Tag Archives: elections

We’re All Alabama Now

Jim Watson /AFP/Getty Images

Until the tide started to turn toward Doug Jones on Tuesday night, it looked as though the quintessential Alabama Moment of its bizarro special election would come courtesy of Jim Ziegler, the Republican state auditor. After candidate Roy Moore was revealed to be a serial mall-stalker of teenage girls, Ziegler was among the many fine Christian citizens to rally to the Republican nominee’s defense. The news, he said, had put him in mind of the inspiring story of Our Lord and Savior. “Take Joseph and Mary,” he said. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became the parents of Jesus. There’s nothing immoral or illegal here.”

Nothing to see here, folks! has not only been the rallying cry of conservative Southerners since the build-up to the Civil War, but of the region’s put-upon liberals as well. As soon as Moore secured the Republican nomination, the familiar sense of dread began to creep in. “Good lord, here we go again,” one of my former neighbors in Montgomery, a longtime civil-rights activist, sighed over the phone. “You know exactly what it’ll be. Magnolias and guns and grits and moonlight and poverty and NASCAR and Selma and Bible-thumping imbeciles and poverty statistics, and oh yeah, don’t forget the cousin-fucking jokes on late night TV. ” (She had no idea how right she’d be about the latter.)

The last time the rest of America had found a reason to tune into news from the state of Alabama, the footage had been black-and-white: The Alabama State Police showed off their baton-wielding and hose-shooting skills, big dogs snarled, and George Wallace demagogued about “segregation now, segregation to-morrah, segregation forever.” The images didn’t just stick in Americans’ heads — they became Alabama.

“This is an election to tell the world who we are,” Doug Jones said on the campaign trail. It’s exactly what so many Alabamians were dreading like the plague.

While Northeastern liberals were getting the first look at Alabama in Technicolor, Roy Moore’s backers did their damnedest to make it appear that time had actually stood still. State Representative Ed Henry told the Cullman Times that the women who accused Moore of molesting them should be locked up. “You can’t be a victim 40 years later, in my opinion,” he said. Besides, said Geneva County GOP chairman Riley Seibenhener, you couldn’t blame a man in his thirties for things that happen: “I know that 14-year-olds don’t make good decisions,” he said. John Archibald, a columnist for Al.com, put it pretty aptly: “Thinking of the world watching Alabama now is like hearing an unexpected knock on the door when you haven’t done the dishes.”

They knew perfectly well that most white Christian folk in Alabama did not really believe that Roy Moore was another holy spirit come down to Earth to impregnate holy virgins. They also knew that Alabama’s ornery streak was about to kick in as soon as the national newspapers started to dig into Moore. “If the Washington Post ran a banner headline tomorrow saying ‘Antifreeze is poison, don’t drink it,’ a sizeable number of Alabamians would be dead tomorrow,” cracked Kyle Whitmire, a local political columnist.

But lo and behold, decency prevailed over orneriness and bigotry on Election Day — by a narrow margin, maybe, but still. All of a sudden, the generations of sneering and stereotypes gave way to gratitude and surprise from celebrity liberals. “I love you Alabama!” tweeted Cyndi Lauper; “Alabama gives us all hope tonight,” said Maria Shriver. “Never give up on this gorgeous mystery called Life,” commented Ava DuVernay. “A Democrat from Alabama? Hope lives.” Alyssa Milano found her inspiration in a whole new place: “Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity, Alabama,” she tweeted.

Granted, it might seem like a pyrrhic kind of victory when 48 percent of the state, and 68 percent its white people, voted to send a probable pedophile and certified theocrat to Washington. At Vox, Dylan Matthews noted that “a glib commentator might conclude that all the election shows it that a Democrat can win a special election in Alabama if his opponent has been fired from the state Supreme Court twice for misconduct and faces multiple credible accusations of preying on teenage girls.”

True enough. But un-crazy Alabamians and long-slandered Southerners will take what credit we can get. While the Roy Moore episode dredged up and reinforced a million hoary old clichés about the Deep South, the ultimate takeaway was something else altogether: Alabama, it turns out, isn’t an American outlier after all. “Looking back at George Wallace, we thought he was a fading and terrible relic,” says Diane McWhorter, the great civil-rights historian from Birmingham. “After Trump, we’re all Alabamians now.”

During the civil rights era, populist historian Howard Zinn wrote the truest thing ever said about the South — and the rest of America. The South, he said, “is racist, violent, hypocritically pious, xenophobic, false in its elevation of women, nationalistic, conservative, and it harbors extreme poverty in the midst of ostentatious wealth. The only point I have to add is that the United States, as a civilization, embodies all of these same qualities.”

After Tuesday, perhaps, Alabama can become a state rather than a symbol. Put to the test by Roy Moore, its voters showed they aren’t really the American exemplars of intractable ignorance and intolerance. At the same time, they’re hardly what Jones wanted to claim in his victory speech — sudden proof that the universe’s moral arc keeps bending toward justice. Charles Barkley, one of the great Alabamians of our time, nailed the real truth as he celebrated Jones’s victory with the homefolk on Tuesday: “Yeah, we got a bunch of rednecks and a bunch of ignorant people. But we got some amazing people and they rose up today.”

