Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reading good writers

For the segment of the U.S. that reads one, or two books per year, the name Michael Lewis is most likely associated with his 2001 title, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, if they’ve heard of him at all.

Moneyball was the first Michael Lewis book I’d read, and I had this to say about Lewis, the author, back in a December 2005 blog post about Moneyball:

“Lewis is a wonderful writer, who is able to transport his readers into the world of his subject matter and make you forget that you are reading a book.”

What made Moneyball such a success was Lewis’s development of his story arc about the Oakland A’s, and their general manager, Billy Beane, which in turn allowed Lewis to use his skills and abilities as a writer to make the book about how Beane and Co. turned the conventional wisdom of professional baseball on its head.

After reading Moneyball, I read up on Mr. Lewis to find out about his other books. His first book was Liar’s Poker:Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street, which describes Lewis’s four years on Wall Street, progressing from Salomon Brothers’ trainee, to a successful bond trader, and the subsequent lessons and high-roller experiences, from 1983, through the 1987 crash.

Lewis, who graduated from both Princeton and the prestigious London School of Economics, parlayed these into a financial gig at Salomon Brothers. While Lewis traded bonds by day, he worked nights and weekends as a journalist and ended up with his first book, Liar’s Poker.

I read Liar’s Poker early this fall, after seeing it on the shelves at the local library. The jacket copy was compelling, and despite the book being 20 years old, it was remarkably pertinent and not dated at all, particularly in light of all that has been happening with the markets.

While I came to Lewis’s writing via Moneyball and another great read, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, I was aware of his financial background, and had read a few finance-related articles by him.

What sets writers like Lewis apart, I think, from most, is his ability to take a subject, almost any subject, and pull the reader into the story, particularly the human element. While I was somewhat hesitant to read Liar’s Poker, thinking it would be boring, Lewis, even in his first book, and not the writer he is today, still had the qualities of a great writer, just starting out.

From a link in the comments section at Megan McArdle’s blog, I got directed to a Lewis piece in Portfolio that might be one of the best things I’ve read on the current financial meltdown, helping to frame the issue, and show Wall Street, and capitalism’s fragile natures, and how it all came crashing down.

I highly recommend reading the article. I doubt you’ll be disappointed, and you might just learn a few things you didn’t know.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Taking stock, and giving thanks

It’s late November in the northeast. Early to dark, light at a premium, with winter’s icy fingers clawing at our doorways. While ice and snow will be flying soon (we got a preview, earlier in the week, particularly to the north and west), it’s the economic storminess that concerns me the most.

I read a newspaper story on Tuesday, about how food shelters are seeing an increase in people using their services, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture study indicating that 13.3 percent of Maine families are suffering from “food insecurity”—the study’s term for hunger. Only Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas had higher percentages. Maine doesn’t make national top fives often, and this isn’t the kind of dubious honor any state is looking to have heaped on them. For those keeping score, that’s 72,086 households who at some point over three years (the study was based on a rolling average between 2005 and 2007) struggled with having ample food for their families because they couldn't afford it.

In the same story, there was a quote from Mark Swann, executive director of Portland’s Preble Street Resource Center, indicating the seriousness of this winter’s need.

"I have done this work a long time and I've always avoided and even been careful not to say the following: I've never seen things this bad," said Mark Swann, executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center.

"I have literally never seen this kind of situation, sort of a perfect storm -- terrible economy, heating costs, the housing costs, employment concerns, the significant drop in food donations, in food from the federal government."

I volunteered at Preble Street five years ago. When someone like Swann, with his wealth of experience meeting the needs of the marginalized, and someone not given to hyperbole makes a statement like that, you take notice.

Shelters like Preble Street will be jammed with folks this Thanksgiving. In Waterville, Paul Morency, who operates the Midnight Blues Club, is providing 300 in the city, with a free Thanksgiving dinner, as his way of giving back to his community. Guests will be served turkey with all the trimmings—gravy, stuffing, mashed potato, squash, cranberry sauce, rolls and desserts. Morency is hoping for a good turnout.

"The more the merrier," he said. "We'll seat everybody and some of my staff have volunteered their time to come in, and I'll be there with my family as well."

In the Skowhegan area, anonymous donors have made it possible for two restaurants to feed another 300 people Thanksgiving dinner.

