The Greatest Nation

Traveling in Australia and New Zealand, you quickly realize that people here are incredibly interested, informed, and invested in the outcome of the American Presidential election. The result matters to them on several levels. Mostly, of course, it’s symbolic; there was little daylight between the foreign policy platforms of President Obama and the Republican nominee. But, fair or not, they tend to associate the Republican Party with the go-it-alone, “with-us-or-against-us” bluster of Bush and Reagan. These are not times that they fondly remember.

I found out the result of the election from the FM radio on a boat floating in a cove off the coast of Australia (rough life, I know). What struck me first was that the Australian news station reported the result at the top of their broadcast every hour. But mostly I was surprised by the way that they covered it: they didn’t focus on the horse race. They didn’t rattle off poll numbers or Electoral College scores.

But they did talk about Obama’s reelection in terms of issues mostly absent from the campaign trail. They talked about how America would now keep its health care law. They talked about their hope that the President would address issues of global warming—a topic that his opponent raised only as a punch line. They talked about how the government of the United States could expand policies to end discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, and how President Obama’s support for gay marriage had not hurt his electoral chances as it might have just a few years ago. They said—invoking a term usually reserved as an epithet in our own country—that America became a little more liberal that night.

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A Record to Run on and a Romney to Run From

President Obama’s first term has not been the uninterrupted tale of disappointment and broken promises that the media, his opponents, and even pessimistic liberals might have you believe. He promised to reform health care, and passed a bill that will allow the United States to finally join the club of developed nations with universal health insurance. He said he would increase the regulation of the financial sector so that we would not repeat the disaster of 2008, and signed such a bill in his second year. He pledged to cut taxes for the middle class; the stimulus and debt ceiling compromise both included tax cuts that gave struggling families a much-needed reprieve. His plan to increase standards-based educational assessment earned opposition in the primary, but his “Race to the Top” initiative set off an unprecedented wave of school reform. He vowed to end the war in Iraq; our troops are home.

He repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing gay men and women to serve their country openly, and refused to defend the shameful and unconstitutional “Defense of Marriage Act.” His administration passed laws that made it easier for women to sue for equal pay and for students to receive college loans. He dramatically increased fuel economy standards for automobiles and the regulations on coal pollution. Oil imports are at their lowest level in decades. The General Motors assembly lines that seemed at risk of forever falling silent four years ago now churn faster than ever. Osama bin Laden lies on the bottom of the Arabian Sea.

In America, we view the President as wielding near-dictatorial levels of power. We credit him for the good things that happen during his time in office, whether or not he had anything to do with them, and we blame him when things over which he has little control go wrong. This President, time and time again, has taken bold risks that—had they backfired—would have combined him to the place in history occupied by the likes of Carter and Hoover. Let us not forget that President Obama never had an honest partner in the Congressional Republicans who have held dozens of votes on repealing Obamacare but few on fixing the economy or investing in our future. This is neither an accident nor an oversight. Their only agenda is to defeat this President. If Barack Hussein Obama can win a second term despite their rancor, their disrespect, and their selfish obstructionism, they will have failed.

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Chicken Soup for the Democrat’s Soul: the State of the Senate

Although the race for the White House has received the lion’s share of political coverage this fall, the Senate has several interesting races and the news here is much better than anyone would have expected last year. If Governor Romney wins the Presidential election, the Senate will – rightly or wrongly – be the final firewall against the Tea Party Congress passing radical budgets that will gut Medicare and Social Security or laws that will increase government control of women’s reproductive rights. It will also be the only defense against President Romney nominated Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe vs. Wade.  Most of the seats up for reelection are held by Democrats, so through pure chance it seemed as though Democrats were in for some bad news. Several recent events have changed that, though.

Two of these fall into the category of male GOP candidates forgetting that women have the right to vote, and making statements about rape that were shocking. In Missouri, where Senator Claire McCaskill seemed certain to lose, Todd Akin lost 10% of his support in a single week by attempting to differentiate between “legitimate” rape and whatever other kind there is. Months later, when the controversy had all but died, Indiana candidate Richard Mourdock revived it by referring to pregnancies resulting from rape as God’s will. Mourdock, the former state treasurer, is a Tea Party candidate who successfully defeated bipartisan-minded (read: he supported reducing the number of nuclear missiles in the world) long-time Senator Richard Lugar in the primary. Had Luger been up for reelection, he almost certainly would have won. Once again, the Tea Party seems on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by selecting candidates that would make an Ayatollah proud.

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The math keeping the Obama campaign up at night

President Obama’s electoral college “firewall” is a paper tiger. Even without Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Republicans have several clear paths to victory. A change of a point or two in the polls – caused by the hurricane, a slip up, a bad jobs report, or simply the passions of the moment, could mean waving goodbye to a second Obama term.

The average of popular vote polls has Governor Romney leading by one percentage point. For better or for worse – that’ll be an issue for after the election – that number doesn’t matter more than symbolically. The electoral college, the collection of 51 winner-takes-all (except in Nebraska and Maine) popular vote competitions, tells a different story. As of now, Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight predicts that President Obama will win 295.5 electoral votes and the election by a reasonably comfortable margin. Drew Linzer of Votamatic is even more bullish. He predicts that the President will win 332 electoral votes, including those of Florida and Virginia. With little over a week left until the Presidential Election, it’s impossible not to obsess over the possible electoral college scenarios. 

Source: fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com

At this point in the race, polls have stabilized significantly. The Obama campaign has dedicated a huge proportion of its resources on Ohio and it seems to be working. Barring some huge shift before election day, it seems as if the President will carry both Ohio and Pennsylvania. Even with these states, though, there are a number of paths to a Romney victory that some recent polls have hinted at. Florida seems to have sunk into the Republican column, and Virginia – never a considered swing state before 2008 – is close to going that way as well.

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Whole binders of thoughts on the Presidential debate

Romney, with a binder full of women \\Photo credit: Reuters

Barack Obama, who apparently skipped the first debate in order to celebrate his wedding anniversary, showed up for last night’s debate. There was little similarity between the sad, defeated, petulant shell of a man from the first contest and the aggressive, feisty President that slapped Romney all over the stage at Hofstra. 

There was something unsettling about hearing Mitt Romney advocating for increased coal use, as though this were 1912 and not 2012. To make things even weirder, he referred to oil as one point as a “vast new resource” as if its wonders had just been discovered. President Obama had an excellent response here about using a combination of wind, solar, and natural gas to increase energy independence and job growth. The other interesting part of Romney’s rhetoric on energy is that he always talks about creating energy independence for North America. Every President going back to Nixon has set a goal of making the United States energy independent. For Romney to expand the area is a lowering of the goalposts, and would be significantly easier to accomplish given the vast reserves of oil in Canada and Mexico. Obama also got the better of him on gas prices: asked why gas prices had gone up so far in his time in office, Obama replied that they’d been low because of the financial collapse, and then suggested that Romney could make them low again if his deregulation triggered another one. BOOM! Policy slam!

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