On Tuesday, precisely because of that wild mixture of ignorance and amazingness, of smallness and big-heartedness, of bigotry and brotherhood, Alabama finally became a widely recognized part of the United States of America. Whether that’s a compliment or not, of course, depends on your perspective.

***

Bob Moser is a contributing editor at The New Republic, former editor of the Texas Observer, and author of Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority.

Are Regular Russians Ready to Take On Vladimir Putin?

Protesters wave a national flag as they crowd in downtown Moscow on March 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

The Russian presidential election is a year away, but protests have already begun. Last week, images of Russians being carried and even dragged from Moscow’s Red Square spread throughout the Western media. Then came the crackdown—blocked access to web pages and social media showing the photos, and a criminal case against the protesters. Earlier this week, the square was nearly empty despite another planned action.

The protests demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and objected to widespread corruption, but they also served as a rare moment of rebellion in a country that rarely dares defy its leader, President Vladimir Putin.

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How to Drop Out of a Presidential Race

Adlai Stevenson (left) at a 1952 AFL convention. Photo: Kheel Center, Flickr

This is not an idle consideration. Dropping out of the presidential race can be more important—and can have a more lasting impact—than entering it. Departing the right way can help a candidate built a lasting “brand” and set him or her up for speaking fees, TV contracts, a book deal and, who knows, maybe another run for the top prize one day.

Of course, some candidates go out with more grace and style than others. One of history’s best dropout lines came from Democrat Adlai Stevenson, who, after losing to Dwight Eisenhower, confessed, “It hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry.” Richard Nixon, after he lost his race for governor of California in 1962, chose a different tack, famously proclaiming he’d quit politics forever and snapping to reporters, in words that would haunt him the rest of his life, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” Ronald Reagan fought Gerald Ford all the way to the convention in 1976, and spent the next four years giving speeches and addresses that set up his frontrunner status in 1980. In 2008, when Hillary Clinton left the presidential campaign after a long, bitter struggle against Barack Obama she proclaimed herself a “glass ceiling” breaker—and made it pretty clear she’d be back to try to shatter the glass again.

—Matt Larimer, writing for Politico. Larimer’s piece offers an excellent guide for the losers of Iowa and New Hampshire and armchair analysts alike.

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The Ever-Shifting Definition of ‘Progressive’

Bernie Sanders’ campaign website categorizes his platform as “progressive”; Hillary Clinton has recently started describing herself as “a progressive who likes to get things done.” And Beverly Gage has a fascinating piece over at The New York Times Magazine about the shifting definition of the word “progressive,” particularly in relation to its similarly left-leaning lexical cousin “liberal.”

According to Gage, “progressive” came into widespread use in the early 1900s, during “a moment when many Americans believed democracy was failing.” The time period doesn’t sound so dissimilar to today: the richest of the rich—robber barons like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller—controlled enormous wealth, while millions of Americans (many of them immigrants) lived in poverty. The first round of progressivism was a response to this massive income inequality, as the middle class “went in search of a new politics that would enable both the government and the citizenry to rebalance this distribution of power.”

The ‘‘progressive’’ movement was, at first, a big-tent enterprise, a ‘‘remarkably good-natured effort of the greater part of society to achieve some not very clearly specified self-reformation,’’ in the words of the historian Richard Hofstadter. The general impulse to do something inspired a bewildering array of social movements that had little in common by today’s standards. At its height, progressivism produced moralists, cynics and social engineers, with some progressives seeking to liberate humanity from its benighted superstitions as others sought to impose strict rules about sex, alcohol and racial intermingling. Urban reformers and pacifists and trustbusters and suffragists all called themselves ‘‘progressives.’’ So did prohibitionists and segregationists and antivaccinationists and eugenicists. Historians still refer to the first two decades of the 20th century as the Progressive Era, a time when the nation enacted its first federal income tax and food-safety regulations and women won the right to vote. But during that period, progressivism’s darker side emerged, too: the creation of the Jim Crow system and the passage of viciously exclusionary immigration restriction.

And if you think the currently squabbling over the true definition of “progressive” is confusing, 2016 has nothing on 1912, when both Democrats and Republicans simultaneously embraced the term. Former Republican president Theodore Roosevelt was running for office under the newly minted “Progressive Party,” with his two main opponents (Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft, one a Democrat and one a Republican, respectively) also self-describing with the term.

But the real narrative of the word “progressive” seems to be that of a shifting pendulum: it fell from favor in the aftermath of World War I, and Great Depression-era reformers abandoned it completely, instead identifying as “liberals.” As Gage writes:

This word [liberal] set them apart from the prim moralizing of some of their predecessors; one of Franklin Roosevelt’s first acts as president was to allow the nation to drink beer. It also suggested a growing respect for civil liberties, rejecting the progressives’ tendency to favor social control over individual freedom. When Washington reformers became ‘‘liberals,’’ ‘‘progressives’’ in turn became more radical. In the parlance of the 1930s, to be a ‘‘progressive’’ was suddenly to be a ‘‘fellow traveler,’’ someone who never joined the Communist Party but who felt that the Communists might have a point.

