Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Spiritual Sickness

They call it Black Friday. The New York Times reports on the ugly scene as unruly shoppers trampled a man to death at a Wal-Mart early yesterday morning:
By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.
Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.
Since when did shopping become a blood sport?
Some shoppers who had seen the stampede said they were shocked. One of them, Kimberly Cribbs of Queens, said the crowd had acted like “savages.” Shoppers behaved badly even as the store was being cleared, she recalled.
“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’ ” Ms. Cribbs told The Associated Press. “They kept shopping.”
I'm told that many retailers offer bargains for just a few hours early on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving. Economists would say that it's a way of rationing access to favorable prices. A limited supply of popular clothes or toys or electronics are offered at a steep discount for those willing to get up early and race through the store like stampeding cattle when the doors open. It's the free market at its Darwinian worst, nature red in tooth and claw, as Tennyson put it.
Shopping in itself is not evil. Working in the retail industry is not evidence of moral depravity. Millions of Americans buy or sell goods every day without betraying such a lack of basic human decency.
But creating, encouraging or participating in this ugly mob scene, in which shoppers were whipped into a frenzy in search of bargains, strikes me as symptomatic of a deep spiritual sickness.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Now Be Thankful

Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles offers a good reason to be thankful:

A Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
October 3, 1863
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
A. Lincoln

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Keeping Score on the Bailout

Sometimes, it's all one can do to just keep track of the money flowing out the doors of our federal government. Yesterday, the Federal Reserve announced it is buying $800 billion of mortgage debt and consumer loans. The New York Times has a summary of the bailout to date:
$1.7 trillion in loans
$3.0 trillion in investments
$3.1 trillion in guarantees
For those keeping score, that represents more than half of U.S. GDP.
Here are a couple of basic questions: How can the Federal Reserve just buy up another $800 billion in loans? And where does the money come from?
In terms of the federal government's balance sheet, a loan can be considered an asset, as long as there is a meaningful expectation that the loan will be repaid. The same can be said of loan guarantees, provided that the fees for the guarantee are sufficient to cover the risk. As for direct investment, the preferred shares and stack warrants also have value that could even provide a profit if the companies rebound.
But there are larger questions: Doesn't this money have to come from somewhere? Is the government just printing money? How does this enormous expansion of lending and investment affect the value of the dollar?
We all learned in economics class that printing more money is a recipe for inflation or a drop in the value of the currency. It has often been described as more dollars chasing a fixed set of goods and services.
There is no immediate prospect of inflation. Consumer prices fell 1.0% in October, 0.1% if energy prices are excluded--
the first monthly drop in core prices since 1982.
As for the drop in currency value, all of the major economic powers are pumping cash into their economies, so the dollar is unlikely to be singled out for punishment.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Way Too Big to Fail

When they say too big to fail, they're not kidding. The federal government today announced a bailout of Citigroup, including $20 billion in direct investment (on top of $25 billion) and $306 billion in loan guarantees. For those keeping score, the federal intervention in Citigroup alone totals 2.5 percent of U.S. GDP.
How did this happen? Good question. The New York Times
offers a revealing look at how basic management oversight failed at Citi:
In September 2007, with Wall Street confronting a crisis caused by too many souring mortgages, Citigroup executives gathered in a wood-paneled library to assess their own well-being.
There, Citigroup’s chief executive, Charles O. Prince III, learned for the first time that the bank owned about $43 billion in mortgage-related assets. He asked Thomas G. Maheras, who oversaw trading at the bank, whether everything was O.K.
Mr. Maheras told his boss that no big losses were looming, according to people briefed on the meeting who would speak only on the condition that they not be named.
For months, Mr. Maheras’s reassurances to others at Citigroup had quieted internal concerns about the bank’s vulnerabilities. But this time, a risk-management team was dispatched to more rigorously examine Citigroup’s huge mortgage-related holdings. They were too late, however: within several weeks, Citigroup would announce billions of dollars in losses.
Normally, a big bank would never allow the word of just one executive to carry so much weight. Instead, it would have its risk managers aggressively look over any shoulder and guard against trading or lending excesses.
I don't know how much these gentlemen were paid last year for their role in destroying the world financial system. I would guess that their compensation packages rewarded them for taking on such scary levels of risk without regard for the consequences.
The idea that that markets would keep everyone honest without the need for internal or external oversight has certainly been discredited. Last month, Alan Greenspan himself acknowledged that his benign view of magically self-correcting financial markets was wrong:
I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms," Mr. Greenspan said.
As for how to keep this from happening again, I find myself returning to the principle Floyd Norris proposed two months ago in his column in the New York Times:
Allow me to propose a simple principle that the next president and Congress could follow as they devise a new financial regulatory regime to replace the one that failed so badly: If an activity is important enough to justify a government nationalization to prevent a default, it is important enough to be regulated.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Not So Big Three

