Thursday, October 28, 2010

We Shall See...

These are the closing moments of the 2010 national mid-term elections. Only hours remain until the voting begins and the tallying takes place.

The dependence of the Old Media on conventional pollsters and polling may have undergone a critical test…..and possibly failed. Private polling (done for candidates’ use) remains in place, but public polling, so easily manipulated and corrupted, may have outlived its day in the communications sun. (Although it is not yet clear what would take its place.) As Sean Trende in Real Clear Politics has perceptively pointed out, so many polls depend on past voting as models for who will turn out this year, and anyone who uses 2006 or 2008 as their model is ignoring the overwhelming evidence that 2010 will create a new model. If polling reveals a widespread understatement of the Republican vote next Tuesday, his diagnosis will be proved correct.

If there is any real suspense this year, it is about the size of the vote to reject or rebuke President Obama and the policies/legislation of his administration with the Democratic congress. Almost 25% of the vote will have already been made by election day due to the new early voting procedures in most of the country.

President Obama, defying every common sense rule of politics, has said, “I’m not on the ballot, but my policies are.” His “Obamacare” legislation is perhaps the most unpopular in modern times (and growing more unpopular every day as medical insurance premium increases arrive in American households), but he has put this and his other policies on the line. He has campaigned energetically in the closing days of the campaign, but there is little evidence that his appearances and exhortations have helped his party’s cause. Democratic strategists say he helps with get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. We shall see.

Conventional wisdom has the GOP picking up 45-60 seats in the U.S. house and 6-8 U.S. senate seats as well as half a dozen governorships. Anything can happen, of course, but it is difficult to imagine any better result for the party in power. On the other hand, a few observers, including The Prairie Editor, have suggested that the actual results might be a greater rebuke of Obama/Pelosi/Reid, perhaps even an historical record for mid-term elections. We shall see.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Finish Line In Sight

There is only a bit more than one week to go before election day, 2010, and the last-minute hysteria has, not surprisingly, already begun. Voters everywhere, regardless of whom they intend to vote for, should remain calm in the face of this psychological onslaught. Allegations are everywhere. Some things do not ever change.

Democrats are taking some small encouragement from recent polls showing some movement their way in a few highly contested U.S. senate races. But a close examination of these polls, some of which are Democratic polls, does not reveal any fundamental change in the months-long trend of voters toward Republicans in general. Some Republican senatorial candidates are simply not up to the pressure and scrutiny of a statewide campaign, and they will likely fail. Delaware is the iconic example of this in 2010. An all-but-certain pick-up was transformed into an all-but-certain defeat. As former Congressman, Governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has said wisely many times, “Run to win, but win to govern.”

One of the signs that the polling ambiguities in senate races may not otherwise be indicating a true countertrend at the end of the campaign in 2010, is that the opposite is generally happening in U.S. house races, especially in contests with long-time Democratic incumbents who hold hitherto regarded “totally safe” seats. One by one, household names in the larger chamber of Congress are learning they are in trouble, or are already behind. Gubernatorial races likewise remain trending to significant GOP takeovers.

Although I have been consistently arguing the high end of overall Republican gains in this cycle, I have also expressed caution about unrealistic expectations that some Republicans may have. or that some Democrats may fear. The Democrats will still win many races, and almost certainly will win a few surprises. Control of the U.S. house very likely will switch, but control of the U.S. senate is problematic, especially since the GOP would have to win almost all the close races. It’s possible; in fact, the Democrats did this in 2006; but no one should consider it “a done deal.”

The laughable claims of desperate campaigns and candidates are now in high dudgeon. An incumbent 18-term Democratic congressman from northern Minnesota attacks his own voters during a debate, the Democratic nominee for U.S. senate in Illinois outrageously attacks his GOP opponent for “economic treason,” and the Republican nominee for U.S. senate in Delaware gets hung up in alleged witchcraftery.

Fortunately, the finish line is in sight. We will likely have a two-party government again after November 2. Both sides will need to evaluate these renewed circumstances. Tom Ridge’s advice will not ever be more pertinent as the winners figure out how to govern.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Is This Election About Consent?

So much has been written about the motivation of the voters BEFORE this year’s mid-term national elections. Some have contended that the primary phenomenon this year is the “anger” of the voters brought on by the widespread economic conditions in the U.S., including very high levels of unemployment. Others have argued that it is unhappiness with the Obama administration, including the Congress it controls, and their radical policies and legislation. Still others say that the voter dissatisfaction seen in the polls, and in special elections, is not much more than the usual reaction midway in a first presidential term, something which traditionally happens to many presidents, regardless of party.

I think we need to be careful about any final conclusions about voter motivation until we have counted the votes. There is no doubt at all that voters are unhappy, but we need to see the dimensions of their dissatisfaction before we can try to accurately diagnose what is on the mind of the American public.

