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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

www.NationalView.org's Note From a Madman

September 9, 2008


What Happens in Vegas... (is Just Like the Rest of America)

I'm back. I took the weekend off, as I have done in other years, to spend the first weekend of the National Football League schedule in Las Vegas, Nevada. The trip, with my best friend Harry (not his real name) was made to bet on football games and play poker. It ended with a few surprises.

I didn't check my email this weekend, nor did I write an article for this newsletter. In fact, I didn't even look at a computer the entire weekend. I was completely "off".

My friend Harry is what one might describe as a Libertarian. he simply calls himself a Republican but has no love for either party. He simply votes for the party he believes will least affect his wallet. In fairness to harry, he is generous to a fault and has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I have ever met. I'd entrust not only my life to him, but that of my children as well. We've been friends for more than three decades.

Harry's father, Dan (not his real name either) lives in Las Vegas. He is a gambler by profession these days and has a full and active life. Just last year he had to have an operation on his leg. At seventy years of age, Dan's only able to see a doctor with the aid of Medicare. His only other visible means of income is a Social Security check he receives monthly after years of contributing to the fund. Make no mistake about it, if not for those two federal programs-as-law, Dan would not be here today. (Dan makes a few dollars gambling, but not a living.)

In the world of fathers and sons, and in just about every way, Harry is the acorn which landed right next to the great oak tree known as Harry. They are so similar in thought and deed that it's impossible not to see the two men as father and son, with one major exception:

Dan is a Democrat, and that surprised me.

As we accompanied Dan on his usual routine, something that father and son call "The Route", I had opportunity to see Dan's various friends and gambling buddies, most of who are either transplants from other areas of the country or retired from the gaming industry. For the most part, they were dealers, pit bosses or otherwise employed in casino/ hotel/ gaming.

The surprise came in a short political question from Dan to me. "Who are you for? Obama or McCain?" My answer came back "Obama, of course" and I awaited the barrage of questions I usually get from my Republican friends and acquaintances, including the covert racism which I have, I'm sorry to say, grown too accustomed to. But instead I got a nod and a "good man" from Dan. Harry got what I can only assume was another lecture which fell on my Libertarian friend's deaf ears.

The opinions of Dan's gaming-industry friends were the same as Dan's. They simply aren't happy with the Bush administration and George Bush's would-be successor John McCain. And to add insult to injury, they had one question to ask McCain if they ever met "The-Candidate-Formerly-Known-as-The-Maverick": "What were you thinking when you chose Sarah Palin as your VP running mate?"

This story doesn't end there. While playing poker and watching the various games of the weekend go by on the numerous televisions in the poker rooms, politics, again crept into the conversation. On most Texas Hold 'em tables (Hold 'em - what I wish the Lone Star state did to George Bush in 2000) there are up to eleven people seated: Ten players and one dealer. And although I was trying not to practice politics while seated and playing, politics found me. It began with someone making a funny gesture about Governor Palin. It was after she appeared on one of the many televisions which, somehow, found its way to Fox News Channel. It was a simple question, but one that got the ball rolling:

"I don't get it,"
-Player at Seat Five

What Player Five didn't get was the choice of Governor Palin by McCain. It was, yet again, the "What was he thinking?" theory showing its ugly head. Assorted other comments came from almost everyone else who happened to be out of that hand when, of course, someone asked me why I was so quiet.

"You don't want to get me started on politics," I said. But by then it was too late. I had started. I explained that I write this newsletter and an accompanying web site, nationalview.org; offered up my own opinion; and waited for a rebuttal from anyone whose voice wasn't heard from. To my surprise, none came. Instead all I saw were heads shaking in agreement and all I heard were affirmative responses.

The funny thing about this (an subsequent) poker tables I played on was that the seats were occupied by people from all over the country (and, at one table, a couple of people from Ireland). I know this because so many were wearing their team's football jersey. Vegas is, after all, a meeting place of sorts. Even the dealer at one table was active in our little, short conversation, and he sounded just like Dan and his friends.

It was refreshing.

Oddsmakers are the people who make up the odds on games and other sporting events. When one bets on the underdog in what's called a "money line", one is betting against the favored team winning. When that happens, the bettor will put up less money than they could win. When one bets on the favorite, one puts up more money than they could win. The more lopsided the probable outcome (as in the likelihood that the underdog will win versus the favorite), the greater the money-line becomes.

