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Civics 101: how we elect, and don’t elect, Presidents

It’s rare that I have any considerable daylight’s worth of disagreement with the political analysis of frequent YNN-Partner-In-Crime Harvey Kronberg, but something he said near the end of his most recent analysis on YNN caught my eye:

With all of this, there is still the opportunity for an October surprise. The classic was the indictment of Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for his role in the Iran Contra Affair just four days before Bill Clinton narrowly defeated the first President Bush in 1992.

First off, Clinton did not “narrowly” defeat Bush in 1992. In the only measure that counts – electoral votes – Clinton demolished Bush by earning almost 69% of them.

“AHA!,” I can almost hear Kronberg, and you, screeching. “But what about the popular vote??!”

Friends, I know we’ve all been brainwashed by countless national polling every single day which provides a daily – almost hourly – reminder of where things stand in the Presidential election. And for the sake of this civics lesson I’ll even set aside the fact that Clinton bested Bush by almost 6 million popular votes nationally (which, also, ain’t that narrow). But here’s the bottom line: measuring national popular votes for a Presidential candidate is about as useful a measure to the outcome of a Presidential campaign as counting dead squirrels killed in the Presidential race as a useful measure of outcome of a Presidential race. It just doesn’t count at all.

The candidate who gets 270 electoral votes or more is the candidate who wins a Presidential election, period. Therefore, the campaign with their focus on how best to win those electoral votes is the smart campaign. And the pundits who forget that fact are too lost in the national polling forest to see the electoral vote trees.

Don’t get me wrong – national polls are useful, and I’m glad I get to obsess on them every day, because I’m a dork that way. There’s no better measure of which candidate has the national momentum. But national polls only serve to estimate a national popular vote – and that is just simply not how we elect Presidents.

There are arguments which could be made that it shouldn’t be the process. But nobody can make a fact-based argument that it isn’t the process. And since that’s the process, arguing that Clinton only narrowly defeated Bush just isn’t accurate.

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Democratic National Convention day 3 recap: getting the job done

I loved Bill Clinton’s speech Wednesday night. I thought it was among the best of his life, and it came at the exact right time to stop the minor bleeding of the Democratic convention’s only mistake all week, the platform dust-up.

But I loved his speech so much that I worried then that he might over-shadow President Obama’s speech last night. I also loved Clinton’s speech so much that I wished he’d written it for Obama.

Obama’s performance last night indicated that I should have worried, because it was a close call. But I think Obama’s speech ultimately delivered what it needed to, when it needed to do it, and I think the convention ultimately did the job.

But let’s define “the job.”

The Democratic convention as a whole presented a well-rounded portrait of a Presidential man. The Republican convention presented a man who is certainly competent, but no presidential-level superstar – which only echoes the concerns Republican primary voters have had all year. For a major American political party to present a Presidential nominee  with little mention of foreign policy, with little respect for America’s military, and with scant appreciation for the country’s veterans, borders on political malfeasance.

The Romney camp is so desperate to have an election in which the sole issue is the economy that they forgot that, for any President, there’s a whole country to lead.

The contrast between the two conventions is especially stark for various key voting blocs.

For military veterans, they will not quickly forget that in the same time slot in which the Democrats opted to air their very moving tribute to them this week, the Republicans were cracking jokes about empty chairs last week.

For women, speaker after speaker this week pounded on the Republicans’ lack of respect for their rights. Certainly the Republicans excited the pro-life crowd, but did little to gain back any support which would begin to ease the gender gap of which Romney and Ryan appear very likely to be victims.

For seniors, I don’t think the Democrats ever let a full half-hour pass all week without somebody on the podium reminding Americans that the Romney camp is misleading voters on Obama’s Medicare proposals, and returning to the message that the Romney-Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it. The biggest problem for Republicans on this front? Romney-Ryan ending Medicare as we know it isn’t a message originated by the Democrats – it’s a message presented by the Wall Street Journal.

For voters watching both conventions, the Democrats were clearly more persuasive than the Republicans. No honest analyst of any ilk could credibly dispute that. The Republicans’ convention was competent – even very competent – but nothing more. The Democrats’ convention was enthusiastic, inspiring, and took the fight to the Republicans – and nothing less. To be fair, however, I bet only a small percentage of voters watched both conventions.

But at its heart, what’s the definition of “getting the job done” at a convention? These days it is solidifying the support among your own party’s voters, while attracting more than your share of undecided voters. The reason I believe the Democrats had the only convention that did that job is because the Republicans quit after the first step.

Having Ann Romney give a good speech will not get women voters back, especially when a week later Michelle Obama gives a speech worthy of blasting off into space – articulating policies which resonate with women will. The Democrats did that, and the Republicans didn’t.

Highlighting Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz will not give you a leg up among Latino voters – sharing values and priorities of interest to Latinos will. That the Republicans failed to give more than a passing mention to the military and to veterans probably put them behind the 8-ball on that, and Latinos just glancing at the Republican crowd shots undoubtedly made eyes roll nation-wide. And that’s before one even gets to the policy proposals.

Women and Latinos were the two most likely groups from which the Republicans could have cherry-picked additional support, and when the post-convention polling results are announced in the coming days, I believe they will show that their token attempts to do so failed.

But the Democrats’ passion and spunk showed that they mean it – among an electorate undoubtedly wondering if Obama and the Democrats really mean it. Vice President Biden was Republicans’ last best hope to have something to seize upon, but his stem-winder was unassailable too. And, where did THAT John Kerry come from – I never met that guy before last night?

