Freedom Writing

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Happy Birthday to My Goddaughter

"Where there is love there is life."

Mahatma Gandhi

Today is my goddaughter Nikki's birthday.

I never married, never had children of my own. I always figured my life was pretty complete as it was.

Until Nikki was born and her parents asked me to be her godfather. That was when I realized just how wrong I was.

In truth, I haven't seen her often. The last time I saw her she was probably 2 or 3 years old. Now she's a mom, with a son who just turned 9 and a daughter who had her first birthday earlier this year (the picture at the top of this post is of Nikki holding Molly shortly after Molly was born).

And I understand now what my parents and grandparents meant when they spoke of how time flies. Where has the time gone?

It was when Randy and Tammy asked me to be Nikki's godfather that I truly understood the meaning of love. I'm not speaking of love in the sense of two sets of glands with tunnelvision for each other and their bodies colliding with the furniture. We all went through that when we were teenagers, right?

No, I'm speaking of the love that parents must feel for their children. I think the best description of that emotion I ever heard was given by Kelsey Grammer on the Frasier show. His producer Roz (Peri Gilpin) had just found out she was pregnant and was freaking out about the responsibility of it all. Frasier told her, "You don't just love your children. You fall in love with them." He told Roz that he didn't know that until he became a parent, but I am proof that you don't have to be a biological parent to feel that.

As I say, I haven't experienced parenthood firsthand, but I know I am capable of feeling what Frasier was talking about — because I have felt it ever since Nikki was born and I became her godfather.

I keep up with her mainly through Facebook these days — although there was a time when I was in the hospital, and after I came home, she sent me an email almost every day. That meant a lot to me then, and it means a lot to me now.

And it made me regret the fact that I missed so much of her life. It couldn't be helped, really. We lived in different states, and I made the mistake of picking a profession that didn't pay very well so I never could afford to visit.

That doesn't keep me from regretting all the things I missed, all the milestones in her life, all the birthdays.

I don't know if I have much wisdom to share, but still I wish I could have been there to at least try to answer her questions as she was figuring things out.

She seems to have figured a lot of things out without much help from me.

And she seems to be doing a great job raising her kids. I always knew she would.

Happy birthday, Nikki. You make me proud every day.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Game Changer

Last night's mass shooting in Orlando, Florida is a political game changer.

I have long thought that terrorism is the real wild card in this year's campaign. Terrorist attacks make people feel unsafe, which is, of course, the objective. The more terrorist attacks there are between now and Election Day, the worse the news is for the Democratic ticket that wishes to succeed Barack Obama and Joe Biden — because terrorist attacks make voters compare the situation under those who have been in power with the situation when their predecessors were in power.

And, say what you will about George W. Bush, terrorists weren't carrying out attacks on Americans in California and Florida or anywhere else when he was in the Oval Office. At least, not after 9–11. The wisdom of fighting the terrorists in the Middle East instead of having to fight them here is not lost on American voters when they see news reports of people being gunned down at nightclubs and Christmas parties.

So the best–case scenario for the Democrats would be if no more terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil between now and the election. I'm sure that is what they are hoping for.

But I don't think that is what will happen just as I never thought the election campaign would pass without being marred by a single terrorist attack. And it hasn't. Is there anyone so naive as to think there will not be at least one more in the next five months?

I've heard implications of the left's favorite straw man, the automatic weapon, which is already heavily regulated and wasn't even used in this attack. It's easier to ignore terrorism when it is happening half a world away than it is when it is happening just down the road a piece.

And it is easier to blame something that isn't responsible — automatic weapons — than it is to blame something that is responsible — Islamic radicalism.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

California, Here They Are

It has always struck me as odd.

For most of my lifetime, California has been the largest state (by population) in the country. In November, the winner in California (and that is generally expected to be the Democrat; California hasn't voted for a Republican since Ronald Reagan was preparing to leave the White House in 1988) will win — by virtue of that solitary victory — one–fifth of the electoral votes needed to capture the presidency.

That is why many Democrats remain confident of winning this year. Throw in other large states that have been voting reliably for Democrats during that same period — New York, Michigan, Illinois — and those that have been voting almost as often for Democrats but usually by narrower margins — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida — and Democrats don't feel that they will need to win many of the mid–sized and smaller states to secure victory in the election.

