Thursday, November 6, 2008

Say Goodnight, John

Well, there were a lot of sweaty palms in my Democratic-minded New Jersey town, but Obama, in the end, carried it off, putting a fitting and dramatic capper on this most dramatic of election seasons. I ended up, Election Night, at a party where most present were drinking the odd concoction of ginger beer and rum, causing numerous sugary hangovers the next day, no doubt, but also leading to high spirits. Each time the CNN would call a state for Obama, applause broke out, and occasionally someone would run outside, shouting at the top of his or her lungs.
I voted for Hillary in the primaries, but over the summer and fall became impressed by the way Obama handled himself as John McCain's minions got more and more vicious in their attacks on him. My Ten Dirtiest Elections list (below) now officially includes 2008, entering in position number 10, having just pushed out the election of 1828 between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. 2008 managed to pull of this come-from-behind act due mainly to McCain's post Convention campaign commercials, which continually posed the question "Who is Barack Obama?" and answering by claiming he was a terrorist-supporter, a Muslim, a socialist--essentially, an alien. I thought it was interesting when people spoke about how honorable McCain's concession speech was. I do think the guy is personally a decent man, but you can't really run a campaign in which you use vicious slurs against your opponent and not have to take some responsibility for it. These things stick. A friend of mind, out canvassing for the Democrats in Columbus, Ohio, on Election Day, ran into a McCain supporter who claimed to believe that Obama, if he won, would insist on being sworn in with a Koran. My friend did not argue with him, overlong, because the man was holding a shovel, but it shows you what I've been saying all year--that smears glom on to the susceptible like glops of napalm jelly, and burn, burn, burn.
It is with sadness that I say farewell to the Election of 2008. Looking way back to the primaries, who can forget Mick Huckabee and his dog-torturing son, Mitt "the Mutt" Romney. John Edwards Whose Name Is Forever Mud, Bill Clinton's intemperance, Hillary's New Hampshire tears, and so much more. I want to thank everyone who bought a copy of Anything for a Vote or attended one of my talks, or emailed with questions and sometimes sharp commentary. I plan on updating the book for 2012 and something tells me that new 2008 chapter will run quite long.
I can't wait to write it.

Top Ten Dirtiest American Presidential Campaigns of All Time

10) 2008: Barack Obama vs. John McCain
There’s nothing like a black man with the middle name “Hussein” running for president to get the Republican base stirred up. Assaults on Obama included calling him a socialist, a terrorist, a Muslim, and even a Jew-hater (flyers in Florida claimed that a Holocaust in Israel would ensue if he was elected). In the meantime, Republicans attempted to “purify” voter rolls of misspelled names and wrong addresses, though Democrats suspected it was an attempt to knock off minority voters. In the end, nothing worked and Obama won a historic victory with the highest percentage of voters weighing in since 1964.

9) 1960: John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon
The charismatic young Kennedy, backed by his father’s big bucks and a political organization that would stop at nothing, may have stolen this extremely close contest by manipulating the vote in Illinois and Texas.

8) 1928: Herbert Hoover vs. Al Smith
After reading about this election, most people want to take a good shower. The Republican party of the stiff-collared candidate of Middle America, Herbert Hoover, destroyed Governor Al Smith of New York by slurring his Catholic religion in every way possible. As if that wasn’t enough, they went after his wife, too.

7) 2004: George W. Bush vs. John Kerry
Extremely dirty, and possibly pilfered, the 2004 election featured attacks on Democratic candidate Kerry’s Vietnam war service, which were as scurrilous as they were effective. Republican operatives may have stolen the vote in Ohio, putting incumbent George Bush back in office for another four years.

6) 1988: George H. W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis
Although 1988 did not feature a stolen election—no way, even in the most honest of contests, would Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis have beaten President George H. W. Bush—it is probably one of the sleaziest and most racist on record. Dukakis was ridiculed in Republican attack ads as a wimp who had allowed a black criminal on weekend furlough to go on a rampage of rape and violence.

5) 1972: Richard Nixon vs. George McGovern
The Republican incumbent Nixon brought out all the heavy guns here—dirty tricks to sow divisiveness among Democratic incumbents in the primaries, race-baiting, IRS intimidation of Democratic bigwigs, the Enemies List, press manipulation, and, of course, the Watergate burglary by the Special Investigations Unit, aka “the Plumbers.”

4) 1800: Thomas Jefferson vs. John Adams
Way back in only the third election ever held in this country, Thomas Jefferson of the Republicans and John Adams of the Federalists went at it tooth and nail, with Republicans hiring

hack writers to attack the incumbent Adams as a “hideous hermaphroditical character,” whatever
that means, and Federalists claiming that Jefferson slept with slaves. The close election was
thrown into the House of Representatives, where Jefferson almost certainly made a secret deal to win it.

3) 2000: George W. Bush vs. Al Gore
Surprisingly, not the low-down dirtiest election on record, but pretty bad, with Republicans acting in a truly narrow, partisan fashion at every stage to subvert the democratic process and hand victory to George W. Bush.

2) 1964: Lyndon Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater
Not as well known as Nixon’s 1972 dirty tricks election, Johnson’s 1964 win over Goldwater featured the cynical manufacturing of anti-Goldwater stories planted with gullible reporters; children’s coloring books portraying Goldwater as a Klansman; CIA invasion of Goldwater’s campaign; and FBI bugging of Goldwater’s campaign plane.

1) 1876: Rutherford Hayes vs. Samuel Tilden
This is the granddaddy of them all: a truly stolen election in which Republicans turned defeat into victory for Rutherford Hayes by counting Democratic votes as their own in three Southern states. Both parties used violence to intimidate former black slaves for their votes. And not to mention that Republicans extorted 2% of the salaries of Federal employees to aid in their campaign efforts, or that Democrats accused Hayes of shooting his mother and robbing the dead, or that Republicans claimed that Samuel Tilden suffered from a venereal disease.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day notes

Tuesday, November 4, dawned warm and grey-ish here in New Jersey, but now (1 pm) we have a little quiet sun filtering down. Last night my daughter Carson had a sleepover here with her friend Emma (both girls are 9) and the whispering and giggling went on until after midnight. My wife and I rose groggily at 6 AM--of course, the girls were already awake. No school today, so the plan was for my wife to vote, then head into NYC to work while I took the girls with me to vote. Emma's mother and father are German and Irish citizens, respectively, so Emma hasn't been with them to American polling places and wanted to see how voting works for a school report.
My wife came back after over an hour (the elementary school we vote in is just around the corner), late for work and harried. Took a long time because the one voting machine allotted to our district was down--first time this has happened in ten years--and so they had to do paper ballots. Then they ran out of paper ballots and confusion ensued until it was determined voters could use another districts paper ballots (although not another district's voting machines).
I drove my wife to the train station and she asked me why Tuesday is the appointed election day. Started in 1845, I said. The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November was picked because it was a period when crops were in, but the really bad winter weather hadn't started. And voting on Tuesday generally meant you wouldn't have to travel on the Sabbath to get to your polling place.
Took the girls out to breakfast at our local diner. Quite crowded and much buzzing excitement. CNN in the background, showing Obama voting, along with his daughters. His machine (of the optical scanner variety) wasn't broken, but it took him quite a long time to fill in his ballot. Emma, who is running for Student Council vice-president at her and Carson's elementary school, asked me if Obama could vote for himself. I said not only could, but certainly did, at which point she looked quite thoughtful.
Then it was off to the polls, where, judging from what I had been hearing, I expected long lines. But actually not bad. The district 19 voting machine was not yet working--they were expecting a technician momentarily--so we had to fill out paper ballots. This was a bit disappointing to me -- I like the rush of pushing buttons behind curtains--but Emma and Carson helped me darken the appropriate circles with pencil, and off we went. Total time: 20 minutes.
Tonight...two different election parties and then we all collapse. More later.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trick or Treat!

