Fervent Hope and Bitter Disappointment


Like these two commenters on my most recent blog post, I think fervent hope and bitter disappointment are both entirely appropriate ways to feel in the run-up to and in the aftermath of an election:

thatgoodlifetho replied to your link: Romney “shellshocked” by loss

To have so much invested in the world’s greatest contest; I think if it were me and even if Nate Silver had concluded I would lose, I too would be hoping against hope on election night, which would in turn lead to this kind of colossal letdown.

fossoaposto replied to your linkRomney “shellshocked” by loss

Doris Keans Goodwin talked on Colbert Report about how this dissapointment after losing is pretty typical.

But that’s not quite what we’re talking about in this case. In this case, Romney and his team seemed quite certain that they would win.

Here’s a telling little morsel taken from an interview that Robert Gibbs did with Fox News on Tuesday that sheds some light both on the way that the right-wing media portrayed the run-up to the election — namely that Mittmentum would overwhelm Obama — and the way in which the most recent GOP contender went into the final day with a firm grasp of the way the campaign had played out:

Brian Kilmeade said that he had spoken with Sen. John McCain who confided that he knew on election day in 2008 that he was going to lose. Kilmeade asked Gibbs what he thought it meant that today’s election is truly a tossup and few are certain of the outcome. “Is the fact that it’s even this close disappointing to you and others,” Kilmeade asked.

“No,” Gibbs replied. “I think people forget that, four years ago, even though you said John McCain knew he was going to lose, Barack Obama got 53 percent of the vote. That means he didn’t get 47 percent of the vote that day. That’s a pretty closely divided election.”

He concluded saying that he felt good about Obama’s chances tonight and said that every battleground state could be won by the president.

David Freedlander did a piece for the Daily Beast the other day that grabbed some quotes on losing big elections from famous losers. They’re incredibly helpful in sorting out the difference between the hope that one might still win somehow and the certainty that one will win:

Here’s Walter Mondale:

Unlike maybe a lot of people it became pretty apparent pretty early that it was going to be very very hard. Reagan was sort of celestial I would say at that point. We had some momentum where we would hope a little bit. We had a very strong convention. We came out of the convention maybe even, but then it slipped substantially. And then the other point was when the first debate ended, it looked like we were getting a good bounce out of that debate but it disappeared in the second debate. And then the last oh, couple of weeks before the election I was just campaigning hard to do as well as I could. I wasn’t preparing my inaugural address. And I think most of us knew that. I didn’t want a collapse that would hurt Democrats who were running for other offices. So I would say there was a not a lot of dreaming going on there in those days. It wasn’t like now when you are fighting over one-tenth of one percent. We didn’t have any of that.

Here’s Bob Dole:

In our case we knew we were in trouble, but you still hope that lightning might strike, that something happens and you can pull it off. If you don’t keep a stiff upper lip, you will start losing all of your good supporters. If you don’t remain optimistic, what are the odds that people around you will?

We did a 96-hour all nighter—I see Obama did a 48-hour all nighter, well, we did 96 hours in ’96, where we could rev up the troops in places we visited. And also, I had in the back of my mind that I may lose but I didn’t want to take a bunch of senators, House members with me. But I wasn’t worried about keeping up appearances.

Here’s Michael Dukakis:

You never stopped even though I thought I blew the election by not responding to the Bush attack campaign. It turned out to be the biggest mistake I ever made. You knew going in that it was going to be you or the other guy. I knew I wasn’t ahead but thought I had a shot, and in fact we were closing fairly rapidly until the Boston Herald—no friend of mine—ran an edition the Thursday before the election, and the headline was “What a Mess.” By that time the recession was having an impact on the state, and that headline was about me. And Bush held it up at a press conference and the closing of the gap stopped. It didn’t mean we didn’t keep working.

If you go back and look at what Mondale, Dukakis, Dole, and McCain all say, it’s very clear these politicians knew they would lose but continued to hope otherwise. If you go back and look at what happened with Romney, it’s very clear he was convinced he would win. Indeed, the Fox News interview with Gibbs is telling once again because — if you look carefully at the wording — the interviewers are all suggesting that it’s Obama who should feel like John McCain felt on the last day of the 2008 campaign, not Romney.

Is this just a case of excessive optimism, of the mentality that determination and a gut feeling matter more than polling data? Or is this really about the way in which a fairly large segment of the American Right engages in a sort of disbelief whenever confronted by unpleasant truths?