At the Empire Grill, an anonymous donor surfaced with an offer to foot the bill for 140 meals. Earlier in the week an anonymous donor said he would pick up the tab for 160 dinners at the What's For Supper restaurant in nearby Norridgewock, five miles away.

I’ll be traveling to the Granite State for Thanksgiving this year. I’m thankful for quite a bit this year. A job, particularly one that I love and one where I can impact people positively. My health is good, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Life is good for me right now, but I also recognize that many others are struggling during these difficult times. Be aware of that and do what you can do to support places like Preble Street and other shelters that are helping folks through tough times in their lives.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Choice for some

While many that didn’t vote for Mr. Obama are still bitter, and some seem intent on wishing that he fails, I don’t think his failure holds much promise for our country. In fact, the first 100 days of his administration could determine whether or not he is effective as president.

I have accepted that Obama is my president, so I’m trying my damndest to be supportive of him. I want to believe that he in fact will bring change to Washington, as he promised, and that it wasn’t just another cynical campaign strategy to get elected. America needs a leader, rather than a politician at this crucial hour.

There are so many areas that require a response that’s not rooted in maintaining the status quo. Take for instance education. Every politician talks a good game. Who would ever think of running for office and being opposed to a quality education? However, talking about the need to reform or revamp education is different than actually having a policy that accomplishes that task.

When the Obamas made the decision to send their two daughters, Malia and Sasha, to Sidwell Friends, they were following in the footsteps of other prominent Washington pols—the Clintons sent Chelsea to Sidwell, as did Richard and Pat Nixon with Tricia. Al Gore’s son graduated from the school, and Joe Biden’s three granddaughters are currently attending. Both girls were attending private school in Chicago—University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

I’m all for the two Obama girls receiving a topnotch education. I’m also not unsympathetic about security issues. Given the amount of competition this apparently generated among DC’s elite institutions, it is quite apparent that there’s much more than politics at stake on this matter.

Since Mr. and Mrs. Obama are able to make choices about what’s best for their children, and I think they should be able to, shouldn’t every parent have a choice about where their son or daughter receives their education? Unfortunately, for many DC parents, they send their kids to their neighborhood public school, and that’s the end of the matter.

Interestingly, DC school's chancellor, Michelle Rhee (whose own kids attend the local public schools she oversees) could have benefited from an Obama choice bucking the usual Democrat response of private, over public. Rhee has been attracting attention for her bold efforts at trying to turn around one of the nation’s worst urban school systems. A vote of confidence (like this DC mother hoped for) coming from America’s educator in chief would have been an endorsement of the kind of leadership that many of America’s failing schools require.

Given that America’s elite, like Barack and Michelle Obama, have the choice of where their daughters go to school, and knowing the importance of education on success later in life, it would only seem fair that other DC parents were afforded some measure of choice.

According to public opinion polls, 65 percent of adult African-Americans and 63 percent of adult Hispanics favor the use of school vouchers, and more than half of minority adults give higher marks to their local police than their public schools. Yet, the number of minority students that are quitting the education system is staggering, says the National Journal.

Since a majority of minority parents favor vouchers has me hoping that the Obama administration will break from the traditional Democrat position and allow choices for other parents that may not have the means to send their kids to a school like Sidwell Friends.

Please bring the change you spoke about on the campaign trail.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saving the Big Three

There is much debate going back and forth about whether the U.S. auto industry warrants a lifeline, much like the banking industry received.

This debate isn’t about American car quality vs. foreign automakers, as some have made it. Detroit has made tremendous strides in quality, so for lawmakers, talk show hosts (like Howie Carr and others), and pundits to trash the Big Three as putting out poor quality, is to show your ignorance. On a personal note, I drive a Ford, made in the U.S. My wife owns a Toyota. Both were purchased recently, and I think in many ways, the Ford is equal in quality to my wife’s Toyota, so quality isn’t the issue here.

Secondly, U.S. manufacturing, despite huge job losses, is still a viable aspect of our economy, and to think that dumping over two million jobs, in the midst of one of our worst quarters in recent memory is asinine. How are those kind of job losses going to be positive for our economy, moving forward?