Over at the Guardian, I ask the question, "Is there anyone who had a worse week than the CEOs of the big three automakers?" Even in a week full of bad economic news, these guys had a rough time of it:
Robert Nardelli of Chrysler, Rick Wagoner of GM and Alan Mulally of Ford came to Washington to make their case for a taxpayer bail-out, and left town empty-handed and with fewer friends than when they arrived on their private jets.
Instead of wondering whether the automakers are too big to fail, members of Congress decided they are too dumb to know how to beg for money. House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who had really wanted to help the automakers, sent them packing, saying they should go back to the drawing board and come back with a plan that isn't built on bleeding more red ink and hoping for the best.
Keep in mind that Congress really wants to help the automakers. But these guys made it harder for themselves. They've been given until December 2 to submit plans that won't leave members of Congress shaking their heads.
By the way, ABC News is reporting that GM is downsizing its fleet of corporate jets.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Inaugural Plans

It looks like I'll be leaving the tux in the back of the closet in January.
As I noted yesterday, Jack Markell and Matt Denn will take the oath of office at 12:01 AM on January 20 in Newark so as to not interfere with the presidential inaugural in Washington. A larger, more public ceremony will be held the next day in Dover.
But the News Journal reports that
you shouldn't expect the standard inaugural ball here in Delaware. Instead of a ball, a variety of events are being planned for the entire week. (If history is any guide, I expect pizza to be involved at some point.) Carla Markell suggests that we use the money we save on fancy duds and use it to support some worthy causes:
"Take your money and put it toward the Food Bank, to buying a set of blocks for the school," Carla Markell said. "The budget is such that the state is going to have big cutbacks. It's important that we come together as a community."
As for going to Washington, Tom Toles has a handy seating chart: Even Matt Denn is having trouble scaring up a ticket:
Denn said he is excited about the inauguration festivities, even if he is unable to travel to Washington to see Biden and President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration. So far, he hasn't been able to locate a ticket.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where Angels Fear to Tread

When it comes to succeeding Joe Biden in the Senate, my rule of thumb is that those who know aren't talking, and those who are talking don't know. The conclusion of this syllogism is that I didn't know anything when I went on the air (with some trepidation) to discuss the subject with Allan Loudell of WDEL this evening.
We've been presented with a couple of tea leaves to ponder in the last day or so. Jack Markell and Matt Denn rescheduled their swearing in to 12:01 AM on January 20, not wanting to compete with the Obama/Biden blockbuster the same day. Markell and Denn will hold a public ceremony the following day. But for those examining the tea leaves for clues, it does give Biden the option of whether to have the outgoing or incoming governor make the appointment.
If John Carney is the pick, which is what most Democrats would like to see, it wouldn't make any difference who makes the pick. Actually, I haven't talked to anyone in the Democratic Party who doesn't think that Carney is the natural pick.
As Allan points out in his blog, Carney may have helped himself by saying in the News Journal that he'd accept the job, even for just a couple of years:
"I would take it if offered under any circumstances," including a two-year stint "if that's what was contemplated by those who made the decision."
Being a senator for two years isn't such a bad deal when you consider that the best vantage from which to run for the Senate is as one of the 100 member of the exclusive club.
As for Beau Biden, he did the right thing when he declared that he would not consider being called back from his tour of duty to fill his father's seat. Beau clearly has a bright future ahead of him, and has time to build a career in elected office when he comes back from Iraq and finishes his first term as attorney general.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Roy Blount Jr. and Ann Coulter

In his new book, Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, ... With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory, Roy Blount Jr. offers this definition of pun:
The lowest form of wit, it used to be said, but that was before Ann Coulter.
Roy Blount Jr. has demonstrated over many years that his is one of the higher forms of wit. He offers the perfect counter-example to those Sarah Palin fans who are convinced that down home and educated are mutually exclusive qualities.

