wanted to make a difference for South Carolina, and James and Mandy were energized by it.

I wrote a press release outlining their vision for the role that Mandy would have played. It was, in fact, one of the more substantial releases I wrote during the campaign — actually setting out a vision that would redefine one of the more visible electoral positions in our state. It transformed the job from meaninglessness to something that made a difference. And it explained clearly why James had chosen Mandy — she was perfect for the vision — and why they were running as they did, as partners, as a team.

And… it got no traction. Initially, it had gotten mixed up in an attempt to help out a reporter. The reporter had the idea of doing something on how the campaigns envisioned the new position, and she had reached out to us about it. So instead of putting out the release generally, we decided to share it first with her. But then she was unable to get to the story for several days, and out of nowhere another reporter asked us how we envisioned the lieutenant governor position, so we (with apologies to the first reporter) gave him the release, and… it all kind of fell apart. There was that one story, and that was it.

I was disappointed enough that I tried putting out the release to everybody some weeks later. Because I wanted to see it get exposure. I wanted voters to have the chance to think about, OK, if I vote for this ticket, here’s what I’ll actually get… I wanted them to see why Mandy was perfect for the job.

But it never became the shiny toy of the day for our state’s ravaged, depleted political press corps.

So I’ll share it with you. I think I’ve done this before, but I couldn’t find it just now, so I’ll share it again. Repeatedly putting out this release has gotten to be a habit for me.

Anyway, this is what you could have had in a lieutenant governor:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct. 16, 2018
Press Contact: Brad Warthen
brad@jamessmith.com

Why Mandy Powers Norrell will be
SC’s best lieutenant governor yet

COLUMBIA, S.C. – People keep asking James Smith about his vision for Mandy Powers Norrell’s role as South Carolina’s next lieutenant governor.

He has really a really good answer to that. And when people hear it, they realize why Mandy is perfect for the job.

This is the first election in which the governor and lieutenant governor are running together as a ticket. And the lieutenant governor will no longer have the old duties associated with the job – such as presiding over the Senate and running the Office on Aging. So the new governor will have a unique opportunity to reshape the office.

Smith envisions a lieutenant governor more influential, and far more relevant, than before. He sees Lt. Gov. Norrell doing the following:

• Advancing his legislative agenda. With all the partnerships she has formed on both sides of the aisle during her experience in the House, she will greatly extend the influence of the governor’s office in shaping laws and setting policies. As the second most prominent statewide officeholder, her influence in the General Assembly would be considerably greater than that of past legislative liaison staffers.
• Conducting oversight of state agencies. She will engage with the agencies as no one has before, finding ways to make them more efficient, promoting such approaches as zero-based budgeting.
• Playing a key role in the appointment process. “There is tremendous untapped talent in South Carolina, and we don’t take full advantage of that fact,” said Smith. “She will help find and recruit a diverse pool of appointees from across our state, and help me get them in place right away.” He noted that having represented rural South Carolina, she brings a perspective and connections too often left out when appointments are made in Columbia.
• Being closely involved in setting policies and legislative goals. She will not only push the governor’s agenda, but be a full partner in shaping it. And she will seek broad input in that process. For instance, Smith noted, he and Norrell already plan to sit down with mayors from across the state to talk about how the governor and lieutenant governor can help them with their priorities. “We support the agendas of the governments closest to the people, which for too long have been ignored and disrespected on the state level,” he said. As a 20-year municipal attorney, Norrell fully understands the challenges faced by local governments.

Those criteria explain why James chose Mandy. With that job description in mind, he was looking for three traits in a running mate. He wanted someone who:

• Is qualified to be governor. “Mandy would be a formidable candidate for governor on her own,” said Smith.
• Would be ready on Day One. He needed someone who thoroughly understood state government and could immediately jump in and start doing the job he envisions, with no learning curve. Also, someone who knows how to work with this Legislature as it is. “We need to work as well with this Republican General Assembly as Carroll Campbell did with a Democratic one,” said Smith. “Mandy has a great track record of working constructively across the aisle. She respects her Republican colleagues, and they respect her.”
• Meshes well with him and his vision. “Mandy and I already speak with the same voice as we share our positive vision for South Carolina,” Smith said. “I needed someone full of enthusiasm for the future of our state, and no one fits that description better than Mandy Powers Norrell.”

Exactly.

###

This was from the eve of Election Day. That's Scott Harriford -- who played a key role this year in Joe Biden's SC primary victory -- in the background...

This was from the eve of Election Day. That’s Scott Harriford — who played a key role this year in Joe Biden’s SC primary victory — in the background…

 

 

Well, I voted. Did you? If so, how did it go?

My polling place this morning. And no, I didn't throw Lindsey's sign to the ground. But I thought it interesting that someone had.

My polling place this morning. And no, I didn’t throw Lindsey’s sign to the ground. But I thought it interesting that someone had.

Well, that was easy enough. No lines, everybody wearing masks, walk right in and out. (I mean, as in and out as is possible when you’re as obsessively careful as I am about voting.)

Did you vote today? If so, how did it go for you?

