Even by off-cycle election standards, this was an odd one. Perhaps it’s just payback for such a good election last year. I’ll trade watching Chris Christie do his Sopranos impression for never having had to listen to this:
It’s been just 68 days since that afternoon in Dayton, Ohio, when Senator McCain introduced me as his running mate. He is truly the maverick. He took a chance on me. I will always be grateful for that. It will be the honor of a lifetime to work him as vice president of the United States. And I pledge to govern with integrity, and goodwill, and clear conviction, and a servant’s heart.
When the Democratic Party finishes licking its wounds, I hope it learns at least one lesson: when you win an election, you are expected to do something. Asking the genie for three more wishes is not something.
Let’s think of the past year. What were the issues:
- Financial system;
- Health care;
- Global warming;
- Energy policy;
- Employee Free Choice Act;
- Immigration reform;
- Gay rights;
- War in Iraq;
- War in Afghanistan;
- Renegotiating NAFTA/WTO
Is that a broad enough list? And what did the Obama Administration do to make its way through it?
- Economy: Passed the stimulus bill after caving to Republican demands that it be focused on tax cuts. Took over GM and Chrysler in a sweetheart deal for the unions. Introduced Cash for Clunkers, which was poorly conceived and administered even worse. No signature “WPA for the new millenium” program.
- Financial system. Took the Bush idea of massive bailouts for the large banks and ran with it. Became obsessed with talking up the stock market. Took no action that it felt comfortable explaining to the public. Watched as financial sector profits and contingent payments returned.
- Health care. Has refused – to the point of being downright weird – to be associated with any particular bill. Despite all parties having dun in their heels and made their positions clear, has not pushed through a vote, or even promised to sanction non-cooperative Congressmen.
- Global warming. No treaties, no carbon tax, no cap and trade…
- Energy policy: In favor of everything, broadly speaking, but unwilling to commit to a tax policy or other incentive scheme that would actually change something.
- Employee Free Choice Act: Backed off on card check (fortunately); the rest of the bill remains in limbo.
- Immigration reform: Doesn’t dare while the teabaggers are making noise.
- Gay rights. Says he opposes Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but is the commander in chief of a force that enforces it.
- War in Iraq: Announced a vague plan to leave at some future date. We are still there.
- War in Afghanistan: Very publicly still debating what to do. He is right to get to the right answer, but in the meantime, nothing doing.
- Iran: It was imperative to keep a low profile during the protests to make sure the Iranian government wasn’t able to claim it was repressing its people to protect against us. We could have said this, however.
- Israel/Palestine: Around before Obama got there, going to be around long after he leaves.
- Renegotiating NAFTA/WTO: Lots of talk while on the campaign trail, not a peep as president.
Until the Democrats demonstrate that they can do something bold and positive in power, every election will be won or lost by the candidate’s likability. In Obama’s case, he may be personally so popular that he can win an election against a Palin/Armey ticket, but the candidates who are neither famous nor magnetic need a record of results.
Election By Election
New Jersey Governor
Most high-tax states have some structural reason their costs increase faster than their revenues, and New Jersey is no exception. As Bob Menendez pointed out on the Daily Show, over five hundred distinct townships is an invitation for fraud and outrageous government expenses…and that’s before the simple explanation that once corruption sets in, it is incredibly difficult to root it out. Furthermore, the distributor of tax revenues – essentially the State Supreme Court – has no management of the way the money gets spent at the school district level, which has some peculiar if predictable results:
Perhaps the best example of the court’s profligacy is Asbury Park. With beautiful beaches and historic downtown served by a train line to Manhattan, the city could rank among the most desirable destinations on the coast. But a succession of corrupt and incompetent administrations turned the town into a wasteland…The public schools produce dismal test scores. Yet thanks to the court they are subsidized at almost incomprehensible levels. The city gets $29,895 per-pupil annually in education aid from the state. The total per-pupil cost exceeds $35,000 annually— enough to ship the kids off to prep schools where they would get top-notch schooling and room and board. The average per-pupil cost across the state is about $18,000.
With this backdrop, and a lousy economy, and a governor who used to be the CEO of Goldman Sachs and whose major campaign theme seemed to be that his opponent is fat, maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising to see a Republican win. Chris Christie did not run as a Palinista; he ran as a Jersey guy who was not Jon Corzine. I would have thought – hoped – that Corzine’s spending advantage and the state’s Democratic registration advantage would keep it blue, but it isn’t terribly surprising.
Creigh Deeds ran a lousy campaign against someone who ran a great one. If there is a template for Republicans, this is it: a guy with a degree from Pat Robertson’s Regent who genuinely believes that the government should block contraception and restrict access to divorce ran for statewide office as an optimistic, easygoing guy with no ties to outside nutters. And won big.
New York Mayor
This one I don’t understand. Mike Bloomberg is the best NY mayor since Fiorello La Guardia and presides over a city that is so different from the Dinkins-era dystopia that few can even remember what bad looks like. He strong-armed the City Council into changing the term limits law and next thing you know barely squeaks out a 600bps victory when outspending his opponent 14:1. I’m not even sure Mike knows who he was running against. Registration advantage or not, how on earth did it get that close?
The comic relief of the evening. If you thought – as I did – that after the disaster in Florida in 2000 people had learned their lesson about extreme protest candidates – the median voter theory was published in 1948, people – I guess we were both wrong. Doug Hoffman, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Brick Tamland, rode a wave of support from hard-core conservatives who live in Southern districts where that sort of thing is normal. Took it all the way to the first loss for a conservative in nearly a hundred and fifty years. What a breathtaking own goal.
Maine Referendum Question 1
It seems beyond bizarre that someone would presume to have an interest in keeping two gay people from marrying. Even weirder, there are some people who seem to believe that calling the union of two gay people marriage devalues their own marriage – as though two men in Portland are going to do something a 45% divorce rate, The Bachelor, and most every Hollywood marriage could not.
However, it is also increasingly clear that there just isn’t that much support for gay marriage in the country. The No on 8 people in California ran the most inept campaign since the French entered WWII and lost. The No on 1 folks in Maine ran a good campaign that also managed to lose. It will take a while for enough people to get over their social dislike of gay people to get one of these referendums to break for justice.
Look at is this way – far more people smoke marijuana than are gay. Yet we are still working on a century of Federal marijuana bans, and while the current Administration has indicated a willingness to look the other way, full legalization seems a very long way off. It won’t happen until a behavioral/cultural issue becomes a freedom issue. But it will happen.
All in all, not a good day for the Democrats. But if the folks in DC get their acts together and start doing something with their control of the White House, Senate, and House, the Democrats can have a very different experience on the first Tuesday of 2010. Here’s hoping they get the wake-up call.