Some conventions do not result in a significant momentum shift for a nominee or a party. Neither Obama nor McCain left their 2008 conventions with a significant bump. John Kerry even left his nominating convention with a negative bump. Ronald Reagan had a big bump, as did Bill Clinton in ’92.

The Democratic National Convention felt more like 1992 to me, so it wouldn’t surprise me if polling in the coming days shows a significant momentum advantage for Obama.

But even if I’m wrong about that, two things are clear. First, we already know that Mr. Romney’s support was flat after the conclusion of his convention – the poll results are already in. And second, it’s clear, at least to me, that Mr. Obama will leave this convention, at the very least, with a momentum surpassing Romney’s – having succeeded in reminding Americans that he’s serious about it, passionate about it, and razor-focused on it.

And that’s a pretty good deal.

Here’s what I said about all this on Fox TV in Austin last night immediately following the President’s remarks.

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Democratic National Convention, day 2 recap: los dos Presidents

Was it just yesterday, after a picture-perfect first day, when I said this?

But never fear, Republicans – we are Democrats. We are well-versed in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. We still have two nights remaining to screw something up.

Why yes, yes it was indeed just yesterday when I said that. And then the Democrats screwed something up. But Bill Clinton made sure it won’t matter, and Cecile Richards made me proud. Here’s what happened:

Bad Democrats: platform stupid human tricks

The first night of the convention was so utterly picture-perfect the Republicans could find little to moan and groan about. But since it is their sworn duty to moan and groan, they were forced to do a little reading before they went to bed, and they found two things in the party platform to complain about: God and Jerusalem.

Say what? Glad you asked. Apparently when comparing this year’s platform to the previous one, the new platform omitted the word “God.” Never mind that people who are experts on, and rather fond of God were not complaining about this. Also, never mind that the mention of God in the previous platform had nothing to do with religion, but in context was a reference to growing the middle class. And finally, never mind that the new platform has an entire section on faith. They complained. It’s their job.

The new platform also omitted a previous plank regarding support for Jerusalem being the capitol of Israel. Similar to the God thing above, never mind that pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli groups didn’t seem to be complaining about this. Also, never mind that those groups participated in the two public hearings the convention’s platform draft committee had held, and had never brought it up, despite sharing input on several other Israel-related planks of the platform. And never mind that as this dust-up gained steam, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States declined to say much about it beyond, “…bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle.” Also, never mind that no matter what the platform says, it is simply a matter of fact and record that it is, indeed, President Obama’s stated policy that Jerusalem is the capitol of Israel. And finally, never mind that it is Republican President George Bush, not the Democrats, who resisted Congressional attempts to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Never mind all that stuff. Complaints must be made, and the platform dust-up dominated convention coverage all day. The whole thing floors me, since the party platform is among the most manageable departments associated with a national convention – that Democrats were clumsy enough to give the Republicans ammo is bad enough. But when the President weighed in and directed the convention to fix the platform, the Democrats got even more clumsy.

Oh, they fixed the platform alright. Except that they forgot to mention this big plan to anybody who would vote on the fix, and when they gaveled the convention in yesterday afternoon and immediately voted to fix it, confusion reigned supreme. It looked like amateur hour.

God remained unavailable for comment regarding either platform screw-up. But Republicans, always eager to explain to us what God thinks, were in abundant supply.

Did the Republican attack work? Well, we’re discussing it here, aren’t we? It was a dumb unforced error.

Good Democrats: Big Dawg to the rescue


I bet I’ve watched Bill Clinton give 75 speeches, and I bet I’ve watched 15-20 of them in person. Never was he better than he was last night.

Clinton is the only man alive who can get away with explaining facts and figures to people and still make it interesting. He became a one-man Politifact-esque wrecking ball, and utterly demolished every major charge the Republicans leveled against President Obama at their gathering last week in Tampa. He explained the economic recovery. He explained Obama’s health care reform act. He explained why the Republicans’ proposals don’t add up. He explained the national debt. And yes, while all that all sounds pretty boring as convention fodder, he did it all so well that he had trouble getting the delegates to stop partying their asses off and laughing with him at the Republicans.

By the time Clinton finished dismembering the Republicans 48 minutes later, even the conservative talking heads on the nets were throwing in the towel.

While there were many speakers on last night’s schedule who moved delegates and TV viewers, there is no doubt that Democrats fully intended for Clinton to dominate the news cycle, and he did. Of all the national conventions I have watched or attended over the years, there are, maybe, five to eight game-changing speeches I remember. Bill Clinton’s speech last night takes its rightful place among them, and if President Obama wins re-election this fall, Clinton’s speech last night may be one reason why he does.

…and a point of personal privilege: Cecile Richards

I have known Cecile Richards for more than 20 years. I worked for her mother. I worked with her husband. Her dad – the world’s oldest practicing lawyer – and I have been, and remain, BFFs. Her oldest daughter Lily used to draw me pictures back in the day when she was a little girl, and those pictures lived on my refrigerator door and made me smile.

To sum it up, Cecile and I are acquainted.

Cecile, now the President of Planned Parenthood, showed any few remaining doubters last night that she lives in nobody’s shadow. She very articulately explained why women are, and should be, insulted by Republican efforts to go back on reproductive rights, economic or personal freedoms, and just by-God basic issues of fundamental respect. She laid out the case for the Democrats, and did it well.

I’ve spent my entire adult life being proud of, and fond of, folks in the Richards family. And I’ve never been more proud than after watching Cecile’s performance last night. Job well done, my friend.

 

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