As for how I voted: Well, y’all know that my priority was voting “NO” to that grossly devious effort by the state Republican Party to shut nonpartisans out of the electoral process. I did so, just as firmly and adamantly as my long cotton swab thingy would let me. It’s a wonder I didn’t break the stick.

By the way, I enjoyed Eva Moore’s take on the swabs:

Actually, they had me throw mine away before scanning my completed ballot. Seems to me we missed a big opportunity today. We could have had everyone test themselves for COVID with those after voting.

Anyway, so I voted “no” on that, and on the other, less consequential, “advisory question.” I don’t expect my vote to make the difference. It will probably pass, because of the shamefully deceptive way it is worded. The people who will see that question and fail to understand it far exceed the number I can reach (and persuade) with my blog, and for that matter, that Cindi and the Post and Courier can reach. We can only do so much, when parties stoop to be this sleazy.

Ditto with my votes against Lindsey Graham and Joe Wilson. I went for Joe Reynolds and Michael Bishop — both of whom I believe would do better jobs than the incumbents, if they had a chance. But the real chance — as difficult as that, too, will be — will come in November, when both incumbents have credible Democratic opposition.

I did not vote for either of the guys vying to oppose my senator, Nikki Setzer, nor in the sheriff race. I tried last night, but could not find enough information to be sure which way to go on sheriff. The challenger’s efforts to explain his candidacy were so lame that I had a slight tendency to vote for the incumbent, but I found so little information on him that I couldn’t be confident about it. (He probably has one, but I had trouble even finding a campaign website for Sheriff Koon.)

And I’m not about to ever fall into the “name recognition” fallacy of voting for somebody just because I’ve heard of him. That would be insupportable. I always have reasons — as imperfect as they may be — to vote the way I do.

Anyway, how’d it go for you? I mean, if you voted today. And even if you voted absentee like so many — how did that go?

Vote against S.C. GOP effort to disenfranchise you

File photo from 2018 primary.

File photo from 2018 primary.

I’m voting in the Republican primary on Tuesday. The choice of which primary, of course, was easy. Where I live, there is no Democratic primary this year. Not one contested race.

Not that the choices offered on the GOP ballot are anything to write home about. There are some candidates running against Lindsey Graham and Joe Wilson, but what do you think their chances are? I am going to look more closely into one of the candidates running challenging Graham, after Scout said supportive things about him the other day. But bottom line, on these two positions we DO have good alternatives for once in the fall, so I’m going to be voting for Jaime Harrison and Adair Ford Boroughs. Jaime is an excellent candidate and I’m really pleased to have the privilege of supporting him, and while I don’t know Ms. Boroughs as well, I can tell she’d be better than Joe. Way better.

Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon has opposition, but I know next to nothing about that. There’s the problem that the sheriff of the county I live in just doesn’t make news the way my twin over in Richland County does. He keeps a much lower profile than, say, Jimmy Metts did. So I need to try to get schooled up a bit by Tuesday. If I don’t learn enough to make an informed choice, I’ll skip that race.

But there’s one thing to vote on that I wouldn’t miss, that I would beat down doors to have the chance to have my say on: I’m going to vote against the Republican Party’s effort to take away my right to vote.

Oh, the wording seems innocuous enough, to anyone completely clueless about what’s going on: “Do you support giving voters the right to register to vote with the political party of their choice?”

Golly, who could be against that, right? Shouldn’t we have the right to back any party we want? Well, yeah — and it’s a right we already have, and one that is not even slightly endangered. There is no rule against backing a party, and no such rule is threatened.

What’s threatened here is the rights of those of us who don’t want to support a party, any party. If you know what’s going on, you read the question differently. I read it this way: “Do you support banning people like you from being able to vote?” Anyone who wishes to make his or her own decisions in future elections — rather than surrendering that power to a party — will read it that way.

Of course, what I mean is, vote in primaries. Which, the way Republicans have rigged things through the process of gerrymandering (as Democrats would have done if they’d had the chance, but they don’t, and haven’t had since the science of politicians choosing their voters got really sophisticated), are increasingly the only time we get a choice in who our legislators are.

That’s generally the case in congressional races, too — although as I said, this year is unusual in that Joe Wilson has a pretty good Democratic opponent in November. Of course, he and predecessor Floyd Spence have occasionally had other good opponents over the years (Jim Leventis in 1988, Jane Frederick in 2000) — but the district remains drawn for Republicans, so he still enjoys a great advantage in November.

As Cindi Scoppe explained in an enewsletter (let me know if you have trouble getting that link) the other day:

With obvious exceptions, primaries are probably more important than the general election. That’s because so many contests in South Carolina are decided in the primaries — a result of the GOP domination statewide along with the gerrymandering of congressional, legislative, county council and in too many places even school board district lines. (The gerrymandering sometimes benefits Republicans, sometimes Democrats and never, ever voters.)

But extremists in both parties want to make primaries private affairs, to make sure the nominated candidates are as extreme as possible. Used to be, party leaders opposed these efforts, and most elected officials still do, realizing that the way you win elections in November is by getting people bought into the candidates through the primaries. But the state Republican Party leadership was taken over a few years ago by people who want to stop the rest of us from voting in these most crucial elections unless we swear an oath of allegiance to their party, and again this year they’ve put a deceptively worded question on the GOP primary ballot aimed at locking us out….

