Reading the Signs

Can you read this graffiti?
Can you decode this information?
Can you work out what they’re saying to you?
Can you read the signs?
— Shriekback, “Can You Read the Signs?”

In This Week’s Sift:

Why I Want What I Want

Anybody who has read the Sift before knows that I want Obama to win and that I want substantial Democratic majorities to come in with him in the House and Senate. I want this for a very simple reason: I think this country is very seriously on the wrong track, to the point that sometimes I can barely recognize America any more. Today, my government

  • believes that it has the right to torture people
  • makes up bogus reasons to invade other countries
  • asserts that it can imprison its own citizens indefinitely without trials
  • spies on its own citizens without warrants
  • believes that the solution to any conceivable economic problem is for rich people to pay less tax and corporations to be less regulated
  • doesn’t think that the increasing concentration of wealth is a problem
  • believes that every government activity — including science and law enforcement — should serve a partisan purpose
  • doesn’t believe in separation of church and state
  • wants to divide the country into real Americans versus the rest of us
  • doesn’t believe that the people — or even the people’s elected representatives — should be allowed to know what it is doing

This, believe it or not, is the American government today. I think this is so wrong and so unendurable that I want the people responsible rejected root and branch. I don’t just want their party and their allies to lose in a wait-til-next-year way. I want them to lose in a fire-the-coach, trade-all-the-players-for-draft-picks, we-need-to-start-over way. I want the words “Bush administration” to be a conversation-stopper for generations to come. Whenever someone says, “They did it that way in the Bush administration” I want the response to be “Jesus! What was I thinking?”

Just so you understand where I’m coming from.

Now, I realize that John McCain has said, “I am not George Bush.” And I know that across the country, Republicans running for office are not asking Bush to campaign for them or even using the word Republican in their ads. But none of them have changed their basic conservative philosophy. And that — not some personal quirk of George W. Bush — is the problem. If we re-elect Republicans, none of those wrong-track things I listed above will change. And even if the Democrats have a squeaker of a win, those things will just change temporarily, until the wind starts blowing in the other direction.

Remember: The original core of the Bush administration — Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and so on — came from the Nixon administration. The whole unitary-executive theory of government is a Nixon-administration notion. Dick Cheney has spent his whole subsequent career trying to undo the restraints Congress put on the executive after Nixon. And even though the American people rejected Nixon personally, and Carter squeaked out a win over Ford, Nixon’s people made their way back to power.

I don’t want Bush’s people to ever make their way back to power. If McCain and the Republicans win, or even if they lose in a woulda-coulda-shoulda way, Bushism will rise again. That should never happen. I want 2008 to be a silver-bullet, stake-through-the-heart election for the whole Bush-Cheney way of thought. No sequels.

Just so you understand where I’m coming from.

Finally, we come down to the personal contrast between Obama and McCain. I didn’t warm up to Obama right away. I didn’t vote for him in the primary in January. It wasn’t until February or so that I started to realize that this guy is something special. He’s something we haven’t seen in the presidency in my lifetime — a strategist. Back in 2006, he and his people laid out a plan for how he was going to win the presidency, and he has carried it out. At every stage, he has been like the pool player who doesn’t just sink one shot, he sets himself up for the next shot and the one after that.

Back in April, when Hillary Clinton was pummeling him with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, and appealing to hard-working white Americans, Obama’s supporters were begging him to hit back hard — to dredge up the Bill Clinton scandals, to make a big deal out of Hillary’s enemy-fire gaffe, and throw the kitchen sink right back at her. He didn’t, because he knew he was on track. The delegate totals were piling up, and he was going to win the nomination anyway. Down the road, he knew he was going to need the Clintons and their people. (He’s got them. I attended a rally in Nashua yesterday and shook hands with Bill Clinton.)

At the convention, people were begging Obama to make Hillary his VP. He didn’t, because he knew he was on track, and he was looking ahead. Biden will fit better in an Obama administration.