Oddsmakers also handicap elections. As of yesterday, it would cost a bettor $145 just to win back $100 (plus the original $145 bet, of course) if he (or she) chose the Democrat ("The Democratic Candidate for President", as the oddsmakers called it), and he won in November. Conversely, if a different bettor chose John McCain ("The Republican Candidate for President"), a much smaller $80 bet would earn that other bettor the same $100, assuming "The Republican Candidate for President" could pull off the upset. The line, in gaming-talk, reads like this:

Obama -145 (bet $145 to win $100)
McCain +125 (bet $100 to win $125)

So as Democrats bite their nails and worry about this November, the oddsmakers are telling them otherwise. And until these guys tell me to worry, I'm simply going to place my bet and wait.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

One of the big surprises of an ever-surprising election season was the excitement of the Republican National Convention. The Republicans were energized and revitalized, which, given the fact that the Republican brand currently has about as much cachet as used cat litter, was amazing.

Or ominous, if you aren’t a Republican, which I am not.

Alas, after two failed elections and another spiraling downward, the Democrats have convinced me that they are the party of confusion, not promise.

The Obama campaign realized only last month that it was going to have to stop running against Hillary Clinton and start running against John McCain, the *actual* opponent. Even though Clinton left the race in June, the Obama campaign’s focus never quite shifted away from her.

As a feminist, I was stung by the outrageous, over-the-top sexism projected at Hillary Clinton from the media, the Obama campaign and the Republicans. Those attacks still raged through the end of the Democratic Convention in Denver with claims that it was up to Hillary–not the nominee himself–to convince voters to choose Obama, something no male opponent had ever been expected to do.

A mere 12 hours after the Democratic Convention ended, before anyone was able to gauge the impact of the Democratic Convention on the political landscape, Gov. Sarah Palin entered the national political arena.

Until last week, Palin was the governor of the nation’s largest state and a married mother of five. Now she is also the Republican vice-presidential candidate.

In possibly the most brilliant tactical maneuver of McCain’s career, he finally managed to wrest the media spotlight from Barack Obama, who has had it unwaveringly since he announced his candidacy for president in January 2007. With his choice of Palin, the first woman ever to be on the Republican ticket, McCain hoped to re-establish himself as “maverick McCain,” the senator who had often crossed the aisle to sponsor key bipartisan legislation on issues like campaign finance reform and immigration reform.

Palin’s speech introducing herself was undeniably smart, engaging and rousing.

After the speech, the attacks began.

McCain chose Palin for a range of reasons, the salient one being that she might appeal to the disaffected Hillary Clinton supporter dissed by the Democrats. At the end of the Democratic Convention, six in ten women who supported Hillary Clinton had shifted their support to Obama. But three in ten had shifted their support to McCain. Another ten percent was undecided.

McCain hopes to woo those undecided voters with a VP choice that gives the so-called Reagan Democrats permission to change parties once again. He also hopes to solidify the votes of those three in ten women who had already chosen him over Obama.

McCain’s choice was immediately deemed insulting by the Democratic Party. MoveOn sent out a mass emails asserting McCain’s choice was “dangerous,” minimizing Palin’s credentials and experience and claiming she had no right to the spot “a heartbeat away” from the presidency.

Other liberal-leaning blogs pitched the story that Palin’s youngest child was not her own, but that of her oldest daughter. They claimed that she had faked her pregnancy to cover up her daughter’s. This forced the McCain campaign to make public the fact that Palin’s oldest daughter was actually *currently* pregnant. The faked pregnancy story could not possibly be true, but it was sexist.

Then a new commentary emerged: Since Palin had an infant son with Down Syndrome and a teenaged daughter who was five months pregnant, she should stay home and take care of her family, not run for political office.

Did anyone suggest that to Joe Biden when his first wife and daughter had just been killed and his two sons lay in the hospital? Biden was considered brave for leaving his children and going to Washington. And no one questions why the Obama children are being cared for by their grandmother instead of their parents.

So much for post-partisan politics. The swift boating of Sarah Palin had begun. She was branded a political lightweight–an inexperienced “girl” whose pro-life ideology (which is exactly the same as that of the short-listed Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was the expected nominee) would somehow overturn Roe v. Wade just by virtue of her being in the race.

Photo-shopped images of Palin’s face on the bikini-clad body of a teenager holding a high-powered rifle were posted on a well-known liberal blog and touted as having been taken from the MySpace page of Bristol Palin’s boyfriend. Sexist and fake.