Friday, November 14, 2008

TommyWonk on Purple States TV

An interesting project called Purple States TV is compiling and posting video interviews with bloggers from all fifty states. Today is my turn, aided by the camera work of LiberalGeek. I talk about how the financial meltdown is affecting Delaware, including one business in my own neighborhood. The site will post videos from bloggers representing all fifty states, in alphabetical order, between now and the middle of January.
If you're interested in learning how economic conditions are affecting communities across the country check them out.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Google Ad Flogging the Old "Dream Ticket" Story

One of the minor mysteries of the campaign season has been the persistence of this Google ad at the top of my e-mail page:
Dream Ticket - - Obama Hits Clintons on 'Dream Ticket'. Read Full Story.
The ad links to this story by Jake Tapper dated March 10, 2008, which describes the tension between the Clinton and Obama campaigns in the thick of the primary season. The story is one of many thousands of stories written about the epic battle for the nomination.
But why is this ad still popping up eight months later? Did an over-enthusiastic ad buyer for ABC News drop so much on this ad that Google is still running it? Or is someone else paying for the ads to try to keep a dead story alive for sport or in hope of reigniting a long-settled feud?

Biden, Palin and the Media

One will take office as vice president in January. The other is heading back to her job as governor of the sparsely populated state of Alaska. So why is Sarah Palin generating twice as many media stories as Joe Biden? A search of Google News this morning yielded 66,842 hits for Joe Biden and 149,255 hits for Sarah Palin. Love her or hate her, she is a phenomenon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Steve Jobs and the Auto Industry

Tom Friedman is livid at the prospect of bailing out U.S. automakers:
Last September, I was in a hotel room watching CNBC early one morning. They were interviewing Bob Nardelli, the C.E.O. of Chrysler, and he was explaining why the auto industry, at that time, needed $25 billion in loan guarantees. It wasn’t a bailout, he said. It was a way to enable the car companies to retool for innovation. I could not help but shout back at the TV screen: “We have to subsidize Detroit so that it will innovate? What business were you people in other than innovation?” If we give you another $25 billion, will you also do accounting?
Friedman goes on to suggest conditions for federal help, including asking Steve Jobs to run a car company for a year. It's an intriguing thought, but as unworkable as asking Jobs to run Microsoft (once described as the GM of software) for a year.
Consider what happened when Jobs came back to Apple after his exile. He came to a company that still had people used to innovating, even though the company's products had lost some of their pizazz. GM, Ford and Chrysler have precious few people who have launched innovative products. As Business Week reported earlier this year, GM CEO Bob Lutz
was shot down when he tried to raise the issue of building an electric car back in 2005.
Jobs also got Apple to buy his company Next, which provided the DNA for the operating system for a new generation of Macs. It would be like building a new generation of cars with an entirely new drive train provided by a startup company.
My advice to Steve Jobs, if he's interested in building cars, would be to start over from scratch, as
the New York Times reported a year ago:
A generation of digital-era Henry Fords, unabashed and brimming with confidence, has emerged. Born of Silicon Valley and the dot-com culture, they are trying to apply to carmaking the same entrepreneurial spirit that built the information superhighway.
Most of the inventors are not carmakers by background or training. But they are cocksure, backed by millions of dollars in venture capital and cloaked in the righteousness of environmentalism. To their critics, they are flying at high speed around a blind curve, destined to become reality-check crash-test dummies.
Cars on the market or in development include the $100,000 all-electric Tesla Roadster, the $190,000 Wrightspeed production super car, an electric pickup truck called the Phoenix, the low-cost diminutive Th!nk car and the Bangalore-made Reva.
The large-scale impact of the collapse of the U.S. auto industry may be too horrible to contemplate. But, as Friedman and many others are suggesting, the companies can not and must not try to keep going as though nothing happened. The not-so-big-three may not be as nimble as the startups, and change may be wrenching. But one approach that could accelerate innovation would be for the automakers to buy new technology from the startups, just as Jobs brought in a new operating system from outside.
GM, Ford and Chrysler may be bleeding money, but they can still attract more capital than the small innovators. If the federal government is going to sink money into U.S. automakers, it should go to developing future technology, not propping up past failures.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The GOP in Disarray