(Any stock investor will tell you, though, that past results are no guarantee of future behavior.)

Yes, California is at the very heart of Democrats' general election battle plan.

And yet it is a virtual afterthought in the primaries.

The biggest reason for that, I suppose, is the fact that California's presidential primary is nearly always scheduled for the very end of primary season. By that time, party nominees have already been decided — usually — and California voters merely rubber–stamp the decision that has been made by others.

It seems to me that the last time California's Republican presidential primary had any relevance to the outcome of the race for the nomination was in 1976 when California's former governor, Ronald Reagan, needed to win there to remain viable in his race against President Gerald Ford. Reagan did win the primary by a margin of nearly 2 to 1, but Ford still won the nomination.

Democrats moved California's primary up to what was known as "Super Duper Tuesday" in March 2008 so the state could wield greater influence on the nomination. But that was the year of Hillary Clinton's duel with Barack Obama that went down to the first week of June before Clinton conceded defeat.

Clinton won California's primary in 2008, but nearly two dozen states and territories voted that day. When the smoke cleared, Obama had secured more delegates than Clinton and was on his way to the nomination — although, as I said, the campaign went on for three more months before Clinton finally conceded what most observers already knew.

Before that, I guess you would have to go back to 1968 — when primaries were not yet the preferred method for selecting delegates — to find a California primary that was expected to influence the nomination — even though it, too, was held at the end of that year's primary season. In 1968, the presumptive front–runner, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated after claiming victory over Sen. Eugene McCarthy in the California primary, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who entered no primaries that year, won the nomination the old–fashioned way — behind the scenes.

The concept of voters actually playing a role in the parties' presidential nomination processes is fairly new in the American experience. It is not how most of our presidents — the great and the not–so–great alike — won their parties' nominations.

But it is the expectation of modern voters that they will be allowed a legitimate opportunity to have a say in the nomination process. (Considering that this has apparently produced two unpopular nominees this year, both parties may want to re–evaluate how they choose their nominees when this election is over.)

And expectations have always played an important role in presidential politics.

Those expectations have shifted dramatically in California.

A little over a month ago, polls were showing Clinton with a double–digit lead over Sanders in California. Polls continued to show her comfortably in front as recently as two weeks ago. Expectations in early May were that Clinton would win easily in California and become the presumptive nominee. Thus, the Clinton campaign scheduled stops elsewhere in the weeks before California, and the candidate turned her attention to her presumptive Republican rival instead of her challenger within her own party.

But in a new poll released today — two days before the primary — Clinton's lead over Sanders is down to two percentage points, which is well within the poll's margin of error. In recent days, Clinton has canceled planned stops in other places and returned to California to woo the voters in the Golden State.

As CBS News observes in its report on today's poll, Clinton does not need to win California outright — or New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico or the Dakotas, all of whom hold their primaries on Tuesday as well. She only needs to keep adding to her delegate total.

But Sanders voters — at least the ones in California — indicate that they are not motivated so much by a belief that Sanders can still win the nomination as they are by the desire to influence the direction of the party.

And running out the clock is not the kind of finish Clinton's supporters were hoping for. They were looking for a Secretariat–like 31–length win, not a photo finish in which she limped across the finish line barely ahead of a 74–year–old socialist from Vermont. Especially with the help of so–called superdelegates who are obligated to no one.

Clinton's supporters were expecting a decisive, double–digit win in California — and, given the unpredictability of modern American politics, that may still happen, but the record of this campaign has been that Sanders has tended to underperform in polls leading up to primaries and then overperform (in the context of those polls) on Election Day. Clinton has won in more places than Sanders has but, outside of the South (and its high population of blacks, most of whom have been in Clinton's corner), typically by margins far lower than are expected from candidates who are thought to be historically inevitable.

Clinton needs a solid victory on Tuesday in the largest state in the union to build pressure for Sanders to withdraw in the sake of party unity — but, as Sanders insists there will be a contested convention in Philadelphia next month, his withdrawal after Tuesday's primaries does not seem likely.

Another narrow Clinton victory certainly won't change that.

