Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job

From The Onion:

WASHINGTON—African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday when he was elected president of the United States of America. In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation’s broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis. As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it. Said scholar and activist Mark L. Denton, “It just goes to show you that, in this country, a black man still can’t catch a break.”

Do better

By rights I should be torn about who to support in today’s election. I’m a Jesse Ventura politically; socially liberal, fiscally conservative, uncomfortable-looking in a suit. I should want the Democrats to win to help people who need it and to stop laws trying to govern my morality. I should want the Republicans to win to keep budgets in check and, ironically, to stop laws trying to govern my morality. And yet I can’t conceive of supporting the Republicans, because they’ve demonstrated over many years far more interest in managing my bedroom than managing the government checkbook. I now know that both parties would take my money, but at least the Democrats will claim to try to help people with it; the Republicans will just give it to their friends.

So to win people like me over the Republicans needed to do two things. First, they had to show that they are what they’ve traditionally claimed to be. Second, they had to show that Democrats are what they’ve traditionally been stereotyped to be. I’m not sure how they could achieve the former – fool me once shame on you, fool me a couple of trillion times and I won’t be fooled again – but it’s what I want to see. I want to know what YOU are going to do, how YOU will fix problems (even if that’s by getting out of the way), how YOU will make me safer/richer/happier (again, even if that’s just the two words ‘limited government’). And then you can spend a little time attacking Obama as a Democrat, without being particularly negative, on issues like balanced budgets, abortion (yes, even for a liberal like me), experience (overrated, but still an issue), and standing up to the power structures in the country (what used to be a strength for McCain, and seems a weakness for Obama).

Instead what I’ve seen from the Republican side is:

    Obama thinks he’s Jesus
    Obama is a socialist (seriously, get a dictionary)
    Obama is a terrorist
    Obama knows scary people
    Obama is a political climber (imagine that from a politician)
    Obama lacks experience (I know I mentioned that above, but then you nominated Palin and killed the argument)
    Obama hates America
    Obama’s wife hates America
    Obama isn’t an American (seriously?)
    Obama hates plumbers
    Obama is a Muslim
    Obama is elitist (I love this coming from the political elites)
    Look at this Soviet/Maoist-style poster with Obama in it

And the list goes on. I understand the desire to belittle your opponent – the left certainly likes to make cheap and sometimes cruel jokes about Republicans – but I want more. If the media doesn’t want to play (I think most of the apparent bias of US media is because they’re useless, not because they’re partisan, but there’s certainly something there) then go to the people direct, or repeat yourself until they have to report on it, or shout louder, or tweak your message. Don’t lower yourself or demean yourself or stand around whining. Do better, because democracy deserves better.

New Voters

A theme that’s come up several times during Obama’s candidacy has been his appeal to young voters, and the numbers he is likely to draw in to the political process. Short-term the talk is about how this will affect the election, but the longer term implications are interesting too.

Anything that gets people involved in politics is a good thing, I think, even those things that might appear prejudiced or otherwise undesirable; challenging people’s ideas isn’t a guaranteed way of showing them that other valid ideas exist, but it’s one of the best ways. And if that involvement has been based on an inspirational figure like Obama (and whether he’s right or wrong, he’s certainly inspirational) then there’s the chance for the sort of life-long commitment that JFK inspired, and which to a lesser extent Reagan did too.

The problem I see is that Obama is a politician, and the single thing politicians do more than anything else is disappoint*. They make promises to get elected that they can’t keep. They might make these promises with the best of intentions (or not), but they’re offering things that even complete control of government won’t let them guarantee. Obama might very well have great and heartfelt intentions, but such is the adoration surrounding him that he’s likely to fail more roundly than average. Failing more because you aspire higher is nothing to be ashamed of, but when it provides the first experience many people will have of politics it has the potential to disappoint in a way that could take a generation to heal.

*This isn’t just a wild generalization – almost all politicians get voted out eventually, it’s the nature of their job

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I’ve heard a number of right-leaning commentators talk about the various paths to victory McCain might have, usually including Florida or Ohio, plus perhaps Missouri, North Carolina and others. Here’s the interesting thing. If you check out this map based on recent polling you find that Obama has 264 electoral votes pretty much tied up. What that means is that McCain can win all 4 of the states I just mentioned (which seems unlikely, but possible) and others that look more likely to go to Obama. All Obama needs is 7 votes, which he can get from a single state like Colorada where he’s ‘only’ leading the polls by 7%.

Polls can be wrong, so wrong in fact that it’s better to talk about how wrong rather than whether they are or not. And electoral-vote doesn’t get round that by aggregating many polls (they were wrong until the day before the election in 2004, for example). But listening to pundits can make you think that McCain can win if he plays his cards well; in fact it appears that he can win, but he’ll have to play all of his cards brilliantly.

(For reference, I used electoral-vote because its breakdown of states between parties is easy to grasp visually. Perhaps the best forecasting site is FiveThirtyEight, run by a guy who knows numbers).

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