Cindi was being rather mild there with that “deceptively worded question.” As the paper Cindi works for now put it in an editorial, it is “a grossly misleading question.” As that editorial continued:

The ballot question is designed by party officials who want to force all of us to register our allegiance to a political party — or else be barred from participating in primaries. The results have no force of law, but if a majority of Republican primary voters say “yes,” those party leaders will use it as ammunition to demand that the Republicans who control the Legislature change long-standing state policy to close the ballot to all but the most partisan among us.

That might not be such a huge problem if we had competitive elections in November, but we rarely do….

Oh, as for the business of this not being binding: Of course it isn’t. If it were an actual referendum, it would have to be worded differently to achieve its aim. But this not a legal device, it’s a political one, meant to achieve a political purpose. In this case, the purpose is to enable the party to say to its members in the General Assembly: How can you vote against our bill to close primaries? Didn’t you see how people asserted their right to partisan identity in the primary? Aren’t you, like them, proud to be a Republican?

The S.C. GOP has a long and shameful history of using this ham-handed device to bludgeon its own members into doing stupid and even terrible things. In case you’re forgotten, Cindi wrote a column a few days back to remind you how Henry McMaster, as party chairman, and other GOP leaders used their 1994 primary to wrap themselves in the Confederate flag for a generation. If you don’t remember that the way I do — as one of the most shameful things I’ve seen in SC politics in a long career — you should probably go read that piece, and be reminded.

sample

I have some sympathy for those poor wretches in Iowa. Some.

Screenshot 2020-02-04 at 11.33.09 AM

In 2000, there was “Palm Beach stupid.” Now, we have Iowa.

At least, I could swear there was such a (pre-social media) meme as “Palm Beach stupid,” a rather unkind reference to Floridians who lacked the ability to punch a hole in a card corresponding to the candidate of their choice. Yet I can’t find it by Googling, so maybe I dreamed it.

But we definitely have Iowa today, and similar scorn is being directed at it. Especially by Trump’s minions, such as his campaign manager:

Mind you, this is coming from a guy who can’t spell “Democratic.” But hey, Iowa sort of asked for it, right?

The good news is, all this scorn could have a salutary result: Maybe it will finally spell the end of the Iowa caucuses, at least as anything the rest of the nation pays attention to. That would be a good thing.

But while we’re slinging insults at them, and pondering a return to older, more legendary ways of picking leaders:

… I have to admit to a certain fellow-feeling for those poor losers up in Iowa. I’ve kinda been there.

I’ve been the guy in charge of election coverage at three newspapers in my career, in three states: Tennessee, Kansas and South Carolina. Pulling together results from a long ballot and publishing them accurately in the next days paper is — or at least, was in those days — an extremely complex affair that required a lot of different things to happen in different places simultaneously, and without a hitch.

My fellow editors would kindly surrender the resources of the newsroom to me — a hundred or so trained professional would be at my disposal — but it was always on me to figure out exactly who would do what at precisely what time, and how it would flow through the newspaper production process without things clogging up, so that the presses would roll on time and readers would actually receive their newspapers crammed with all that information.

One piece of that puzzle was getting the numbers and putting them into tables — candidate by candidate, county by county, and in the metro area, precinct by precinct. The numbers not only had to get into the charts, but to the reporters writing the stories, so our numbers would match. (We generally kept the use of numbers in the stories to a minimum, though, to simplify the coordination somewhat.)

In other words, a part of my job was doing what the people in Iowa have failed so spectacularly to do.

It usually went pretty well, but not always.

One of the lowest points of my professional life occurred in the early ’80s in Jackson, Tenn. The Jackson Sun was then an afternoon newspaper, which meant we had all night and part of the next morning to get things right before going to press, which meant our report needed to be more complete and accurate than what the morning papers had. And it generally was.

But one election, things went horribly wrong. After working all day on Election Day, and then all night pulling the results together, at mid-morning — about an hour before the presses were to roll — I realized the tables were wrong. Completely wrong. All the totals were wrong, and we couldn’t figure out why. We’re talking about full-page tables, densely packed with numbers.

I’d been up and going at full speed for more than 24 hours, and my brain just froze. What was I going to do? There was only one thing to do. Check every single number, and try to find a pattern that showed us what had gone wrong.

At that moment, my boss stepped in. Executive Editor Reid Ashe was and is a very smart guy, for whom I’ve always had the greatest respect. And he had a lot of respect for me, respect that I valued. For his part, he valued excellence. He had this art deco poster, a reproduction of one that had once hung in French train stations, that had this one word over the image of a locomotive: EXACTITUDE.

Precision.

It was, if I recall correctly, the only decoration in his office. His walls bore that one message for the world. This is what mattered to him. Therefore, we understood, it needed to matter to us.

With a rather grim look on his face, he sat down at a table in a conference room with a calculator, and started to crunch all the numbers.

While he did that, I sat on the floor against the wall with my face in my hands. I had tried to sort it out, but my brain was too fried at that point — those numbers were sort of dancing around before my eyes. I had to wait while Reid had his go at it, with — at least, I imagined — steam coming out of his ears.

