Tagged: Election

Shades of 2000

With age comes a lot of things, most of which are deemed negative by our culture. There comes slower metabolism, a changing hairline, and diminished opportunities to accomplish any meaningful goals. But with age also comes a few gifts, specifically wisdom and perspective.

I won’t pretend that I have acquired much wisdom at this age, but I do think that I tend to make fewer impulsive decisions of consequence at this age than I did when I was younger. But having lived many years, I do feel like I can relate a lot of new things to past experiences. This growing sense of perspective allows me to take things in stride more and not react to everything.

As I write this post on Thursday morning, Vice President Biden needs only six more projected Electoral College votes to clinch the presidency and defeat Trump. A lot of people seem are understandably anxious about the result, but as we’ve been hearing since the summer, there’s going to be a lot of mail-in ballots and it’s going to take time to count them. Officials are calling for patience. We likely won’t have a projected winner until later today or even tomorrow, which is three days after Election Day.

While I am also anxious about getting a result quickly, I am drawing on my memory of the 2000 Election to shepherd me through this time of uncertainty.

The 2000 US Presidential Election was one for the ages. As you know (or at least should know), it was an extraordinarily close race: one decided by the state of Florida, 537 votes, and its 25 electors, who put George W. Bush in the White House. We’ve been living with many of the consequences of that election to this day.

I was in 24 years old at the time, living in Santa Barbara1, and remember that I was applying for graduate school. I remember having a small TV set perched on a table next to my desk, where I was typing up a statement of purpose as part of my application package. Because I lived on the west coast, I was able to catch more of the Election Night drama than most people on the east coast were willing to tolerate. I watched as the networks called Florida for Gore, saw then-Governor Bush dispute that, and then witnessed the network anchors eat their words and claw back Florida as undecided.

Not having a presidential election called by bedtime on Election Day was unusual. I have a fuzzy memory of my dad coming back from voting one year. He was frustrated that the broadcast networks had called the winner of the race when he was in line waiting to vote. The broadcast networks could easily project a winner at the time because those races were not that close.

But that’s not the case in 2000. The uncertainty dragged on for weeks. Part of me felt exhilarated because I was living through a historic moment. I only really became aware of history in the 1990s, and let’s face it, that was a particularly stable, secure, and uneventful decade for Americans on a macro level. But the last couple of months of 2000 were dominated by counting the ballots in Florida.

We all know how things turned out. The counting and recounting in Florida went on. We learned the terms “hanging chads” and “dimpled chads” as ways to divine voter intent. Think about how much history hangs in the balance because some people can’t follow directions. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court stepped in to stop the recount so that Florida could send a slate of electors by the date proscribed in the Constitution.

As they say, you know how the rest of the story turns out…

None of this is to say that history will repeat itself. This appears to be a very different situation. It does not appear as if this race will come down to one state. Also, I’m heartened at the moment to know that Biden has multiple paths to victory—he only needs one of four states to win, three of which are quite likely. Trump, on the other hand, needs all four of them, and that doesn’t appear likely given the projected totals. In 2000, Bush and Gore each had only one path, and it was through Florida.

However, in the back of mind, I do worry that something unprecedented could happen. That is, after all, the precedent of the Trump presidency: it’s all unprecedented because no one has had the poor judgement to do this shit before.

We could see many lengthy court battles, several instances of intransigence among Trump and key members of his cabinet to ignore the results of the election, we could see state legislatures send competing set of electors precipitating a constitutional crisis. And if Biden only has 270 electoral votes secured, could there be a faithless elector or two? Some of these things have happened before, but a lot of is… say it with me… unprecedented.

In the meantime, we all anxiously wait. And for me, my hair will get only more gray as we grind through each day towards December 14 (the date the Electoral College votes) and noon on January 20 (Inauguration Day).

  1. I was living in Goleta, which at the time wasn’t even in its own city. 

A Week Later

A week ago, it seemed like the US was on the cusp of having its first woman president of the United States. We had been preparing for this moment for a very long time, and as early as May, well before the party nominations were wrapped up, the New York Times published this map. They projected Clinton to carry these states.

It didn't work out this way.

It didn’t work out this way.

As you know, things didn’t turn out that way.

Were Clinton voters and democrats living in a filter bubble, similar to the one Mitt Romney supporters inhabited that made their candidate’s loss in 2012 unthinkable? Did the Democrats think that they could just run anyone against Trump and that the voters would reject an emotionally unstable, intellectually vacuous, and bigoted white man from New York?