Hillary's husband, a much more gifted politician than his wife will ever be, would know that the wise thing to do is eliminate your in–party opponent before turning your sights on your general election rival. Learning that lesson now could come at a high price.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Jane Seymour

When I was a boy, a BBC–produced series called "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" was a big hit on public broadcasting. In six installments, it told the stories of the six wives of Henry VIII of England, whose theory of the divine right of kings was applied in almost every way imaginable during his reign — but perhaps most flagrantly in his treatment of marriage.

Henry's infamous clashes with the pope led to the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, permitting the king to annul two of his marriages and execute two of his wives.

His sixth wife survived him, and the wife he married 480 years ago today, Jane Seymour, died less than 18 months later after giving birth to Edward VI, Henry's only male heir to survive infancy. Henry's marriage to Seymour, a former lady–in–waiting, came 11 days after the execution of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Boleyn was beheaded for treason, incest and adultery; after nearly 500 years, the case against her remains suspect.

Henry's marriages typically ended for one of two reasons (sometimes both) — the perceived failure of the wife to produce a male heir or the allegation of infidelity. That would be infidelity on the part of the wife, of course. Henry carried on many extramarital affairs in his life, but none of his marriages ended because of his infidelity, which would have been far easier to prove.

I can't claim to have read much about Henry VIII and his six wives. I watched most of the PBS series with my parents, but that was many years ago. Nevertheless, my impression at the time was that Henry was a narcissist, even though I had no idea what that was, and Jane Seymour was probably the only one of his six wives he truly loved.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

My Mother's Day

Today is an important anniversary for me.

Yes, I know it is Cinco de Mayo, the commemoration of Mexico's victory over French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is also the anniversary of the flash flood here in Dallas that took my mother's life — an event that has had infinitely more significance in mine than the battle that was fought more than 150 years ago.

Now, I always think of Mom at this time of year — actually, she crosses my mind at least once every day — but, for some reason, memories of Mom have been especially plentiful for me this year. There is no particular reason for that, I suppose. This isn't what might be called a milestone anniversary. Last year was, but this year is not.

It took me a long time to come to terms with what happened — and, in some ways, I guess I still have work to do, but I have largely come to terms with it.

The time around my mother's death and funeral has been a blur for me for many years. The strongest memory I have of that time is how unusually green everything was. That was an indicator of the conditions that led to Mom's death. There had been so much rain that spring that the ground was saturated. When the rain began to fall on the night my mother died, there was no place for the water to go. Thus, the flooding. Nearly two dozen people died that night.

Now, it always gets green here in the spring as it does just about everywhere else. It is the intensity level that changes, depending upon how much rain we get. If we don't get much rain, the green can be kind of dull, bordering on brown — an almost sure sign of a scorched–earth summer to come.

But the green of the grass and the trees that spring was deep, rich, vibrant. I have lived here more than 20 years — and visited here frequently as a child — and I have only seen green like that around here one other time — last year, which, as I say, was a milestone anniversary. We had a lot of rain — and some flooding, too. Talk about deja vu.

The green this spring seems to be more ordinary, kind of an average green. There is nothing about it, really, that should make me think of Mom or the time when she died.

And it doesn't. In fact, it isn't a visual thing at all. It's the sounds.

We lived in the country when I was growing up, and the sounds of wildlife were all around us. Birds, mostly, I suppose, but there were also crickets — and sounds that I still can't identify. Those sounds were the sounds of home — like the sounds of my parents' voices coming from downstairs or the wind rustling the leaves in the trees outside my bedroom window.

When I was growing up, I guess I was what was called a morning person. I got that from Dad, I guess. He's always been a morning person.

Anyway, I remember many mornings when I awoke before the sun came up, and I sat next to my window and listened to the sounds around me. I remember hearing the birds. I never saw them, and I have never been very good at identifying birds by the sounds they made so I don't know what kind of birds they were. But the same kind of bird must have taken up residence near my apartment because the song I have heard in recent days is one I have heard before, and it brings back strong memories of being a teenager.

That brings me to another point. As I say, I was a morning person when I was a boy, and I guess I remained one through my college years, but I got a newspaper job when I was 24 that required me to work nights. It wasn't easy, but I finally made the transition that had to be made if a morning person by nature was going to work a job that kept him at the office until after midnight.

