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Election 2012: the Biggest Loser(s)

I’m writing an extremely unconventional post on the election returns tonight.  “Unconventional” because I’m going to write about the issues that interest me, which are quite different from what interests the rest of the pundits and even the voters. One of the most unconventional things I can report is that I didn’t vote for Obama.  I couldn’t.  For reasons I’ve discussed here a number of times over the past few months.  So for only the second time since I began voting I didn’t vote for the Democratic presidential candidate (I did that in 1976 when I voted for Barry Commoner, who passed away a month or so before today’s election).

Frankly, though I knew Obama was going to win the day before the election, I had no idea they’d call the election at 8:15PM Pacific time.  When you’re used to election nail-biting that runs through the night and, in 2000 into the coming days, that’s a helluva an early night.  Even though the margin of victory was only 2 points, I’m still shocked that Obama beat Romney by 1-million votes.  One unforeseen event gave Obama an unexpected boost: Hurricane Sandy.  Just as George Bush flubbed his encounter with a natural disaster (Katrina), Obama made Sandy a capstone.  He didn’t shirk or shrink from the victims.  He reached out and across party aisles to New Jersey’s GOP governor.  He showed that government could actually be competent.  What did Romney do?  He held a charity fundraiser in Ohio.  Not too much storm damage in the Midwest, near as I can tell.

I wrote a post on the night of the 2004 election warning that Bush would likely be defeated by the hubris of his own victory and sure enough in those coming four years he was (helped along by a disaster named Katrina).  The issue for Obama isn’t the same.  If anything, he’s far too accommodating and compromising and suffers from the opposite problem.

I heard Obama’s victory speech tonight and, as usual, it was filled with powerful soaring rhetoric.  If he was our speech-giver-in-chief he’d be golden.  But he’s not.  He’s our president.  Effective presidents govern well.  Obama does not.  I can’t help but compare him with Clinton.  While the latter was a deeply flawed man, and therefore a flawed leader, he was a born politician.  Someone who knew how to govern.  Clinton knew how to relate to human beings, to legislators.  He knew what made them tick.  He knew what they wanted.  He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty if he needed to dig into a problem.

Obama is too much the preacher and constitutional law professor.  Those qualities are appealing on many levels.  But they don’t turn bills into law.  These failings explain why Obama got half a loaf on the health care reform package.  They explain why the Republicans are unlikely to respond to his appeal in his speech tonight for bi-partisanship.  He appears uninterested in getting down in the trenches to fight the battles that need to be won in order to realize such achievements.

Big losers tonight?  Karl Rove and Sheldon Adelson.  They each spent hundreds of millions to elect Mitt Romney and all that money didn’t even get them close to their goal.  Because of the opacity of current campaign finance provisions we don’t even know how much they spent.  But Adelson spent about $100-million during the primary season and likely another $100-million during the general election.  His chosen candidate, Romney, lost.  But even in Nevada, where he’s conducted a scorched earth campaign against Congressmember Shelley Berkley, he failed to prevent her from winning a U.S. Senate seat.  Other candidates he backed–Smuley Boteach, Allen West, George Allen, and Connie Mack (Republicans all)–were defeated. Most tycoons learn to spread the wealth since they recognize that America has two political parties.  Not Adelson.  It’s one thing if your corporate wealth is based in an industry that doesn’t depend on government regulation.  But gambling?  You’re a fool if you bet only on one horse to win.  It’s as if the guy who made all his money off gambling suddenly failed to understand the rules; or thought they only applied to the shills in his casinos, but not himself.

All I can say is that the coming six years promise to be interesting and Sheldon better hire the best legal help his billions can buy.  He’ll be facing Senate committee hearings and Justice Department investigations up the yazoo.

If I was a betting man, the sort who blew a lot of dough in Adelson’s casinos, I might wager that he’d end up in pinstripes before long (and I don’t mean a business suit!).  I mean a federal prison.  Leaving aside his disgusting, racist anti-Arab/pro-Israel politics.  This guy is as crooked as they come.  Not to mention that his hubris and self-regard virtually guarantee that he’ll overstep the law, common sense and common decency.  Pride cometh before a fall.

Another loser: all those Israeli-American Republicans who founded a so-called non-partisan NGO designed to encourage immigrants to vote in the U.S. election.  Their so-called exit poll found that 85% voted for Romney.  It shouldn’t be called a poll, it was closer to a divining rod searching for water or a Ouija board searching for pre-determined answers.

