Freedom Writing

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Assassination of Anwar Sadat

For most Americans, the war on terror began in 2001, when the World Trade Center was brought down by two hijacked airplanes. For a few, it may have begun eight years earlier when the first attack on the World Trade Center took place.

And, to be fair, that probably is when the war first came to America.

But it's been going on longer than that — in the sense that Islamic martyrs have been dying for the cause. Thirty–five years ago today, Lt. Khalid Islambouli, an Egyptian military officer and Islamic extremist, assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during the annual Victory Parade in Cairo commemorating the Egyptian army's crossing of the Suez Canal to reclaim part of the Sinai Peninsula from Israel in 1973.

It probably evaded most Americans' radars, but Sadat's final months had been rocky. There had been a military coup in June that failed, and there had been riots. There were those who said the riots were the outcome of domestic issues that plagued the country, but Sadat believed the Soviet Union was orchestrating an attempt to drive him from power.

That was also a particularly violent time in the history of the world — at least in terms of high–profile violence. President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II had survived assassination attempts earlier in the year. Ex–Beatle John Lennon had been gunned down in front of his New York apartment building nearly a year before.

Egyptian Islamists had been angered when Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with President Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in September 1978 — for which Sadat and Begin shared the Nobel Prize.

There were several missed opportunities for authorities to take Islambouli into custody before the assassination, most notably in September 1981 when Sadat ordered a roundup of more than 1,500 people, among them many Jihad members, but somehow Islambouli's cell was missed.

Then, in spite of ammunition seizure rules that should have prevented the assassination, the cell managed to get into the parade and jump from the truck in which they were riding when it approached the reviewing stand, where Sadat was supposedly protected by four layers of security and eight bodyguards. Sadat stood, thinking it was part of the show. He was mortally wounded by a grenade and gunfire, along with 10 others in the reviewing stand. Vice President Hosni Mubarak, who had been sitting next to Sadat, was one of 28 who were wounded but survived.

Islambouli was identified as the man responsible for Sadat's wounds and executed the next year.

Nearly 30 years later, Islambouli's mother said she was proud that her son had killed Sadat.

What does this say about the mentality of the Islamic extremists that they are still waging this war nearly four decades later? It says the same thing that a second attack on the World Trade Center eight years after the first told us.

This is a foe that is patient. It picks its battles, and it learns from its mistakes.

Now, I know that a mother's love is a powerful thing. I covered murder trials as a young newspaper reporter, and I would not be surprised to hear the mother of a murderer say that she loved her son/daughter in spite of the crime(s) he/she committed. In fact, I have heard mothers say that. It is certainly not uncommon for Christians to say that they hate the sin but love the sinner.

But this mother says she is proud that her son committed the sin. That is a different matter, and it gives you great insight into a mindset.

This foe truly believes it is waging a holy war, and it is willing to give it as much time as it takes — generations, if necessary. The jihadists take inspiration wherever they can.

Since Sadat's assassination, Islambouli has been inspiring Islamist movements the world over. In Tehran a street was named for him after the assassination. A postage stamp was issued showing him shouting defiantly in his prison cell, and Ayatollah Khomeini declared him a martyr after he had been executed.

This is not a traditional foe, and it cannot be beaten in the traditional ways.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing

"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen to Sen. Dan Quayle, Oct. 5, 1988

Tonight the nominees for vice president, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence, will meet in their only debate.

Frankly, I have long thought that the vice presidential debate was the most pointless of the bunch.

Presidential debates have the potential to be significant in the story of a presidential election campaign. As we are often reminded, they are rare opportunities to see the candidates side by side answering the same questions at the same time. Fortunately, many (but certainly not all) of the questions that are asked in presidential debates are relevant to the office the candidates seek. The candidates' thoughts on domestic and foreign issues are important because the one who is chosen to be president is likely to have to make some pretty important decisions in four years.

What are vice presidents typically called upon to do? Well, of course, the vice president is first in line for the presidency if the incumbent should die (which hasn't happened in more than half a century) or resign (which has only happened once in American history). Otherwise, the vice president's responsibilities are to preside over the Senate (and cast a tie–breaking vote when necessary) and attend state weddings and funerals.

Consequently, the questions that are truly relevant to the office those candidates seek would involve things like how well — and for how long — they can establish order in public meetings. Or how many weddings or funerals they have attended in their public careers. Whether presiding over the Senate or attending a wedding or funeral, perhaps the most important skill a vice presidential candidate can possess is the ability to sit still for long periods of time without squirming or falling asleep.

But nobody would watch that so the questions in vice presidential debates tend to be questions one would ask of a would–be president. After all, you never know. The vice president might wind up becoming president (although the last seven have not). And sometimes those questions are remembered.

But what tends to be memorable about vice presidential debates are the lines that are delivered. Sometimes you know they were prepared well ahead of time and practiced repeatedly in the hope that the foe would give even the slightest opening for it. That was clearly the case 28 years ago tomorrow when Sen. Lloyd Bentsen delivered his devastating "You're no Jack Kennedy" rebuttal to Sen. Dan Quayle.

Bentsen was judged the winner of that debate — but Quayle won the election as George H.W. Bush's running mate.

Vice President Joe Biden may have channeled that moment in his debate with Paul Ryan four years ago.

The first vice presidential debate took place nearly 40 years ago on Oct. 15, 1976 when Sen. Walter Mondale squared off with Sen. Bob Dole. Dole, in one of his lighter moments, may have made the best observation about the vice presidency since John Garner asserted that it wasn't worth "a pitcher of warm ****." Dole's assessment of the vice presidency was that it was "indoor work with no heavy lifting."

That was a pretty good line, and it might have been the one for which the debate was remembered — if Dole hadn't chosen to blame the Democrats for the wars that had been fought in the 20th century.

"I figured up the other day if we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century," Dole said, "it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit."

"Does he really mean," Mondale asked sarcastically, "that there was a partisan difference over our involvement in the fight against Nazi Germany?"

The 1984 vice presidential debate was the first to include a woman. Geraldine Ferraro, Mondale's running mate, took on Vice President George H.W. Bush and chastised him for his "patronizing attitude."

Twenty–four years later, when Sarah Palin became the first woman on a Republican ticket, her debate with Biden was remembered for her personal request: "Can I call you Joe?"

In 1992, America had its first — and so far only — three–participant vice presidential debate. It is largely remembered for Ross Perot's running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, and his meandering "Who am I? Why am I here?" self–introduction to viewers — which, of course, was lampooned by Saturday Night Live.

Well, you get the idea.

Caitlin Huey–Burns, in a column for RealClearPolitics, contends that Donald Trump has had a bad week since his first debate with Hillary Clinton — and that raises the stakes for Pence in tonight's debate.

Until something happens to prove me wrong, I continue to believe that the vice presidential debate is a colossal waste of time.