If indeed this election brings historic or near-historic change only two years after President Obama was decisively elected president, and after two national elections (2006 and 2008) in which Democrats were given increasing majorities, then I think it is fair to say that the 2010 election will not have been merely a traditional off-year dip for the party in power. The losers, of course, will attempt to rationalize the results, putting blame on this or that component of the national circumstances, but a megadramatic election result would signal a very profound trespass of the American consensus.

I employ the word “consensus” carefully here because I am increasingly coming to believe that a very decisive rejection of Democratic incumbents in the Congress and in state elections across the nation would signal that voters individually and together feel they no longer consent in what their governments are doing. We can name the individual issues, i.e. rising taxes, larger government, bailouts and other interference in private business and conduct, radical and unpopular foreign policies, and so forth, but taken together, we might say that government in general, and Obama-Pelosi-Reid Democratic government specifically no longer has the “consent of the governed.”

There are legitimate arguments to defend or criticize the policies of any government, but it is a fundamental principle of the United States of America that any of its governments must have a consensus to hold power and to proceed with its agenda over time.

Since we have no votes yet counted in 2010, I am withholding any final judgments until they are tallied. All I can say at this point, with two weeks to go, is that I have not ever before seen the one-sided energy I have seen in this campaign season. Sometimes, however, appearances are not fulfilled in results. And sometimes, strong appearances are even exceeded when votes are counted.

If the morning of November 3 brings the latter, it would mean that those in charge are not merely wrong, but that they have crossed a fundamental line in our national body politic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Interregnum Ahead

The votes have not yet been counted, and no one should take the American voter for granted. It is not a certainty that Republicans will win control of one or both the U.S. house and senate, but laws of gravity tell us that Democratic losses will be great and significant in any event.

Should the GOP win control of the house of representatives, there will be a most interesting interval between the first week of November, 2010, and the first week of january 2011, when the new Congress is sworn in. This interregnum allows for critical opportunities and very high risks for both parties. This interval will happen no matter what the election results are, but if there is a changeover in control of one or both houses, there will be extraordinary temptations laid before both winners and losers.

Some Democratic leaders and many in the media have speculated that there will be a “lame duck” session of Congress in November and December in which Democrats will try to enact radical legislation they could not pass before. Republicans should only be so lucky to have their opponents try to do this. The negative reaction in the country would be enormous, and the opportunity for the Democrats to recover by 2012 would be irretrievably lost. Not only that, the effort would fail because no sane surviving Democratic member of Congress would dare to vote for such an effort. It would be political suicide. As for the many losers, Speaker Pelosi no longer would have the power ot enforce her will, nor would such losing members risk such a vote if they have any desire to run again. So forget about a lame duck session.

The Democrats would be well advised to take the results to heart, and move back to the political center as fast as they can before 2012. New leadership in both houses of Congress would be in order, and a new approach from President Obama the only viable course.

But if victorious, Republicans would be well advised to take a deep breath, tone down any gloating or promise of revenge in the new session, and put the onus on President Obama to work with them in the new year and session. After all, the voters will be sending a message, and it is the obligation of any American elected official to pay attention to the voter. Barack Obama will still be president in January, 2011, and no one is predicting that, even if a landslide in November for the GOP, that either house would be able to override his veto.

It will be a tricky chess game, then, in the period after the mid-term election, and both sides will need their best players in the game. It’s not too soon for either side to think out and plan for this possibly historic interregnum ahead.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Food Stamps vs. A Paycheck?

Newt Gingrich was in Minneapolis yesterday to campaign for the Republican candidate for governor, and to try out his new slogan for the 2010 mid-term national elections, “Food Stamps Or A Paycheck.”

Actually, he had formally introduced the slogan in his national e-mail newsletter a day earlier, and it had already provoked a response from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who accused Gingrich of going after the poor. Judging by her response, and that of local Minnesota Democratic (DFL) politicians after Gingrich’s remarks received wide TV and radio coverage in the local evening news, the slogan is working as the former Republican house speaker intended.

Pundits Stu Rothenberg and Michael Barone were in the Twin Cities the past week to tell their audiences that the 2010 elections are going very badly for President Obama and the Democrats. As readers of this page know, The Prairie Editor has been broadcasting a similar message early and often. The election of 1994 is often cited as the precedent for 2010, but there are significant differences between that year and this one, including the important fact that the party in power has been amply forewarned they are in trouble. On the other hand, as Barone points out, the economic statistics are much worse this year. Barone suggests that 2010 may be more like 1894 than 1994. That was the year the turnover in the U.S. house was well over 100 seats, and more than one-third of number of house members at that time.

It isn’t very complicated. Unemployment is high, the value of most Americans’ net worth is way down, the international situation is rife with danger, insecurity and threats. The Obama administration has created a radical and very unpopular healthcare program that will exacerbate most of our other problems.

