Tag Archives: election

Why did we elect Obama, “the World’s Most Important Spectator”?

Summary: Today we have an article by Prof Bromwich painting a portrait of Obama. As his term slides to its end and the 2016 election begins we must learn from our experience. Yet again we elected as President someone with inadequate experience but a powerful image, as if we vote for the best float in the Memorial Day parade. So long as we remain uninvolved in the political machinery, as consumers, our elites will serve us only choices that meet their needs — not ours.

Obama: Hope


The World’s Most Important Spectator

David Bromwich (Professor of English, Yale)

London Review of Books, 2 July 2014

Reprinted with the permission of the author and LRB


The first year and a half of Barack Obama’s second term has been preternaturally unlucky. The stymied enrollments for his healthcare plan, the multiple errors of computer co-ordination that forced people to wait days or weeks in front of blank screens, marred the new faith in government the plan had been intended to affirm. Just when, around the end of April, the trouble seemed to be halfway resolved, with millions finally insured and several deadlines put off, there emerged stories of faked records of treatment and months-long waiting lists at Veterans Hospitals. It was another failure of managerial competence, in another branch of government to which Obama had professed the warmest commitment. And there has been nothing resembling a success in foreign policy to offset the embarrassments at home. The United States, which always needs to be doing something, was in no position to do much about the Russian annexation of Crimea or the conflict in Ukraine.

A common feature in all these events was that Obama himself seemed far from the scene. He was looking on, we were made to think, with concern and understanding. But in matters like these, one could easily feel that a conspicuous sign of a ‘hands-on’ president was needed. Apparently Obama was startled by the bad rollout of healthcare – shocked and dismayed like all Americans. But shouldn’t he have known more about it than most Americans? Again, the Veterans Affairs scandal was something he learned about when he read the papers, but why only then? His show of injured trust and surprise had been received more charitably on the still obscure earlier occasion when four Americans were killed in Benghazi on 11 September 2012. He was notified at the time, but he was in the middle of campaigning and left the crisis to the State Department. Absent and accounted for. Yet there has been, all along, an airy and unnerving quality about these absences. Obama launched the bombing of Libya in March 2011, having previously signaled that he intended no such action, in an emergency speech during a state visit to Brazil.

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The Republican Party is like America, and can quickly recover its strength

Summary: Today we look at the GOP, another in a series about the results of Campaign 2012.  How will the Grand Old Party respond to its defeat at the polls?  This forecast: quickly and effectively, for obvious reasons.  See links at the end to other posts in the series.

A gomboc. This is America!

A political {party} is like an American forest; you have only to cut down the old trees, and immediately new trees come up to replace them.

— Slight paraphrase of a line from the Introduction to The English Constitution by Walter Bagehot (1867)

The objected pictured to the right is a gömböc, a convex three-dimensional homogeneous self-righting body shape used by turtles, first imagined by Vladimir Arnold (1995) and developed by Gábor Domokos and Péter Várkonyi (2006). When tipped, even upside down, it returns to normal. For details see Wikipedia.


Rebuilding the GOP will move quickly (and noisily).   The problems described in the previous post are serious, but can be fixed relatively quickly. The fiscal cliff will be the stage on which this gets played out.  There are 3 factors the GOP can rely upon.

  1. The GOP has a broad large, broad base of support
  2. The GOP has a strong bench of next-gen players
  3. Republicans, like most Americans, are easily led
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. For More Information: about the Tea Party Movement

(1)  The GOP has a broad large, broad base of support

A common narrative in the media is that the US is politically divided by geography. Not so, that results from misleading state-level pictures — allocating states on an all-or-nothing basis to each party.  See the map in the previous chapter showing country-level voting, reflecting each party’s proportional strength.  Little red or blue, mostly purple, few clear regional patterns.

Nor does the Democratic Party have a large lead over the GOP.  A few percent of the popular vote decides the Presidency.  Even a poorly managed campaign by Romney, in a slowly growing economy (trends are usually more important than levels), climaxed by collapse of their new high-tech election-day get-out the-vote system — led to a (estimated) 4% loss.