Email letters made the internet circuit, claiming to have been from a friend of friend who lived in Alaska (where Palin’s approval rating is 80 percent). These referred to the governor as a “redneck” and portrayed her as an idiot rube with lunatic fringe politics who wasn’t up to playing with the boys.

An article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof attempted to put the Palin candidacy in perspective. Kristof traveled to Alaska and reported from there that Palin had indeed done quite a bit in her years in political office. Where the Democrats described Palin’s former mayoralty as meaningless, Kristof explained that due to the fact that Wasilla was a major hub, running the town–her job prior to being governor of the state–was more like running a medium-sized city, like New Orleans or Memphis, not the “village” that the Democrats asserted it was.

What’s more, the Kristof piece explained, Palin’s work on energy–which many consider to be the single most important issue facing Americans after the economy–has been important and strategic.

In her speech, Palin noted how vital alternative energy was to the country–a point the Democrats agree with. The New York Times notes, “Palin has a reputation of sticking up for the people of Alaska in matters of energy development” and cites how Palin made sure that Alaskans received sizable energy rebates from the taxes she has imposed on the oil companies. This benefitted Native Americans most.

Perhaps the sting of the Hillary attacks are still too fresh for me and feel too personal. I would like to think that I would always stand up for any woman who was being derided wrongly, even a woman at the opposite end of the political spectrum from myself. If working for Hillary Clinton taught me nothing else, it taught me that sexism is even more deeply entrenched in America than racism.

Apparently the learning curve isn’t too swift, however, because the attacks on Palin–gender-driven as they are–have been a stupendous tactical error on the part of the Democratic Party. I wouldn’t vote for McCain/Palin out of sympathy for Palin or in solidarity with the sexism she’s facing, but many other women–and men–will.
I listened to conservative talk radio for three days running during the Republican National Convention. It was an exercise I don’t want to repeat anytime soon, but it did give me a keen sense of what the “other side” was saying about Palin.

They love her. She has done what McCain, with his centrist and bi-partisan views and record, could not do: she’s energized the base of the Republican Party.
Every radio show had the same refrain: “Why are they attacking her?”

It’s become a rallying cry. Conservatives queried how the Democrats, who had chosen one of the most inexperienced candidates in American political history for their *presidential* nominee could complain that the Republican *vice-presidential* candidate was too inexperienced.

On September 3rd, Palin gave her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. She was intelligent, funny, self-deprecating, warm and a political barracuda. The crowd went wild for her and the same political pundits who had initially asserted that McCain’s choice was “risky” realized that once again they had been wrong. Palin had done what no Republican since Ronald Reagan had been able to do–she charmed people, including people *not* in her party. More than 37 million people tuned in to watch her–only one million less than watched Obama.

Underestimating her was simply stupid. Democrats should have discovered who she was before they belittled her experience. They should have learned from the “Bibles and guns” and the “she’s likable enough” comments by Obama that these kinds of dismissive slights only serve to undercut the Democrats’ position. They galvanize the opposition and turn voters off.

Palin brought clarity of purpose to the Republican ticket. McCain is running as a reformist Republican and Palin has her own reformist credentials. Obama is also running as a change candidate. But Obama doesn’t have someone challenging on his ticket, he has one of the most entrenched members of the Senate.

By playing the Palin candidacy wrong, the Democrats have undercut their own message of unity and bi-partisanship. As in 2000 and 2004, the Democrats are allowing the Republicans to set the agenda.

With a smile and a stiletto, to paraphrase one delegate, Palin took on the Democrats without blinking. Those who thought they could chase her off or force McCain to dump her, badly miscalculated. As one Alaskan noted, “You need to respect her and what she’s achieved. To do any less is to make a serious strategic error.”

The sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton nearly tore the Democrats apart–and also bought them Palin, a self-described pit bull in lipstick, for the opposition.

Palin made history. She also made the media look away from Obama and at McCain. More importantly–or problematically–she’s made voters take notice.

This election was always the Democrats’ to lose. Playing Palin for a bimbo isn’t just sexist, it could be the pivot on which this election turns in the Republicans’ favor.

We’ve learned a lot about race throughout this campaign, but we’ve learned little about gender. The Democrats have fewer than two months to get it before they lose the White House for another four years.

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-Noah Greenberg