This fall, he has refused to bring his campaign down to John McCain’s level. His half-hour commercial didn’t even mention McCain. It was all about the people he wants to help and how he plans to help them. When McCain yelled “socialist” Obama didn’t yell “fascist” back at him. Because he’s looking ahead. He wants to govern.

Again and again, Obama has refused to demonize people, even if it would get him a short-term advantage. He isn’t appealing to 50%-plus-one and to hell with everybody else. He hasn’t labelled part of America as “real” and the rest as … something other than real. Because he’s looking ahead. He doesn’t just want to be president, he wants to lead a united country. He wants to be something that George Bush appeared to be for a couple of days after 9-11: the president of all the people, even the ones who didn’t vote for him.

I know it’s difficult, but try to imagine having a president who thinks ahead, someone with a strategic vision of where the country should go. As commander-in-chief, John McCain would react to the news of the day. He would respond to insult with insult, attack with attack. Barack Obama will consider where he wants events to go, and how he can drive them there. He won’t be thinking about this morning’s headlines or tomorrow morning’s headlines; he’ll be looking one year, two years, ten years down the road.

Remember the speech he gave about racism? The Wright controversy wasn’t just a bad news cycle he wanted to close off; it was a teaching opportunity, a chance to appeal to our better angels, a way to make progress on an issue that has been stalled for decades.

Imagine having a president who thinks that way. What if we’d had a president like that after 9-11? When the American people were asking “Why do they hate us?” we might not have been given the self-serving answer that President Bush gave to a joint session of Congress:

They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

Instead, we might have had a real discussion about the effects of our policies, all the devilish bargains we have made over the years, and all the reasons why young Muslims might choose Bin Laden over America. We might have learned something. We might have become a better country.

We didn’t. Filled with self-righteousness, we became a worse country. We became a country that tortures, a country that starts unnecessary wars, a country that makes excuses when our “collateral damage” kills innocent people. We became a cowardly country, one that has been willing to let the government scare us into giving up one freedom after another. We became a more callous country, one that shrugs when its citizens go without health care and its middle class slips closer to poverty.

It’s got to stop.

Tomorrow is the time to draw the line. Every single vote makes a difference. I don’t care if you’re someplace like Massachusetts or California or New York where Obama is sure to win without you, or someplace like Tennessee or Utah where he won’t win even with you. This isn’t about defeating the Bush administration, it’s about burying it. If your vote makes the difference between a national plurality and a national majority, that matters. If your vote turns a 999,999-vote margin into a million-vote margin, that matters.

Drive the stake. Shoot the silver bullet. Don’t ever let this stuff rise again.

What’s Going to Happen

Obama’s going to win.

I know you’re hearing a lot of noise about how the polls are “tightening”. In reality, it’s not clear whether they are or not, and if they are, they aren’t moving nearly fast enough to turn the election to McCain. They tightened some in the week that ended with Obama’s half-hour commercial, and then they widened again until this weekend. Tremayne on OpenLeft dissects the undecideds-will-break-to-McCain theory.

In most polls, to get a McCain win you have to assume that he gets all the undecideds, plus the margin-of-error. It’s not going to happen.

Finally, there’s reason to believe that the polls favoring Obama are just better polls. Nate Silver has been looking at the cellphone effect: Of 15 recent polls, the top five for Obama all try to account for cellphone-only households, while the bottom six don’t. “Obama leads by an average of 10.0 points in the cellphone polls, versus 5.1 in the landline-only’s.”

For the reasons I gave above, that’s no reason to slack off. If we’re going to put this country back on the right track, we don’t just need a win, we need a big win. The bigger the better.