Then I made the decision to go back to graduate school, and I worked at the local paper, which was an afternoon paper. That meant I had to be at work at 5 a.m. I would put in eight hours in the newsroom, then I would work for three hours in the afternoon as a teaching assistant in the editing lab. Graduate classes always met at night so if I had a class on a particular night, that would take about three more hours.

I kind of lost track of whether I was a morning person or a night person under those 20–hour–a–day conditions.

I've been working jobs that had more standard daytime hours for quite awhile now so I kind of drift from morning person to night person back to morning person. Lately I've been more of a morning person — at least as far as when I wake up is concerned. As it was when I was in my teens, I am often up before daybreak, and I listen to the sounds around me. I live in a city now so the sounds are the sounds one hears in a city — car engines running, buses stopping at the bus stop in front of my apartment building, the occasional wailing siren from a police car as it goes speeding by.

But even those sounds, mingled with the sounds of birds, remind me of Mom. She was a first–grade teacher, and there were times when I visited my parents and I would drive her to school in the mornings while I was visiting. The sounds of the city and the sounds of the birds remind me of mornings when I helped her carry her stuff to the car, then drove her to school and helped her unload.

I had kind of forgotten those mornings, but I'm glad to be reminded of them. I guess there wasn't anything remarkable about those times, just that I shared them with Mom.

And that was enough to make them special.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hoosier Buddy? Hoosier Pal? Hoosier Politics

In a matter of hours, voters will be going to the polls in Indiana to vote in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.

Even for the state's old–timers, this is bound to be a first — primaries in either party that have real bearing on the outcomes of the nomination battles. Actually, in the annals of presidential politics (primary or general elections), this is indeed a rare occasion for the folks in Indiana. It has been an opportunity for them to see and hear four people who want to be the next president — and, in all likelihood, one will be. Ordinarily, nominations are all but wrapped up by the time Indiana's primaries are held so they attract little attention — from either the candidates or the media.

Indiana almost always votes Republican in the general election and usually by a wide margin so there is little reason for either nominee to campaign there this fall. Yes, I know Barack Obama carried the state by almost 30,000 votes (out of more than 2.7 million cast) in 2008, but the state reverted to form in 2012 and went for Mitt Romney by more than a quarter of a million votes.

That 2008 election was only the second time since the end of World War II that Indiana voted for a Democrat. The other time was in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson carried the state against Barry Goldwater. It didn't vote for any of the other Democrats who have been elected president since the end of the war — not Harry Truman or Jack Kennedy or Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton.

Clearly, the assumption has to be that the Republican nominee — whoever that turns out to be — will win Indiana. And the winner of the Democratic nomination, if he or she is smart, will not devote much in the way of time or resources to campaigning in Indiana this fall — unless polls consistently show that the state is up for grabs.

Which is always possible. This year has already been one unlike any other in American political history. And it would not shock me if there are many surprises in store for us on Election Night this November.

That is six months from now. Many things can happen in six months. It is truly an eternity in politics.

That is exactly why it is wise not to place too much faith in polls, either. I know I cite them in this blog, but that is as a general barometer, and I make no pretense that they are endowed with some strange, mystical power to see the future. They tend to be useful for showing how close or lopsided a race looks at a moment in time, but the numbers are imprecise. It is a cliche, but it is still true: The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

Decisions are made by those who show up. And who knows what will be on the minds of the voters when they go to the polls in November?

Will there be a terrorist attack somewhere in October — another Brussels or Paris, perhaps? Maybe there will be one at the Summer Olympics in South America. Or maybe somewhere that is not obvious today.

What will happen with the economy this summer? Will joblessness go up? Will GDP go down? What will the stock market do?

Will the FBI finally render its decision on Hillary Clinton's private email server?

Or will voters be thinking about public restrooms?

Whatever the answers are to those questions — and to those questions no one has thought to ask but almost certainly will between now and November — the one thing that seems certain, on the eve of what I honestly believe will be the turning point in both nomination battles, is that we are witnessing a turning point in American politics.

Because of what we are seeing in this election, in the years to come, nothing will be quite the same.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Classroom

"I'm a white lady. I'm an easy target."

Melissa Click

Foolishly, I suppose, I thought that, when I wrote in February about Melissa Click's dismissal from her job as a journalism professor at the University of Missouri, I would never type her name again.