The pendulum shifts continued throughout the 20th century and, it now seems, will keep swinging well into the 21st.

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Obama’s Typographic Legacy

Image via Wikimedia Commons

The relative distinctiveness of campaign logos is a recent development: There was a time when they all looked basically the same, give or take a star, often featuring the same stylized, waving flag.

The 1990s and early 2000s were a different time, with less media noise and fewer shiny objects vying for voters’ attention, so there was less need for candidates to distinguish themselves through symbolism and color—and perhaps a hesitation to do anything that stood out too much. Instead, virtually all of them opted for similar shades of red and blue, and used similar fonts and imagery.

It was the 2008 election, and that famous letter “O,” that changed everything, says designer Sagi Haviv, a partner in the New York firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv who has designed logos for the Library of Congress, Armani Exchange, and Harvard University Press, among other clients.

Ali Elkin writing for Bloomberg Politics about campaign logo design. Elkin posits that President Barack Obama’s iconic “O” logo fundamentally shifted the way candidates think about design and branding. Her piece also includes a wonderful critique of the 2016 campaign logos from designer Sagi Haviv.

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How To Get Appointed to the Senate

In late 2008, Democratic Colorado Governor Bill Ritter received a political stick of dynamite when President-elect Obama announced his intention to appoint U.S. Senator Ken Salazar as his Secretary of the Interior. Ritter would have to replace Salazar, a respected Latino legislator and a popular figure throughout the state. Ritter was inundated with resumés from prominent Democrats, including Andrew Romanoff, outgoing speaker of the Colorado House; then Denver mayor John Hickenlooper; U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter; and others. Ritter ultimately interviewed about 15 candidates for the post.

[Michael] Bennet was considered a long shot. Then the superintendent of Denver Public Schools, he was best-known for his attempts to reform the district. He had never run for office, and his political name recognition was nil. The field to replace Salazar was so rich and contentious that when Bennet met with the governor, he immediately mentioned his anonymity. “He started by saying, ‘I’m the one person that if you don’t appoint me, nobody will be mad at you,’ ” Ritter says.

Patrick Doyle writing in 5280 about Michael Bennet. Bennet was appointed to the Senate in 2009, won his seat in 2010, and is now rumored to be in consideration as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton.

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Alan Abramowitz’s Model Has Correctly Predicted Every Presidential Election Outcome Since 1992

The election model that’s most in vogue — that scored the highest when applied to presidential elections since World War II, correctly predicting every outcome since 1992 — is one created by Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz called “Time for a Change.” Abramowitz argues that the fundamentals in a presidential election are bedevilingly simple: the incumbent president’s approval rating in late June or early July, the rate of real GDP growth in the second quarter, and how many terms the party has been in the White House.

In 2012, for instance, Obama’s relatively lopsided victory may have shocked Republicans on Election Night, but by Abramowitz’s reckoning it was practically preordained. Although second-quarter real GDP growth was a relatively unimpressive 1.5 percent and Obama’s approval rating was a good-but-not-great 46 percent that June, he was seeking reelection, and, according to Abramowitz, “first-term incumbents rarely lose.” In fact, he believes that being a first-term incumbent is worth 4 percentage points. There was nothing in the Abramowitz model that looked good for John McCain in 2008 (bad economy, bad approval ratings of a second-term president from McCain’s party). In 1988, by contrast, George H.W. Bush was also running to give his party a third term, but Q2 real GDP growth that year was a booming 5.24 percent and Ronald Reagan’s approval rating was above 50 percent.

Jason Zengerle writing for New York about how Hillary Clinton stacks up as a candidate, and whether or not being a “good candidate” actually means anything in terms of winning the presidency.

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How the upcoming Mexican presidential election could impact the drug war in cities like Guadalajara:

Weary of pantallas, I tried to get to the bottom of a single bust—the ‘historic’ meth-lab raid in Tlajomulco that confiscated some four billion dollars’ worth of drugs. Were the drugs seized really worth that much? Well, no. The more experts I consulted, the lower the number sank. Maybe it was a billion, if the meth was pure. Then was it really fifteen tons of ‘pure meth.’ as widely reported? Well, no. There had been some confusion. There were precursor chemicals. A lot of equipment—gas tanks, reactors. Maybe it was eleven pounds of pure meth. Eleven pounds? Nobody wanted to speak on the record, but the spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Guadalajara, a young man named Ulises Enríquez Camacho, finally said, ‘Yes, five kilos.’ Eleven pounds. The fifteen tons had been methamphetamine ready for packing, according to the Army. But it was not ‘a finished product,’ and there had been only five kilos of crystal. In the U.S., where meth is often sold by the gram, that amount might be worth five hundred thousand dollars. So the reported value had been inflated by a factor of eight thousand?

“The Kingpins.” — William Finnegan, The New Yorker

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