More and more, I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.



Obit of the Day (Historical): Eleanor Roosevelt (1962)

Fifty years ago today, former First Lady and “World’s Most Admired Woman” Eleanor Roosevelt passed away at the age of 78. Here are some fascinating facts about one of the most remarkable people in U.S. history, male or female:

  • Her first name was actually Anna.
  • Her parents passed away before she was nine years old. She was raised by her grandmother.
  • She became engaged to her fifth cousin, once removed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1903.
  • They married in 1905. She was escorted down the aisle by her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt. Since she was also a Roosevelt, she never changed her name.
  • She did not want her husband to be president.
  • She was the first First Lady to schedule and hold press conferences. They were for female journalists.
  • Beginning in 1935 and lasting until her death in 1962 she wrote a daily column titled, “My Day.” She wrote six columns a week, except the week of FDR’s death in April 1945 - she only wrote four.
  • She was appointed to the U.S. delegation of the United Nations by President Harry Truman. When she first joined the body every delegate rose and applauded her arrival.
  • She was encouraged to run for governor and senator from New York. Some even pushed her to run for Vice-President. When Truman was asked about having Mrs. Roosevelt as a running mate he replied, “Why, of course, of course. What do you expect me to say to that?”
  • She left the UN in 1953 and remained outside of politics until the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. He appointed her to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. She would serve on the Peace Corps Advisory Board and chaired a public hearing on the violence against civil rights workers.
  • When she passed away, it was the first time numerous First Ladies attended the funeral of another. In attendance were Bess Truman, Jackie Kennedy, and Lady Bird Johnson (future First Lady). Also in attendance were Presidents Kennedy, Truman, and Eisenhower.


  • Eleanor Roosevelt’s great-great-great grandfather administered the oath of office to George Washington at his first inauguration.
  • She had six children, five survived to adulthood: Anna Eleanor, Jr., James, Elliott, Franklin Delano, Jr., and John Aspinwell. They had a baby, also Franklin Delano, Jr., who died at the age of seven months.
  • Her mother nicknamed her “Granny” because she was “very plain [looking]” and “old fashioned.” Eleanor would later say, “No matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and honesty are written across her face, she will be beautiful.”
  • She was the tallest First Lady at 5’ 11”. (Michele Obama is tied with Mrs. Roosevelt.)









www.nytimes.org (her 1962 obituary)



Top left - Eleanor Roosevelt, circa 1888, courtesy time.com and copyright HULSTON/GETTY

Top right - Eleanor Roosevelt, 1898 (age 14), courtesy about.com and FDR Library

Center - Official White House portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1949, painted by Douglas Glanville Chandor, courtesy www.whitehousehistory.org “Anna Eleanor Roosevelt greatly expanded the role of first lady through her press conferences, news columns, speeches, travels, and activism. She used the White House to support causes ranging from reforming child labor to providing for the poor in Appalachia to combating the effects of the Depression.”

Bottom left - Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt sitting on the steps of their Hyde Park home, 1906, courtesy of history1900s.about.com and FDR Library

Bottom right - Eleanor Roosevelt, circa 1960s, courtesy of www.janicehollybooth.com

Early Republicans were characterized by a mixture of Classical Liberalism, Progressivism, and some elements of what would become Paleoconsevatism. They were willing to interfere with established economic traditions to pursue a better life for some. They were willing to impose taxation to relieve economic downturns or to fund wars. They emphasized railroads, funding education, and giving free land to farmers. Despite favoring industries, early Republicans also looked distrustfully upon unregulated capitalism.

We argue fiercely today about the intended relationship between the famous opening phrase (“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,”) and the famous main clause (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”). But it’s fruitless to try to nail down that relationship, to hope to prove for good and all that the opening phrase is or is not a preamble, or that a preamble does or does not determine the meaning of a main text, or that a “being” phrase means something different from or identical to a “whereas” clause.

The sentence is weak. The weakness is deliberate.

Madison couldn’t afford, on the one hand, to let the amendment seem to contradict the hard-won federal military power in the main body. He couldn’t afford, on the other, to underscore too strongly for the states’ comfort the overwhelming nature of that federal power. He seems therefore to have resorted to a preamble-ish-like phrase (others in the first 10 don’t have preambles), referring to supposed benefits of state militias, but resorting to the loose “being” construction — technically a kind of “absolute” phrase that modern English avoids, for good reason — that has left the phrase’s grammatical relation to the main clause permanently in doubt.