They trumpeted this throughout the Israeli media and dutiful GOP-Likudnik rags like Times of Israel parroted back the Good News.  Except no one bothered to wonder why American immigrants, who largely come from Blue States like New York, Illinois, California, New Jersey, etc. would suddenly jettison their past allegiances and turn Republican.  It’s simply  ludicrous to claim 85% of Americans in Israel voted for Romney.  Any who believed it got suckered, probably willingly.

I marveled to hear Republican consultants tonight actually speaking humbly and rationally about the failings of their party.  Some, at least, recognize that a party centered on winning the white male vote doesn’t win elections anymore in this new America.  The GOP failed to attract women and failed to attract not just Hispanics (as the TV coverage noted), but failed to attract most of the major immigrant ethnic groups including Asians and Jews.

It’s a damn shame that winning 60% of the white vote won’t win a presidential election as it did for Poppa Bush.  What’s this country coming too?  You mean Republicans are going to have to find ways of attracting non-whites and non-males?  Goddamn that’s nasty.  I do think changing the GOP party name to WPP (White People’s Party) a bit extreme, though.

Not to mention that gay marriage, an issue that in the past was money in the bank for Republicans, fell flat this year.  After Biden embraced the cause, and shamed Obama into following suit, conservatives waited for the other shoe to drop, as it might have in the past.  Instead, America breathed a collective sign of relief and moved on to more important matters.  Partly as a result, four states passed gay marriage provisions tonight.  In the next election cycle, we can expect far more to follow suit.

The only GOP social issue that still appears to resonate with a considerable minority of the public is abortion.  But note that Romney lost the women’s vote big time.  All because of his hostile talk on women’s issues.  Anti-abortion, anti-contraception, etc.  If you’re a Republican, please tell your leaders to double down on all this anti-women rhetoric.  It’s music to the ears of us Democrats.

Of all the panoply of wedge issues the Republicans used to rally their troops, only one is left.  I imagine that over time, even this one will fall away.  What will be left to take its place?  It was delightful to see Bush-era GOP consultants Matthew Dowd and Nicole Wallace candidly admit their party had a problem.  Not just any problem, but a deeply an abiding one that might prevent it from ever gaining power in a serious or significant way.

I’m experienced enough to realize that we have a two-party system.  Predicting the demise of the other guy or the other guy’s party is a losing proposition.  Republicans will undoubtedly come back to power, especially if the Democrats make mistakes.  But the innate flaws noted here will make it that much harder for them to do so unless some candidates come along with a fresh, appealing message that isn’t as weighed down by old shibboleths that have long lost their electoral appeal.

Turning to state politics, Washington State has likely passed the most extreme bill in the nation approving charter schools.  The fabulously wealthy 1% spent $11-million blitzing the airwaves with Yes ads that were highly misleading.  Who were these donors?  Bill Gates, Paul Allen, the family of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Walmart heir Alice Walton.  How did Walton get involved in this, you ask?  She’s from Arkansas.  What’s she doing carpetbagging in our state?  She probably couldn’t get voters in her own state to approve charters.  Why not experiment with children in someone else’s state?

One of the most profound irony of this campaign is that it’s primary financial backers will never permit their children to see the inside of a charter school or even a public school.  They’ll all be attending private schools.  Talk about putting your money where your mouth isn’t.  So tell me again why we should let them experiment on schools in which they don’t have enough faith to send their own children?

The ads claimed multiple studies showed that charter schools outperformed regular public schools.  Wrong.  It claimed the initiative would mandate that the charters focussed on educating “at risk” students.  That one is only partially wrong.  There is one study done by Stanford University (statistics offered here in this comprehensive Nation article about charters) that shows that 17% of charter schools perform better than public schools.  37% perform worse.  And the rest perform at the same level.  They tend to help underperforming students or those from minority backgrounds.  They tend to fail children from more upwardly mobile backgrounds.

So at best charters are a crap shoot: are you willing to bet it all that those 40 charters will be among the 17%?  Are you sure they won’t be among the 37%?  And what if they are?  What if this experiment is a failure?  Who will suffer?  Our kids, of course.

What about the mandate for educating at risk kids?  That’s pretty vague, you see.  The language of the initiative (here is an FAQ that lays out the pros and cons and quotes the actual text) says that it’s meant to do that.  But if you read the fine print, there’s no enforcement mechanism or assurance that this will be the actual outcome of the application and enrollment process.  There are no quotas or benchmarks to determine how many at risk kids must be enrolled, nor criteria defining what an at-risk child is.

The initiative allows for the creation of 40 charter schools in the coming eight years.  It allows private companies to bid to create such schools.  These companies will not have educational achievement as their primary goal.  They have profit as their primary goal.  To that end, charters may cherry-pick those students they wish to accept.  They don’t have to accept those they don’t wish to accept.  And you can be damn sure if your child is going to depress the test scores that will determine how much the charter company is paid in fulfilling its contract, then they won’t accept him or her.

There are two ways a public school may convert to a charter: if 50% of the parents OR 50% of teachers vote for charters, then the school automatically becomes one.  This is the most sweeping, extreme such provision ever approved in the nation.

I have three children in public schools, one of whom is a special needs student.  If your children are grown or you have none, this may seem academic to you.  But I assure you that for those of us considering the education and future success of our children, this is a vital issue.

No one would be so foolish as to argue that public schools are doing well.  In Seattle, many if not most are entirely dysfunctional.  The school board and school district central administration are the same.  There are individual schools who perform extraordinarily well.  But they do so because they are anomalies in the system.  Either they have strong leadership from the principal or from the parents which carry the school and enable it to achieve excellence.  Most other schools are satisfied with something resembling mediocrity.

At some point, I’m going to write a post about the experience my wife and I had in confronting a Seattle public school whose personnel were so incompetent that they blamed my son, who has a diagnosed disability, for being uneducable.  Keep in mind that under law, this is an unacceptable claim.  All special needs children must be educated at any public school to which they are assigned.  But as this powerful expose in the Seattle Times proved, most schools are entirely ignorant of this legal mandate.  They warehouse such children, moving them up and out because they throw up their hands and say they don’t know what to do with them.

I’m thankful to say that we discovered a truly good public school with excellent leadership and staff.  This school doesn’t have more support or more funding or more anything.  It just has personnel who are competent, who know how to do their jobs.  Who understand that “we can’t do it” isn’t a satisfactory answer.  My son still has challenges and will throughout his life.  But they are challenges the school staff is helping him negotiate.

I only mention this anecdote in order to support the notion that I’m not a cheerleader for public education in its current form.  It needs help.  It needs reform.  It needs visionaries and new ideas.  But it doesn’t need snake oil.  It doesn’t need experiments designed to enrich the 1% rather than enrich the educational experience of our children.

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{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Base November 7, 2012, 6:08 AM

    I’m experienced enough to realize that we have a two-party system. Predicting the demise of the other guy or the other guy’s party is a losing proposition. Republicans will undoubtedly come back to power, especially if the Democrats make mistakes. But the innate flaws noted here will make it that much harder for them to do so unless some candidates come along with a fresh, appealing message that isn’t weighed down by old shibboleths that have long lost their electoral appeal.

    I would say that we actually have a one-party system, with two heads. You will see Obama cutting all sorts of deals with the right on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, while continuing to escalate in Syria and poke China. Neither candidate really addressed the core issues. The concordance on war, american exceptionalism, and the control of our government by the money was striking and should be an indication for all that we are, in fact, doomed to more of the same regardless of who had won the election.

    • Davey November 7, 2012, 8:22 PM

      Yes, Yes. More of the same. But there are poles to the pushing and pulling and we call this two parties. The underlying capitalist individual freedom ethic is always at work, as much now as any time in the past.

  • pabelmont November 7, 2012, 7:08 AM

    Two parties? Well, as long as we allow (and how can we not?) big-money to buy access and buy elections and buy every sort of political power, we will be governed by two parties which differ ONLY on personal stuff that corporations don’t care about (abortion. gays) but which agree on stuff corporations agree on (huge defense, big-banks, big-oil [bringing you global warming with no end in sight], etc. And big-Zion (AIPAC et al.).

  • Bob Mann November 7, 2012, 8:37 AM

    Barry Commoner did not run for president in 1976 so there is no way you could have voted for him then.

    • Andy November 7, 2012, 11:50 AM

      But Barry Commoner did run for president in 1980, and Richard could have voted for him then. For both the 1976 and 1980 presidential elections Jimmy Carter was the Democratic nominee, so Richard can be ‘forgiven’ for getting the years mixed up, wouldn’t you agree, Bob?

