President Obama is so invested in his campaign’s early voting strategy that he became the first sitting president to cast a ballot before election day. In case you missed the subtlety of the First Lady telling you to “vote early” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the president has started doing his stump speech in front of a giant, fluorescent “Vote Early” sign. It’s basically his campaign motto.
And it’s not working. According to Gallup’s latest, Romney leads Obama among voters who have already cast their ballots:
Romney currently leads Obama 52% to 45% among voters who say they have already cast their ballots. However, that is comparable to Romney’s 51% to 46% lead among all likely voters in Gallup’s Oct. 22-28 tracking polling. At the same time, the race is tied at 49% among those who have not yet voted but still intend to vote early, suggesting these voters could cause the race to tighten. However, Romney leads 51% to 45% among the much larger group of voters who plan to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6.
The early voting race might tighten, but Romney still has a solid lead. Assuming Gallup’s 49%-49% split among early voters who haven’t cast a ballot yet, there would be no way for Obama to overtake Romney at this point.
Note that in 2008, Obama crushed John McCain in early voting, 58 percent to 40 percent:
The Obama campaign has some practice in this arena. With significantly more resources at its disposal than rival John McCain in 2008, it made banking early votes a top priority and deployed some smart campaign tactics to that end. Of those who cast early ballots in 2008, 58 percent favored Obama, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken just before Election Day, versus McCain’s 40 percent.
The Gallup poll is national, and the Obama campaign will probably argue it’s the early voters in swing states that matter. But signs aren’t good for Obama in Ohio early voting, either, at least compared to his 2008 record. At Politico, Adrian Gray writes:
I have always been a believer in data telling me the full story. Truth is, nobody knows what will happen on Election Day. But here is what we do know: 220,000 fewer Democrats have voted early in Ohio compared with 2008. And 30,000 more Republicans have cast their ballots compared with four years ago. That is a 250,000-vote net increase for a state Obama won by 260,000 votes in 2008.
Could it be that Obama’s get-out-the-vote efforts aren’t as unbeatable as we’re told?
Obama’s Early Voting Strategy Flops?
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And what has it bought us?
Last Friday, September 8th, 2017, the national debt of the United States went over $20 trillion. This compares with an estimated GDP of $19.3 trillion. For the first time in 70 years, since the immediate aftermath of World War II, the national debt exceeds 100 percent of GDP.
In other words, in the last nine years, the federal government has borrowed more money than in the previous 219 years of the government’s existence. During those 219 years, we fought three wars of unprecedented size and ferocity, numerous small wars, and suffered through six deep and prolonged depressions, including the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the greatest economic catastrophe in American history.
In the Civil War, the national debt went from $60.8 million to $2.7 billion, but it saved the Union. In the 1930’s, the debt went from $16.1 billion to $42.9 billion, but it saved the American economy. In World War II, the debt went from $42.9 billion to $269.4 billion, but it saved western civilization.
But what have we gotten for this massive latter-day rise in public indebtedness?
Exactly nothing, unless vote-buying is a virtue. Since 1970—a near half century of no great wars, no deep and abiding depressions, and extended periods of great prosperity—the national debt has gone up by a factor of 54. GDP in that period rose by a factor of only 19.
Until the 1930’s deficit spending was regarded, by both parties, as an evil, if sometimes an unavoidable one. Once the cause of the deficit spending—wars and depressions—ended, the government paid down its debt as quickly as possible. It ran 28 successive annual budget surpluses after the Civil War, reducing the debt from $2.7 billion to $961 million, while the American economy soared. After World War I, we had 11 years of surpluses, reducing the total debt by nearly 40 percent.
After World War II, while we did not pay down the debt, its increase was sharply curtailed, rising from $269.4 billion in 1946 to $286 billion in 1960, an increase of only six percent. We even ran surpluses in 1951 and 1952, at the height of the Korean War. The American GDP in those years more than doubled. This reduced the debt as a percent of GDP (the important measure of the size of the debt) from 130 percent to 57.7 percent. The debt continued to decline as a percentage of GDP in the 1960’s to 37 percent.
