Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Notes on Election Day

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Notes on Election Day

Tuesday, November 7, in the evening in Hollywood, monitoring the news, it became clear there was not much other than the elections in the media. After two days of record heat - the highest November 6-7 temperatures since 1854 or some such thing - in the still evening it was watching the results trickle in. There wasn't much else on the air or on the net.

And the wave of Democratic wins raised questions. What was going on?

The election had clearly resolved itself into being a referendum on the war, on the corrupt Republicans in congress, and on so many things.

Molly Ivins, the plainspoken contrarian woman from Austin, has her list -

    Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, unprecedented presidential powers, unmatched incompetence, unparalleled corruption, unwarranted eavesdropping, Katrina, Enron, Halliburton, global warming, Cheney's secret energy task force, record oil company profits, $3 gasoline, FEMA, the Supreme Court, Diebold, Florida in 2000, Ohio in 2004, Terri Schiavo, stem cell research, golden parachutes, shrunken pensions, unavailable and expensive health care, habeas corpus, no weapons of mass destruction, sacrificed soldiers and Iraqi civilians, wasted billions, Taliban resurgence, expiration of the assault weapons ban, North Korea, Iran, intelligent design, swift boat hit squads, and on and on.

That'll do. Exit interviews seemed to indicate folks had just had enough. Even large blocks of the evangelicals were voting the incumbents out. The Republican "get out the vote" system was working fine. They got their folks to the voting booths - but they voted their frustrations. They weren't supposed to do that.

But more than anything the election seemed to be a referendum on the president. That evening he was in the White House, staying up quite late (beyond nine) to monitor the results. The Republicans, unlike the Democrats, had scheduled no "watch the returns" party with cameras and the press. They knew better. And one could imagine things were grim at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But what's the problem? If the elections were a referendum on the president, the head of a rather dysfunctional if not incompetent government, what was the case against him?

One can Google a few hundred thousand answers to that question, but could it be what some, like Andrew Sullivan, call an increasingly unavoidable question - Is George W. Bush criminally insane? Is that what people are thinking?

Bill Gallagher, perhaps the Niagara Fall Reporter's only nationally read columnist, is sensing that -

    Bush's fantasies are even disturbing his fans. In a sit-down with wire-service reporters, Bush assured them that Rumsfeld, the most incompetent man on earth, would keep his job for two more years. Maybe in the last days of the Republican-dominated Congress, Bush can get him declared Defense Secretary for Life, sort of an American Raul Castro.

    Gushing over Rummy and Dick Cheney, the two principal thugs who lied to get us into Iraq and designed the disaster, Bush claimed they "are doing a fantastic job and I strongly support them."

    The remark prompted conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan to raise the question of Bush's mental fitness. Sullivan told CNN Bush is so delusional, "this is not an election anymore, it's an intervention."

    Sullivan, long a cheerleader for the war in Iraq, said Bush is "so in denial" he simply can't come to grips with his failure: "It's unhinged. It suggests this man has lost his mind. No one objectively could look at the way this war has been conducted, whether you were for it, as I was, or against it, and say that is has been done well. It's a disaster."

    Sullivan added, "For him to say it's a fantastic job suggests the president has lost it. I'm sorry, there is no other way to say it."

    The president's nanny corps - his mother, his wife, State Department hands Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes - know he's unhinged, but are too loyal to share that disturbing truth with the world.

Maybe they didn't have to. The elections were the intervention.

That's one way of looking at it, and certainly vivid, but it may be only a metaphor (one hopes). The noted Middle East scholar at the University of Michigan, Juan Cole, no fan of Bush at all, would like to keep thing a bit less hysterical and offers this -

    Bush is not insane, he is just not very good at putting policy into effect. That is, he is a mediocre leader who has to cover up his horrible mistakes with optimistic slogans because his lack of leadership skills leaves him with no practical alternative. Give me an example of any positive and successful accomplishment of his presidency, unmarred by substantial failures. Afghanistan? Israel-Palestine? Lebanon? Iraq? Al-Qaeda? Domestically, he has, by cutting taxes on billionaires, run up the national debt by trillions, and boasts in that insane yet just mediocre way of his that the deficit is "coming down." He put the expense of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars off-budget, and somehow the business page journalists haven't managed to notice that the deficit is not actually less than $300 billion if you count the wars. Nor is adding even $290 billion a year to the national debt a positive accomplishment. We pay interest on that debt, folks.

See? There's no point in name calling - or more precisely, in offering diagnoses of pathological behavior, however apt. The simple managerial answer will do. He's not good at running things, and he overcompensates, acting out.

Either explanation will do fine. The intervention was underway - or the manager's performance review. Take your pick.

The news that got swallowed up under all this, on Election Day, may be of local interest, although it was discussed previously in these pages here and here in a forum with Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta and the professor of marketing at the upstate New York graduate management school - the pressure on news organizations to make money - higher and higher profit margins each year - that makes them abandon anything like responsible journalism. As ABC News' political director, Mark Halperin, recently told Bill O'Reilly, he wanted to make ABC News more like Fox News, with its giant conservative audience. As he explained to O'Reilly - This is about moving product, not producing good journalism.

And so it is, as out here the other shoe dropped - "Dean Baquet, the editor of The Los Angeles Times, who refused to go along with staff cutbacks ordered by the Tribune Company, was forced out of his job today, according to people at the newspaper."

They want to cut reporters, particularly the investigative kind who work so slowly. If you can reduce labor costs you can get a good jump in net profit. They had fired the publisher who protested. Baquet stayed on, hoping he could convince them a newspaper really needed good reporters. They prefer "good enough" - good enough to move product, in this case whatever sparkly items the readers find amusing and drives up circulation and makes for higher advertising revenue. All the Pulitzer Prizes are for chumps, it seems. They brought in the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune to run things - to cut staff and make the paper more like the profitable fourth-rate region rag in Chicago. Ah well.

The New York Times publishes a region edition of its daily and Sunday editions at a printing plant down in Torrance, as does the Wall Street Journal. Those will do - better than a bad imitation of the barely adequate Chicago paper. There's no other local alternative out here. Sigh.

And the sort of thing the new and profitable Times will cover? The most overlooked news stories on Election Day - Barbados Faces Invasion by Giant Snails and Duct Tape No Magical Cure for Warts, Study Finds. Fascinating.

The consequences of the election will not be covered. Only a limited few - news junkies and policy wonks - find such things fascinating.

This item posted November 12, 2006

[Notes on Election Day]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik