Nov 2, 2008

October 31, 2008: October Surprise, Rats Jumping Ship, Reading the Tea Leaves

“The Republican fears democracy like the Capitalist fears competition.
----from “The Quotations of Chairman Joe”

It is Halloween, and the much feared October Surprise, long a staple in the Republican play book did not materialize. The surprise was that there was no surprise. No hostages held because the GOP had negotiated with their captors to hold them till after the election, no Bin Laden tapes, no “secret plan to end the war”. Perhaps it is because the good Marshall from Tombstone has been a bit preoccupied with defending solid Republican turf. Entering the final week of the campaign, Obama will campaign in Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida—all so called “red” states that had vaulted 'Ol Two-Cows to the presidency.

The rats, metaphorically, are leaving the ship. In the wake of the Colin :Powell endorsement came word that the Goldwater family has endorsed Obama, along with former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan and a former Reagan Chief of Staff. Even the kindly old Governor Bill Milliken of Michigan has been overheard saying that the good Marshall is not the man he endorsed earlier this year in the Michigan Primary.

At this point the race for change is beginning to look hopeful. As of this writing more than 3.4 million had reported voting in Florida with Obama holding a commanding 12 point lead in early voting. Huge turnouts have been likewise reported in the Carolinas and here in Georgia nearly 2 million have voted waiting in lines for as long as 10 hours. This is a testament to the nation's hunger for change.

The national polls, by some lights, show a tightening of the race particularly in the swing states. North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Georgia, Arizona, Florida, some say Pennsylvania are now within the margin of error. Nevertheless most polling nationally show Obama with a five to seven point lead, some much larger than that. The website also shows the race tightening. What may save Obama in the end will perhaps be the early voting in which votes were cast before the final flurry of campaign smear ads and voter anxieties. In any case this race, unlike any in our national experience is compounded by new technologies which limit pollsters' ability to reach certain demographics, particularly the young, who use cell phones almost exclusively. The result may be a huge unsampled segment of the electorate that the pollsters have not consulted and who are nevertheless making their way to the polls and registering their opinions. If so this portends a huge Obama victory. Certainly the early voting results in states like Florida and the movement of Georgia into the “swing” category reflect that something has happened in recent weeks on the ground. What this means, however, is not entirely clear and has left observers in the dark as to the possible outcome. What was once an exacting, if not an exact, science has now because of new technologies and the looming “Bradley Effect” become something like reading tea leaves. Nothing is certain and the Obama forces are taking no chances with the candidate reminding voters at each stop to vote early if they can but vote in any case.

In any case change is in the wind. One can see it in the videos of the long lines of voters waiting to record their considered judgment. One can see it in the 98% registration of the good people of Michigan who are, apparently, waiting to stampede the polling places on election day. One can also see it in the frantic attempts at voter suppression as the Rescumlicans try to hold back the tide. In Florida Republican Governor Crist outraged his fellow Republicans by sidestepping a state law—passed by his Republican majority—limiting early voting to eight hours a day. The Governor, knowing that his political life extends past November 4, heeded the cries of the people and extended by executive order voting at polling places to 12 hours a day. At least one Republican legislator was moved to comment that the governor had, by his actions, given Florida to Obama. Perhaps. Perhaps not. It may, by reducing the long lines, make it more probable that older citizens will now vote in larger numbers thus favoring McCain. It is a hard calculus with no certain outcome. Everyone, it appears, is feeling their way through this experience.

But certain old habits remain. Again in certain states, Virgina prominent among them, the GOP tricksters are up to their usual Halloween pranks. Letters have been sent to known Democratic voters that because of the high voter turnout and expected crush at the ballot box, voting for Democrats has been moved to November 5. This, of course, is nonsense but has worked in certain jurisdictions to favor Republican fortunes in the past. Likewise attempts to keep students from voting in college towns. An old trick that keeps paying off for the GOP—Grand Old Prostitute.

The United States Supreme Court ruled nearly 30 years ago that students had every constitutional right to vote where they lived. Many jurisdictions had been challenging them claiming that they were “temporary” residents and fearing their large numbers would dominate local politics. I remember in the good old days at Grand Valley we used to muse as we passed through Allendale and read the sign welcoming us—“Welcome to Allendale”, it said, “Home of Grand Valley State College”. We read it differently. “Welcome to Grand Valley”, we mused, “Home of Allendale, Michigan”. The College, at the time simply outnumbered the residents of the small town. Faced with these realities many such locations challenged students voting in their elections. It went all the way to the Supreme Court and such laws and regulations were overturned affirming the extended franchise to students who could now vote. Nevertheless the old Rovian Rescumlicans tricksters are back at it sending out warnings to students That they would somehow be violating the law if they tried to vote. Likewise, mailers to certain voters that if they have outstanding traffic tickets or are behind in child support payments or cannot bring proof of citizenship to the polls with them they will be challenged. In Ohio four years ago, the state GOP warned voters in some precincts that they would be arrested at the polls if they had outstanding traffic or child support issues. The courts intervened a few days before the election but the tactic had accomplished its goal by creating enough fear to dampen turnout and perhaps throw the election.

The Grand Old Prostitute has always feared the wrath of the electorate and has, accordingly, always fought tooth and nail the extension of the franchise. At least since Teddy Roosevelt. The old line conservatives have resisted extending the franchise to women, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, lowering the voting age to 18, the “motor-voter” laws passed by many states making it possible to register while getting one's driver's license renewed or updated. The action of the Republican dominated Florida legislature to limit voting hours during early voting is also of this ilk. Let there be no mistake about it, the Republican fears democracy like the capitalist fears competition. Both seek to limit it whenever they can; one under the guise of “conservative” principles, the other as “sound business practices”. The Republicans have every right to fear the electorate, fully 93% of the country now says that the nation is going in the wrong direction. The Grand Old Prostitute has now been reduced to representing her natural constituency-- a mere seven percent of the population-- and this time her old bag of tricks my not pull her through.

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