But budgetary discipline vanished from Washington, D.C., with the so-called Budget Control Act of 1974. It effectively removed the president as a major player in making budget decisions. (He still submits a proposed budget every year, but Congress often declares it “dead on arrival.”) The budget was now in the hands of 535 members of Congress, not one of whom represented the national interest. Instead, they represented the parochial interests of 50 states and 435 districts. Those interests are served by ever-increasing flows of federal money. And politicians are always first, last, and always in the re-election business. Self-interest forces them to bring home the bacon.
Ending the seniority system, whereby the senior member of the majority party in each congressional committee was automatically chairman, greatly exacerbated the situation. The senior members were, almost by definition, in safe seats and so could exert spending discipline for the sake of the country as a whole. Elected chairmen had to promise goodies to get elected.
And so the United States went on a gigantic, four-decade-long spending spree, not to fight a great war or depression but largely to improve the re-election prospects of members of Congress. And they paid for it with our grandchildren’s money.
Are there solutions? Sure, and simple ones, too. But implementing them won’t be easy for they involve curbing the powers of politicians and political institutions. And as that great political scientist James Madison explained, “Men love power.” They don’t surrender it easily.
Power has a "problem from hell."
People who served in the Obama administration are raiding the repositories of Holocaust memory, seeking Syrian absolution.
Earlier this month came a Holocaust Museum computational “study” that purported to prove that it was “very difficult from the beginning for the U.S. government to take effective action to prevent atrocities in Syria, even compared with other challenging policy contexts.” The study concluded that a more forceful American intervention wouldn’t have improved the situation and might have made things worse.
The museum suspended the project and scrubbed the “findings” from its website following an exposé in Tablet. It wasn’t lost on anyone that this episode came after three Obama National Security Council alumni were appointed to the museum’s Memorial Council and two others joined its staff.
Now comes Samantha Power’s tribute to Elie Wiesel in the Forward. The essay is excerpted from the former U.N. envoy’s introduction to a new edition of Wiesel’s harrowing Holocaust memoir, Night. Hers is a far more sophisticated exercise in self-absolution than the Holocaust Museum’s algorithmic shenanigans. But it is self-absolution all the same. The giveaway is that Power makes no attempt at applying Wiesel’s lessons to recent events in Syria.
The theme of Power’s essay is moral witness. “It can be hard to imagine that there was a time when the prevailing wisdom was not to bear witness,” Power asserts. “But that is precisely what it was like when Elie was writing.” The word “witness” and the phrase “bearing witness” appear five times in Power’s brief piece. Wiesel spoke out, she writes, when others—publishers, journalists, even survivors—preferred to forget or remain silent.
This is an obvious, almost banal point. Of course Wiesel bore witness! But his witness to Nazi evil had a future-tense moral purpose: to help counter other mass murderers and totalitarians. Wiesel campaigned for refuseniks trapped behind the Iron Curtain. He implored Bill Clinton to act in Bosnia. And most recently, he compared the Syrian regime and its Iranian patrons with the Nazis, asking: “How is it that Assad is still in power?” Wiesel didn’t just remember historical crimes; he decried contemporary inaction.
Samantha Power, by contrast, legitimized inaction. Having built her journalistic reputation examining America’s failure to stop mass murder in the 20th century, Power ended up lending moral cover to the Obama administration’s bystander policy on Syria (“Bystanders to Genocide” was the title of Power’s career-making 2001 Atlantic magazine report on the Clinton administration’s response to Rwanda). At the U.N., Power denounced Bashar Assad and his backers in Moscow and Tehran. But she refused to do the one honorable thing that might have jolted the Obama administration out of its moral torpor: resign.
Now she writes of Wiesel’s witnessing, as if forgetting a crime after the fact is a greater moral evil than failing to stop it at the time. In a companion interview with the Forward’s Jane Eisner, Power did mention Syria, noting that “amid the challenges associated with whether and how to intervene in Syria, we, the United States, and the world didn’t find a way to respond” to reports of industrial-scale torture in Assad’s prisons. Don’t blame us, the people who ran the executive branch when Assad’s butchery took place. It was “the United States” and “the world” that let down the Syrians.