That sound you hear is Republicans across the country arguing over who lost the election and how to come back from the brink. Infighting between supporters of John McCain and Sarah Palin started before the campaign was over. I've observed two divergent impulses: coalition building and ideological purging. David Brooks sums up the conflict slightly differently in the New York Times:
In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed.
The other camp, the Reformers, argue that the old G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions.
The urge to purge is exemplified by Deroy Murdock, who writes of restoring Reaganism in NRO:
What the Republican party badly needs is a Night of the Long Knives.
First on his purge list:
Comrade George W. Bush
I'm not inclined to offer advice to the Republicans, but I don't think Ronald Reagan ever spoke that way. You might put Dave Burris in the reformer camp. He offers his variation of the the coalition-building approach:
I think it is time for a new three-legged stool that is not an ideological coalition, but geographical instead: Southern Republicans, Northeastern Republicans and Mountain West Republicans.
Southern Republicans (picture Jim DeMint) are the last bastion of the “full-spectrum conservative,” fiscally and deeply socially conservative, sometimes “compassionately” so, can be populists on economic issues (Huckabee) and are culture warriors on issues like guns and immigration. Big proponents of school choice.
Northeastern Republicans (picture Mitt Romney) are fiscal conservatives who are socially tolerant, even liberal, and are to the left of the rest of the party on the environment.
Mountain West Republicans (picture John McCain) are fiscally conservative, anti-pork (Flake, Shadegg) policy wonks with real libertarian streaks and a conservationist bent.
Missing from this analysis is any mention of foreign policy or the neocons who got us in the mess in Iraq. A New York Times analysis focuses on geography, quoting Thomas Schaller:
The Republicans, meanwhile, have “become a Southernized party,” said Mr. Schaller, who teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “They have completely marginalized themselves to a mostly regional party,” he said, pointing out that nearly half of the current Republican House delegation is now Southern.
As Republicans become geographically isolated, it will take more effort to reach out to less ideological voters. One approach is to assert that the U.S. is still a center-right country. But we shouldn't forget that Barack Obama, a black man from a big city who has just finished beating the two biggest brands in politics, is taking possession of the bully pulpit. New York Times columnist Willliam Kristol has noticed that the president-elect has some serious game. Kristol writes that he gulped when Obama started talking about a new dog in the White House:
"We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So — so whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household."
Here, in a few sentences, Obama did the following: He deepened his bond with every dog lover in America. He identified with every household that’s tried to figure out what kind of dog to get. He touched every parent with a kid allergic to pets. He showed compassion by preferring a dog from a shelter. And he demonstrated a dry and slightly politically incorrect wit by commenting that "a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."

Not bad. It could be a tough four or eight years for conservatives.
With a popular new president, a smaller base and its ranks in disarray, it will be difficult for the Republican Party to rise again anytime soon.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Now that You Mention It

With the election over, the mentioning begins. The Washington pastime of mentioning various names for various jobs has come to Delaware.
Russell Baker first revealed the existence of the Great Mentioner back in 1963, so long ago that even Google can't pull up the original use of the phrase. (The New York Times charges for the privilege.) The next best thing to being asked to serve in high office is being mentioned.
The biggest prize for which one can be mentioned is Joe Biden's Senate seat. First to be mentioned is his son, Beau, who impressed the Democratic Convention with his stirring introduction of his father. But Beau is heading overseas for the next year with the National Guard, and had also promised to serve out his term as attorney general. Joe could hardly pull his son back from active duty to place him in the Senate, so Beau will have to wait.