The shock of a Trump presidency has been very difficult to process. It’s embarrassing that we as an electorate voted this way. A man who who has been a huckster and a charlatan will be a peer to the Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. A man who’s name signified tackiness enshrined in gold will be the chief executive of the country. A man whose companies have declared bankruptcy several times will be the one who will be negotiating treaties and passing budgets. (I wonder what will happen when the debt ceiling will need to be raised in the March 2017: my guess is draconian cuts to spending and an attendant economic recession.)

No matter how embarrassing it is to watch Americans install a caricature of a successful businessman in the White House, the prospect of who will be running the federal government is an even more chilling prospect. Are we setting up to live in an autocracy? It certainly seems feasible with a pliant and spineless Republican Congress who will choose party over country every time. Our only hope is that the petit bureaucrats in Washington do their thing and bring sensible inaction to their jobs, but when did they ever come through for us?

Around here, the election and the aftermath has been a lot like a death. Many of us are in mourning, knowing that a lot of the the progress we made in the last decade will almost certainly evaporate. Many us fear what will come in terms of deportations, anti-semitism, rampant racism, misogyny, science denial, and good old fashioned crony capitalism. And we are stung by the unthinkable reality of an uncertain future as a failed state. As in mourning, emotions overwhelm rational thought.

But once we start to think more clearly, weren’t we unsatisfied with Hillary Clinton as the standard bearer for not only the Democrats but also for American women. Back in the spring, I wondered whether the ascendance of Bernie Sanders as a viable candidate was partly due to women supporting him—not Hillary Clinton—because they were hoping for someone better to be the first woman president. Sanders was more aligned with their interests, despite being a man, than Clinton was simply for being a woman. It reminded me of the days when the Democrats would try to put forward someone like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as the first black presidential candidate of their party. We deserved better. And in time, we got Barack Obama. We deserve better than Hillary Clinton and someday we will know who that better candidate will be.

And after this mourning period, we start to move on and begin to see silver linings. One such bright spot Trump’s victory is that the Democrats and the nation have finally gotten rid of the Clintons and their moderate liberalism. They not pulled this country so far right that Richard Nixon could be a liberal Democrat today, as Lawrence Lessig pointed out last Wednesday morning, they unabashedly [sold the party out to Wall Street]. He published that piece hours after many of us awoke to realize that Trump would be the 45th president of the United States, and, at the time, it was cold comfort for what the future could hold. In time, we’ll excitedly move on.

And that is what must happen after the death of a loved one or a similarly stunning loss. We will move on. Things will never be the same again, but we will cope, and as a country, we will get through it.

Demagogues at Film Forum


Just in time for the General Election next Tuesday, Film Forum is starting a very timely, weeklong film series tomorrow: films about demagogues.

While I would highly recommend against watching all of the films in the series, simply because it would be too emotionally and spiritually draining to see all these exercises in mass persuasion over and over again, there are some really great titles in the series you really should see. And a good number of them are packaged as double features.

My favorite aspect of this series—other than the timing—is the range of causes for the demagogue’s rise. Newspapers empower them in Meet John Doe and Citizen Kane, while the then-nascent medium of TV is to blame for Lonesome Rhodes, played by Andy Griffith in his first film role, in A Face in the Crowd. The plots get a little more dark in films like The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May with full-on conspiracies at work.

Update: I just noticed that TCM aired a lot of the same movies on Friday, November 4.


  • November 4 – November 10
  • Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St, NYC
  • $14.00 General, $8 Members
  • Buy Tickets

Only Losers Robo-Call

A few weeks ago, on the eve of the New York City Primary election, the campaigns for various democratic candidates robo-called me. I kept some of the recordings and posted them on this website. But I was reviewing that archive today, and I realized something. All of the candidates, whose campaigns called me, lost in the primaries. Let’s have a look.


By far the most active caller was Christine Quinn. Her campaign called me since the early summer through the day of the election. Her campaign also sent people to knock on my door and mailed me flyers just about every day.

Candidate Robo-Call Electorate Share Result
Bill de Blasio No 40.3% Won
Bill Thompson Yes 26.2% Lost
Christine Quinn Yes 15.5% Lost
John Liu No 7.0% Lost
Anthony Weiner Yes 4.9% Lost

Public Advocate

The first call I posted online was from the Squadron campaign. Their candidate did well enough to force a runoff but lost by 20 points to Letitia James two days ago. Either the Squadron or James campaigns (or both) called me on the day of the runoff but left no messages. It worked because it reminded me to vote that day.

Candidate Robo-Call Electorate Share Result
Letitia James No 35.9% Won Runoff
Daniel Squadron Yes 33.1% Lost Runoff
Reshma M. Saujani No 15.1% Lost Primary
Catherine Guerriero No 13.1% Lost Primary
Sidique A. Wai No 2.8% Lost Primary

Queens Borough President

The Vallone campaign was runner up not only to Melinda Katz in getting their candidate elected, but also second to the Quinn campaign in bugging the shit out of me. His campaign not only called me, mailed me flyers, but also used this new thing called “e-mail” to reach me. I was invited to attend fundraising events, read about his family’s scholarship fund (the original DREAM Act, as they called it), and get out to vote.