On the other hand, we are only five weeks away from all of this being over.

Of course, that will leave us with either Hillary or Trump as president–elect.

Can't win for losing.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Please, Be Presidential

We are now less than 36 hours from the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I have heard and read many opinions about what each should do to win, but I think I have narrowed it down.

First and foremost, I think, the voters want to hear what the candidates want to do about the issues confronting this nation. We know there are some pretty serious problems — and pointing fingers at the other guy won't solve them. There will be time to assign blame later.

I've used this analogy before, but it is still appropriate. If a house is burning, your first priority is not to determine why the fire began or how it was started. Your first priority is to put out the fire. The frustration that so many voters feel is rooted in this.

The voters don't agree on what should be done. We usually turn to our leaders to guide us through uncharted waters, but we need to know where would–be leaders stand on the issues before we can decide which one we wish to follow.

We've lived through plenty of mud–slinging campaigns in recent decades, and this one is already shaping up to be the dirtiest of all. I have made my peace with that, but I think I speak for nearly all voters when I say, please, leave it at the doorstep when the debates are in progress. She can go back to calling him a racist and a sexist in her TV commercials and campaign speeches, and he can go back to calling her a shrew when the debates are over.

But, please, be presidential in the presidential debates.

Everything else I am going to say is merely a subhead to that. That is your lead paragraph (when I worked on newspapers it was sometimes spelled lede).

Clinton's huge lead in advertising spending in recent weeks has yielded no gain in the polls. In fact, she has been losing altitude. Why? Because every advertisement I have seen — and we usually don't see too many presidential advertisements in Texas because the outcomes of presidential elections here have been foregone conclusions for 40 years — has been negative.

We have seen some ads here this time, and they have all been negative, telling the voters why they should not vote for the opposition, not why they should vote for the candidate sponsoring the ad.

Why, you may ask, are independents now the largest voting bloc in the United States? As a group, we share little. We don't agree on everything, but I think most of us would agree on this: We're tired of choosing which candidate to vote against. We want a candidate we can vote for. (That's not as grammatically correct as I would like, but it gets the message across, doesn't it? Are the candidates listening?)

Yes, being presidential would help.

Besides that, there are some things both candidates can do to make listeners more receptive to their messages.

Hillary has been in the national spotlight for nearly a quarter of a century (longer than that for me, but I lived in Arkansas when her husband was governor). That is far more than long enough for attitudes about her to harden except among the youngest of voters. To win the debate she needs to demonstrate to people that the experience of which she boasts has taught her things that make her more trustworthy and that she is more honest than she has been. Voters need to believe she will tell them the truth in a crisis. Speaking in lawyerspeak (i.e., "It depends on what your definition of 'is' is.") or effecting a faux Southern drawl (having grown up in the South, I can spot one of those at least a mile away) won't do it.

Trump has been in a spotlight, too, but not a political one until recently. Attitudes about him in that regard are still fairly fluid, at least in comparison to Clinton.

But in Trump's relatively brief time on the national stage, he has made some truly awful remarks. He has made some intriguing policy suggestions, but he is viewed by many as something of a loose cannon, a nationalistic bully. In all honesty, it reminds me more and more of 1980, when Democrats constantly warned voters that Ronald Reagan would start a nuclear war if he won the presidency. Then, in a single debate, Reagan reassured viewers that he wasn't such a bad guy, that he would be responsible if elected, and he beat President Carter by 10 percentage points.

It is unlikely to the point of being impossible that either Trump or Hillary can win by the kind of landslide margins that Reagan received in either of his two elections.

But Trump's challenge is similar. He must reassure voters that his image is inaccurate, that he isn't crazy or trigger happy.

It won't be easy for either one. Both must give us things we haven't seen from them before.

Whichever one can do it will get the upper hand in the campaign.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Day William McKinley Was Shot

"Father Abe freed me, and now I saved his successor from death, provided that bullet he got into the president don't kill him."

James Benjamin Parker

Forty–three men have been president of the United States. Most Americans probably can name a handful — maybe — and most of the ones they can name were president during their lifetimes — as if history didn't exist prior to their births.

(That assumes that the people with whom you are speaking can tell you who is currently president — and, frankly, you would be surprised how many people cannot. I haven't decided whether that is a blessing or a curse.)

Many Americans, of course, can name a few presidents who served before they were born — a list that usually includes George Washington and Abraham Lincoln at the very least although people can surprise you with what they know and what they don't know. If they can name Washington and Lincoln, they may also name Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt.

As some of you probably know (I wish I could say all, but I have to be realistic), those are the four faces chiseled into Mount Rushmore.

Roosevelt became president when the incumbent president, William McKinley, was shot and killed 115 years ago. In fact, McKinley was shot inside the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., on this day in 1901. His assassin shot twice. The doctors who treated McKinley were only able to retrieve one of the bullets; the other lingered in his abdomen and killed him eight days later.

Roosevelt had only been vice president for about six months when McKinley was shot. McKinley's first vice president died on the eve of McKinley's campaign for re–election, and Roosevelt, then the governor of New York, was nominated by the convention to be McKinley's running mate in 1900 — the president felt it was the delegates' decision to make, not his. Roosevelt was known to have his eye on the White House, and the vice presidency seemed like a good stepping stone for Roosevelt's own run in 1904.

Roosevelt might have been elected in '04 — unless McKinley decided to seek a third term, which, at the time, was permissible. It was only after the presidency of Roosevelt's cousin, Franklin, about 50 years later that the 22nd Amendment limiting presidents to two four–year terms was ratified.

Had fate not intervened, McKinley might well have been a candidate for a third term. He was only 58 when he died — younger than many of his predecessors had been when they entered the presidency — and McKinley was already into his second term.

Polls that measure public approval of a president didn't exist at the turn of the century. They wouldn't exist, in fact, until Roosevelt's cousin was in the second term of his presidency. But if they had existed in 1900, they might well have reported solid public approval of McKinley's performance in office.

That might be a difficult conclusion to reach when one looks at the election returns from 1896, when McKinley was first elected to the presidency, and 1900, when he was re–elected. In 1896, McKinley received 51.02% of the popular vote. His share of the vote went up to 51.66% four years later. He received 60.6% of the electoral vote in 1896. That percentage went up to 65.3% in 1900.

Clearly, McKinley was popular enough to be re–elected — and by a wider margin than the one he received when he was elected. That is something Barack Obama cannot say. But on the surface it isn't as impressive as students of presidential politics might expect. See, even though America's last three presidents were re–elected by less than overwhelming popular margins — and the one before that wasn't re–elected at all — it has been commonplace historically for presidents to be re–elected by landslides.

Seen in that context, McKinley's electoral performance may not be especially eye–popping unless you keep a few things in mind. Most important, perhaps, is the fact that realigning elections as the 1896 election is frequently labeled (and which I plan to discuss in greater detail in November) are not always dramatic landslides. Sometimes they are virtually imperceptible unless you consider preceding voting patterns — and what happened in the elections that followed.