When Mrs. Pelosi and other Democrats attack the “Food Stamps Or A Paycheck” slogan as an attack on the poor, they actually play into their opponents hands. Mr. Gingrich is not saying that there should not be food stamps, but he is saying that getting a paycheck is better than depending on food stamps. Virtually every American voter knows that, and when a political party seems more interested in defending welfare than in finding a way to create more jobs and to get the nation out of its economic doldrums, they are in more trouble than they realize.

This year’s election is not yet over, although most observers are saying to themselves “This pie is baked.” What everyone is expecting now is that the Democrats will lost lots of seats, and perhaps control of one house. That is the new conventional wisdom. What few are expecting, however, is an utter rout of the dimensions of 1894.

If Mr. Gingrich’s “Food Stamps vs. A Paycheck” get to the nub of the voters’ concerns, as I think it does, the conventional wisdom will prove wrong one more time on election day.

Now The Polls Are Really Bouncing

The most accurate polls in an election are those which are published just before election day. That makes common sense. Before that time, the most reliable polls are the internal polls which candidates pay dearly for from pollsters, and which are rarely published. Their purpose is to inform campaigns how they are doing and where their weaknesses are. Occasionally, campaigns reveal internal polls if the news is exceptionally good, and publication can help fundraising and media attention. This is particularly true of campaigns where the challenger is believed to be far behind and has no chance of winning.

An example of this is the just-revealed internal poll of GOP nominee and challenger Chip Cravaack who is running against one of the icons of U.S. house, the powerful 18-term Democratic incumbent Jim Oberstar in the Minnesota 8th district. According to this poll, Mr. Cravaack is only 3 points behind Mr. Oberstar (45-42), and within the margin of error. The pollster, Public Opinion Strategies, is a Republican firm, but generally respected. However, the poll only interviewed 300 voters, and the margin of error is at least 6%. (To be fair to Mr. Oberstar, I think at least one more poll with these kind of numbers will be necessary before his opponent’s challenge is convincing.)

Congressman Oberstar usually wins with about 60% of the vote, and is known to deliver lots of federal “groceries” to this conservative Democratic northern Minnesota district which has lots of union members, high unemployment and a severely diminishing population. The district is heavily Catholic and pro-life, and Oberstar has usually been a reliable pro-life vote in Congress. However, he not only voted for Obamacare (considered by the pro-life community as a pro-choice vote), he heavily promoted it. Another pro-life Democrat, Kathy Dahlkemper in Pennsylvania’s 3rd congressional district, also voted for Obamacare, and saw her initial double-digit lead evaporate. She is now several points behind her GOP challenger.

But this is far from the only “shocking” new polls signaling Democratic “safe” incumbents now in trouble. If history is a fair instructor, other incumbents who are “sure winners” will now discover they have a race on their hands. This will include not only many other members of the U.S. house, but senators as well. However, there are currently only five or six Democratic incumbent senators remaining who are usually considered “safe.” Of those, I sense that Senator
Wyden of Oregon and Senator Gillebrand of New York could be the next to receive unexpectedly bad poll news. Two-thirds of U.S. sentators are not up for re-election this year (and for that they should thank their political stars).

One of the reasons “safe” incumbents often ignore a wave election is that they have weak opponents. This is reasonable, but when the voters are as upset as they are this year, the qualifications and character of the challenger are often much less important than the powerful desire of voters to throw the incumbent out.

If incumbents such as Jim Oberstar lose this year, the magnitude of the GOP victory will be a whole level above the worst-case scenarios now being suggested.

It is less than four weeks to election day. The polls will now likely bounce like a ping-pong ball in a lottery number machine. The watchword for this election is “Caveat Incumbent!”

Friday, October 1, 2010

Build No New Schools?

Reading and listening to far-thinking educators, and observing the revolution now going on in high school and university education, it occurs to me to say out loud what might have been unthinkable, much less unsayable, only a few year ago, that is it may no longer necessary to build (always expensive) new junior and senior high schools, and (even more expensive) new buildings on college and university campuses.

The online education movement, these educators are saying, is the inevitable future of education. I believe them. It is not that education is any less important. In fact, it is more important than ever. It is not that good teachers are not necessary. In fact, they are more necessary than ever. The point is that the very physical structure of public and private education has been, and will continue, to be fundamentally altered in rapid sequences. The computer and its many software applications, now also evolving with astonishing velocity, is making so-called modern (and expensive) school buildings, equipment, furnishings and other paraphernalia as outdated as the one-room schoolhouse.

The economics of education, by coincidence, is reaching a seemingly insoluble crisis. The needs are greater than ever, but the cost of providing it are becoming hopelessly too great, especially for a fair and universal public education system. Taxpayers cannot reasonably be asked to contribute more. But if the costs of constructing and repairing buildings and other physical facilities for this public education is dramatically reduced or even eliminated, AND the quality of the education provided is greatly simultaneously improved, we have a fortuitous resolution.

This subject requires much more discussion than I can provide here at this time, but readers can count on my returning to this subject with specific numbers, facts, and cost savings in future columns.

Meanwhile, I encourage readers to send in their own thoughts on the subject.