Manufacturing is a wealth-generating sector (unlike the financial services sector, which just pushes money around by keystrokes), one that few politicians know firsthand. Because most of them have never made their living with their hands, and since they deplore the people that do, I think this has more to do with Washington’s reluctance to help U.S. automakers than any other smokescreen that they are currently putting forth on Capitol Hill. It’s particularly disappointing to see Mitt Romney say that these companies should be left to their own devices, given his own family history with the automobile. For Republicans, like Romney, however, the issue is about bringing organized labor to their knees, and not bailing out the big three is a way to do that. The Democrats don’t seem particularly willing to come to labor’s aid, even though the unions have given back with concessions.

What I’d like to see happen is Congress extend some bridge loans to get the automakers through this tough patch, while at the same time, convening talks about where they need to go with R & D, particularly as it relates to new technology.

My ideas about what's best for Detroit are best summed up by Richard Posner, in a recent blog post on the subject.

A worthwhile primer on the importance of manufacturing can be found here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Changes in consumer behavior (retail shopping)

The Maine Mall in South Portland was built in 1971, near the convergence of Interstates 95 and 295. The current mall site sits smack dab in the middle of what had been a large swath of marshlands and agricultural terrain, including 137 acres of which the city of South Portland bought in 1965, with an eye towards some kind of future development. The actual mall footprint sits on the former Dwyer’s pig farm.

[Photo from USM website on history of Maine Mall]

For many living in Central and Southern Maine during the late 70s, a visit to the Maine Mall was something to look forward to, particularly for me and other youngsters of my generation. At the time, “the Mall” was Maine’s only large retail amalgam.

The mall’s anchor was Jordan Marsh, which actually opened two years prior, in 1969. The enclosed shopping mall was built adjacent and connected to Jordan Marsh and was comprised of 50 stores, including Sears and Woolworth’s. A decade later, Porteous, which had been a retail and clothing mainstay in downtown Portland, opened a mall location. This was part of an early 80s growth spurt that would see the mall double in size, with JC Penney and Filene’s also arriving.

In fact, much of the attendant sprawl that is the current Maine Mall area west of I-95/295 was perpetuated during the retail explosion in that area during the 1980s. For the past 20 years, it has continued unabated. In addition to the mall, which now has 140 stores (nearly triple its original store occupancy), the 90s brought big-box giants Home Depot, Borders, Target, and the Christmas Tree Shops to the surrounding area. Included in the retail build out are cinemas, specialty stores, a host of chain eateries, as well as office space, as the growth of sprawl has been never-ending over the past three decades.


For the past six months, my wife and I have dramatically altered our patterns of consumption. After taking stock of our finances and recognizing that strict adherence to a budget was warranted, we’ve dramatically curtailed all needless expenditures. For many Americans, the economic storm clouds on the horizon have produced a kind of paradigm shift. In addition, others are looking at foreclosures, possible credit card meltdown, or even worse, bankruptcy. All of this has produced a tsunami that threatens to swamp a retail sector that’s been propped up for decades by a smoke and mirrors economy that’s come crumbling down around all of us. Only the wealthiest Americans haven’t experienced some of the residual effects.

It’s interesting, given the litany of bad news coming across the transom, particularly the nightly news, NPR, and other MSM news sources that rather than address the systemic cause of the economic crisis, many moralizers on the right (and maybe even, the left) seek to blame members of the American middle class, as they plunge into the icy, churning waters, after their own economic shipwreck.

Elizabeth Warren, a professor of law at Harvard University, has written and lectured extensively on the economic issues afflicting the middle class. Warren attributes many of the current issues (bankruptcies, foreclosures, loan defaults) on U.S. tax policy, and the escalation of the cost of living, while recognizing that the growth of middle class income hasn’t kept up with those costs.

According to Warren, compared to 1970, in 2003, a family spent less on flexible items (clothes, food, appliances, per-car costs, etc.), but necessary expenditures had increased dramatically. In 1970, less than 50% of the family’s income was spent on the “big five” inflexibly necessary items (mortgage, health care, child care, cars, taxes). This rose to 75% of the family’s income in 2003, limiting the financial flexibility of the family and increasing the likelihood of default.