He figured it out (hey, he had had some sleep!), and we got the paper out. Eventually, I went home  and crashed.

I don’t know if there’s ever been a moment in my life when I felt more like a failure.

So as I say, I have some sympathy for those people in Iowa.

But it would still be great if this was not the way we started presidential elections going forward…

He had this one poster in his office...

Reid had this one decoration in his office…

What has Joe Wilson done lately (or, for that matter, EVER)?

Mark Huguley introduces the candidate at the Jewish Community Center last night.

Mark Huguley introduces the candidate at the Jewish Community Center last night.

Several days back, I got an invitation to a political event from Mark Huguley, mayor of Arcadia Lakes and former top official at SLED. And I set it aside to read later, thinking maybe it would be something I’d go to. Then I received the same message again, forwarded to me by his wife Sally, my longtime colleague and friend, and decided I’d best pay attention.

So it was that I ended up last night at a gathering for Adair Ford Boroughs, a Democrat who is seeking to unseat Congressman-for-Life Joe Wilson in the 2nd District.

I’ve mentioned her here before, favorably, and I heard nothing last night to change my mind. How could Brad possibly support someone for Congress who has never held elected office before? Simple: I’ve been watching Joe for more than three decades, and I haven’t seen any indication that his time in office has made him a better legislator. And I’m impressed by this young woman’s intelligence and good intentions. I could be wrong, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet that she’d do a better job.

I’d show you video, but, well… I sat up on the front row and started to shoot some. But a) I realized that while this wasn’t overtly a fund-raiser, it was a similar sort of event, and I was probably making her staff guy in the back uncomfortable because they hate to see video shot at such events, b) I was shooting up at her from below (as with Obama here, only more so) as she stood above me, and I have back in 2018 that one always shoots ladies from above, and c) I was getting tired of holding it up, so I stopped.

But I recommend her campaign video, which I’ve shown here before. In it, you will learn that in his 18 years in Congress, Joe Wilson has gotten one bill passed — to rename a post office. That’s where my headline comes from.

Of course, this is not necessarily a reflection on Joe’s effectiveness as a legislator, because I’ve always assumed his do-nothing approach was completely intentional. He’s following in the footsteps of 2nd-District predecessor Floyd Spence, who in turn followed the Strom Thurmond approach: Don’t legislate; it might bother people. Concentrate on constituent service, and you can hold the office for the rest of your life.

You've noticed these, right?

You’ve noticed these, right?

(In Memphis back on Thanksgiving, I mentioned to a brother-in-law the fact that to my memory, Strom only got one law passed during the years I was responsible for covering him: the one putting health warnings on bottles and cans of alcohol. My brother-in-law said he had never noticed such labels. I pulled a beer out of the bin of ice out on the patio and showed him. I don’t think he was impressed, but hey, it’s bigger than renaming a post office.)

I only got a chance to ask one question of the candidate before the speaking started, and it was to ask whether we were still in the congressional district, way out northeast at the Jewish Community Center. And she and her staff guy assured me we were. Those GOP gerrymanders just went all over the place to draw white people into Joe’s district, and black people into Jim Clyburn’s.

But am I ever going to report on anything that was said last night beyond that? Yes, and it’s a partial answer to the one big question that matters: Does she have a chance? I’ve been watching Democrats dash themselves to pieces on the mathematical impossibility of this district ever since I saw Jim Leventis win all the early counties on election night in 1988, only to be sunk by Lexington when it came in.

So, is she viable? Well, y’all know I don’t normally pay much attention to fund-raising, but I think it’s relevant that she has far outraised expectations and set new records.

I hate talking about money, but in this case, I’d say that’s a good sign for her candidacy.

I hope so, because I believe she’d be an improvement.

Adair 2

Yes, Pete: By all means, let the press into your fund-raisers

The event in Greenville on Sept. 17, 2018.

The event in Greenville on Sept. 17, 2018.

This takes me back to my own campaign experience last year:

Presidential contender Pete Buttigieg announced Monday that he would open his fundraisers to journalists and disclose the names of people raising money for his campaign, the latest step in an ongoing skirmish over transparency with Democratic rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Reporters will be allowed into Buttigieg’s large-dollar fundraising events starting Tuesday, and the South Bend, Ind., mayor will release a list of his “bundlers” — those who funnel large sums of money to campaigns — within a week, according to Buttigieg campaign manager Mike Schmuhl.

“From the start, Pete has said it is important for every candidate to be open and honest, and his actions have reflected that commitment,” Schmuhl said in a statement….

In the earlier days of my time on James Smith’s campaign, I found myself turning press away from fund-raisers, because that was what the staff wanted to do. I thought it was a rule — one I did not like.

I hated not having the press at these events, sometimes more so than other times. For instance, there was the big event in Greenville on Sept. 17 that had been put together in part by some folks who usually backed Republicans. It was a tremendous event under any circumstances. It was even more important because it was our first event after taking a hiatus because of the hurricane, and it would have been enormously helpful at that moment to have coverage of such an enthusiastic crowd gathering for us in the heart of Republican country.

As it was, an Upstate reporter did a story on the fact that the event was happening, and that caused some positive buzz for us, briefly. But it would have been so much better if we’d had actual coverage, with pictures.

We needed that bounce at that moment. I don’t know if it’s right or not, but there’s a school of thought (to be more specific, one very smart person said it to me shortly after the election, and I think she may have been right) that our week-long pause for the storm — during which we went dark, while Henry was constantly on live TV in a leadership role — killed our campaign. Before it, we were within the margin of error of a tie in polling (and rising, or so it felt); after it we had lost ground and never recovered.

There had been previous events where I’d wished we’d had coverage — including some reporters had specifically asked to cover, and I’d turned them away at the behest of colleagues. But after the Greenville event, I decided to try to change the rule. And when I brought it up to the candidates themselves, James and Mandy immediately said yes.

(Editor’s note: Before posting this, I sent a copy of it to James. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t saying anything about the campaign that made him uncomfortable. His response was, “If the press was excluded that was done without our knowledge. Those were great events and I liked having the press there.” So did Mandy, he added. I guess I should have mentioned my beef with the policy earlier, now that he points that out. I didn’t know he didn’t know.)

Now let me be clear: This is not a case of Brad Knows Best, or if only they’d listened to me

In fact, on this thing they did listen to me, and we lost anyway. If anything, it looks like I’m to blame for not challenging this “rule” sooner, since it turns out James and Mandy were unaware of it, and agreed with me. So Brad should have gone with his gut to start with.

Why didn’t I? Remember that I was the amateur in this campaign, and before I came on board the staff was operating according to rules that a lot of professionals see as best practices. And from what I gathered, not letting media in to fund-raisers fits into that category. I’d seen it enough in other campaigns. I’ve never fully understood the rationale; maybe it was because of horror stories like Mitt Romney’s 47 percent debacle. (Of course, that’s only a problem if you have a candidate who will say stupid stuff like that.)

But my fellow staffers were the pros, and I respected that. The only professional qualification I had was experience as a journalist covering campaigns (and as an editor supervising people who covered campaigns). And the way the press was covering our campaign made me want to bang my head against a wall. Just one story after another about staffing and strategy and ad buys. I wanted to change the subject to why people would want to vote for James and Mandy, so I wanted reporters at events full of people who could and would eagerly speak to that. Also, I wanted the reporters to feel the vibe in the room. Maybe, just maybe, some of that would creep into the coverage.

Anyway, all that is to say that I think Pete is right to open things up. I applaud it. Of course, my man Joe was already letting the press in…

Greenville 2

Polls indicate Trump remains competitive in key states. Oh, yeah: And if Warren is the Democratic nominee, he wins

polling chart

Tonight I got a fund-raising text from Joe Biden that reminded me that I meant to share with y’all something I saw in The New York Times this morning. The text said:

BREAKING: A New York Times poll says that Joe Biden is the ONLY candidate who can beat Trump in some critical swing states that Trump won in 2016.

So if Joe Biden isn’t our nominee, Trump will be reelected again.

But Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have more money than us — even though they can’t defeat Trump. And if we can’t catch up, they might be the ones facing off against him….

And so forth.

Here’s what the Biden campaign is talking about. See the graphic above, which I hope the NYT doesn’t mind my showing you (I urge you to go read it on their site, and even subscribe, as I do). There are other informative graphics with the piece.

The Times emphasized Trump’s competitiveness, leading with:

Despite low national approval ratings and the specter of impeachment, President Trump remains highly competitive in the battleground states likeliest to decide his re-election, according to a set of new surveys from The New York Times Upshot and Siena College…

But the graphic (which I had to go grab from an old Tweet, because it no longer appears with the story), shouted something else: Democrats are nuts if they go with Elizabeth Warren.

Of course, I knew that already. Did you?

The story has an important caveat:

There is a full year before Election Day, and a lot can change.

But then, a caveat to the caveat:

But on average over the last three cycles, head-to-head polls a year ahead of the election have been as close to the final result as those taken the day before.

So I suppose we should take heed….

Thoughts on the marathon ‘debate’ last night?

NYT debate graphic

Or perhaps I should say, further thoughts, since some of y’all have started the discussion on the previous thread. Which is cool.

As a conversation starter, I thought I’d post an image of the graphic the NYT ran this morning to go with a piece they had about winners and losers, featuring some of their opinion writers.