Sadly, that is not the case. I guess I should have known better, given my years of newspaper work. There are certain people who never go away, no matter how much you may wish they would.

And Ms. Click is one of them. She has surfaced again — to blame her dismissal on "racial politics" in a profile published in the Chronicle of Higher Education last weekend.

To read the article online, you have to be a subscriber, and I am not a subscriber, but I have heard enough about the article's contents from those who are subscribers to know that what I have heard about it is true.

Click contends that she was a victim of racial politics. She says she was fired because she is "an easy target."

"I'm a white lady," she said.

Clearly, she is white. Whether she is a lady is a matter of personal opinion. (Before you reach any conclusions on that, be sure you watch her video from last fall. I posted it with my article in February.)

I know it is fashionable these days to blame one's failures on alleged prejudice. Sometimes it's bewildering — like when one claims to be a member of another race or to be of another gender than one really is and blames a personal failure on prejudice against that race or gender.

But Click is not disputing her race or her gender, just using them as the scapegoats for her dismissal. In my mind, that is worse.

I am a journalist who has taught journalism on the college level, and, as I wrote in February, I was glad the University of Missouri dismissed her. I did not think she was an advocate of freedom of the press or freedom of speech, and I believe that people who teach journalism classes should be effective role models in their defense of both.

In calling for "some muscle" in a blatant effort to prevent a student journalist from covering a news event on a public campus, Click clearly demonstrated that she only believes in freedom of the press and freedom of speech when they are to her benefit.

But freedom of speech and freedom of the press exist to benefit everyone.

And any journalism professor who doesn't understand that has no business being a journalism professor.

Race and gender have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Silly Season

Peggy Noonan, a writer whose skill I truly admire, observed recently that 2016, for better or worse, will not be a politics–as–usual kind of year.

"This is big, what we're living through," she concluded.

I agree with her — to a point.

As is always the case in a presidential election year, our nation faces very serious issues, issues that we as Americans must confront frankly and candidly and decide what we want to do about them — the economy and joblessness (that alleged 5% unemployment figure simply is not good enough, nor is a GDP that struggles to stay in positive territory); terrorism (something has to be done about those who want to kill Americans indiscriminately, especially in America but everywhere else, too), and immigration and national security (America has always been a nation that welcomed people from every corner of the world, but a nation that is not secure is a nation that is not free).

These are complex issues. They always are. We owe it to ourselves to come to a national conclusion about what must be done. We cannot, as Barack Obama has famously said, continue to kick cans down the road.

But, as always (and this is where I disagree with Noonan — this is the way in which American politics circa 2016 is the same as ever), we allow ourselves to become mired in irrelevance.

This is so typical of this country. Go back over the history of presidential elections, and you will see this just about every time.

This year is no different. Are we discussing the issues I just outlined? Sure, we talk about them — but in vague terms and only long enough and in adequate terms to energize the base. We don't discuss them in detail.

What are we talking about in detail?

Public restrooms.

The whole thing keeps bringing to mind — well, my mind, anyway — the phrase "the silly season."

That is a phrase that has been used in many contexts. I was familiar with it in my days on newspapers. When I worked in news, it was typically a reference to the general lull in news events in late summer (aka the "dog days of summer"). That always seems to be a slow news season, presumably because just about everyone goes on vacation and nothing of substance is done, certainly nothing of a controversial nature, until after Labor Day. Thus it becomes necessary for reporters to come up with stories to justify their presence on the staff — until real news starts happening again.

In my days on the sports desk, it typically referred to all kinds of off–season stuff that happens in every sport.

In modern presidential election years — at least since the last time a major party's convention needed more than one ballot to agree on a nominee — the phrase "silly season" has typically referred to the period between early summer (after the primaries have ended) and mid– to late October (which, polls show, is when most Americans start paying attention to the campaign).

With a few exceptions, political conventions have been scripted and predictable. Fewer and fewer Americans have watched them in recent presidential cycles. And, although debates are taken for granted today, they have only been part of presidential elections for the last 40 years — less than one–fifth of all presidential elections in America's history.

In the last 40 years, debates between the major parties' nominees have frequently begun in late September, which has shifted the calendar of interest somewhat in those election years.

But the silly season really seems to be getting a head start this time. It's only April, we still have more than a dozen primaries on the political calendar for both parties, neither nomination has been clinched for the first ballot — and we're already descending into silly season hell.

Don't worry about all those other issues, though. There is only one burning — as it were — issue.

Where do you stand — er, sit — on it?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Musing About the Big Apple

"In the first half of the 20th century, New York was the dominant state in presidential politics. It had the most electoral votes, and of all the large states, it was usually the most evenly divided between the two parties. In the 21st century, New York — with 33 electoral votes in 2000, 31 in 2004 and 2008 and 29 in 2012 — has come to be the most heavily Democratic large state. It's easy today to forget that in 1976 Jimmy Carter only carried the state with 52% of the vote, winning just seven counties and only three outside New York City."

Richard E. Cohen with James A. Barnes
The Almanac of American Politics 2016

I've been reading a lot and listening to many reports about Tuesday's New York primaries, and I really have to wonder about its significance, especially on the Republican side. It probably means about as much in the long run as Hillary Clinton's victory in the Democratic primary here in Texas. Whichever Republican wins the New York primary — even if, as now seems probable, it is native New Yorker Donald Trump — is not likely to win the general election there.

But the Republican race is about delegates now, and there are 95 available in New York. All indications are that the delegate race will be very tight at least until the California primary in June so that, more than anything else, will attract media attention on Tuesday.

That along with the fact that Trump is likely, as he has elsewhere, to draw many new participants into the electoral process. In 2012, fewer than 200,000 New Yorkers participated in the Republican primary — and the GOP nomination had, in all fairness, already been decided

As Cohen and Barnes correctly pointed out, there was a time — not so long ago, really — when the outcome of a presidential campaign in New York was not a foregone conclusion. In six of the first 10 presidential elections following World War II, Republicans carried New York. But New York has voted with Democrats in the last seven elections. New York hasn't voted for a Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

"The Almanac of American Politics" observes that this transition was caused by Jewish voters becoming more strongly identified with Democrats, rising black and Hispanic populations, and white Catholics, who once voted largely on the basis of cultural issues like crime are more likely now to vote on the basis of issues like abortion, gun control and gay rights.

Of course, New York's electoral performance often seems to be influenced by the presence of a New Yorker — or someone with regional ties — on a national ticket. But not always. In that 1984 campaign, the Democrats had New Yorker Geraldine Ferraro on their ticket, but Reagan took nearly 54% of the state's popular vote.

New York offers a big chunk of delegates in its Republican primary. It isn't winner–take–all. The winner of the state overall will secure a huge block of votes, but some will be allocated based on the results in congressional districts — and if the CBS News/YouGuv poll that was released today is accurate, that could mean a very big night for Donald Trump.

And I suppose it is possible that Trump's presence on the ballot could put New York in play in November — but I doubt it. In the last five presidential elections, New York has never given a Democratic nominee less than 58% of its vote.

That being the case, it might be more instructive to observe the results in the Democrats' primary.

That CBS News/YouGuv poll found Clinton with a 10–point lead over Bernie Sanders. Considering the facts that Clinton was elected to the Senate twice by New York voters and beat Barack Obama by 17 points in the 2008 New York primary, a 10–point win over Sanders would suggest declining support in her "home" state — which could, in turn, suggest declining support nationwide.

A Sanders upset would change the game for certain.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Is a Contested Convention Inevitable?

Before the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses began, I figured — like probably everyone else did — that, even though there were 17 candidates for the Republican nomination, the voters would settle on one fairly early in the process.

If anyone had asked me if we would know the identity of the nominee by mid–April, I would have responded in the affirmative. After all, that is the way it almost always works out.

All the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees in my lifetime have been nominated on the first ballot. Whatever their faults may have been, candidates have won or lost the general election entirely on their own. The number of ballots it took to nominate them has never been a factor in the general election.

But the topic of a contested convention — sometimes called a "brokered" convention although that really is a label that belongs to another time in American political history — began to circulate rather early in that process this year — and even though we are in mid–April and the Republican field is down to three active candidates, we still do not know who the nominee will be.

The front–runner, businessman Donald Trump, has been busily shooting himself in the foot. He lost the Wisconsin primary to his top rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, last week, and now he is limping into his home state primary, New York, where polls show him comfortably ahead.

Once Trump wins New York next week, as appears inevitable — although I guess I should be more careful about proclaiming something inevitable, given what we have already seen in this year's presidential campaign on both sides — I believe Cruz will be mathematically eliminated from securing enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the third wheel in the campaign, is already mathematically eliminated.

But that won't mean that Trump is on Easy Street. Cruz and Kasich aren't the only ones who have delegates committed to them. So does Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who withdrew from the race when he lost his home state's primary a month ago. Rubio has 171 delegates who will be committed to him through the first ballot.

Trump needs to secure more than 51% of the delegates that are available in the primaries that will be held in the next two months to barely win a majority. That is certainly achievable. It is fortunate for Trump that most states do not award delegates on a purely proportional basis.

Trump having enough delegates to win on the first ballot is certainly more likely than Cruz capturing 90% of the remaining delegates (and that assumes that Trump won't win most of the delegates in New York). Talk about an impossible dream. And, as I said, Kasich isn't in the running for a first–ballot nomination.

But Cruz and Kasich could prevent Trump from having enough delegates to claim the nomination on the first ballot when everyone goes to Cleveland this summer. That could so easily happen.

American voters are a funny bunch sometimes. It often happens that, when one candidate appears to be on the verge of clinching a presidential nomination, the voters in the party start voting for someone else. Most of the time, that has happened in the Democratic Party. The front–runner eventually prevails, but not before the voters flex their contrarian muscles and throw a good scare into the presumptive nominee — as if to remind him (or her — Bernie Sanders seems to be throwing a good scare into Hillary Clinton's campaign) who's really in charge.

Or, at least, who is supposed to be in charge.

In the case of a contested convention, it appears that no one will be in charge. That is the part that seems to worry people the most. There will be chaos, we are told. Delegates will be fighting in the aisles.

Actually, the biggest concern seems to be that a multi–ballot convention will doom the nominee in the general election.

But I conducted a very random and extremely unscientific survey, and nearly everyone with whom I spoke said multiple ballots at the convention would not disqualify the nominee from becoming president.

Of course, I suppose that depends on what the voters see playing out on their TV screens during the convention. If they see riots in the streets, that could certainly influence their votes.

A contested convention would be a new thing for just about everyone. The last time the Republicans needed more than one ballot to choose their nominee was in 1948, nearly 70 years ago. That convention produced the second nomination of New York Gov. Tom Dewey, who went on to lose to President Truman in the upset of which people still speak.

The Democrats' most recent contested convention was in 1952. That one produced Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson as the nominee. He went on to lose the election to popular war hero General Dwight Eisenhower.

Now, at this point, you may be wondering if a contested convention has ever produced a nominee who went on to win the presidency. The answer to that is yes.

Woodrow Wilson (1912) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932) were both the products of contested conventions. FDR only needed four ballots. Wilson needed nearly four dozen.

Four Democratic presidents in the 19th century — James K. Polk in 1844, Franklin Pierce in 1852, James Buchanan in 1856 and Grover Cleveland in 1884 — needed more than one ballot to win their nominations.

In fact, until Harry Truman won the 1948 nomination on the first ballot and went on to win the November election, every eventual Democratic president for more than a century needed multiple ballots the first time he was nominated.

But eventual failure has been a more frequent outcome. Including the 1952 convention, 10 Democratic nominees who needed more than one ballot have gone on to lose the presidency. Thus, by nearly a 2–to–1 margin, nominees from brokered Democratic conventions have lost in the general election.

Multiple–ballot conventions have been less frequent for Republicans. They have had only 10, but their success ratio has been better. Half of those contested conventions produced the eventual winner, starting with Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

My guess is that, barring violence in the streets of Cleveland, a contested convention would be a ratings magnet. A contested convention would give viewers a rare civics lesson, an opportunity to see real wheeling and dealing on the convention floor, which would be sure to produce some surprises the next time the roll of the states was called. As I mentioned, Cruz and Kasich might well join forces to stop Trump. Cruz might well tell Kasich that, in exchange for his delegates' support, he would offer Kasich the vice presidency.

In that case, Trump might try to join forces with Rubio — and make a similar offer to him for his delegates.

And, although the two leaders deny that anything like it will happen, a compromise candidate might emerge if the balloting goes beyond a second or third ballot.

Theoretically, anything could happen in a contested convention.