While a great deal of rhetoric was expended by both sides during the presidential campaign, talking about taxes, the reality of the past three decades is that the tax burden has dramatically shifted from the wealthiest taxpayers, to the middle income families that Warren is talking about. Currently, the first dollar of the second wage earner is taxed after the last dollar of the first wage earner, resulting in taxes increasing for families by 25%. That’s on top of the following increases born by families (married couples, median incomes, two children) since 1970:

  • Families spend 76 percent more on their mortgages.
  • Families spend 52 percent more on automobiles (this is taking into consideration that although per-car costs decreased, families with two wage earners require more cars. Thus the over-all cost rose).
  • Three decades later, there are an entirely new set of costs for child care, preschool, and university, which are now seen as necessary for success. This means that families in 2003 see six more years of educational costs, that they must pay for, than they did in 1970.
  • The above-mentioned tax increases.

Do you think any of this may affect why, with the tightening of credit, the dismal retail sales forecasts for the upcoming holiday season?


As a family, we’ve virtually eliminated going-out-to eat from our budget. Technically, it’s in our budget, under entertainment, but because we’re trying to build up a rainy day fund, any money we don’t spend on entertainment (movies, out-to-eat, take out) goes into savings.

Both my wife and I used to dine out at least once per week. Add to that one or two meals eaten out (usually fast food, like a Subway sandwich, McDonald’s or Sam’s) during our workdays, and an occasional take out meal from Amato’s, or similar eateries, and it’s not difficult to see why our budget never had anything left to plug into the column under savings.

Rather than hitting happy hour on Friday nights, and then seeing a movie, our fall routine has been preparing a light meal in, and watching our weekly fare from Netflix. Both of us enjoy cooking, and we find that our own DIY cuisine tops what we were sampling, even at some of overpriced, overhyped, upscale establishments so often touted by Portland’s burgeoning foodie scene. For a quick, non-objective listing, Hugo’s, Fore Street, Five Fifty-Five, and Caiola’s come to mind.


Given that some long overdue payments finally arrived from book stores from sales of Moxietown, I decided a respite from our 10-week austerity play was warranted. After consulting my better half, we were headed for Portland on Saturday afternoon. Our plans were to visit Portland Public Library, stock up on some books, and then hazard a visit to the Maine Mall area.

Portland had been a regular haunt of mine for much of the past two decades, either for work, or for a place to go for entertainment. Since 2006, I rarely head south for much of anything—work, entertainment, or errands. I can’t say I particularly miss Portland’s faux urban vibe that many residents—typical big fish in small pond types—give off.

Across the street from the library, there was a crowd holding signs and demonstrating about something. Monument Square is a regular home for some group advocating a cause, or protesting some perceived injustice. To be fair, I’ve logged some time in the square, holding a sign and hollering about some cause that I felt was important at the time. Interestingly, my prior efforts never amounted to shit, or changed any of the causes, or injustices I was championing.

Apparently, the crowd was part of a nationwide effort set on protesting “the unprecedented stripping of rights from gays and lesbians with the passage of California’s Proposition 8, as well as the passage of anti-marriage amendments in Arizona and Florida.” [not my characterization, but from some site called Box Turtle Bulletin]

The protest, at least from my limited, casual observation (lasting the time it took me to run from the parking garage on Elm Street, to the entrance of the library, on Congress) consisted of protestors holding up a variety of signs pro-gay, or highlighting some perceived grievance, and cheering when passing cars honked in support. Very revolutionary.

Safe from the rain and the protestors of the day, the city’s best branch provided my wife and I an hour of book search bliss.

The library holds many positive memories for me. It was here that I spent countless hours scouring microfilm and old box scores, while researching When Towns Had Teams. This particular Saturday, the downstairs area, which still houses the archives of microfilm, was jammed with people using the library’s computers, or sitting in the waiting area (which now resembles the waiting area of airports, replete with a screen listing waiting times for an assigned computer), passing the minutes before their foray into cyberspace is made possible.

We left with a book bag bursting with a variety of novels, non-fiction works, and my wife’s favorite—several books on CD.

We were now off to the sprawling neon-lit retail jungle of the Maine Mall area. Shoe shopping, a break from our restaurant fast, and a stroll around the mall’s corridors awaited us.