I have read other names, but the only one I have heard mentioned is John Carney. Some of the names that have surfaced are so humdrum as to make me think that they were passed over by the Great Mentioner and had to settle for a furtive phone call to Ron Williams at the News Journal.
The soggy diehards at Return Day were wearing labels reading "Send JC to DC." I have never heard anyone of any position in the Democratic Party mention anyone but John, but I reckon that there are no more than three or four who know what how the deal will go down: Joe Biden, Ruth Ann Minner, Jack Markell and perhaps John Carney, if he gets the nod.
Biden offered a hint last month at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner, when he said, "John, your best days are ahead, I guarantee it." What Biden meant by that, I don't know. The vice president elect hasn't said anything to me.
When talking to anyone else, I am inclined to be guided by the old rule that those who know, aren't talking, and those who are talking, don't know. Any mention in the national media should be discounted using the same rule.
The same could be said for guessing the identities of Jack Markell's appointees, though some are quicker to print rumors than I would. All I know is that Markell is announcing his transition team leadership on Monday.
I know first hand how flimsy the basis for mentioning can be. Last year Jason at DelawareLiberal misconstrued a passing comment from John Kowalko to mean that I was planning to run for office myself. Sadly, it turned out not to be true. But it's nice being mentioned.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Busy Day

I've got a busy day today.
First, I'm going on the "Roots" program on WVUD, 91.3 FM, with my friend Mark Taylor. For a $60 donation, anyone can come in a program an hour of folk music. It's great fun.
Second, I'll be talking about the election with Allan Loudell of WDEL, 1150 AM, today at 12:38.
Then, I'm off to Return Day in Georgetown, one of the unique rituals of American politics.
In the meanwhile, check out my latest piece on the significance of the national election over at the Guardian.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Big Night in Delaware

When the polls closed last night, I sat in a church hall waiting for the actual numbers from the four voting machines in the 7th election district of the 4th representative district.
There is a precise ritual to closing the polls and counting the results. First the clerks close down the voting machines, and remove the data cartridge and three paper copies of the results. The paper copies are signed by ten poll workers representing the majority and minority parties. One worker carries the cartridges and one paper copy to the nearest elections office; the other two paper copies are delivered separately.
The results in this city polling place presaged the big wins in Delaware and across the country. Obama won the ED by more than 70 percent. Joe Biden and Jack Markell won by more than three to one, as did my state representative, Gerald Brady.
Once I called in the vote count, I headed down to the Doubletree Hotel, where the Delaware Democratic party was gathering. By nine o'clock, it became clear that it was going to be a big night. The Democratic tide swept through Delaware like nothing we have seen, or will likely see again.
Jack Markell was elected governor with 67.5 percent of the vote, which according to his staff is the highest percentage for an incoming governor in more than a century.
Concerns that Charlie Copeland might make it a close race for Matt Denn proved unfounded. Copeland managed only 38.7 percent—just three points higher than Christine O’Donnell won against Joe Biden.
Republican legislators like House Speaker Terry Spence and Bob Valihura were swept out in a wave that put the House in Democratic hand for the first time in 24 years. Mike Katz won a narrow victory over John Clatworthy in a district that covers Greenville and Centerville.
After winning a close primary, Markell solidified his position among Democratic legislators by campaigning together, pouring thousands into legislative campaigns, and spending more on joint mailings and phone calls touting his policy proposals. New legislators will not soon forget that he helped get them across the finish line with his money, time and platform.
The sobering part of these wins, in Delaware and in the country, is that we have a lot to clean up. The credit crisis is hurting small and large businesses everywhere. In a few short weeks, the worrisome federal deficit ballooned to its highest level since Reagan. Delaware is facing its worst budget crisis since the 1970s as the auto and banking industries contract. But Jack Markell sounded eager to get started, saying, "I cannot wait to get sworn in and start work."

"You must be so proud."

