Lessons Learned

November 11, 2008

Reporters secretly hate election day. Or, more appropriately, they hate the waiting on Election Day. It may have been somewhat exciting in 2000 or 2004, when the fate of the election dragged endlessly on, and people on both ideological sides waited with eager anticipation as to the outcome. This year, of course, the outcome was pretty much known when Ohio was called for Obama (hell, it was known in October), but since most decision-makers refused to grow a pair after being momentarily embarrassed by the 2000 election, they refused to take any official stance in calling the election until well past the point of obviousness. This had two unfortunate effects. The first was that newscasters had to think of something—anything—to talk about for about four hours, so there were a lot of absurd statements such as “Well, if McCain wins Oregon and Washington and one of the congressional districts in Maine, he’ll have a 50/50 shot of winning the presidency. Assuming that he also wins California. And Mars.” The second effect is that they got to play around with holograms and big floaty maps and fluorescent colors and county-by-county results and inconsequential state senate races and breaking down the voter turnout of Hispanic-Asian vegetarians over the age of 35 and anything besides declaring the quite obvious result of an Obama presidency. This must have been insufferable not only to the 200 million voters getting drunk either out of celebration or dismay, but also to the newscasters wishing they could do the same.

The elected official who calls his constituents racist rednecks can still win as long as he dumps shovelfuls of cold cash in his district. I’m not a bang-the-drum scream-from-the-mountaintops throw-the-bums-out kinda guy. I am of the opinion that the voters get the government they deserve, even if that means sending the same condescending jackass back to Congress even though he called his constituents racists and rednecks. Perhaps people in Western Pennsylvania missed that part. Jack Murtha called his constituents racists and rednecks and still was re-elected with 58% of the vote—most likely because Murtha rivals neighbor Robert Byrd in arranging the logistics of a convoy of trucks to dump dollar bills in giant flaming sinkholes all around the Johnstown area. This would register quite a bit of outrage amongst the people and the pundits if it didn’t happen in approximately 434 other House races every year.

Foreigners know as much about us as we do about them. Americans have long been painted as arrogant self-interested bullies, unconcerned about the cultures of other countries and frightfully unsympathetic to what effects our actions have on others in this world, such as the War in Iraq and the continuing existence of America’s Next Top Model. But while many Americans hold onto vague, largely inaccurate stereotypes of foreigners—such as the French being elitist, non-productive perennial objectors or the Germans being belligerent, sausage-eating awesome car manufacturers—foreigners also have inaccurate caricatures of America; George Bush being a bible-thumping cowboy, for example, or Arnold Schwarzenegger being an Austrian. Any European who visited this country would be shocked at what they find. Sure, Americans may be rich, arrogant, and woefully indifferent to the lives of others, but at least our food doesn’t taste like animal organs and raw vegetables ground together in a paste and served with subpar wine. I’m just sayin’.

The people of Minnesota are borderline insane. Now, far be it for me to be judgmental about the good people of the land of a thousand lakes, but, c’mon. Ten years ago you elect a former pro wrestler to the governor’s mansion, and as of last count you were within a few hundred votes of electing Al Franken, whose only reasonable qualification for belonging to the esteemed Senate chamber is that he is an insufferable prick. An automatic recount is triggered in Minnesota, where incumbent Norm Coleman is slightly ahead; however, as we’ve seen in the past, counting votes is negotiable when the result means sending a vaguely washed-up comedian to go make policy. Also, for the prosecution, in the case of insanity for Minnesotans: the continued popularity of Garrison Keillor.

Saturday Night Live needs to figure out what to do for the other three years every four years. Saturday Night Live has been spot-on in the election, much like they usually are every election. However, they’ve also been largely not funny the remaining three years, and I even include the seasons in which Will Ferrell was not involved as a cast member, leaving it to others to pick up his gaping void of hamming it up, mugging shamelessly on camera, and not even trying anymore. So unless Sarah Palin stars in a reality show of some sort—which, sadly, is not necessarily out of the realm of possibility—it looks like three more years of fake game shows and twelve-minute sketches about some social meme that played itself out eight months ago. This will give them plenty of time to find a cast member able to do a decent Mitt Romney or, possibly, a black cast member to do Obama.

The people want change, whatever that means. Certainly, the citizens wanted change in the sense that they were sick of the spendthrift, clumsy way in which the Bush administration handled the economy, the war, hurricanes, science, international relations, and pretty much everything except for the approximately four months after September 11th. And while this is a wildly legitimate idea, one suspects that pretty much anyone—from Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani to Kim Jong Il and the decomposing remains of Richard Nixon—could have campaigned on change and still came in at least second in New Hampshire. This is not to minimize Obama’s electoral success, but the mere combination of hope, change, non-Bushness, and ethanol subsidies is enough to propel you to the White House with remarkably little effort.

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Decision 2008: The Long, Painful Road To Something That Will Only Slightly Change How Things Will Work In Washington

November 4, 2008

Finally, in an election season that started in what seems to be around 1792, the voters will choose the next President.

Both candidates are making their last minute pitches to the American public. Despite what the polls say, there is a rather significant number of individuals who are still undecided—greater than the margin of error, the pollster’s moral equivalent of pulling out. These equivocating individuals are known in statistical terms as complete morons. That may be a bit harsh, of course, though politics has little patience for the uninitiated. There are a few exceptions as to why anyone would still not have enough information to make a decision—the Amish, for instance, or the clinically insane. The candidates are going to be bringing their message to Monday Night Football, for crying out loud, trying to latch onto the last vestige of normalcy in the public that hasn’t been inundated with small snippets of misinformation served out of context after being market tested.

Of course, given that the end-game speeches of both candidates pretty much boil down to “I mean, c’mon,” it’s easy to see why many people just want the damn thing over with.

Pundits are mixed as to whether this is a massive realignment in the political landscape or just a reaction to the combined train wreck and helium-induced self-combustion that is the last, tragic days of the Bush Administration. Some look at America and see people who yearn for health care reform, protecting the environment, and disgust with the wealthy class. Other, more realistic individuals see a vast collection of individuals who will forget about all of these things once Ashley Simpson “accidentally” flashes her hoo-ha in front of the TMZ crew.

John McCain has a desperate road ahead of him on Election Day. He is quite far behind on the polls, and is losing in nearly every battleground state. His only glint of hope is that a reasonably large number of individuals still haven’t made up their mind, and in a world where Two and a Half Men gets nominated for an Emmy anything is, indeed, possible.

Barack Obama, for his part, is campaigning like he’s already won, which in all likelihood he has. He’s reached out publicly to specific individuals, asking them to be in his administration; he’s even letting Joe Biden speak at rallies without having someone nearby with a blackjack and a tranquilizer gun. Overconfidence is always a bad thing for politicians, however; marginal supporters, assuming it’s in the bag, may be less inclined to hike it to the pools under adverse conditions, such as getting a decent tee time.

It’s also going to be an historic election regardless of the outcome. For the Democrats, nominating the first black candidate is not only symbolic but an important step in recognizing race relations in this country. If the Republicans win, there will be the first woman on a major ticket to win. It’s a far cry from 2000, when it was two white boys from Texas who won.

Of course, in Western Pennsylvania, things have turned slightly uglier than normal. Jack Murtha, a House Democrat, has been on record stating that Western Pennsylvanians are basically racist and may be willing to vote against Obama simply because he is black; after apologizing, he effectively noted that we weren’t racist but merely “redneck.” (In a world where there is an actual flourishing market for fake bull testicles to attack to your vehicle, this is probably more of a feature than a bug.) Western Pennsylvanians aren’t necessarily any more or less racist or redneck than anyone else, at least on paper, but they also tend to not be fans condescending politicians. So much so that Murtha may only win with 55% of the vote instead of 70% this time. (As an aside, Pennsylvania is one of the few states that mandate that all state liquor stores be closed today. I feel this is wrong, since if there’s any day in which you need a stiff drink, November 4th is it.)

There are pitched battles of ugliness throughout the national elections as well, particularly for the Senate. The North Carolina Senate race has turned sour, with motherly incumbent Elizabeth Dole dragging out the “all Democrats are atheists” horse and flogging it publicly, something normally discouraged in practice by the Methodist Church. The corruption trial of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who, at 1,500 years old, is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, concluded that he was guilty and effectively ceded the race to the Democrats, reducing the number of Alaskan Democrats that are not currently serving in Congress to be about 50% or so. In Minnesota, they are seriously considering electing comedian Al Franken to the Senate, an absurdity ranked only above the completely ridiculous notion that any state would elect a former professional wrestler to the governor’s office.

But on Tuesday night—or, more probably, next Friday three weeks from now when all the court challenges have been exhausted and the pundits have worn themselves out with barely-legitimate rationalizations about minutia and both Diebold and ACORN have been drug out into the public and flogged by members of the Methodist Church—we will finally know who our next President will be. In either case—whether it be the messianic Barack Obama or the underdog maverick John McCain—there are going to be lots of people getting piss-ass drunk Tuesday night. And there’s nothing quite as uniquely American as that.


Swing State Confidential

October 21, 2008

It’s late in the campaign season, which means it’s time to start crunching the numbers.

While the election has the potential to be close, it’s important to look at those states that could go either way. These are the states that the candidates are focusing on, campaigning hard for, and, most importantly in the world of politics, spending boatloads of cash in.

Many media outlets foolishly create lists of a dozen or two states, claiming such ridiculous things like Delaware might actually vote Republican or Utah might swing Democratic. And they insist on using the slightly perverse “swing state” instead of the clumsier but more accurate “vacillating morons who can’t make a proper rational decision that aligns with their cultural and economic interests.” (Iowa, I’m looking at you.)

Here is a list of the most likely swing states for this election.