Rather than piss away the entire proceeds from my book sales, a joint decision was made to hit a former, favorite chain restaurant, specializing in steaks. Since it was mid-afternoon, and we had both not had any lunch, we were eager for some chow. It was off to Bugaboo Creek, a steak restaurant chain that we’ve always found solid. Given that it wasn’t yet 4:00 pm, we had a nice dinner fare of red meat, smashed potatoes, and a free dessert (courtesy of an online coupon), all for less than $50. Not bad, considering a similar meal might have cost upwards of $75, or more, if we had chosen a downtown Portland establishment.


Out on the tiles at the Maine Mall is always an experience. I never can quite remove the image from my mind of the scene from “Dawn of the Dead,” when the survivors are holed up in a local shopping mall, while zombies parade outside, seeking to break in. The scene was George Romero’s critique of America’s obsession with shopping, as his brain-addled zombies, reduced to flesh-eating automatons, were merely acting on a prior shopping impulse left over from their lives.

["Dawn of the Dead" photo]

Mary and I weaved in and out between shopping “zombies,” as they waddled up and down the mall’s corridors, on our way to our own shopping destinations.

I decided to visit Best Buy to look at computers, since my outdated work computer is in need of an upgrade. I thought I’d get a sense of what might be my options, and possible costs. As has happened during prior visits, you can never find a staff person to ask questions of, and the constant din of gadgets, games, and other electronic detritus forces me to exit before I find the information I was in search of.

[Another USM website photo]

One particular phenomenon I observed was the number of teenage (and some adult) shoppers tryout out Guitar Hero, and the ubiquitous Wii games that will dominant this year’s lethargic holiday retail season.

Why not buy a beginner’s guitar set-up and learn to play a real guitar? I’m sorry, but these games are for losers. With the outlay and time spent on Guitar Hero, you could learn enough to propel yourself to a lifetime of enjoyment with a real axe.

After a bit more than an hour within the mall’s confines, we were ready to leave. Walking out to the parking lot, I couldn’t help but wonder if in ten years, all of this retail sprawl might be veritable ghost town, given our current economic straits, a downturn among people like us in any unwarranted spending approaching previous heights, and the continued chain reaction tied to the credit markets.

With major retailers like Circuit City, Linens and Things, Tweeter, and Steve & Barry’s already filing for bankruptcy pre-holidays, it will be interesting to see who follows suit in early 2009.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Still counting votes in the land of 10,000 lakes

Democrats are holding their breath, waiting for the dust to clear and the votes to be counted in Minnesota. See, Democratic challenger, Al Franken, trailed "Stormin" Norman Coleman by a handful of votes, 204 to be exact (it was 800 on election night).

Coleman's been doing his doggone best to gum up the recount works by getting absentee votes tossed out. Franken probably doesn't stand a chance, and the taxpayers will end up paying extra, but seeing slimy Norm Coleman left standing in the rain would be worth it.

Back in 1998, Coleman, the former Democratic mayor of St. Paul, seemed like a slamdunk for governor. That was until former pro wrestler, Jesse Ventura, came out of nowhere to snatch victory from Coleman.

In 2002 in his first bid for a Senate seat, Coleman was trailing Minnesota legend, Paul Wellstone, when Wellstone was tragically killed in a plane crash. Coleman was the winner by default, and off to DC he went.

[from MN Blue] Coleman became a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq and has a 100% voting record in favor of President Bush's War. In addition, Norm has provided little oversight of the Iraq War. As Chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations he had the unique ability to investigate anything. Instead, he overlooked the incompetence and corruption of the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq. Whether it was torture, lack of armor for our troops, pallets of lost dollars or no-bid contracts, Coleman couldn't be bothered investigating.

Coleman, tanned and well-coiffed, consistently voted for war-time tax breaks for the wealthiest 1% of Americans, all the while borrowing billions from the Chinese to prosecute the war. Coleman also supported a bankruptcy bill written by the credit card companies. Additionally, Coleman has written legislation to help bail out the banking industry from the subprime mortgage crisis on the backs of homeowners facing foreclosure. As an incumbent senator, Coleman has enabled our current economic tailspin, which shows little evidence of bottoming out soon.

This time, Coleman had his hands full with Franken, comedian, and former Air America talk host.

Both parties eagerly await the final vote tally, as the Senate's balance of power teeters on the results.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce...

While much of the financial news is bad, and often dire, particularly when it comes to consumers and spending, Americans are still getting their jones on for fast food, at least the McDonald's variety.

McDonald's Corp. reported an 8.2% increase in October global same-store sales, with a 5.3% gain in the U.S., which the company credited to new menu items such as southern-style chicken and its Monopoly game promotion.

This is big news for the fast food giant, as high gasoline and food costs, as well as slumping home sales and the credit market meltdown have seen the restaurant sector post a flurry of bad economic news.

The recent report follows a less than stellar one in March, when McDonald's reported same-store sales in the U.S. fell for the first time in five years, in part due to Easter falling during the month. Since then, however, the company has posted solid increases since then.

Staying with the burger theme, Burger King also posted a positive quarterly earnings.

Since this post is about hamburgers, I had my first Red Robin burger yesterday, in Augusta.

I had their gourmet cheeseburger, loaded, with Monterrey Jack cheese, and it was a winner. While my budget of late is more McDonalds than Red Robin, you can't really compare the two burgers by taste. The chain's crispy, bottomless steak fries are a nice touch, also.

Whether it’s choosing McDonald’s over the latest local flavor of the month restaurant, or trading in the SUV for a Chevrolet Aveo (with options like hand-crank windows vs. power everything), self-denial seems to be hot (haute?) again.

A recent column in the WSJ had columnist Christina Brinkley touting the joys of going without. Apparently even on Rodeo Drive, conspicuous consumption isn't what it used to be, at least according to sales clerk Michael Kors who told Brinkley that “there’s an umbrella of guilt over everyone.”

While consumers are toning down their purchases of high-end shoes, and organic produce, they're apparently turning to Karl Marx for comfort, at least according to this report.

Communication according to Lakoff

I started reading George Lakoff’s Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think (originally published in 1996) this weekend. Lakoff is a cognitive linguist who wrote the book to help explain the Republican gains following Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. The edition I have was updated in 2001, with a new subtitle, and additional observations and new material tied to the 2000 presidential election. The book also happens to be the first full-scale application of cognitive science to politics

Lakoff spends a great deal of time working through the differing worldviews of both ideologies, contrasting two family metaphors; the “strict father mode” of conservatives, with the “nurturant parent model” that liberals hold in framing their issues.

I’m always interested in theories and concepts on communication because I think the ability to communicate might be one of the key skills and abilities of the 21st century. The reason that I think this is true is because of the sheer volume of, as well as the speed that our modern communication whizzes by at. It takes some level of sophistication to cut through so much of the white noise of spin, and surface level analysis. Unfortunately, not enough Americans make much of an effort to move beyond a superficial and sophomoric understanding of the issues, in my opinion. Hence, the political pap slingers continue to multiply.

I found the section on metaphors, particularly metaphors tied to moral questions and framing those issues well, worth the time spent reading the rest of the material. In fact, I think this was the strongest section of the book.

Lakoff’s explanation of his metaphorical concept about how the moral books are kept was particularly fascinating. He walks the reader through what he refers to as a “moral accounting,” emphasizing several moral schemes: reciprocation, retribution, restitution, revenge, altruism, to name some of them.

Take for instance, retribution. If someone does something to harm you, you might say, “I’ll pay you back!” (often, with interest)

Where I think Lakoff’s work, and in particular, this book fits into the post-election fade, is in the way that president-elect Obama was able to grasp many of Lakoff’s points, in framing his own campaign, first against Hillary Clinton, and then, John McCain.

In all of the bitterness and blather coming from elements of the right, the similarities between Obama and Reagan are (and were) often missed.

Both candidates had a way of swaying voters to vote for them, even if they didn’t agree with them on the issues. I heard Lakoff tell a story recently, on C-Span’s Book TV, about meeting Dick Wirthlin, back in 1980. Who is Dick Wirthlin? He was Reagan’s chief strategist. According to Lakoff, the two men hit it off, even though they had very differing political views.

According to Wirthlin (as told by Lakoff), he recognized early on that people don't vote on policy, they vote for leaders—for people whose values seem American to them. Basically, they vote for people they feel they can trust.

While McCain and Sarah Palin did their best to frame the campaign around issues, attempting to paint Obama as a “socialist” and a “tax and spend liberal,” Obama met that challenge by figuring out how to say what the majority of Americans believed.

One example of this is in the story about the neighbor’s house.

If your neighbor's house caught on fire and is in danger of burning down, you wouldn’t lecture him on how incompetent he is. You would get out your fire hose and do everything you can do to help until your taxpayer-funded local fire department showed up to put out the fire.

In 2000, when conservatives were able to frame Al Gore as a “fabricator,” and in 2004, when John Kerry got pegged as a “flip-flopper,” the right was successful in their framing of the campaign narrative about their opponent. They weren’t able to in 2008, at least a frame that stuck, so Obama ultimately triumphed.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A progressive mandate to govern

From Megan McArdle, about Obama's supposed progressive (or to some, socialist) mandate to govern.

If the country is so progressive, how come Bush won the popular vote four years ago? Did all the center right people die? Or are American voters somewhat mercurial? Also, how come Bush had no mandate four years ago? Did the American voter get more mandative? Would John McCain have had a mandate if he'd achieved these kinds of numbers? Or would that be entirely different?

No need to answer. The rest of us already know what the answer is.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

President Obama

[AP photo of Obama, at Grant Park, Chicago]

In politics, like sports, you battle up until the final whistle, or your last at bat. Then, when you lose, you gather, shake hands, and move on. It's called magnanimity.

This morning feels a bit like sitting in the loser's dugout, watching your rival and their fans celebrate. It's tough at that moment, but over time, it begins to feel better, and often, you look back at the loss with some remorse, but you come recognize that you waged a noble battle, and acceptance gradually settles in. If you've tasted victory, you remember what that felt like and you empathize, and identify with what the victor's are experiencing.

Barack Obama is now America's 44th president, winning decisively. For many, the reality of the morning after is a hard one, but one they'll have to face and hopefully, come to terms with.

Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin, at Politico write,

Obama won on his own terms, strategically and symbolically. He rolled up a series of contested states, from Colorado to Virginia, long out of Democratic reach. And his victory reflected the accuracy of his vision of a reshaped country. Racism, much discussed, turned out to be a footnote, and African-American turnout was not unusually high. Instead, Obama drew his strength from an array of racially mixed, growing areas around cities like Orlando, Washington, Indianapolis, and Columbus on his way to at least 334 electoral votes.

The Obama victory has a historic quality in many ways. Consider that in more than 175 years since Andrew Jackson (the father of the modern Democratic Party) left the White House, only two other Democrats (Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson) have convinced at least 51 percent of the country to back them for president.

On the Senate side, Democrats had hoped to come away from the election with 60 seats. That bid fell short, as contested races, like the one in Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was able to hold off a strong challenge by Democratic businessman, Bruce Lunsford, to prevail, preserved a key Republican seat.

The great horserace of 2008 has concluded. The battles were legion, particularly through the primary season. Even among Democrats, there are still scars from the Clinton/Obama battles of that part of the presidential political journey that Obama travelled.

George Bush talked much about "being a uniter, not a divider," and we saw where believing him brought us. President Obama will face similar challenges of uniting a country that is polarized by ideology, and fears of where he'll take us as a nation.

As for me, I'm taking two steps back from it all. While I was not an Obama supporter, I'm interested in watching him take his first steps of governance. I've spoken and shared my thoughts over the past 24 months, and now, it's time to move on, and move forward. Only time will tell where America is headed, and what type of leader our newest president will be.

I leave you with one writer's take on what an Obama presidency might look like.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Electioneering, 2008

Bill Curry, a counselor to President Clinton, and a two-time Democratic nominee for governor, weighed in on the two-party stranglehold facing voters, in Sunday's Hartford Courant.

Curry had some things to say about a new party, seeking to represent ordinary Americans, the Working Families Party. He also spoke about the need to open up debate, post-election, including ideas from third-party candidates like Ralph Nader, and others.

You can read the entire article here.

Personally, I didn't see much on the WFP site to indicate they offered much in the way of choice, as they seemed locked and loaded for Obama, one of this year's corporate choices for president.

Nader, on the other hand, offers some real choice, and speaks to change that a minority of us can believe in.