While many of you think of me as an entertainment guy, I also follow politics avidly, have written about it some, and spent the afternoon and evening Tuesday on assignment in Columbus. I spent a lot of time in the Statehouse’s election-night media center. I stopped by a gloomy, nearly empty Republican ballroom after the election had been called, and the boisterous spilling-onto-the-street party at the Democrats’ headquarters.
I chatted with Secretary of State Jon Husted, and with reporters from Switzerland and Turkey who were covering the election, and a Reuters reporter who figured he had traveled 7,000 to 8,000 miles around the country lately for campaign information. Of course, he was spending the final night in Ohio.
I shot video and pictures, including one of a vehicle with pro-Republican candidate signs and, in a perfect Ohio touch, a mannequin of a Michigan football player pinned on the hood. I watched a lot of numbers on my laptop screen and, in the wee hours, the networks’ take on the results.
And I learned, or re-learned a few things, which I offer here.
People want to vote. Let them. Many actions leading up to the election, including more than one by Husted, seem designed to keep some people from voting — or to disallow the vote they managed to cast. There were incidents of snafus around the country, and court challenges in Ohio that have gone past Election Day. It was bad enough that President Obama, in his victory speech, noted the people “who waited in line for a very long time” and added: “By the way, we have to fix that.”
And we do. More than 5.4 million votes were cast in Ohio, but there are almost 8 million registered voters. Those who did vote indeed stood in long lines — I did, and that was during early voting, the Wednesday before the election. Others ran into questions about their forms, their signatures, all manner of things.
There has to be a more convenient way to let people vote up to and including Election Day, possibly by online voting. And while I understand the worries about hacking and security, let’s look at it this way: If online retailers can figure out a secure way to use our credit information, then state and local governments can figure out a secure way for us to vote — and get an emailed receipt for confirmation.
There are good sports — and there is Karl Rove. Much punditry preceded the election, a lot of it wrong, but some of the erroneous ones were willing to admit their error. Newt Gingrich did so on a network morning show Wednesday, and John Podhoretz did so on NPR — where he further conceded his prediction “was strengthened and amplified by what I wanted to happen.” This was in courtly contrast to the ill-tempered reactions by the likes of Donald Trump, Ted Nugent and Glenn Beck, since Gingrich and Podhoretz can tell the difference between an election and Armageddon.
But Rove, once considered a master political strategist, was stunning in his much-repeated-online disbelief when Fox News called Ohio and the election for Obama. Too soon, he insisted, too many votes out there. Fox went to its own voting analysts (numbers guys, not pundits) to reaffirm that the call was right and Rove was wrong — and they stuck to their prediction.
Indeed, if Rove had been in Ohio — where his Super PACs bombarded us with ads day after day — they would have seen Husted making clear how things went. I disagree with a lot of what Husted does, but as the networks called Ohio, he was willing to go before reporters, point to the numbers, note where the not-yet-counted votes were (in heavily pro-Obama territory) and let the reasonable conclusion be drawn. Rove, who spent piles of other people’s money to get Romney elected, was not so reasonable.
If I had listened more to Nate Silver, the last few weeks would have been much calmer. As polls and predictions seemed to swing wildly from one day to the next, Silver was a voice of data-driven reason for the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog (its name taken from the total number of U.S. electoral votes).
Because Silver is pro-Obama, some observers considered his painstaking analysis of state and national polls to be biased. One writer called it “pro-Obama, anti-Romney witchcraft.” After a story I wrote about an Ohio newspapers-backed poll appeared (and was much complained about), comments on Ohio.com discussed other polling, including Silver’s, with complaints like: “Nick Silver is very to the LEFT … I know him very well” (though not, apparently, well enough to know it’s Nate).
What the complaints missed is that Silver is at heart a numbers guy. His eminence in 2012 was based on his calling not only the 2008 presidential election, but also the result in 49 of 50 states that year. And how did he do in 2012? He has been correct on all 49 states called to date. (At this writing, Florida is still unsettled.)
I love the diversity of America. Much was made after the election of how relatively few white votes President Obama received, how much his re-election depended on African-Americans and Latinos. (I have begun to wonder if I need a button that says, “I’m an Old, White Male and I Voted for Obama.”) Some of the reaction has been sadly, too predictably racist, as when Nugent proclaimed Obama the candidate of “Pimps, whores & welfare brats.”
But I prefer to look at the election as a celebration of America’s constant ability to change, to not only accept but also welcome the new, to believe (in some places, at least) in marriage equality, racial diversity and opportunity for everyone. We should be what the president described in his victory speech:
“We can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like … It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.
“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.