Nevada
Under normal circumstances, Nevada would be a lock for the Republicans. Otherwise, it’s a nice, solid conservative state, if you don’t count all the whores and rampant gamblers. This year, however, may be a realigning year. The unions have made themselves more politically potent, Nevada’s sizable libertarian sympathies are antithesis to many of McCain’s policies, and, more importantly, while a lot of people have lost money in their 401(k), even more lost money on the Giants-Patriots game.
For McCain: The anti-government types in Nevada hate both candidates equally, but the stuff they can get away with will force them to choose and probably be more inclined for McCain. They can get away with everything in the desert from free weed and Russian Roulette, but they can’t get away from the IRS.
For Obama: Whores and rampant gamblers vote.
Wild Card: “So, I hear yous is thinkin’ ‘bout votin’ for sumbuddy. Let’s see what Jimmy the Baseball Bat has to do to get yous to change your mind.”

New Mexico
New Mexico was one of the few states to actually switch sides between 2000 and 2004, voting for Gore in the former and for Bush in the latter. While it could possibly be a result of the growing socially conservative demographics in the state, or perhaps immigration fears, most likely it’s because it looked around, saw all the red states surrounding it, and decides to assimilate, something everyone else has been urging for quite some time.
For McCain: New Mexico is Arizona looking for the cool spot on the bedsheet.
For Obama: It is a legal uncertainty whether livestock can vote.
Wild Card: It’s a question mark how many people are willing to drive about two thousand miles to the nearest voting booth.

New Hampshire
Tiny New Hampshire, nestled snugly in New England, is an outlier in an increasingly liberal part of the country. Fervently anti-tax and mostly anti-government, they have a large libertarian streak which could break for either candidate. Also, there really isn’t anything else to do in New Hampshire besides shovel snow and care about politics.
For McCain: New Hampshire loves McCain. We’re talking open-mouth, call the next day love. They also hate older brother Vermont, so may vote McCain out of spite.
For Obama: Like New Mexico, New Hampshire is looking around a sea of blue and wondering if they’ve misplaced the memo.
Wild Card: It starts snowing in New Hampshire somewhere in July of last year, and while the residents are used to hostile weather, Health Savings Accounts and Campaign Finance Reform aren’t worth getting the snow tires on for.

Virginia
A southern state by trade, this is normally a lock for the GOP. This year, however, enough of northern Virginia has converted to the Democratic Party that it’s likely it will change sides. While it’s uncertain whether the combination of government workers, contractors, and service-related jobs will translate to a permanent change to swing state status, it’s reasonably certain to be close this time. Not like, say, Chancellorsville.
For McCain: Virginia is still, technically, the South.
For Obama: The Klan doesn’t pay above GS-10.
Wild Card: I’m pretty sure they still have literacy tests.

Ohio
The heartiest of the heartland, Ohio is usually quite conservative. Like its neighbors Pennsylvania and Michigan, however, they’re slowly rusting away, shedding industrial jobs to foreign lands like Greensboro, North Carolina, where “closed shop” means “this is a private supper club.”
For McCain: They look around at Buffalo, New York and Gary, Indiana and suddenly realize things aren’t that bad.
For Obama: Voters are not only angry about the economy, they also are angry about not having any professional football teams this season.
Wild Card: Never underestimate the power of the Amish or Browns fans.

Missouri
One of the traditional bellwethers of the United States, Missouri is often held up as a microcosm of the nation as a whole. They have a demographic makeup of urbanites, minorities, and religion very close to the nation as a whole. And aside from a brief fling in the 1950’s, when they were irresponsible and young, they’re always voting for the winner.
For McCain: Missouri is the south without being southern, and west without being western. Much like the blander items on the Denny’s dinner menu. In other words, all the items on the Denny’s dinner menu.
For Obama: The one time they voted the wrong way for president was when the candidate was an intelligent, thoughtful policy wonk from Illinois with only four years experience in elective government. Whoops.
Wild Card: St. Louis may be known for original blues music, but they also have a major league hockey team. You figure it out.

Colorado
Colorado used to be a solid, Republican state where residents went to church, build log cabins in their spare time, and regularly shot their breakfast. Unfortunately for the party, much of the growth in the past decade has consisted mostly of displaced hippies looking to smoke dope, start atheist churches, and pretend like they are saving the world but in reality making it harder for people to flush their toilets. As such, it’s become increasingly progressive, and this year may be the year it finally tips and just turns into one big ski commune.
For McCain: All the members of the Colorado Black Caucus were going to attend the convention, but he couldn’t make it.
For Obama: If there is any place in America where you’ll find a hunter crouched in the woods drinking a grande marble macchiato and listening to both Phish and Martina McBride on his iPod, it’s Colorado.
Wild Card: As far as I’m concerned, the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson lives on and is more than willing to beat the crap out of you regardless of your political affiliation.

Florida
After the fiasco that was the 2000 election, all eyes have been on Florida. While 2004 was thankfully and remarkably uneventful, it was also safe for the Republicans that year. Since Florida is equal parts tourist trap and real estate developer’s scam, they’ve been hit particularly hard by the real estate collapse and economic downturn.
For McCain: People tend to vote for candidates that are like themselves. And McCain—white-haired, suspicious of teh internets, and kinda creaky—fits Florida quite well. Also, get off the lawn.
For Obama: People are leery of voting for someone older than themselves. And, seriously, these people are like a thousand years old.
Wild Card: Old people can barely master the Dollar Value Menu, let alone the butterfly ballot. Hopefully everyone cancels themselves out and we can just forget about this state altogether.