Well, it has at last arrived, ladies and gerts, Election Day eve. Following so close upon Halloween, and having its own contingent of dirty tricks, Election Day always reminds me of that spookiest of holidays. Down the street from me in my little and solidly Democratic New Jersey town, a woman has planted several "Democrats for McCain" signs (huh?) on her front lawn, only to see them repeatedly torn down, just one local sign of election nastiness. I see that today she has planted another sign with a smiley face telling sign vandals to "smile" because she has installed a hidden camera which will catch them in the act.
Of course, it is doubtful that someone with a hidden camera would actually tell people she had one, but I appreciate the effort it takes to be a McCain supporter in an Obama town. Our children are so indoctrinated my daughter refused to "Trick or treat" at a home with a McCain/Palin sign (of course by that time she was quite satiated with candy) and her elementary school straw vote was 336 Obama, 11 McCain. But in other parts of the country where the race is a lot closer, there will be lots of tricks going on--and quite dirty ones. This election, which started out in relatively tame fashion, has now broken into my Top Ten Dirtiest American Presidential Elections list, mainly on the strength of the Republican attacks on Barack Obama over the last few weeks. While Obama contents himself with simply misrepresenting some of McCain's ideas and programs, McCain is going in for character assassination on a scale we haven't seen since Lee Atwater's "Willie Horton" attacks on Michael Dukakis in 1988. Obama is a socialist, Obama is alien, Obama is a stranger--Obama will create a "new Holocaust" for Jews (as one Florida flyer put it recently) if elected.
Most polls right now have the Democratic candidate seven points up, but anyone who has followed American elections knows that tomorrow, as ghosts and spirits walk abroad across the electoral landscape, anything can happen.
Stay tuned.....

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Great Wheat

Well, Obama's half an hour last night was not as excruciating as it could have been. Definitely slick and well-produced and it gathered power along the way, although I am inherently suspicious of any political ad which begins with waving fields of wheat. I mean, is there not another symbol for the Republic than this one? And, as with many large-scale Obama productions, there is an odd sense of grandeur not, quite, befitting a Democratic candidate.
However, one will take grandeur, even pomp, over much of the muck being thrown around out there in these last days before the election. I have not seen the likes of it since the 1960s, when violent-minded conservative crowds assailed war protesters and liberal Democrats as unpatriotic Commies. It's both breathtaking and dangerous, but I think we may now be experiencing an earthquake: those haters out there yelling slogans, instigated by some of the nastiest Republican campaign rhetoric since 1988, are not the Silent Majority, but the Vocal Minority. The Silent Majority are voting and it looks like they're not going to vote for McCain.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back off the Road

And what a long, strange trip it's been, talking at the country's colleges about dirty tricks in American politics. From Auburn to Iowa, from Massachusetts to Wyoming, with a slide show full of campaign commercials (such as the ones Errol Morris is talking about in his informative NY Times piece today) and a desire to show people that today's election is nothing compared to what was going on way back in the distant past, such as 1988!
Flashes from the road--the Libertarian party student at Virginia Tech who set up his table full of brochures which looked like they had been printed up in the 1980s...and who wanted to go back to the old pre-1800 system of voting, except expand it to the masses, two votes per voter, one for pres, one for vice-pres. No political parties. "Wouldn't it be nice to get two people with different views into the White House?" Uh, no....
Then there were the two black women in Alabama who came up to me and warned me that my criticism of the KKK (in the Al Smith election of 1928) might stir things up. "You have to be careful how you mention the Klan around here," they said, laughing a little and shaking their heads.
Then there was getting stuck in beautiful Laramie Wyoming airport for five hours, causing me to miss my talk at Columbus State College, in Ohio, which I was really looking forward to (sorry about that, Columbus State). If you get stuck in an airport, Laramie, more of a landing strip than an actual airport, is not the one to get stuck in. But the University of Wyoming was great. Watched the last debate ("Joe the Plumber") in a student bar there with great burgers and lots of focus on what was being said. In fact, everywhere I went, kids were really into the election. There was a good deal of indignation over the current series of McCain attack ads, although at the same time, there were doubts about Obama and his lack of experience.....
Back here in my solidly Democratic town in my solidly Democratic state of New Jersey, Obama signs sprout everywhere, far more than there were Kerry signs in 2004. The Democrats, sensing victory, are pushing ahead everywhere. The campaign is getting dirtier and now may crack my top ten dirtiest elections--I will decide after election day. It isn't just the outlandish McCain attacks on Obama (next they'll be calling him Leon Trotsky) but real concerns about the amount of fighting already going on about voter registration lists, with Republicans mounting challenge after challenge to knock most Democratic voters from the rolls for technical reasons. Then there's ACORN, which has really smeared Democratic get out the vote efforts. And everywhere I went, people are afraid that by some political skullduggery there computerized votes won't count....or that there will be Florida/2000-like confusion if they are voting in a close state.
More tomorrow. I am a somewhat amazed at the Obama campaign plans to go ahead and air his 30 minute long campaign infomercial tomorrow night. In my talk, I warn against 30 minutes worth of presidential candidate talking time, citing how badly it failed for Adlai Stevenson in 1952. Naturally, Obama won't just be a talking head like Stevenson was --plenty of video and images--but this kind of thing can backfire, especially if one already considers the Obama campaign (remember the awful "seal" and the strange Grecian columns at the convention?) a tad pompous....

