Wednesday, November 05, 2008

My (first) post-election post

I haven't been blogging much recently--only 11 posts in October, just one of which had any significant amount of writing. I haven't even done a "semi-random thoughts" post since August. There are a number of reasons--watching the Olympics and the conventions, exercising as often as possible, and doing my taxes among them. I blogged a little about the presidential campaign, but I stopped, mainly because I was just repeating what other people had said, often much better than I would have. I was also wading through dozens of political e-mails every day. Even just skimming most of them was rather time-consuming. I was tired of reading, let alone writing, even on non-political topics. I did my bit for the Trans for Obama effort, and one long post about the Olympics, but that was about it.

Now that the election is over, I'm going to try to post on a daily basis--and do some real writing also. Starting now.

I was slightly nervous going into Tuesday. Obama was significantly ahead in the public polls. On October 23 I had participated in a conference call of the leaders of the trans and gender identity communities (blush) with a couple of the Obama campaign leaders. They said their internal poll numbers looked promising, but they were acting as if they were three points behind. They weren't taking anything for granted. So I was feeling pretty good about Obama's chances, but there were some background fears--in 2000 (and maybe 2004) the Republicans had shown themselves to be fully capable of stealing a presidential election.

While I discounted the conspiracy theories about the electronic voting machines being rigged by their makers, I was much more concerned about them being hackable after the fact--my 25 years as a computer programmer taught me how difficult it is to make any system totally secure. Plus, I had first-hand experience of how flakey mark-sense readers can be. Hopefully the ones being used to count ballots in this election were better than the ones my installation had to deal with in the 80's. But I was (and still am) quite certain that they are not going to be 100% accurate, particularly when the ballots are being marked by untrained voters.

I was also concerned about voter suppression. Before the election there were charges in several states controlled by Republicans that there were suspicious wholesale purges of the voter rolls. Most, if not all, turned out to be quite routine, legitimate actions, except that some were done slightly too close to election day under the federal regulations. (There were also charges that ACORN was engaging in massive voter fraud in gathering registrations of new, presumably Democratic-leaning voters. This turned out to be highly exagerated.)

But election-day voter suppression, often just by making it extremely time-consuming to vote in predominantly minority areas, was a bigger fear of mine.

It turned out to be an unnecessary fear. While there some scattered problems, things generally worked well. It reminded me of Y2K--it was basically a non-event, because we in the data processing industry had worked our tails off for two years to make sure things went smoothly (In fact, it ended up being far smoother than most year-ends, because everything had been so thoroughly tested).

I had other concerns besides the reliability of the election results. I was a bit worried that the Republicans wouldn't need to falsify them. While Obama was running nine percent ahead of McCain in the polls immediately before Tuesday, I was concerned about how predictive this number was. It has been claimed (though some people dispute) that African-American candidates generally don't get as many votes as polls predict, because some white voters, when they finally get into the voting booth, just cannot bring themselves to vote for a black person (the Bradley Effect). I read that it could be as much as ten percent--though that really seemed rather high to me. But even if it were only half that, it could make the election a toss-up when figuring in the polls' standard margin of error.

It turned out that Obama got 53% to McCain's 47% of the popular vote, a six percent difference, neglecting third party candidates. So I think a little of my concern was justified. Fortunately, it was only a little.

Speaking of third party candidates, that was another concern of mine. It is generally believed that Gore would have taken Florida in 2000, had Ralph Nader not been on the ballot. Nader was also on the ballot in Florida this year, though he seemed to be attracting far less support than eight years ago. Still, in a state that was being called a battleground, a few votes could make a difference. And as we saw in 2000, Florida could swing the entire election.

It turned out that Obama beat McCain by nearly 200,000 there, with only 60,000 votes going to others.

Thus, my nervousness was unnecessary. Obama won easily. Given the state of the economy and Bush's unpopularity it would have been a huge landslide--but Obama is African-American.

I never really gave a lot of thought about having an African-American president. I vaguely remember reading Irving Wallace's novel, The Man, back in the 60's. It was a political thriller about a black president pro tempore of the senate, normally third in line, who succeeds to the presidency after some ridiculous coincidences. It was as much about 1960's race relations as it was about the presidency. I remember Shirley Chisholm running for president in 1972--only to find that her candidacy generated far more resistance because of her gender, than because of her race. Jesse Jackson was a much more viable candidate in the 80's--but I never thought he really had a chance to win.

Barack Obama came out of nowhere. He came to national attention with his great keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, even before he was elected to the U.S. Senate. A scant 2½ years later he declared his candidacy for president. I have to wonder if he thought he had any chance to win at that point--or whether this was originally just a trial run for sometime in the future. I didn't consider him a major candidate--I favored Bill Richardson, who I thought was our best chance of getting the U.S. out of Iraq. When Richardson dropped out I was in a quandary: I wanted to back a candidate who was good on the Iraq question, and who had a real chance to win. Obama was good on Iraq and he had won the Iowa caucuses, but I had to wonder about his lack of experience. Hillary had more experience, but was not as good on Iraq, in my opinion--and she had beaten Obama in New Hampshire.

My choice was made when Bill Bradley endorsed Obama. I consider Bradley the best-qualified candidate for president we've had in decades, and if he thinks Obama has enough experience, it's good enough for me. When Bill Richardson later also endorsed him (despite his close connection to the Clintons), it was icing on the cake.

The fact that Obama is African-American had no effect on my backing him--either way. It was incidental--he was a candidate who happened to be black, not a black candidate. He wasn't making his race an issue. He was good on most of the issues I am concerned with, especially Iraq. Politicians (I probably should call them statesmen) who I admire vouched for his abilities. I would have been happy to support Clinton had she won the nomination, but I didn't think she was the better candidate. I didn't think Obama's race would make him unelectable--particularly since as early as February I started to suspect the economy would be the major campaign issue, and when the economy goes bad the incumbent party seldom wins.

And it didn't. As I said before, the prejudice against Obama's race was a small factor compared to the voters' desire to get the Republicans out. In 10 weeks we'll have a president I will want to hear addressing the nation, a president who will get us out of Iraq sooner rather than later, a president I will trust to appoint open-minded judges, a president who will govern on the basis of facts, not beliefs.

President Barack Obama. It makes me smile just to type that.

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