I read that this morning, and several other accounts of the night, and the consensus of what I’ve read — and I don’t strongly disagree with any of it — goes kind of like this:

  • Warren had the best night. That’s the consensus. I thought she started strong — I liked her Mayberry approach, with talking about her Aunt Bee instead of her usual intense ranting — but wasn’t as great the rest of the time.
  • Bernie seemed more and more to observers what he has always seemed to me — the cranky uncle who puts people off.
  • Yang embarrassed himself right out of the running with his money-giveaway gimmick. Too bad. I liked him.
  • Castro was second-worst, they say. Personally, I’d put him dead last and move up Yang. Basically what he did was the equivalent of blowing himself up with a grenade, in the hope that he could also wound Joe Biden in the process. Most thought it was bad; I think it was worse. He hasn’t learned what Kamala Harris learned belatedly: In the end, Democrats won’t like you for attacking Biden — and, by extension, Obama.
  • Kamala Harris was too scripted and rehearsed. Pretty much everyone thought she came across as phony.
  • Klobuchar did fine, but it wasn’t enough. And as one writer said, she remains irrelevant as the moderate alternative, unless Joe blows up. I still think she did better than the graphic above indicates.
  • I liked what Gail Collins said about Cory Booker: “So intense he kind of runs you over.” He’s like a younger, slightly (but only slightly) cooler, version of Bernie.
  • Buttigieg did OK, I thought. But others seemed to think he had an off night.
  • Beto was Beto. Most seemed to think he had a strong night. He continues to seem the callow (but earnest) youth to me. In that age bracket, Buttigieg still outshines him.
  • Consensus seems to be that Joe did all right — not great, not badly. He’s still the front-runner — with Warren breathing down his neck.

That’s about it. What did y’all think.

 

 

Oh, no! Is that three-hour ‘debate’ ordeal TONIGHT?

debate

On the radio this morning, a passing reference sort of ruined my day: It was mentioned that the three-hour Democratic “debate” is tonight.

And I don’t feel like I can’t watch it, and I probably won’t be able to avoid commenting on it, at least on social media, and there goes another perfectly good evening.

So you’ll probably find me on Twitter tonight. Unless ennui overtakes me, and I sit it out.

Top Five things I’d rather be doing tonight:

  1. Sleeping.
  2. Watching an episode of “Shetland” on Britbox.
  3. Reading a book I’ve read before.
  4. Reorganizing my sock drawer.
  5. Getting a root canal.

I’m not kidding. As I’ve said before, sometime back, I’m SO ready for this to be over. I’m only asking one thing of the Democratic Party: Nominate Joe Biden, and don’t damage him along the way (there are a number of ways they might do this, chief among them pressuring him to overcommit himself to the left wing). As I said in July:

I just want to fast-forward through this time in our history. I want to skim ahead to a time when Joe Biden has secured the Democratic nomination (and if the future holds something else, let me skim past the next four years of politics as well). No more enduring absurd “debates” with Joe on stage with a score of people, each of whom knows his or her way to victory lies through tearing Joe down, and not one of whom holds out much hope of doing what I think Joe can do — beat Trump.

But I guess I have to watch this thing. I guess…

Uh, should we rethink this democracy thing?

He IS known by three letters, but they aren't "AOC"...

He IS known by three letters, but they aren’t “AOC”…

I’ve confessed before that, unlike most American editorialists, I was always kind of ambivalent about urging people to get out to vote. Which made me kind of an iconoclast, if not a heretic.

This simple expression of civic piety (You know the drill: “No matter how you vote, vote!”) tended to stick in my throat, and here’s why: If you have to be goaded to do something as basic to your duty as a citizen as vote, then are you really somebody that I want to see voting?

And today, I’ve received a press release that makes me even more hesitant to urge the average apathetic America to get out there and have just as much a say in who our leaders are as I do. The headline on the email was, “18% of Americans believe AOC authored the New Deal.”

Before you call me a horrible elitist, just look over some of these numbers:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9th, 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Connor Murnane
PHONE: (202) 798-5450

America’s Knowledge Crisis: A Survey on Civic Literacy

Washington, DC — A national survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) draws new attention to a crisis in civic understanding and the urgent need for renewed focus on civics education at the postsecondary level.

Some of the alarming results include:

  • 26% of respondents believe Brett Kavanaugh is the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and 14% of respondents selected Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
    • 15% of the college graduates surveyed selected Brett Kavanaugh.
    • Fewer than half correctly identified John Roberts.
  • 18% of respondents identified Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a freshman member of the current Congress, as the author of the New Deal, a suite of public programs enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
    •  12% of the college graduates surveyed selected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • 63% did not know the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives.
    • Fewer than half of the college graduates surveyed knew the correct answer.
  • 12% of respondents understand the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, and correctly answered that the 13th Amendment freed all the slaves in the United States.
    • 19% of the college graduates surveyed selected the correct answer.

ACTA’s What Will They Learn? report, an assessment of 1,123 general education programs scheduled for release tomorrow, helps to explain America’s civic illiteracy. Our analysis of 2019–2020 course catalogs revealed that only 18% of U.S. colleges and universities require students to take a course in American history or government.

”Colleges have the responsibility to prepare students for a lifetime of informed citizenship. Our annual What Will They Learn? report illustrates the steady deterioration of the core curriculum. When American history and government courses are removed, you begin to see disheartening survey responses like these, and America’s experiment in self-government begins to slip from our grasp,” said Michael Poliakoff, president of ACTA.

The survey was conducted in August by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and consisted of 15 questions designed to assess respondents’ knowledge of foundational events in U.S. history and key political principles. The respondents make up a nationally representative sample of 1,002 U.S. adults. To view the full survey results, click here >>


ACTA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. We receive no government funding and are supported through the generosity of individuals and foundations. For more information, visit GoACTA.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribe to our newsletter.