  • Dr. Ibrahim Soudy November 7, 2012, 9:42 AM

    I am not a citizen of the U.S. and do not have the right to vote but I am a taxpayer and an activist resident in the U.S. When my American friends and co-workers asked me before the elections to predict which candidtae will win, my answer was very simple “I can tell you who will lose”! Regardless of who wins, America loses! All the people of this country REALLY need to take a deep and thoughtful look at the state of America today. What is so unpromising to me is that the “sane” ones who understand that Washigton D.C. is simply NOT WORKING are so divided between themselves and that is why they do not have any significant impact! Green Party, Justice Party, Constitution Party,……..

    I have a very simple “proposal” to make. Why do not people from those parties TEAM UP together with other like minded individuals and form a MOVEMENT that could challenge the Two-Party (one party with two different names, actually) system?!

    This is a coutry on a very wrong path and it is up to the “sane” people in it to save it from itself….

  • bluto November 7, 2012, 6:57 PM

    Correction?

    Berkley actually lost to Dean Heller in NV.

    Other than that – two Israeli-Firsters – one a ‘Netanyahu-Democrat’ and the other a Neocon – can have at each other all day long for all I care. It’s amusing – they once were friends but had some money fights and a falling out. I guess they are acutally both Money-Firsters rather than Israeli Firsters, technically speaking

    • Richard Silverstein November 8, 2012, 1:38 AM

      Berkley was ahead the last I’d heard last night. Thanks for correcting my misimpression. I think she’s a miserable pro-Israel piece of work. But undoubtedly Heller will be far worse.

  • Davey November 7, 2012, 8:09 PM

    Yes, we all know that the public schools are a disaster. But, what is to be done? Especially with the developmentally challenged student? A friend had to fight like crazy to keep his challenged daughter out of the special ed program because it was such a “warehousing” facility, but she did win. It helped that she is a psychologist.My boy graduated the Jewish Academy here, a very Zionist organization. Had I known what I know today, I would never have wanted this school for him. (On the other hand, we have had some lively discussions as a result!) Thanks for the column even though it’s a little “off-topic,” so to speak.

  • Davey November 7, 2012, 8:18 PM

    Oh, as to Election Day. Many of us are not wild about Obama given his performance and many of us felt we had no choice but to vote for him as the alternative was so very wrong. Certainly Obama is not about to change anything in the ME with respect to the IP thing: If Israelis want the status quo, they won’t hear any argument from him. But the rest of the election is more interesting and more promising. Many candidates dissed by the “Emergency Committee for Israel” and other such organizations came in fine. All the lies and money simply did not work. I personally feel that the Republican vicious resistance to Obama and the dysfunctional government resulting did not play well to center types at all. I think many were thinking that the politicians should not sacrifice the needs of the country overall simply to make a political point! I think the “no taxes” pledging did not resonate well either. I believe that many were turned off on that. Certainly you are right that Obama lacks some of the skills to be very personal and get into the fight, but the headwinds were extreme as well.

    Overall the election was a victory for progressive politics in the US, proving again (because we need to prove this from time to time) that America is fundamentally liberal in the classical sense of the term. The social contract is fundamental a liberal one.

  • mary November 8, 2012, 12:52 AM

    Charter schools are a cruel joke on American students and their parents. I worked in a charter school for more than three years, one of the infamous Turkish-run Gulen schools which are proliferating all over the US and whose purpose appears to be to raise money for an Islamist political group in Turkey. I don’t know about that, but what I did see from my time of working within the administration of one of these schools is that the emphasis is on standardized test scores and on the number of senior students you manage to enroll in a college at the time they graduate. These schools tend to be nonprofit corporations run by Boards of Trustees who receive federal money and are also able to collect private donations.

    What I see as the biggest problem with charter schools is that they are a form of privatization that became popular during Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” project. These schools take away from money which could be spent on improving public school systems. Another dubious feature of many of these schools is that they offer specialized curricula – there are schools for performing arts, music and dance, science and technology, but this is a way of training students, not educating them.

  • William Burns November 13, 2012, 10:51 AM

    So Obama’s poor political skills led him to get only half a loaf on health care, but Bill Clinton, who got no loaf at all, was a skilled president?

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