Today's Doonesbury:
Yes, I am proud.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day is Here

I and thousands more here in Delaware are getting an early start. I will be managing the 7th ED of the 4th RD for Gerald Brady and the Democratic Party. My job is to get the vote counts and voter lists from inside the polling place and see to it that we have volunteers handing out campaign lit. Once the polls close, I will get the results and call them to Brady headquarters.
When that's done, I will be heading down to the Doubletree Hotel downtown for the Democratic victory celebration. I will be posting some thoughts during the evening, here and at the Guardian.
Virginia's polls closes at 7:00 this evening, which means the networks could call the state for Obama while I'm still out in the field. The polls in most of Indiana close at 6:00, but it seems less likely that the exit polls will be clear enough to call the state right away. The polls in Pennsylvania (and here in Delaware) close at 8:00. If exit polls show Obama to be the winner in VA and PA, then that's it; we could know who our next president is before I get the results from the three or four machines in the 7th of the 4th.
It's possible we could not know at that point. If turnout overwhelms polling places and voters are still in line at 7:00 in Virginia or 8:00 in Pennsylvania, we may not know the outcome until later in the evening. If so, no news could be good news.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Bradley Effect Has Disappeared

Even though national polls have widened slightly in the remaining days of the campaign, concerns about the reliability of the polls in predicting the election of our first African American president won't go away.
According to the Bradley or Wilder effect, white Americans will exaggerate their willingness to vote for a black when asked by poll takers. The theory is that some whites think that voicing support for the black candidate is more socially acceptable.

The most thorough analysis of the phenomenon finds that the Bradley effect disappeared about 15 years ago, and that Bill Clinton and Joe Biden may have help bring about its demise.
Daniel Hopkins of Harvard pulled together the data from 133 statewide elections held between 1989 to 2006 and found that the effect had disappeared about 12 years ago. Before 1996, blacks "performed on average 2.7 percentage points worse than their polling numbers would indicate," an effect that subsequently vanished.
According to Hopkins, racially charged issues like welfare and crime became less important to voters. If so Bill Clinton and Joe Biden may have set the stage for Barack Obama with the passage of welfare reform and crime bills in the 1990s:

In 1995, 12% of Americans cited social welfare issues as the nation's most important problem, a figure that was just 5% by 2001 and 4% in 2004 (Baumgartner et al., 2006). In 1994, 29% of Americans cited crime as the nation's most important problem, a figure that had dropped to 9% by 2004.
Joe Biden's 1994 crime bill, which provided funding for 100,000 police in state and local jurisdictions, helped reduce national crime rates and took away the argument that Democrats were soft on crime. The next year, Bill Clinton joined with Republicans in congress to reform welfare, by placing time limits on benefits and requiring that recipients return to work within two years.
Gone are the days when Republicans like Ronald Reagan could campaign on welfare queens living off the taxes of hard working whites. Not that McCain and Palin aren't trying...
Update: I'll be talking about polls with Allan Loudell of WDEL, 1150 AM, this evening at 5:05 PM.
Second update: I have a longer piece on this subject up at the Guardian.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Joe Biden, Sticking to the Script

Late in his career, Joe Biden has discovered brevity. The New York Times reports that he is getting through his stump speech in record time:
These days, Mr. Biden races through his thoroughly vetted stump speech, sometimes delivering it in as few as 15 minutes — a mere throat-clearing for the old Joe Biden.
Karen Tumulty, writing in Time, sounds like she misses the old Joe:
Anyone who has watched Joe Biden over 35 years in the Senate might have a little bit of trouble recognizing the guy who is running to be Barack Obama's Vice President. Oh, yes, he looks like the same fellow. But traveling with Biden during this campaign has sometimes been like reporting on a politician packaged in shrink-wrap. While his windy, off-point pontification was the stuff of legend among his Senate colleagues, Biden is now leashed to a teleprompter even when he is talking in a high school gym that is three-quarters empty.
Joe Biden has been downright perfunctory in his two speeches in Delaware since being named Barack Obama's running mate. He brought his speech to the Jefferson Jackson dinner in at just under 30 minutes, even after going on at length about old friends. His J-J speech last year lasted well past 40 minutes.
His 15-minute speech yesterday at the University of Delaware may be the shortest he has given on home soil in his career. Those wondering why he would bother with a speech in Delaware, which was solidly blue even before he joined the ticket, need look no further than the eager volunteers surrounding the crowd. Buses have been lined up to shuttle volunteers across the line into Pennsylvania every day up through Election Day.
GOP partisans have been wondering aloud why his gaffes haven't gotten the same attention as Sarah Palin's. But no one is seriously questioning his qualifications to serve in high office. Biden evidently knows more about how our government works even when he slips up than Palin does when she has been cramming for weeks.