In the months and years ahead, we can expect more such efforts at altering the moral record on Syria, including by making use of the Holocaust and Jewish memory. Those who were alive between 2011 and 2016 shouldn’t let Obama alumni get away with it. We should bear witness.
The first shots of the Republican civil war.
Maybe it was because Steve Bannon was too close to the president. Maybe he just wasn’t viewed as a worthy adversary. Whatever the reason, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist has up to now mobilized insurgencies aimed at taking down Republican incumbents unscathed by return fire. Now, following his brief stint as the right hand of the president, Bannon’s latest effort to remake the GOP in his own image is finally meeting with some resistance.
“Steve Bannon is dead wrong,” read a statement released on Wednesday evening by Steven Law, president and CEO of the Mitch McConnell-linked Senate Leadership Fund. “Every fact that has come out about James Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation has affirmed the rightness of President Trump’s decision.”
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Ostensibly, Law’s statement is aimed at comments Bannon made about former FBI Director Comey in an interview with “60 Minutes.” But Law’s comment is a dishonest one. Bannon never said what is being implied here.
“It’s been reported in the media I was adamantly opposed to that,” Bannon confirmed when pressed by Charlie Rose as to whether he agreed with Trump’s decision to terminate Comey. “I am a big believer in this city that it’s a city of institutions, not individuals. . . The FBI is the institution.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel,” he added.
“Someone said to me that you described the firing of James Comey—you’re a student of history—as the biggest mistake in political history,” Rose concluded. “That’d probably be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history,” Bannon concurred.
At no point did Bannon discuss the merits of the case against Comey; he talked only about its political implications. The former White House strategist suggested that it was dangerous to make an adversary out of an institution in Washington D.C.—particularly one as well-connected and influential as the FBI. He noted that it was a straight line from Comey’s dismissal to the establishment of a vexing and costly special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign. Finally, Bannon asserted that Comey’s removal was among the biggest explicitly political blunders a president has made in living memory. It’s hard to argue with any of that. The Senate Leadership Fund is flailing at straw men.
But why? Obviously, they see that Bannon is a threat today in a way he wasn’t yesterday, and now Bannon knows it. This broadside was fired following reports by Politico and others indicating that the former Trump aide is huddling with deep-pocketed, anti-establishmentarian donors in the effort to secure his place as kingmaker. Bannon hopes to field a slate of non-ideological Donald Trump cutouts to challenge sitting Republicans who don’t seem inclined to bend the knee before the president. Their willfulness must be punished.
That represents a direct assault on the Senate Leadership Fund, which has only one objective: to keep incumbent Republican senators, whatever they believe, in their seats. Outside of the White House but with his working links to the president reportedly intact, Bannon can’t be allowed to organize his mutineers unmolested.
In attacking Bannon, not on the merits of what he actually said but, rather, by echoing sentiments shared by much of the pro-Trump right, Law and his McConnell-backed institution are aiming at Bannon’s support among pro-Trump Republicans. Unfortunately for them, this shot across Bannon’s bow was wildly off the mark. Not only did they attack Bannon for saying something he didn’t say, they’re also going after him for believing something he likely doesn’t believe. That looks desperate, distressed, and disorganized, and it will only embolden the very people they hoped to intimidate.
The good news for the Senate Leadership Fund is that they will get many other opportunities to make up for this missed one. It is, to say the least, unlikely that Bannon has been deterred. Given his reported intention to target occasional Trump skeptics in the Senate, including Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, Nevada’s Dean Heller, and Arizona’s Jeff Flake, Bannon’s forces will be coming up against McConnell’s in the near future. For their sake, here’s hoping that by then the Senate Leadership Fund comes up with a more subtle line of attack. Otherwise, the Republican civil war will be a short one.
We all know "What Happened."
So I spent the day reading What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s simultaneously interesting and dreadful book about the 2016 campaign.