If that doesn’t give you pause about this universal suffrage thing, then you’re not reading it right.

No, I’m not talking about taking away anyone’s right to vote. But data such as this makes me think twice about urging the average non-voter to exercise that right. At least, I hope the ones who credit AOC with the New Deal are non-voters. Ditto with the 63 percent who don’t know how long the terms of senators and House members are, even though that’s not quite as slap-you-in-the-face ignorant as the other thing…

Further proof, in case you needed it, that Trump supporters are anything but ‘conservative’

Donald_Trump_rally_in_Cedar_Rapids_(June_2017)_09

Warning: This piece contains the word, “nihilism.” That’s for Doug, who hates it when I use that word in this context. But it’s the right word.

That’s why it was included in the subhed to this Thomas Edsall story, as follows: “Political nihilism is one of the president’s strongest weapons.”

Bottom line is, while you might call Trump voters many things, no one with a respect for the English language would call them “conservative.”

The Edsall piece is about a paper presented last week at the American Political Science Association. Guessing that y’all probably did not attend (while this sort of thing is Tom Edsall’s bag, baby), I thought I’d bring the paper to y’all’s attention. The title was “A ‘Need for Chaos’ and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies.”

We’ve all read elsewhere the assertion that people voted for Trump out of a deep-seated urge to blow up the system, but these two Danish political scientists, Michael Bang Petersen and Mathias Osmundsen, dug into the phenomenon more deeply that most. In short, they argue “that a segment of the American electorate that was once peripheral is drawn to ‘chaos incitement’ and that this segment has gained decisive influence through the rise of social media.”

Here’s the core of the piece:

How do Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux measure this “need for chaos”? They conducted six surveys, four in the United States, in which they interviewed 5157 participants, and two in Denmark, with 1336. They identified those who are “drawn to chaos” through their affirmative responses to the following statements:

  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.

  • I think society should be burned to the ground.

  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”

  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.

  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

Disturbing stuff. Like, “Helter-Skelter” disturbing. The piece continues:

In an email, Petersen wrote that preliminary examination of the data shows “that the ‘need for chaos’ correlates positively with sympathy for Trump but also — although less strongly — with sympathy for Sanders. It correlates negatively with sympathy for Hillary Clinton.”

In their paper, Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux contend that “the extreme discontent expressed in the ‘Need for Chaos’ scale is a minority view but it is a minority view with incredible amounts of support.”

The responses to three of the statements in particular were “staggering,” the paper says: 24 percent agreed that society should be burned to the ground; 40 percent concurred with the thought that “When it comes to our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn’ ”; and 40 percent also agreed that “we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we’re on about when we use the word “nihilism.”

Note the bit about Bernie. Most of us sensed that his 2016 campaign was driven by some of the same destructive energy that drove Trump’s, but this provides some further evidence on that point.

Anyway, it’s an interesting piece, and you might want to read the whole thing

Candidates, please don’t promise to do anything for me.

Here's Bernie, seconds before he promised me my hearing aids...

Here’s Bernie, seconds before he promised me my hearing aids…

My family thought this was hilarious.

It was during the televised debate on the night of July 31. I was together with most of the fam down at the beach.

I had said something dismissive about Bernie Sanders, as I am wont to do. Then, I was busy writing a Tweet about something that had just been said, so my mind wandered from the next thing that was said (a hazard of real-time commentary).

My wife, who was sitting on the side of my bad ear, said, “See what Bernie’s going to do for you?” And I said, “What?” and she said, “Didn’t you hear? He wants Medicare to pay for your hearing aids!” And because she was on my bad side, I said, “He wants to WHAT?”

And everyone thought this was hilarious. They weren’t laughing AT me; they were really… Well, no, they were laughing at me. But fondly…

They all know that I have declined to look into getting hearing aids because a) conventional hearing aids wouldn’t solve the problem I have, and b) I discovered upon going on Medicare that it won’t pay for hearing aids. And personally, if I’m going to have to scrimp and save for something that expensive, I’d prefer it to be something like another trip abroad, like the one we took to Ireland earlier this year.

So now that I know Bernie wants to pay for them, I’ve gotta like Bernie a little better, right?

Wrong. In fact, I find it extremely off-putting, the idea that someone out there is making a campaign promise to do something that benefits me, personally. No, it’s not like Bernie called me on the phone and asked what Brad would most like to see changed in Medicare and then promised to do that in return for my vote, but it sort of feels like it to me.

And I don’t hold with that sort of thing.

In the universe of politics, there are few things that I find more offensive than the idea of voting for someone because you think it would benefit you personally, or “people like you” (another concept I find offensive, which is all tied up with my objections to identity politics, but that’s a whole other subject).

First, I don’t like campaign promises, period. We’ve discussed this. I vote for the person I trust most to do the job, and I’d like to see that person as unencumbered by promises as possible, so that he or she can simply do the right and smart thing with regard to any issue that arises.

But if you’re going to try to sell me on a campaign promise anyway, you’d better come prepared to persuade me that it’s the best course for the country as a whole. Don’t insult me by saying how it would benefit me personally.