Candidate Robo-Call Electorate Share Result
Melinda Katz No 44.5% Won
Peter Vallone Yes 33.7% Lost
Everly Brown No 12.5% Lost
Tony Avella No 9.3% Lost

What does all of this mean? I don’t know. There’s almost certainly no correlation between the robo-calls and the candidates’ failures. For one thing, I only cataloged the calls where messages were left. Most likely, the other campaigns just hung up and called back later, only to hang up again. Jerks.

In either case, it’s hard to like a candidate whose campaign calls you repeatedly. Over and over again.

Robo-Calls End Today

One of the hallmarks of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has been the advent of bundling. As a Verizon FiOS customer, the double-play bundle of reasonably fast Internet (almost symmetrical 25 Mbps downstream and 30 Mbps upstream) and a fiber optic landline costs significantly less than the broadband-only service at the same speed. Rather than settle for a slower connection at a lower price, I take the “free” fiber-optic telephone.

“Wait,” you might be asking, “What’s the difference between a fiber-optic telephone line and a regular landline?” One big difference is that in the event of a power outage, your new fangled fiber-optic phone will only work with a big backup battery pack.[1] The one on my kitchen wall measures 11-inches by 17-inches, the same size as a tabloid sheet. Your old plain copper-wire telephone works if the electrical grid goes awry, which does happen, but not your trusty mobile phone or the new fiber phone.

With FiOS, you get free furniture.

As far as the benefits and drawbacks go, that’s the trade off for zero-cent-per-minute long-distance calling. Let’s call that an even swap.

But what makes fiber phone kind of a bad deal is that I still get robo-calls during competitive elections, such as today’s New York City primary election. We don’t (yet) get those on mobile phones, but we do received them on a line that is tethered by glass.

In order to get a less throttled Internet connection for less money, I’ve had to endure countless robo-calls during the last few weeks. Because Verizon FiOS voicemail will email you an audio file of your message, it has been really easy to collect some of the more memorable robo-calls of this primary season. Here are some of them.

Daniel Squadron

A common template for the robo-calls is to get someone recognizable to “call” you to discuss the candidate’s strengths and the newspapers endorsing the candidates. Here’s one where Senator Chuck Schumer waxes about Daniel Squadron, the candidate for public advocate.

Bill Thompson

My name gets me on some Latino-targeted lists, for marketing, banking, and now electioneering. Here’s Bill Thompson’s campaign calling me. Notice how it is both in English and then en español.

The message identifies me as someone with an immigrant’s experience. It mentions his family’s experience of immigrating and struggling in this new land. It also uses “community” [“communidad”] as a way of tapping into my Latino sensibilities to relate to this candidate.

Peter Vallone

Using the immigrant experience is a powerful strategy for creating sympathies between a voter and a candidate. Peter Vallone, Jr., who is running for Queens Borough President, has been aggressively sending email and postal mail. One of the latter was a flyer about the Peter F. Vallone Scholarship, which his campaign calls the city’s “original Dream Act.” None of the calls I received mentioned the scholarship, but instead mentioned his strengths as a “law and order” candidate. Here he is doing his own calling but still following the template of strengths and endorsements.

Christine Quinn

As persistent as Vallone was, the Christine Quinn campaign was the most aggressive, likely due to her well-funded campaign. The campaign called early in the summer to ask if “she could count on my vote.” They sent a high school student to my apartment to talk with me about Quinn and distribute some literature. And speaking of literature, the campaign has mailed me a flyer or ten in the last few weeks.

And, again, because of my Latino name and background, some Spanish-speaking luminaries have been calling me to talk about Quinn’s strengths and endorsements.

And pulling out all the stops today, Election Day, she “called” me herself.

Anthony Weiner

Last and late to the party was Anthony Weiner. He didn’t play up the Latino angle, which is probably wise because it could remind me about Carlos Danger and all that unpleasantness. Instead, he kindly asked me to join a telephone “town hall” conversation.

Since it was during my Monday night class, I missed it. And he called me to remind me that I bailed on him.

I’m not sure what the second call was meant to accomplish other to have me think of him. It did, and I am.

Today, I’m happy because the robo-calls should end after this primary election. Or else, I guess there’s always the run-off in October.

  1. According to Verizon’s Terms and Conditions, “Where applicable, battery backup available for standard fiber-based voice service, FiOS Digital Voice & E911 (but not other voice services).”  ↩