The opponent's relative strengths and weaknesses are important factors to consider, too. McKinley had to win both elections with William Jennings Bryan, one of the great orators in American history, as his foe. My guess is that McKinley was lucky to live in the pre–TV and pre–internet age. Far fewer people got to hear Bryan speak in 1896, and that almost certainly worked to his benefit.

He could have been appealing in our time. I have heard him described as open, cheery, optimistic, friendly. That generally plays well with the voters. He was not necessarily a gifted speaker, though, so it may have been a good thing for him that TV and radio played no roles in elections at the time.

When McKinley won re–election in 1900, he carried Bryan's home state of Nebraska, a traditionally Republican state that made an exception for an exceptional favorite son. Bryan was nominated by the Democrats for the presidency three times. The 1900 election was the only time he lost his home state (with the exception of an 1894 Senate race).

It is fair to assume, even though we have no polls to support this conclusion, that McKinley was a popular president on this day in 1901 when his assassin, a 28–year–old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz, fired two shots into the president's abdomen. Czolgosz was about to fire a third time when James Parker, who had been a slave as a child, reached for the gun and prevented the shot from being fired.

As it turned out the first shot struck a button and was deflected. Only the second shot struck McKinley, but it ultimately proved fatal, probably due to inadequate medical care. There was a surgeon in Buffalo who might well have saved the president, but he was performing delicate surgery in Niagara Falls. During the operation he was interrupted and told he was needed in Buffalo; he insisted he could not leave even if it was the president of the United States who needed him. It was at that point that he was told the identity of the patient.

A couple of weeks later, after McKinley had died, that surgeon saved the life of a woman who had suffered almost exactly the same wound as McKinley.

McKinley's death was quite a shock to the American public — who had been misled by unjustifiably optimistic prognoses into believing McKinley was recovering.

He was the third American president to be assassinated within 40 years — and the last to be assassinated before John F. Kennedy more than 60 years later.

Oh, and Roosevelt did win a full four–year term on his own in 1904 — but he did so as the incumbent.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Presidential Elections From an Historical Perspective

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

Mark Twain

This is Labor Day weekend, the traditional kickoff for a national campaign — but, like so many other facts of political life in the United States, that has been rendered essentially invalid in 2016. This campaign never took a break, not even between the conventions and the Labor Day holiday, which is how it has been in the past.

Before a serious evaluation of the campaign could be made, it was necessary to allow some time to pass after the conventions were over. It has now been more than a month since the conclusions of the conventions, and it is now appropriate to look at the polls and see what they can tell us.

But the polls are apt to be volatile until after the debates so my advice is to treat the polls from now until about mid–October as forms of entertainment.

We heard a lot of talk about making history during the Democrats' convention, just as we did eight years ago when Barack Obama became the first African–American to be nominated for president by a major political party.

There are always emotional appeals in political campaigns, but there are many other factors that drive campaigns, too. A presidential campaign is long and often buffeted by sudden, unforeseen events. This year's campaign, with historically high negative ratings for both major party nominees as well as a general election campaign season that is longer than usual simply because both conventions were held in mid–summer, seems particularly prone to week–to–week, if not day–to–day, fluctuations.

I tend to disregard the polls immediately after the conventions because candidates nearly always get a post–convention bounce. They should. Since the advent of television, parties have been refining their conventions into the choreographed four–night propaganda fests they have become.

If a candidate doesn't get a bounce, even a small one, the convention planners did not do their jobs. It usually takes something like riots in the streets (see Chicago in 1968) to prevent a candidate from receiving a bounce.

In the aftermath of the Democrats' convention, I heard many Democrats boasting of Hillary Clinton's nine–point bounce in the polls. Historically that is about average. It is what George W. Bush received after being re–nominated in 2004, but that margin didn't hold up. He went on to win but by a narrow margin over John Kerry.

To me it suggests there is a sizable portion of the electorate that remains suspicious of Clinton — and wasn't persuaded by the Democrats' Hillary lovefest/Trump bashfest.

Such bounces tend to be short–lived as Americans' ever–shrinking attention spans shift to other things. Al Gore got a double–digit bounce in 2000. Ditto Michael Dukakis in 1988. Look up those two in your history books. In no history book will you find either man having been sworn in as president.

I tend to take polls more seriously the closer we get to the election itself — or, in an era when many voters can cast their ballots up to a month before the actual Election Day, the closer we get to the start of early voting. By October, the debates will have begun, and many voters will have started casting their ballots (as I understand it, a few voters have already cast their ballots). That's when the polls will begin to reveal what we can expect in November.

The polls of October will reflect events that haven't happened yet and the candidates' responses to them. They will have more relevance to the election. They will dictate where campaign resources are allocated.

The old rule of thumb was that people didn't start paying attention to the campaign until after the World Series. In some places, I suppose, that timetable has been moved up a few weeks, maybe to the start of the NFL's season in September.

The polls in August are snapshots of the start of a horse race and should not be considered predictive in any way, but they can be useful as analytical tools, and they can demonstrate convincing trends to expect on Election Night.

The opportunity to make history isn't always enough to win an election. Yes, Obama went on to win, but neither Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a major party ticket, nor Sarah Palin, the second woman on a major party ticket, won; Al Smith was the first Catholic to top a major party ticket, but it was John F. Kennedy more than 30 years later who became the first Catholic to be elected president.

We've had Catholics on other national tickets since. Some have won, some have lost. It isn't a subject that is mentioned anymore, and that is probably the chief value that being first provides. Being a black or Catholic — and now, a female — nominee for president no longer raises any eyebrows.

Mitt Romney was the first Mormon to be a major party's presidential nominee, and Joe Lieberman was the first Jew to be on a major party ticket, but neither won. Being first doesn't ensure success.

But it is important, in a country that prides itself on being the land of opportunity, that things like race or gender or religious faith don't get in the way of participation in the process. The voters will then decide if a candidate is qualified for the office he/she seeks.

Make no mistake about it, Clinton's nomination is significant symbolically; win or lose, she has earned a spot in the history books. The voters will decide the rest, and they will make that decision after taking into account those things that they think are important.

I'm sure the symbolic nature of Clinton's nomination will influence some voters — although I suspect most of those voters would have voted for Hillary, anyway.

Politicians don't get to tell voters what is important and what is not. They can say what they think, but they cannot insist on what can be considered and what must be disregarded. Judges can do that with juries; politicians are not permitted to do that.

A presidential election is a complex thing, anyway — starting with the fact that it is really 51 elections with 51 sets of issues that are important to different sets of voters with the electoral votes from each state riding on the outcomes. When voters go to the polls, they may think they are voting for Candidate A or Candidate B — but they are really voting for a slate of electors who will represent the candidate's party in the Electoral College.

Most of the time, those electors support the nominee of their party — but not always. Such electors are called faithless electors — but that is a subject for another time.

(In hindsight, Obama's election may seem inevitable to those who don't remember that, until the economy imploded in mid–September of 2008, Obama was trailing John McCain in many polls — and none other than his running mate, Joe Biden, once mused in public that Obama should have picked Hillary Clinton, his runnerup in the primaries, to be his running mate in the interest of party unity.

(Biden's selection had been rationalized as Obama's attempt to make up for inexperience in foreign policy in the wake of escalating tensions between former Soviet republics Russia and Georgia in the summer of 2008. Ironically, after he was elected, Obama chose Clinton to be his first secretary of state.)

The one thing I have taken from poll after poll is that there is considerable fluidity in this year's electorate; consequently, as a lifelong student of history, I find it more relevant to observe what American voters have done when a term–limited president has had to leave office and those voters have had to select a new leader. I have often heard it said that such an election — in which the incumbent is prohibited by law from running again — is a referendum on that incumbent's performance — and, after eight years, voters generally are ready for a change (I guess you could call it the eight–year itch).

If the rise of Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side proved nothing else, they demonstrated that there is a considerable desire in this country for a different direction, something the polls have supported consistently. There is just disagreement about which direction to take. To — kind of — quote Howard Beale in "Network," the voters are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore.

And such people are liable to do anything.

Conventional wisdom was turned on its ear this year as a billionaire novice politician and a 74–year–old socialist took their parties' nominating processes into uncharted waters. If you think there are no surprises left, let me remind you that there are more than two months left until Election Day.

Under these circumstances, it is hard to get a handle on what to expect. A lot of people these days say Clinton will win in a landslide — but, as far as I can see, their predictions are based almost entirely on the polls that have been coming out since the Democrats wrapped up their convention four or five weeks ago. Already we are seeing signs of the race tightening in some states. While it may yet wind up being a blowout, I am still inclined to believe it will be close. External factors — those peace and prosperity metrics — simply are not what have been historically required for the incumbent party to win without the incumbent topping the ticket.

Presidential term limits have existed since the ratification of the 22nd Amendment 65 years ago. Since that time, four presidents (Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) have served two four–year terms. Another (Richard Nixon) was elected to two terms but resigned less than halfway through his second term. Thus, Obama is the sixth president to be elected to two terms since the ratification of the 22nd Amendment.

Three of Obama's postwar predecessors who were elected to and served two terms saw their parties lose the White House when they were forced by law to step down as Obama is today. The one exception to that was when Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected to succeed Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Highs and lows of presidential approval

It is tempting to chalk that up to Reagan's popularity — and I am sure that played a role in Bush's victory that year.

But I don't think approval ratings tell the whole story.

Let's compare Reagan, as the only postwar two–term president who was succeeded by someone from his own party, to the others. A useful comparison point is the December of the president's seventh year in office — less than a year before his successor was chosen. Reagan's approval rating in December 1987 was 49%, which was better than Bush 43 (30%) in December 2007 but not as good as Clinton (55%) in December 1999. Reagan's approval rating also bested Obama's in December 2015 (46%).

If presidential approval was the only determining factor, Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, should have beaten George W. Bush in 2000 — and, indeed, he did in the popular vote but not in the electoral vote that has decided the outcomes of presidential elections since the 18th century. The prolonged legal battle over the state of Florida was won by Bush, giving him enough electoral votes to win. If Gore had carried Tennessee, the state both he and his father represented in the U.S. Senate, or West Virginia, which had not voted for a nonincumbent Republican since 1928, Florida would not have mattered.

Another example of the complexity of presidential elections.

It's important to mention at this point that political science really isn't a science at all — I figured that out when I was a college freshman studying political science. There is no formula in which you can fill in the blanks on each candidate's experience, knowledge and shortcomings and determine which candidate will win. The voters get to decide which factors matter the most to them, and that can — and does — change from one election to the next.

What's more, the United States is a relatively young country compared to most, and there really isn't that much of a voting history to study. There have been fewer than 50 presidential elections since they were opened to the people. (Until 1828, the only participants in presidential elections were the voters in the Electoral College — a handful of men at best from most states whose choices, it should be noted, were generally pretty good.)

So we have little to use for a study of voting behavior in American presidential elections.

Elections aren't the same, either. Some have incumbents running for re–election. Some don't. Some emphasize domestic issues; others stress foreign policy and national security. Probably the most useful — but far from infallible — approach is to compare circumstances. Is the election being held during a recession or boom times? Are we at peace or at war?

How will the historic nature of Clinton's candidacy play in all this? That is hard to say. If you want to compare this campaign to similar campaigns involving female nominees — Ferraro and Palin — you would conclude that Clinton will lose. But Ferraro and Palin weren't nominated for president; Clinton was. She is the first female to be nominated for president so there is no historical precedent to review.

Still, firsts can succeed. Earlier in this post, I listed several historical firsts who lost, but Obama, of course, was elected and then re–elected. Yet, Obama was elected as much because of the economic implosion that happened just before the election as he was because of his status as the first black nominee of a major party.

I think a critical — and, although I have no professional experience in this area, I would think immeasurable — factor is the often–mentioned "fatigue" factor to which I alluded earlier. That makes it pretty tricky to be the candidate of the president's party. If the fatigue is as widespread as most election results have suggested it is after eight years, that candidate must run as the agent of both change and continuity. Only George H.W. Bush, who promised a "kinder, gentler" version of the Reagan presidency in an attempt to appeal to centrists, succeeded.

Now it is Hillary's turn to persuade the voters that she can produce change while keeping things the same.

Recent history plays a key role here. Some states have been voting heavily for one party or another for several elections and, thus, are likely to continue doing so (although there is no guarantee; after all, realigning elections do happen). States that have been narrowly voting for one party or the other, on the other hand, are more likely to "flip" their allegiance. In modern America, this is most often seen in regions so let's examine the regions of America.

And, of course, turnout is a wild card. In poll after poll, majorities have had unfavorable opinions of both candidates. In past elections, most of those disgusted voters may have been considered likely voters. It is far from certain that these voters will be persuaded to support one of the nominees in this race. How will the outcomes in their states be affected if they choose to sit this one out?

In this study, I regard any state that gave no more than 53% of its vote to a candidate last time to be a prime prospect for flipping.

New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont): Obama swept this region in 2012, and only New Hampshire gave him less than 53% of its vote. The other states voted heavily for Obama, which was not surprising since most of these states have been voting for Democratic nominees since Bill Clinton's first presidential election in 1992.

New Hampshire, with Republican roots that prevailed in spite of the presence on Democratic tickets of New Englanders John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Ed Muskie in 1968, has been an exception to the rule and could well be this time, too. At this point, I expect Clinton to carry the other five states and their 29 electoral votes, but Trump could carry New Hampshire's four electoral votes, especially since he has endorsed Sen. Kelly Ayotte for re–election. Ayotte's support will be vital for Trump's hopes in the Granite State. She is the party's leading officeholder there, having been elected with 60% of the vote in 2010.

Polls truly are meaningless at this stage of the campaign. We need to get more distance from the conventions to get a good idea of where the campaigns stand, but recent history suggests that New England is Clinton's to lose.

Mid–Atlantic (D.C., Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania): D.C. has voted for Democrats ever since it was first permitted to vote in presidential elections in 1964. The other states in the region have been pretty reliable for the Democrats as well, but Pennsylvania is usually a swing state, and recent history suggests Democrats have a lot of work to do there this time. Obama won more than 54% of Pennsylvania's vote when he ran the first time (the strongest showing by a Democrat in that state since 1964), but his share of the vote in that state dropped to less than 52% when he sought re–election in 2012.

There should be a lively contest for the state's 20 electoral votes. Meanwhile, Clinton currently appears likely to win the region's other 59.

South (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia): Most of the Southern states have been in the Republican column for the last 40 years. There have been exceptions, though. In 2012, Obama narrowly carried Florida (with just under 50% of the vote compared to nearly 51% in 2008) and Virginia (with just over 51% of the vote; he snapped Republicans' 10–election winning streak in Virginia when he took more than 52% of the vote in 2008).

Obama carried North Carolina in 2008, but the state flipped back to the Republicans in 2012.

Clinton may benefit from having Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine on her ticket — at least in Virginia. The most recent Virginia poll I have seen was published before either of the conventions and showed the candidates tied at 39–39.

Kaine hasn't won by historic margins — when he was elected governor in 2005, he received 52% of the vote, and when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, he received 53% of the vote — but they have been sufficient, considering that no national ticket from either party has done better than that in Virginia since Bush–Quayle in 1988. If Kaine's supporters in Virginia turn out in November, Virginia will most likely be in the Democrats' column again.

As I say, most of the Southern states have been reliably Republican but a few could be primed for battleground status in coming years. Georgia, for example, gave Romney a little more than 53% of the vote, which was an increase over McCain's 52% four years earlier, which is considerably closer than presidential races have been in most Southern states, but not necessarily surprising in Georgia, which voted for Bill Clinton the first time he ran for president. Georgia is 30% black and 9% Hispanic. If those two demographic groups assert themselves, it wouldn't take much of the white vote to make elections truly competitive there.

South Carolina and Mississippi, with black populations of 28% and 37% respectively, could become competitive, but Republican margins have remained healthy there even with a black man topping the Democratic ticket.

Generally speaking, Trump should enjoy his greatest success on Election Night in the South.

Industrial Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin): This is the region where the election is most likely to be won or lost.

Based on electoral history, I think Illinois is really the only slam dunk for Democrats in this region. Illinois gave Obama (its former U.S. senator) more than 57% of the vote in 2012, but that was a decline from nearly 62% four years earlier. Still it suggests that Illinois' 20 electoral votes are secure for Clinton.

The rest of the Industrial Midwest, which has been hit hard by the economy of the last seven years, looks like it could be up for grabs.

Obama carried three of the other four states when he ran for re–election. Michigan gave Obama more than 54% of its vote in 2012 (down from more than 57% in 2008), but Michigan isn't far removed from the days when the vote was much closer.

Wisconsin, even with native son Paul Ryan running on the Republican ticket, gave Obama nearly 53% of its vote (down from more than 56% of its vote in 2008). Wisconsin has been voting for Democrats in the last seven national elections, but Obama was the first Democrat since Dukakis to seize a clear majority of the vote there.

Ohio is almost always a battleground state, and it is usually quite close. George H.W. Bush, in 1988, was the last candidate to receive more than 55% of Ohio's vote. Obama carried it twice, but his percentage there in 2012 was under 51%.

Historically, Indiana has been a lock for Republicans, but Obama's narrow victory there in 2008 leaves room for doubt. Obama trailed Romney there by more than 10 percentage points in 2012, which was more along the lines of what political observers have come to expect in Indiana. Trump's win in Indiana's primary all but locked up the Republican nomination, and I expect the state to be in the Republican column in November. The presence of Indiana's governor on the G.O.P. ticket can't hurt.

Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota): One electoral pattern that has emerged in recent decades is population–centric: Republicans have outperformed Democrats in mostly rural states while Democrats have outperformed Republicans in larger metropolitan states. That is a trend that has benefited Democrats in places like California, New York and Pennsylvania.

It has benefited Republicans in most of the states in the Midwest region. Romney carried six of the eight states in 2012, all but one with at least 57% of the vote. John McCain won those same six states but by smaller margins.

Missouri nearly gave Romney 54% of its vote but not quite so it barely qualifies as a state that could flip to the Democrats. That could be something to watch on Election Night. In the elections that have been held since Missouri voted against President William McKinley's re–election in 1900, Missouri has only backed the losing candidate three times (Adlai Stevenson in 1956, McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012).

Obama carried Iowa and Minnesota both times. Minnesota is probably the Democrats' most dedicated state. It has voted for Democrats in the last 10 elections. Richard Nixon in 1972 was the last Republican to carry Minnesota, but it hasn't been a slam dunk. Obama's share of the vote there in 2012 was about 52%, down from 54% in 2008. John Kerry took about 51% of Minnesota's vote in 2004, and Al Gore won with just under 48% of Minnesota's ballots (Ralph Nader drew more than 5% there that year).

In fact, Jimmy Carter's triumph there in 1976 with just under 55% is the Democrats' best showing in Minnesota since Lyndon Johnson took more than 63% of the vote in 1964.

Based on my 53% threshold for considering a state at risk for flipping, Minnesota should be on that list. But Minnesota has been consistent in its support for Democrats if not overwhelmingly so. Put an asterisk next to it. It might flip — but it probably won't.

Iowa has only voted for two losing candidates in the last nine elections. Both were Democrats so that makes Iowa's record in that period 6–3 in favor of Democrats. And two of those Republican triumphs in Iowa came when Ronald Reagan topped the ticket in the 1980s. Iowa has been practically a regular in the Democrats' column for nearly 30 years.

But Democrats' share of Iowa's popular vote has been rather small. Less than 52% of Iowa voters endorsed Obama's bid for re–election in 2012. He got nearly 54% of Iowa's vote in 2008. Margins have been low on both sides. Republican Nixon, in 1972, was the last presidential candidate to receive more than 55% of Iowa's ballots.

Largely because of Obama's showing in Iowa four years ago, the state has to be considered a potential flip.

Rocky Mountain (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming): The Rocky Mountain states were pretty reliable for Republicans until recently.

Arizona, with a Latino/Indian/black population that makes up two–fifths of the state's overall population, has voted for Republicans in the last four elections but not by the kind of margins that were seen there as recently as the 1980s. Bill Clinton won the state when he sought re–election and narrowly lost it four years earlier. Since the start of the new millennium, only George W. Bush in 2004 has received more than 54% of the vote there. Arizona could possibly flip in November.

Colorado has been trending Democrat in recent elections, but it gave Obama less than 52% of its vote in 2012. It could flip to the Republicans. What happens there on Election Night will be worth watching.

Idaho routinely gives Republicans more than 60% of its vote. So do Utah and Wyoming.

Montana is less reliably Republican but still gave Romney more than 55% of the vote in 2012. McCain barely won the state in 2008, and Montana was close in the 1990s so it might bear watching on Election Night.

Nevada is a modern bellwether, having voted for every winning candidate but one (Gerald Ford in 1976) since 1912. It gave Obama just over 52% of its vote in 2012, which makes it a possible flip.

New Mexico has been supporting Democrats by and large in the last six elections. It gave Obama just about 53% of its vote in 2012, which makes it a possible flip, but with a Latino presence that represents more than 46% of the state's population and another 10% of Indian and black backgrounds, a flip seems highly unlikely.

Pacific Coast (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington): Since Alaska became a state in 1959, it has voted Republican in every election but one. Incumbent Republicans (with the exception of George H.W. Bush in 1992) generally do better than nonincumbent Republicans, which suggests that Trump may not win Alaska decisively, but he is still likely to win it. Four years ago, more than 54% of Alaska voters voted for Romney, which was down from more than 59% for the McCain-Palin ticket four years earlier. Of course, Palin was Alaska's governor at the time.

Clinton is just about certain to win California and Hawaii by wide margins. California has only recently been giving lopsided majorities to Democrats. Obama got more than 60% of the vote in that state both times, but prior to that no candidate had received more than 60% of California's vote since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. Not even Californians Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Still, even if Clinton is held to a more historically typical share of about 55% of California's vote, she would probably win the state by about 2 million votes. Minority groups combine for well over 50% of the electorate in California, and you don't need a poll to know Trump is not popular among minority groups.

Hawaii gave Obama more than 70% of its vote in 2012, which was down a point or two from four years earlier — but that may well have been a byproduct of Obama's Hawaiian roots. The only other presidential candidate to exceed 70% in Hawaii was Lyndon Johnson in the landslide year of 1964. Otherwise, even though Democrats usually win Hawaii, the winning percentage has tended to be in the low to mid–50s.

It wasn't terribly long ago that Oregon and Washington voted for Republican nominees regularly. In more recent elections, both states have trended Democratic, and their percentages from 2012 suggest they are not likely to flip.

Thus, Clinton is likely to win all the Pacific Coast states except Alaska.

Conclusion: Clinton is the likely winner as of Labor Day, but there are still more than two months to go.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Night Ronald Reagan Upstaged Gerald Ford

I remember this night 40 years ago. Quite well.

A friend of mine and I were camping. Actually, we were staying in a campground that, as I recall, furnished the tents all set up and everything. You did have to provide your own sleeping bag, but, otherwise, it was kind of like being in a canvas motel. Still, my friend and I felt so grown up to be allowed to camp by ourselves.

There were no television sets in the tents, but I remember bringing a portable TV with me because that week was the Republican convention in Kansas City, and President Gerald Ford and former Gov. Ronald Reagan were locked in a battle for the nomination that neither had managed to secure during the primaries. As long as I can remember, I have been a political junkie, and conventions always appealed to me — even though I realized from an early age that they were biased and would not present a fair and balanced picture of the choices. The nominee from the opposing party is always demonized at a convention.

Ford wound up winning that nomination, and he gave his acceptance speech 40 years ago tonight. It was his night, and there was a lot riding on it. Jimmy Carter, who had been nominated by the Democrats the month before, led the polls by double digits. Commentators for the three major TV networks kept reminding viewers that it was the pivotal moment in Ford's presidency. It was, they said, the most important speech of his life.

Now, Ford never was a great speaker, but he probably delivered the best speech of his political career that night. However, that isn't what makes this night from 1976 so memorable. It was what Ford did after he gave his speech. He invited Reagan — who was seated with his wife in the convention hall — to come to the podium and say a few words.

It was a truly generous gesture on Ford's part — and it was a history–altering moment for Reagan and America.

When that convention was over, Reagan could have returned to California and gone into retirement with his head held high, assured that he had given a run for the presidency his best shot and had come up short. After all, he would be nearly 70 at the time of the next presidential election, and no one had ever been elected president at such an advanced age.

But he accepted the invitation and made his way from wherever he had been sitting in the convention hall (I think it was in the back) to the podium where Ford and other leading Republicans waited for him.

The speech Reagan delivered that night left many Republicans wondering if they had chosen the right candidate to lead their ticket against Carter that fall — and may well have been what led to Reagan's successful bid for the presidency in 1980.

It wasn't a great speech. It appeared mostly ad libbed, but upon reflection I concluded that speaking on the mashed potato circuit, as well as his acting career and the time he spent broadcasting the play by play of sporting events on the radio, had prepared him for that moment.

Reagan famously used index cards to help him get started on topics when he gave speeches. To the casual observer, he seemed to be speaking off the cuff, but he was giving virtually the same speech he had given hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

The speech he gave 40 years ago tonight was a short one. It lasted only a few minutes, and it wasn't especially eloquent. But it was memorable nonetheless.

He started out by thanking President Ford and the delegates for their warm reception. It was the year of the American bicentennial, and Reagan observed that he had been asked recently "to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to be opened in Los Angeles 100 years from now, on our tricentennial. They suggested I write something about the problems and the issues today."

He prepared for this task, Reagan said, by "riding down the coast in an automobile, looking at the blue Pacific out on one side and the Santa Ynez Mountains on the other, and I couldn't help but wonder if it was going to be that beautiful 100 years from now as it was on that summer day."

Undoubtedly, that was a story he had told in speeches before. I don't recall hearing one of Reagan's stump speeches that year, but it seems like the kind of story he would have used frequently. And, because it was the bicentennial year, the story had a fairly short shelf life.

Then Reagan really turned whimsical, observing that the people who would read the letter a century later would know if the Americans of Reagan's time had fulfilled their missions.

"This is our challenge," Reagan told the spellbound delegates, "and this is why here in this hall tonight, better than we have ever done before, we have got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world that we may be fewer in numbers than we have ever been, but we carry the message they are waiting for.

"We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President."

Ford, of course, lost that election to Carter, but he made a remarkable comeback in the polls, closing the gap significantly by Election Day. Reagan, running as the Republican nominee four years later, defeated Carter.

I don't know when Reagan decided to run for president again, but I have heard that Reagan's wife Nancy was a decisive influence, as she almost always was, on that decision. According to the accounts I have heard and read, Mrs. Reagan persuaded a reluctant Reagan to run in 1980.

By 1984, Reagan had been the target of an assassination attempt, and I have heard that Mrs. Reagan was against her husband seeking a second term. The president overruled her on that one.

But apparently he gave in to her in 1980 — and the course of history was changed.

I was not a Reagan fan when he was president, and I always wondered what it was about him that so many found so appealing.

Long after he left the White House, I think I figured it out. Yes, he was called "The Great Communicator," and he was more effective than most presidents at using what Teddy Roosevelt called "the bully pulpit& of the presidency. I always knew that.

But why was he so effective?

I think it was because he genuinely enjoyed telling stories, whether they were serious or funny. He had that rare ability to move people to tears or to laughter with a few words — even if they disagreed on the issues.

It is one of the unwritten requirements of the presidency that whoever is chosen to lead this nation must do the cornball things from time to time, and, frankly, no one did cornball better than Ronald Reagan.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Releasing John Hinckley

I felt torn — and still do — when I heard today that John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, is going to be released after being in custody for 35 years.

I'm torn because, on one hand, I believe that anyone who tries to kill a public official should spend the rest of his or her life in prison — until that life is ended by the state or nature. On the other hand, I believe in the jury system and that anyone who is accused of attempting to kill a public official — or any other crime — must be found guilty by a jury of his or her peers.

Everyone who is old enough to remember that day knows that Hinckley fired the gun that wounded Reagan and three others. The new president, only 10 weeks into his administration, had just given a speech, and a swarm of reporters and photographers were waiting for his exit. It may have been the most photographed presidential assassination attempt in history; there was plenty of photographic evidence of Hinckley's crime.

No one died that day — although when Reagan press secretary Jim Brady, who was critically wounded by a shot to the head and permanently disabled, died in 2014, his death was ruled a homicide, the ultimate outcome of the gunshot wound he suffered 33 years earlier.

Anyway, there was no question of Hinckley's guilt, but there was plenty of doubt about his sanity, given the paper trail he left behind.

And that was the question Hinckley's jury had to decide when he went on trial in 1982. Its verdict — not guilty by reason of insanity — was not a popular one. The laws concerning insanity defense were revised in many states; the defense itself was abolished entirely in three states.

But the point now is that Hinckley was not convicted. His verdict was conditional; he would be confined to a mental institution until it was determined that he was not a threat to himself or others. That was an ongoing struggle for about 25 years. From time to time he was given periodic temporary release privileges that were revoked when it was established that he was still obsessed with actress Jodie Foster — for whom he had attempted to kill the president.

It has now been determined that Hinckley poses no threat to himself or others, and he will be released on Aug. 6 — ironically, two days after the second anniversary of Brady's death. He is to live with his 90–year–old mother and have no contact with the Reagan family or Foster.

In case you're wondering, Hinckley could not face new charges in Brady's death because he had already been found not guilty by reason of insanity in the original shooting.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Citizen Kaine

The Republican convention has just concluded, the Democrats' convention is about to begin, and Hillary Clinton has named Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate.

The tickets are set for November — or, at least, they will be when the Democrats make their ticket official next week.

And thus the quadrennial angst over the identity of at least one running mate is behind us. But the angst over what it all means and how it will influence the decision America must make continues.

The idealized image of a running mate is someone who will help the nominee's cause, but the overwhelming consensus on both running mates from pundits to both the left and the right was that the choices were rather boring safe picks — picks who weren't likely to hurt the nominees.

Neither probably helped the presidential nominees much in their home states — although you couldn't have said that about a Tim Kaine when Bill Clinton was heading the ticket not his wife. In 1992, when Bill Clinton first won the presidency, Virginia was reliably Republican, having voted for every Republican nominee for nearly 30 years. But after the Clinton administration, Democrats did increasingly better in Virginia in national elections, and they broke a more than 40–year–old electoral drought when Barack Obama carried the state in 2008. He went on to duplicate the feat, albeit by a narrower margin, in 2012.

Most of the polls of Virginia's voters that I have seen this year suggest that Clinton has been enjoying a comfortable lead, but the Kaine pick may prove to be beneficial in Virginia after all. The most recent Virginia poll that I have seen, Hampton University's survey of likely voters, showed Clinton and Donald Trump tied at 39% apiece.

But that, as I say, contradicts the findings in other polls. The NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist and FOX News polls, which came out around the same time as Hampton's but surveyed registered, not necessarily likely, voters, showed Clinton with a larger lead over Trump than Public Policy Polling's June survey of more than 1,000 registered voters. That poll showed Clinton with a more tenuous three–point lead over Trump in Virginia.

Polls in the summer generally aren't too reliable, though. You really have to get into the fall campaign — and, in fact, get past the first presidential debate in late September — before the polls will give realistic readings on the pulse of the electorate.

Sure, they're fun to watch right now, like the initial phases of a horse race, but a lot can happen between the start of a race and the end of a race.

Polls in July usually can't tell you much about what to expect in November — except when those polls consistently show a landslide in the making, and it has been more than 30 years since America had a classic, textbook landslide.

Right now, it seems best to evaluate the running mate choices on how well they serve perhaps the most obvious need for both nominees — choices who could help heal fractured parties.

In the past, nominees often have sought to achieve party unity by offering the running mate slot to their closest competitors in the primaries. Sometimes offering an olive branch to the party's vanquished wing helps (i.e., Ronald Reagan's pick of George H.W. Bush in 1980), sometimes it doesn't (i.e., John Kerry's pick of John Edwards in 2004).

In Trump's case, he needed to shore up his credentials with conservatives, but the chances that he would pick the runnerup in the primaries, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, were slim and none.

He came up with a conservative alternative, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who appears to be acceptable to most conservatives in the party and, with six terms in the U.S. House under his belt, has legitimate insider credentials to balance Trump's perceived outsider status.

One can argue, of course — and, no doubt, many will — whether Trump, with his business dealings, is truly an outsider. He has often bragged, in fact, of how intimately he knows the system. That can be a good thing if one's objective is to elect someone who can work within the system to change it, but it can be a bad thing for someone who believes a candidate with that much invested in a system will work to protect it, not change it.

It is difficult to make a plausible case that having Cruz on the ticket would have helped Trump much in November. The race between Trump and Cruz never was that close, and, historically, a party's base will unite in spite of differences on some issues even without the runnerup on the ticket — still Cruz's nonendorsement of Trump in his convention speech clearly shows division remains in the Republican Party.

Pence may be able to help with that, reassuring conservatives and potentially uniting the base. If he does, Cruz's nonendorsement may be all but forgotten by most Republicans in November.

There is division in the Democratic Party as well, but it seems less certain that Kaine will be able to help much with that.

Even though the Democrats will have a platform that is considerably more left–leaning than ever before, the leftist wing of the party heavily supported Sanders in the primaries, and many of those Democrats may not vote for Clinton. They probably won't vote for Trump, but they might vote for the Green Party's candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, or they might not vote at all.

All along, the Clinton general election campaign strategy has been counting on the help that young voters gave Obama in 2008 and 2012, but many young voters supported Sanders in the primaries, and it is questionable whether Tim Kaine can address their concerns.

It will depend on what those concerns are.

If Sanders' supporters are mostly concerned about social issues or foreign policy, Kaine might fit the bill. National Journal's most recent congressional rankings — which are based on 2013 roll call votes — indicated that Sanders and Kaine are pretty close in those areas. Kaine, in fact, was considered more liberal in both (68% to 66% on social issues, 71% to 61% on foreign policy).

But the Sanders campaign was based primarily on economic issues, and that is where a considerable divide exists between Sanders and Kaine. The Journal gives Sanders a rating of 82% on economic issues; Kaine receives a far more centrist rating of 53%.

As a result, many of Sanders' supporters may choose not to participate in the election at all if they do not feel another candidate adequately represents them.

(In the interest of comparison, here is how Clinton fared in the National Journal's rankings when Clinton, then a senator, sought the presidential nomination in 2008. She received an 84% ranking on economic issues, an 83% ranking on social issues and a 66% ranking on foreign policy issues. Sanders, two years into his first term as a senator, received a 94% on economic issues, a 77% on social issues and a 94% on foreign policy issues. Citizen Kaine was the former governor of Virginia.)

I have a feeling that, unlike just about every other presidential election in my lifetime, every single vote will matter this time, and the Clinton campaign, mindful of that likelihood, went for a running mate who could be an electoral firewall. The usual swing states will be swing states again — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida — and each presents its unique set of issues and challenges.

In Ohio, Trump must overcome the resistance of the state's governor, former primary challenger Gov. John Kasich. Trump's economic message is resonating with Ohio's blue–collar voters; three of the last four polls there have shown Trump and Clinton tied. Pence, as the governor of a neighboring state, may help there.

I haven't seen a poll from Pennsylvania in nearly two weeks. At the time, one showed Clinton leading by nine points, the other showed Trump leading by two points. The most recent poll from Florida had Clinton leading by seven points.

Kaine probably can't help much in Virginia, although if the race is as tight as the Hampton University poll suggests, Kaine and his perfect electoral record in Virginia could help Clinton if she stumbles in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

To maintain historical plausibility with political scientists, the winner of the election needs to carry at least two of those three states. Recent electoral results indicate that Clinton might be able to win the presidency without winning any of them, but the fact is that no presidential candidate since 1960 has won the White House without carrying at least two of those states.

Will that be the case again in 2016? Or, as it has been with so many other things this year, will that tidbit of conventional wisdom prove to be invalid?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Of Glocks and Books and Computers ...

There was a memorial service here in Dallas earlier this week for the five police officers who were gunned down by a young black man who was reportedly upset over the shootings of black suspects by white policemen in Louisiana and Minnesota.

I wasn't able to watch the service on TV because I was at work, but I read the text of Barack Obama's speech online when I got home that night. And I have watched video clips on TV and online.

As I have acknowledged here before, I have never been an admirer of Obama, but even I must admit that the speech started out to be perhaps his finest oratorical moment — comparable, in my mind, to the speech Ronald Reagan gave to the nation the night of the Challenger disaster.

He was mindful of the fact that he was speaking at a service that was showing its respect for five public servants. But then he veered off into ideological territory. Such a thing would be inexcusable, anyway, but Obama made it worse by appearing to justify the actions taken by the angry, apparently mentally disturbed young man.

Obama lamented the fact that it was easier for a young black man to get his hands on a Glock than a computer or a book.

Now, to me, this said everything one needs to know about Obama's mindset. I have concluded that he believes racism only has a white face because whenever a white person kills a black person, he decries it as racism. But when a black person kills a white person, if the case gets any media attention at all — and, of course, the shootings here in Dallas were widely reported — Obama blames it on easy access to guns.

Someone needs to tell the president that guns are not cheap. A library card, on the other hand ...

Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Friend the Hall of Famer

Dr. Donna Lampkin Stephens, a friend and former colleague from my newspaper days in Arkansas, was inducted into the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame during the weekend.

It was the 10th induction class and the first to include a woman.

Donna's a trailblazer, all right, but I find myself thinking of her as a girl — not because I am sexist (I don't think I am) but because, darn it, Donna was a girl when I first knew her. I suppose I will always think of her that way.

We both graduated from the University of Arkansas with degrees in journalism and went to work for the Arkansas Gazette's sports department. I got there a few months before she did after I spent a year and a half at a smaller newspaper in central Arkansas. I think she came to the Gazette straight after her graduation from the University of Arkansas.

I worked on the copy desk. Donna wrote articles. I know she covered other sports because all of our writers had to cover sports other than their specialties, especially during football season, but she was primarily a golf writer. I edited her copy on many occasions. She was not only a good writer, she was a meticulous reporter.

I came to realize during my time as a sports copy editor that some sports are more difficult to make exciting in print than others. Golf seems especially stuffy in print. The fact that the TV announcers providing commentary for tournaments speak in a virtual whisper doesn't help — whereas a story about a home run or a touchdown and the accompanying roar — or deafening silence — of the crowd can almost write itself.

As the great Red Smith once observed, people go to or watch a sporting event to have fun, then they pick up the paper the next day to read about it and have fun all over again.

If the tournaments Donna covered were banal, it was hard to tell from her reports.

Donna isn't the first of my former colleagues to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. She isn't even the second — or third. We had a very talented staff at the Gazette. Sometimes I feel like the third baseman of the '27 New York Yankees. I mean, the '27 Yanks are remembered as one of the greatest baseball teams of all time, and everyone remembers the stars, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, from that team. But who remembers the third baseman? (It was Joe Dugan, by the way. He had a great reputation as a defensive player, but he hit fewer home runs in his career than Ruth did in the '27 season.)

I understood my role, though. As a copy editor, my job was defensive in nature. It was up to me to prevent mistakes from getting into print. If my work didn't attract attention, I figured I had been doing my job. A reporter's job, on the other hand, is to attract attention. If people don't read what a reporter has written, he/she is not getting the job done — even if the copy editor does a first–rate job of catching misspellings and keeping factual errors from making it into the morning paper.

Donna and I worked together for four years before I left to pursue my master's degree. Donna remained with the Gazette until it finally lost its war with the crosstown rival Arkansas Democrat. Since then she has earned her Ph.D. and become a successful journalism professor. She has also done a lot of freelance work for my hometown paper — a paper for which I wrote some freelance articles when I was in high school.

And she has written a book about the demise of the Gazette.

Very accomplished — and thoroughly deserving of this honor.