Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election thoughts

Like Leap Days and the Summer Olympics, our presidential elections dance across the stage every four years. With that in mind, here are four thoughts on this election.

1. I love the idea of history being made, how these infrequent presidential election nights are remembered through the ages. My grandparents' first election was 1952, when Eisenhower got elected. My parents' first presidential election was 1976, when they voted for Carter.

I missed the 2004 election by two and a half months, so my first presidential election was 2008. Most people just get one presidential election as an undergrad, and this was a big one to have. Young voters were a key ingredient that year, and campuses always seem to buzz for big elections, with all these ambitious, hopeful young people around. I remember seeing Obama's victory speech that year, then going to the Stoney Creek Inn to hang out with a friend who had had a long day covering election stuff, and had seen his GOP have a rough go of it. Perhaps forever, elections and the Stoney Creek Inn will remind me of each other.

2. For me, the most surprising thing about the 2012 election was that Republicans seemed genuinely surprised that Romney didn't come close in the electoral vote count. As a journalist and generally a fan of bad sports teams, I've long ago separated what I WANT to happen from what I THINK will happen, but maybe this was simply wishful thinking from people who wanted their guy to win. But I think in this day and age, and with the electoral college system, experts are pretty good at projecting elections. The New York Times' Nate Silver gave Romney just a 9 percent chance of winning heading into election day. Silver looks at polls in "swing" states, and more importantly movement and trends within polls, Silver projected every state correctly, right down to Florida being brutally close but an Obama win. Some attacked Silver's methods leading up to the election, but his ridiculous success was vindication.

Never at any point Tuesday night did I think Romney would win. He never picked up a state that wasn't a sure Republican state going into the election. As one headline put it: "Moneyball has come to punditry."

3. I think America deserves (at least) two robust political options, so here's my unsolicited advice for the GOP. Two ideas. One, clear out the "crazies," as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, puts it. The far right is dragging them down. Nominating more extreme, tea party candidates has cost Republicans five Senate seats (Akin and Mourdock in 2012, Angle, O'Donnell and Buck in 2010) they definitely could have (should have?) won, which would have given them control of the Senate.

Second, modify the platform/approach. The Democratic Party was a punching bag in the 1980s and had lost five of six presidential elections before strategist James Carville said "It's the economy, stupid" and moderate, economy-minded Bill Clinton got elected in 1992. Republicans should pitch over and over the conservative tenets of leaving people alone to prosper and how they are the party of job creation. Have a stance on social issues, but don't lead with that. Maybe re-evaluate your platform on immigration. The GOP lost on Hispanics 70-30 this year. Imagine if they do that poorly again in 2016 or 2020 as Hispanic populations rise. The idea of losing Texas and/or Arizona as GOP locks should mobilize Republicans. Finding a way to get non-whites to vote Republican is key. (They kept the White House, but my tip for Democrats: Get better at deficit/debt reduction. A lot better.)

4. Most people understandably denigrate or even ignore our political system. It is certainly flawed and has plenty of unsavory characters. But it does beat the alternative. It beats dictators, elections with less integrity or waiting for Charles and Camilla to become your king and queen. I'd just ask, don't assume anyone who voted against your guy is stupid or just doesn't get it. Nearly 60 million people (last I checked) voted for Mitt Romney. That many plus about two million voted for Obama. I'm not going to say 60 million or so Americans are dumb because they disagree with me on something this nuanced. I'd hope you won't either. Obama has said he's learned from mistakes in his first term. Republican leaders seem to be understanding a need to strike a more cordial, cooperative tone as well. We'll see on both. But if you take nothing else away from all this, remember this: You control how you'll live your life, regardless of who won. Don't blame leaders, don't make excuses. Good luck.

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