As for Senate races, Nate Silver thinks the only real cliff-hanger is Franken-Coleman in Minnesota, which he thinks tilts in Franken’s direction. He sees the Democrats picking up seven other seats: Warner in Virginia, the Udalls in New Mexico and Colorado, Begich in Alaska, Shaheen in New Hampshire, Merkley in Oregon, and Hagan in North Carolina. If Franken wins, that brings the Democratic total to 59 (if you count the independents Sanders and Lieberman, who currently caucus with the Democrats). To get to the filibuster-proof 60, Democrats would have to knock off either Chambliss in Georgia, McConnell in Kentucky, or Wicker in Mississippi, which Nate doesn’t think is going to happen.

Electoral College Math

A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. The states carried by both Gore and Kerry amount to 248 electoral votes. Of those states, McCain has given up everywhere but Pennsylvania (21 votes). So essentially Obama starts with 227 votes in the bag.

Next look at the states won by either Gore (New Mexico – 5; Iowa – 7) or Kerry (New Hampshire – 4). OpenLeft’s poll-averager gives Obama a double-digit lead in all three states. The more conservative-leaning Real Clear Politics site has New Mexico at a 7.5% margin and the rest higher. Obama’s going to take all three of them, bringing his total to 243.

Now we get to the five states that Nate Silver believes decide the election: Virginia (13), Colorado (9), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), and Nevada (5). Obama needs 27 votes out of this group. Any two of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio do the trick, and Virginia-Colorado-Nevada does it even if Obama loses Pennsylvania and Ohio. Pennsylvania-Nevada gets Obama to 269, a tie, from which position he probably wins in the House of Representatives.

OpenLeft (7.5%) and RCP (7.6%) both rate Pennsylvania as the most likely of these states to go for Obama. That gets him to 264. (These are the 264 “strong Obama” votes on as of Monday noon.) OpenLeft has Colorado (7.4%) almost as likely to put him over the top, but RCP has Nevada (6.2%), and then Colorado (5.5%). Both poll-averages give Obama an advantage in all five states. If he gets all of them, he’d be at 311.

Going outside that group you find Obama with a 2-2.5% lead in Florida (27) and even-or-better in North Carolina (15). He’s also got an outside shot in Missouri (11), North Dakota (3), Indiana (11), Arizona (10), Georgia (15), and Montana (3). This is landslide territory. If he got all of these states, he’d win 406-132.

My Election-Night Simulation

Using the DailyKos electoral-vote-tracking map and the Swing-State Project’s poll-closing map, I imagined how Election Night might go and what to watch for at various points in the evening. All times are Eastern.

On Tuesday night, look up results here. Nate Silver does his own hour-by-hour.

Before the polls close. Exit polls start becoming available to insiders well before the polls close. Now, in 2004 those early exit polls didn’t match the final vote tallies, so nobody is going to go too far out on the limb based on them. But they do generally say something meaningful. And while the TV talking-heads are committed to withhold the exit-poll results until the polls close, they’re not committed to say things that will make them look foolish later on. So you can sometimes get an idea what the exit polls say by listening to how the pundits hedge their bets.

This is a good time to listen to Fox News if you can stand it, because the big clue in this prior-to-closing banter is whether Republican pundits start setting up the spin for their loss. If moderate Republicans are talking about what a drag Palin was on the ticket or religious-right types are saying how McCain never really was one of them, you’ll know the exit polls are good for Obama. But if they’re all saying that it’s not over until it’s over, then the exit polls are good for McCain. If you can’t stand to watch Fox, listen for whether liberal pundits go on-and-on about Obama’s amazing “ground game“. That means he’s winning.

7 p.m. The real action starts at 7, when polls close in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Vermont, and Virginia. Vermont goes immediately to Obama, Kentucky to McCain. Which of the other three is called first is your first real sign of who’s going to win and how big. If Obama gets Virginia, it’s hard to see how McCain will stop him. If he gets it early and easily, Obama could have a landslide. But if Virginia is too close to call while Georgia goes easily to McCain and Indiana is leaning to McCain, it’s going to be a long night. My best guess: Fairly soon we see Obama 16, McCain 23; Indiana too close to call. If Virginia can’t close its polls on time because of heavy turnout, that’s a good sign for Obama too.

The Senate races in Georgia and Kentucky are important to watch. If they go Republican, probably the Democrats don’t get 60 votes in the Senate.

7:30 p.m. Ohio, North Carolina, West Virginia. None of them are called right away. If McCain loses any of them, it’s over.

8 p.m. A long list of states worth 171 electoral votes. Obama goes up by 95-61, with Pennsylvania, Florida, and Missouri joining the ranks of the uncalled. West Virginia gets called for McCain.

8:30 p.m. Arkansas goes for McCain. 95-67

9 p.m. A bunch of big easy states like Texas and New York. 172-127. Arizona and Colorado too close. Watch for who wins the Minnesota Senate race.

9-10 p.m. Some of the too-close early states start coming in. Ohio and Pennsylvania for Obama. 213-127. If that’s true, it’s just a matter of time.

10 p.m. Iowa for Obama. Utah for McCain. Montana, Nevada too close. 220-132. Indiana or North Carolina might come in about now, but I can’t guess which way they’ll go.

11 p.m. California comes in for Obama with its 55 votes. That’s 275. Obama wins. I plan to drink a glass of champagne and go to bed.

Short Notes

The ugliest ad in the country this cycle has got to be the Elizabeth Dole “Promises” ad, where she tries to tie her Presbyterian Sunday-school-teacher opponent Kay Hagan to atheism. Fortunately, she got slammed hard for doing it, both by the North Carolina press and in a powerful counterpunch by Hagan: “My campaign is about creating jobs and fixing our economy, not bearing false witness against fellow Christians.”

North Carolina also has one of the funniest get-out-the-vote ads. The gist of it is that all those other idiots are going to vote, so you’d better vote too.

One reason to stay up past 11 is to see how the California same-sex-marriage proposition comes out. The Yes-on-8 (anti-gay) forces make their case here and here. (It’s basically a natural-law argument. I’m generally skeptical of natural-law arguments, because it’s so easy to confuse what’s natural with how-I-was-brought-up. There was a time when people thought it was unnatural for women to vote.) Samuel L. Jackson does a No-on-8 ad. Far and away the creepiest ad of the campaign is this one.

A close second to Dole’s atheist attack is McCain’s attempt to tie Obama to Palestinian-American scholar Rashid Khalidi. Unlike Bill Ayers, the only suspicious thing about Khalidi is that he’s an Arab. His books look at the Middle East from a Palestinian point of view, which is only objectionable if you believe that Palestinians have no right to have a point of view. (If I sound like I have an ax to grind here, I do. I covered the talk Khalidi gave to the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in 2007. I liked it.)

Anyway, Obama and Khalidi were on the University of Chicago faculty at the same time, and Obama went to the going-away dinner held before Khalidi left for his current post as director of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute. Apparently they used to talk, though there’s no indication that Obama agreed with Khalidi about Israel/Palestine issues.

Juan Cole weighs in on this.

Dick Cheney’s less-than-coveted endorsement went to McCain. Obama immediately put out an ad making sure the event didn’t go unnoticed.

Add this to the list of things Sarah Palin doesn’t understand: the First Amendment. Media criticism of her negative campaigning makes her fear for the future of “First Amendment rights”. Steve Benen explains.

The Justice Department, to its credit, ignored President Bush’s push to get involved in voter suppression in Ohio. TPM summarizes voter-suppression efforts state-by-state. Politico finally notices that there’s no evidence behind the vote-fraud charges that voter suppression is supposed to deal with. And Richard Hasan suggests that private organizations like ACORN could get out of the voter-registration business if the government would just do it right.

Fun stuff: McCain on SNL. A human Obama logo in Anchorage. Two Canadian comedians play a prank on Sarah Palin, and another hockey mom sings an “Evita” song to her. A panel worries about losing the true meaning of Halloween. The James Rocket looks at the Obama logo and sees donuts and bacon.

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