First, let us dispense with the ludicrous idea that she shouldn’t have written or published it, which was bandied about last week on social media by worried Democrats. First, she probably didn’t actually write all that much of it (she gives credit in the acknowledgments to Dan Schwerin and Megan Rooney, her campaign speechwriters, whom she describes “sitting side by side on my couch, computers on their laps, working on a piece of text”). Second, after the personal abuse she received from Donald Trump in 2016, she owed and owes him no honeymoon deference. Third, Democrats who worry her words will somehow harm their path forward are being both unkind and unjust. And finally, because in concept What Happened is a refreshing and original attempt to offer a candid assessment of a political failure from the perspective of the person who failed. Had it been good, it would have been an instant classic.
It isn’t good, but it’s bad in ways that are instructive. It turns out Mrs. Clinton does not have a gift for genuine introspection; most of her acknowledgments of error are grudging and incomplete, or accompanied by passionate self-justifications and accusations of unfair and unjust treatment at the hands of Trump, the Republicans, the media, men, racists, right-wingers, Matt Lauer, and Bernie Sanders. It’s hard to blame her for this; most of us could not examine our own faults comfortably in print. But it makes the experience of reading the book somewhat tiresome.
To say on the one hand that she won the popular vote and only lost by 77,000 votes in three states and on the other that she lost because of misogyny and racism and nativism is the stuff that would make any reader who isn’t automatically of her camp scratch his or her head in bafflement. Barack Obama won two commanding victories with absolute majorities in 2008 and 2012; how then was her defeat, the defeat of one of the whitest people in America, the result of hatred of black people? The illogic is discomfiting and circular.
She is on firmer ground when she goes after James Comey for his outrageous handling of the email investigation into her. She is right to complain bitterly that his July press conference, in which he all but alleged she had engaged in criminal behavior while announcing no charges against her, was a shocking dereliction of duty. And her argument that his late intrusion into the campaign with his October 28 letter announcing the FBI was examining new information spelled her doom cannot be dismissed.
But this is the problem with examining what happened without really examining it. You could make the claim that Hillary’s defeat was written in the cards at the very beginning of her campaign when she made Huma Abedin her closest aide. Why? Because Abedin was married to Anthony Weiner, the disgraced sex-texting former Congressman and NYC mayoral candidate whose seized-by-the-FBI laptop was the reason Comey reopened the investigation. Clinton could not have known that would happen 20 months earlier, of course. What she could and should have known is that her presidential campaign needed to be as far away from Anthony Weiner as possible because he is a human disease. As unfair as that might have been to her loyal aide Abedin, her political cause on behalf of herself, her party, and the country should have been deemed bigger than the loyalty she might owe any one person. A better and tougher campaign would have kept Abedin on the outside. That is the kind of hard-headed–even hard-hearted–decision a savvy and cool-eyed politician must make. And this is the sort of observation that a tough-minded self-examination would have offered.
She complains that she did everything she should have done and said everything people said she should have said and still lost. She offers convincing proof that this is so and openly expresses bafflement that she was not given credit for speaking to the white working class and its issues, etc. The problem that she cannot face, as her bafflement suggests, is that people didn’t believe she meant what she said, in part because what she said was an endless series of platitudes she could not convince anyone was anything more than platitudes. Whatever Trump is, he’s not platitudinous.
The most interesting part of What Happened comes when she examines the reasons Vladimir Putin had for feeling antipathetic toward her and her own growing concern about Russian intrusion into the West’s political processes. The least interesting, and the most risible, sections involve her effort to come across as a regular person who loves hot sauce (“I’ve been a fan since 1992, when I became convinced it boosted my immune system, as research now shows it does”) and occasionally eats ice cream (“One hot night in Omaha, Nebraska, I was consumed with the desire for an ice cream bar . . .[an aide] called an advance staffer, who kind picked some up from the drug store and met us at the plane on our way out of town”). The falsest moment comes when she explains why she chose to run for president again, which she unconvincingly pretends was a choice that was hard for her to make: “It was the chance to do the most good I would ever be able to do.”
Gimme a break, Tartuffe.
Obama administration follies.