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The hidden major party, the key to political control of America

Summary: Non-voters are our largest political “party”, mostly ignored by gurus in the new media. Neither the Left or Right has successfully appealed to them. The first to do so with even modest success will dominate our government, perhaps for generations.

Andrew Gelman, 8 Nov 2012

Graph of the silent plurality by Andrew Gelman (Prof Statistics & Political Science, Columbia) from his website.


  1. About our largest party…
  2. … the key to political dominance
  3. About those demographics
  4. A mass movement that captures a party
  5. This series about Campaign 2012
  6. For More Information

(1) About our largest party …

From “Refusing to vote either red or blue” by Andrew Gelman, New York Daily News, 8 November 2012 — “Some 40% of eligible voters stayed away on Tuesday or cast ballots for third-party candidates”

When it comes to public opinion, the story is different. The Democrats may well benefit in 2014 and 2016 from the anticipated slow but steady recovery of the economy over the next few years — but, as of 6 November 2012, the parties are essentially tied, with Barack Obama receiving 51% of the two-party vote, compared to Mitt Romney’s 49%, a split comparable to Al Gore’s narrow victory in 2000, Richard Nixon’s in 1968, and John Kennedy’s in 1960. Over the next few months, you will be hearing a lot about Obama’s non-mandate, and rightly so.

But here I want to talk about a slightly different split of the voting-eligible population: the approximately 30% who voted for Obama, the nearly identical number who chose Romney, and the 40% who did not vote at all or who voted for minor-party candidates.

Update from the comments: SDW points us to “Nonvoters: Who They Are, What They Think“, Pew Research, 1 November 2012.

(2) … the key to political dominance in America

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Conservatives, celebrate the historic victory you won today!

Summary:  The votes are counted. The Democratic Party defeated the GOP. The Left won a phantom victory. The Right won the real thing.  This is not the full story about the election, which has so many threads (each with its own implications). It might be the most important.  Also — see the posters at the end of the post.

It’s time to add another post to the Smackdowns Page: President Romney will prove an effective President, reshaping America for his constituents., posted in April 2012.  Romney surprised me by hiring top professionals but running an incompetent campaign, most especially by failing to move to the center after securing the nomination (this error epitomized by his choice of Ryan as VP). (Update:) Also, the economy was stronger than I anticipated (which by itself explains Obama’s win).

But that’s not the big story. There are two more important stories at work — longer in duration, larger in effect on America. Stranger and more complex than what I foresaw.

Mourn for the Left!

  1. The effect of the defeats in 2008 and 2012 on the GOP.
  2. The victory of conservatives that will change the course of America

(1)  The effect of the defeats in 2008 and 2012 on the GOP

In November 2008 I wrote that the GOP faced two choices:

Door #1:  reflection and rebuilding

This option would have been far more difficult.  What did the Grand Old Party do wrong?  How should its platform change to better express its beliefs for the 21st century?  How can it offer something to America that is more than a weak echo of the Democratic Party’s solutions, instead of policies attractive only to a small extreme?

Door #2:  Purge the Party, keeping only the faithful led by Rush and Fox

This would have two results:

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Invaluable guidance to read before you vote

Summary: Here are three excerpts from articles that perfectly express my view about the election, doing so far better than I could. Please read them in full.  This is an important election, although in different ways than believed by partisans on both sides.

Cast your ballot!



  1. The Politics of Fear“, Mark Danner, New York Review of Books, 22 November 2012
  2. Yes, Virginia, the election is almost over …“, Stephen M. Walt (Prof of international relations, Harvard), Foreign Policy,
    5 November 2012
  3. Obama, Romney & Enthusiasm“, Mike Kimel, Angry Bear, 4 November 2012
  4. Is democracy a good system of government?
  5. For More Information about Campaign 2012


(1)  The Politics of Fear” by Mark Danner
From the New York Review of Books, 22 November 2012

It’s brilliant, but too long & complex to excerpt. Please read it in full.

Mark Danner is a Professor of English, Journalism and Politics at UC Berkeley and a Professor of Foreign Affairs, Politics & the Humanities at Bard College. He currently teaches at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem. His most recent book is Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War.  His next, Torture and the Forever War, will be published in Spring 2013. See his writing and other work at his website.

(2) Yes, Virginia, the election is almost over …“, Stephen M. Walt (Prof of international relations, Harvard), Foreign Policy, 5 November 2012

What makes it easy is looking at the other side. The Romney campaign’s critique of Obama’s foreign policy is about as factually accurate as its fairy budget proposals. It’s also schizophrenic: The Romney campaign wants you to think Obama has been too hard on our allies and too easy on our foes, yet in the third debate Romney agreed with almost all of Obama’s policies. Moreover, his campaign’s reliance on a bunch of neoconservative retreads tells you he’s either craven or a bad judge of talent, and neither is an especially appealing quality for a future leader.

If you’re still undecided, all you need to do is contrast Obama’s pitch-perfect foreign tour in 2008 with the gaffe and pander-filled Romney tour last summer. On foreign policy grounds, therefore, this decision is a no-brainer.

(3) Obama, Romney & Enthusiasm“, Mike Kimel, Angry Bear, 4 November 2012 (red emphasis added):

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Putin’s ads today are those of America’s future

Elections offer choices to the people.  In modern America the choices are often fake.

  • In 1932 FDR ran as a budget-balancing fiscal conservative; in 1940 he promised to keep us out of the war he was already preparing for.
  • In 1964 Johnson ran as the peace candidate (while he prepared to expand the Vietnam War).
  • In 1968 Nixon ran not only implying he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam War, but as a conservative. In fact he continued the war, and was the 2nd or 3rd most liberal president of that century.

It’s a process of decay.  The 2008 election allowed us to choose between different candidates with almost identical policies.  That was not obvious to those that voted for Mr. Hope And Change.  Four years experience has shown that Obama’s economic and national security policies are almost identical to Bush Jr’s.

Now we have a new election, new choices.  The banality of the 2012 slogans — Romney’s “Believe in America” and Obama’s “Forward” — cannot be exceeded, and the reality-free nature of this campaign will prove difficult to top.  The news media expect little (rightly so), and cover the election as they do figure skating at the Olympics.

So what is the natural evolution of elections in the post-Constitutional era, as we slide from the Second Republic into plutocracy? We can look to Russia to see our future, where they run campaigns — but few expect anything serious from them.


In the last scene, the words on her t-shirt say  “I will tear my clothes off for Putin“.


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Understanding our political system: the how-to guide by its builders

Summary: Rarely does the news media run an article about our history that explains much about today’s America. Here’s the exception, from The New Yorker, about the origins of political consulting — and the formation of our current political system.  It was built by people who understand our weaknesses. We must understand it before planning reforms, and strengthen our minds in order to succeed.

The Founders, from The New Yorker, 9/24/2012

Excerpt from “The Lie Factory – How politics became a business” by Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, 24 September 2012.  These are just snippets from the exhaustively researched, well-written, and timely article (the quality of article that built The New Yorker’s reputation).

The opening section describes Upton Sinclair, the Democratic Party’s candidate for Governor of California in 1934, running on the slogan EPIC: “End Poverty in California”. Afterwards he wrote I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked.

In it, Sinclair described how, immediately after the Democratic Convention, the Los Angeles Times began running on its front page a box with an Upton Sinclair quotation in it, a practice that the paper continued, every day, for six weeks, until the opening of the polls. “Reading these boxes day after day,” Sinclair wrote, “I made up my mind that the election was lost.”

Sinclair got licked, he said, because the opposition ran what he called a Lie Factory. “I was told they had a dozen men searching the libraries and reading every word I had ever published.” They’d find lines he’d written, speeches of fictional characters in novels, and stick them in the paper, as if Sinclair had said them. “They had a staff of political chemists at work, preparing poisons to be let loose in the California atmosphere on every one of a hundred mornings.”

Actually, they had, at the time, a staff of only two, and the company wasn’t called the Lie Factory. It was called Campaigns, Inc …  the first political-consulting firm in the history of the world, founded in 1933 by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter.

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