Yeah, I know, I’m sounding really self-righteous, priggish even. And I know that there are a lot of people out there who are NOT middle-class white guys who feel a need for the government to redress some wrong that hurts them personally, and/or “people like them.” And I’m not judging them. I can only speak for me.

And to me, it feels just a small step away from the days when candidates handed out free booze on Election Day. There’s just too much quid pro quo to it.

Don’t try to buy my vote. Not with free hearing aids, or lower taxes, or free drinks, or whatever other goodies you have in mind. I won’t take kindly to it.

I first became all high-and-mighty about this in 1976, when I was talking about the upcoming presidential contest with a colleague at the newspaper where I worked then, my first job out of college. I mentioned that I really liked Jimmy Carter, and she said she was going to vote for Gerald Ford. With real interest, I asked why. Not because I was demanding justification for a wrongheaded act. I liked Gerald Ford, and I could think of plenty of legitimate reasons that a person might chose him. I was curious which ones mattered to her.

I was completely unprepared for what she said, which went kind of like this:

Well, my husband and I studied the candidates’ positions on issues, and we sat down and did some math, and we figured out that if Carter were elected, we’d have to pay a thousand dollars more in taxes a year. So we’re both voting for Ford.

Not, I think Carter might raise taxes, and that might have a chilling effect on the economy, or even, I think Carter might raise taxes, and on people across the country who can ill afford it. No, she was talking about a very specific effect that she expected on her pocketbook. And on that basis, she was willing to choose the Leader of the Free World (we used to call the president that back during the Cold War, kids).

I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped, although I don’t think she noticed. I was shocked. I was scandalized. I couldn’t believe that anyone — much less a fellow journalist (people who love money that much generally don’t choose to become journalists, and if they do, they must have been seriously misled by somebody) could possibly sell his or her franchise in such a mercenary manner. I was even more shocked that she would tell someone that, and not show any sign of being ashamed of herself.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Didn’t I know people think like that? No, I didn’t. It had never occurred to me that people could. And even though I’ve seen a thousand times since then that her way of looking at things is WAY more common than mine, I’ve never ceased to be appalled at that point of view.

I would worry that by writing this I might insult a lot of folks out there, but I justify it by telling myself that those pragmatical souls are more likely to scoff at my utterly absurd, stuffy, priggish, and completely unrealistic notion of what politics is all about. They’ll see this post as embarrassing me, not them. And all the people whose opinions they value will agree with them on this point.

Anyway, it’s been preying on my mind that I should say something, because a lot of the Democratic candidates vying to go against Trump have a tendency to make the kinds of promises I don’t like to hear.

Meanwhile, all I hear Joe Biden promising is to save our country from Trumpism. Oh, he might have a few policy positions out there (because some people out there hound him into it), but I’m ignoring them, and that’s easy to do because his main message is the one I want to hear: He wants to restore the presidency, and the country, to something reasonable human beings can respect.

And if any of the other candidates want my vote (something I’m sure they sit up nights worrying about), I just want to let them know that I don’t want to hear any promises that would benefit me, Brad Warthen, in any way, shape or form. My conscience it just too delicate to put up with that, weird as you might think I am for saying it.

Don’t ever say I didn’t tell you that.

Yeah, I realize there may be more votes in a strategy of promising folks stuff than there is in a high-minded strategy of not offending Brad.

But I can only speak for myself…

Thoughts on the Democratic debate(s)?

July 31 debate

Last night I got a text from a friend and colleague in Columbia, asking “Are you watching the debate? I was looking for your twitter commentary.”

(Yes, some real people actually LIKE it when I riff on social media during these events, and miss it when I don’t do it. So there.)

But I wasn’t on the Twitters because a) I’m on vacation, and any time I spend on a keyboard is dedicated to something I just have to do for work or whatever (this post being a notable exception); b) it was my wife’s birthday, and we were having a family celebration; and c) having watched most of the debate the previous night (and Tweeted a bit), I was thoroughly fed up with this reality-TV mockery of our politics, and had no appetite for any more of it.

I had started Tuesday night willing to have fun with it…

…and ended up just disgusted:

So, even if I hadn’t been busy with more important things, I would not have watched Wednesday night with any, shall we say, gusto.

Anyway, today I’ve read a number of accounts of it, and I don’t think I missed much.

Here’s a summary: Joe did all right. That’s all that matters. He didn’t set the world on fire, but the consensus was that he wasn’t damaged and is unlikely to lose his dominant position in the polls — despite the increasingly desperate efforts of the wannabes to pull him down, extending to some really strategically stupid stuff like tearing down President Obama and his legacy.

For me, the only point in watching other than to make sure Joe’s OK would be to see if anyone emerges as a good backup option if he doesn’t make it. And that has not even come close to happening (based on my watching and reading). And not because my mind is closed. I’d like to have a backup plan. I don’t like not having a backup plan. I makes me uneasy. But I’m not going to lie to myself. I’m not going to pretend that someone else looks good just to ease my own mind.

Y’all know what I want. I look forward to the day that all this slapstick nonsense is over and Joe is the nominee and we can get on with the real business.

Anyway, what did y’all think?