It’s hard to believe Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin understood the controversy he would ignite when he answered a CNBC reporter’s question about whether he replace Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the $20 bill with the hero of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman. “Ultimately we will be looking at this issue,” he said. “It’s not something I’m focused on at the moment.”
“People have been on the bills for a long period of time,” he continued. “And this is something we will consider. Right now, we’ve got a lot more important issues to focus on.”
Given the Trump administration’s revisionist infatuation with Jackson—the controversial populist, law-breaking resettler of Native Americans, and founder of the modern Democratic Party—fears that Mnuchin might scrap Obama-era plans for the $20 are justified. Because his comments followed Donald Trump’s inexplicable refusal to offer an emphatic condemnation of the white nationalists who marched on Charlottesville, it’s equally understandable that some saw Mnuchin’s tepid words as indicative of this White House’s racial insensitivities. But the hostility that greeted his remarks hardly seems warranted.
A series of outlets reported erroneously that Mnuchin previewed his intention to scrap existing plans to print a new set of $20s, which he did not. “The Trump administration is so threatened by the existence of women [and] people of color, they can’t even acknowledge Harriet Tubman on the $20,” the pro-choice activist group NARAL tweeted. “U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may find himself dragged into the debate about America’s racial history,” Bloomberg reported. “The Trump administration and its supporters are waging a war on America’s fact-based history, so one would be naïve to expect Mnuchin to break ranks,” Daily Beast contributor Barrett Holmes Pitner wrote. Pitner then launched into an informative history of the evolution of American currency, antebellum political affinities, and the nexus of imagery and race in America—most of which seemed divorced from what Mnuchin had actually said.
The Trump administration deserves skeptical inquiry relating to its friendliness toward Jackson. That should be tempered, however, by the fact that the Treasury Secretary inherited this debate from the Obama administration and a full accounting of the last administration’s records on the matter is a complicated one.
The effort to consign Jackson’s portrait to history predates 2015, but the crusade received new life in the wake of a racist terrorist attack on African-American parishioners in Charlotte, South Carolina. That event prompted a backlash against symbols of reverence toward slave owners in American history, including Jackson. The effort to outs Jackson from the $20 culminated in an online campaign drum up support for “Women on 20s.” Over a period of 10 weeks and 600,000 votes later, Harriet Tubman emerged the victor.
Within weeks, Barack Obama Treasury Secretary Jack Lew revealed that Alexander Hamilton was to be banished from the $10 while consultations continued about the fate of the new $20. In 2013, his department determined that the $10 was the next bill slated for redesign and that plan wouldn’t be upended just because public opinion had mobilized against Jackson.
Lew appeased those who were upset by insisting that Treasury would select a woman to grace the face of the new currency note. What woman? Someone “who was a champion for our inclusive democracy,” Lew said. Rather than seem imperious or dismissive of public sentiment, Treasury began soliciting opinions and promoting the hashtag #TheNew10. Suddenly, the compelling cases against Jackson’s place of reverence disappeared. The “Woman on 20s” campaign slouched into the shadows. The activist class had been appeased. Perhaps this movement wasn’t so much about Jackson after all?
Lew could not have known that, within a handful of months, history would intervene in the form of an elite love affair with a Broadway musical “Hamilton” became a sensation, and its creators credited Barack Obama with inspiring its completion. Michelle Obama said it was the greatest piece of art she’d ever seen. Treasury backed off its intention to relegate Hamilton’s portrait to a humble place on the back of the $10. Suddenly, Jackson was a problem again.
Jackson doesn’t deserve his perch on the nation’s most widely circulated currency note. He should be removed, and Tubman is as good a figure as any to replace him. A bipartisan bill introduced by Republican Rep. John Katko and Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings would compel Mnuchin to move the $20’s redesign up ahead of the $10 and ensure Tubman notes are circulating by 2020. It would be a worthy measure. Let’s not pretend the activist class has had its eye on the prize, that Jackson and Tubman have always been the focus of their efforts, or that the mob cannot be sated by any nod in the direction of socially desirable identity politics.