Saturday, October 4, 2008

On the Road

Back now from Springfield, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky, where I spoke at Wittenberg College and University of Northern Kentucky, respectively. The students and faculty at both places were great (thanks to Nate, Maureen, Casey, Alex and Josh) as were the community members who turned out to see the slide show and hear the talk.
I did not hear rabid expressions of allegiance to either party, interestingly. People are engaged by this election, but also somewhat puzzled and stunned, waiting, like the rest of us, to see what twist or turn it's going to take next. I was traveling in the midst of the bailout debate in Congress, with the ubiquitous newspaper of the road-weary, USA Today (free on motel check-in counters) blaring out 777 point market drops and Congressional cat-fighting. People I talked to were alarmed, but not yet panicked. Still, many (especially in Kentucky,surprisingly) told me they weren't sure just who they were going to vote for and might now decide until they walked into a polling booth.
A few miscellaneous items:
Karl Rove was coming to speak at Northern Kentucky after me--I offered to stay around and debate him, but they ushered me gently out.
Should anyone want a surreal road experience, please stay in the Drawbridge Inn in Covington, KY. it's a huge, sprawling place with a medieval theme--the Crossbow Inn, Friar Tuck Hall, etc. While I was there three different conventions were going on. There was a Church of God group, lots of kids wandering around in homespun, a reunion of crew members of a Vietnam-era aircraft carrier, and a dog show. God, war, and canines--can one ask for anything more?
Next week's schedule:
Monday: Middlesex College in Bedford, MA, for a lunch talk, then down the road to UMass Boston for an evening speech.
Wednesday: University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, Sarah Palin's alma mater
Friday: Auburn University, Montgomery, Alabama
See you there...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Interesting Time

The Chinese curse about living in interesting times is indeed pretty apropos right now. With the largest financial institutions crumbling around our ears, we have the sight of one presidential candidate heading to Washington to attempt to alleviate the crisis--or so he says--and another reluctantly trailing along. The first debate between John McCain and Barack Obama is scheduled for tonight, but John McCain may not show up if a bailout agreement has not been reached. And at this writing, early Friday AM, conservative Republicans are fighting the government's 700 billion dollar package as "socialism."
Well....there are few parallels for this in American electoral history. One things of Herbert Hoover and his horrendous presidential campaign in 1932, as the Great Depression sunk deeply in, when crowds followed him shouting "We want bread!" But Hoover was the incumbent. John McCain has unilaterally "suspended campaigning"--of course, he is politicking vigorously--and the last time that happened during a presidential contest was after Teddy Roosevelt was shot in 1912.
McCain's stance at this point only highlights what a wild card he is--this is a huge gamble on his part, as was his choice of Sarah Palin (whose dreadful interview with Katie Couric is making the rounds of the Internet). Unless he can show he is actually helping the country make progress in this crisis, his involvement here will be seen as grandstanding. Barack Obama, for his part, seems to be attempting to take the calmer, higher road, but once again, he risks appearing uninvolved or unengaged.
Tomorrow I will provide omments on the Ole Miss debate, if it happens. It is certainly one I think no political junkie will want to miss. The topic is supposed to be foreign affairs, but the economy--more and more seeming like a foreign affair--will certainly come to the fore.
In the meantime, I am doing quite a bit of traveling this month, talking at colleges on Anything for a Vote and elections present and past. Below is a list of my appearances. They are open to the public, so if you live near a school in question, check their website for details and come on by.

Wittenburg University, Ohio- Sept. 29
Northern Kentucky KT– Sept 30
Middlesex and UMASS/Boston - October 6th...
University of Idaho-October 8
Auburn University/Montgomery – October 10th
University of Wyoming-October 15
Columbus State Community College (OH) - October 16th
Virginia Tech- October 20
Hofstra University – October 23rd