And even as the amendment’s opening phrase refers to a “free state,” its main clause refers to a “right of the people.” In 1789 Madison was still trying to move sovereignty away from the states and locate it in what the Constitution’s preamble calls “We, the people” — citizens of the whole United States. Some today who favor assertive gun laws follow the historian Garry Wills’ famous argument that the opening phrase refers to a state power, not an individual right, and that whereas in the Fourth Amendment, “the right of the people” does refer to individuals, in the Second it doesn’t. Meanwhile, defenders of a right to private gun ownership insist that when the founders said “a well-regulated militia,” “a free state,” and “the right of the people,” they simply meant that private individuals must remain armed against potential tyranny.

However well or poorly such arguments are formed — Wills’ is exhaustively well-founded and logical; many of the gun advocates’ are not — both sides in the current gun-rights debate are trying to make sense of something intended by its author not to make that kind of sense. Madison was not trying to protect a right to individual gun ownership. He was trying to conjure a mood of grudging, semi-coherent consensus, to establish nationhood. To that end, he denied real divisions and real effects and wrote the denial into founding law.

We must learn to manage, somehow, the unintended consequences of founding politics. To that end, we must face up to them. Without the nationalists’ smoothness — even their slipperiness — at the constitutional convention and during the amendment process, our nation might not have come into being. Neither Madison nor any other founder could have envisioned the modern uses that the Second Amendment has been put to, or that arms have. For political reasons having little to do with our struggles today, the founders incidentally built a murky confusion around the relationship of guns and liberty into American culture, a confusion that stunts, all these years later, much-needed public discussion of what has long since become a deadly national problem.

To begin to free ourselves from incoherence, to begin thinking publicly about how we might drastically reduce our penchant for gun violence, we must face the stark fact that in this case, our founders don’t have much help to offer us. We’re on our own.

We have two Auroras that take placeevery single day of every single year! … The United States is responsible for over 80 percent of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. Considering that the people of those countries, as human beings, are no better or worse than any of us, well, then, why us?


The paragraphs below don’t even tell 1/4 of the story; a movie surely will be made about Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld.

Cycling to Bordeaux to meet a contact who was to arrange his return to England, however, he ran into a roadblock, taken prisoner, and imprisoned at the 16th-century Fort du Hâ. His explanations that he had been out after dark on a romantic assignation were not believed and, in his cell, La Rochefoucauld considered swallowing the cyanide pill concealed in the heel of his shoe.

Instead he faked an epileptic fit and, when the guard opened the door to his cell, hit him over the head with a table leg before breaking his neck. (“Thank Goodness for that pitilessly efficient training,” he noted). After putting on the German’s uniform, La Rochefoucauld walked into the guardroom and shot the two other German jailers. He then simply walked out of the fort, through the deserted town, and to the address of an underground contact.

(h/t The Mighty Flynn)



In November 1990 LIFE magazine published a photograph of a young man named David Kirby — his body wasted by AIDS, his gaze locked on something beyond this world — surrounded by anguished family members as he took his last breaths. The haunting image of Kirby on his death bed, taken by a journalism student named Therese Frare, quickly became the one photograph most powerfully identified with the HIV/AIDS epidemic that, by then, had seen millions of people infected (many of them unknowingly) around the globe.

I’ve always found this image as haunting as it is powerful.


In November 1990 LIFE magazine published a photograph of a young man named David Kirby — his body wasted by AIDS, his gaze locked on something beyond this world — surrounded by anguished family members as he took his last breaths. The haunting image of Kirby on his death bed, taken by a journalism student named Therese Frare, quickly became the one photograph most powerfully identified with the HIV/AIDS epidemic that, by then, had seen millions of people infected (many of them unknowingly) around the globe.

I’ve always found this image as haunting as it is powerful.



From The Atlantic:

So the president was ready for the Court to break right or break left. But instead, Chief Justice Roberts juked. He agreed with the challengers that the mandate couldn’t be justified under the Commerce Clause or even the Necessary and Proper Clause — thereby reinforcing the narrative that the Democratic Congress overreached in passing the bill. His opinion — though not the result — may provide much help in the future to judicial conservatives, as it suggests that, with the dissent, five justices are in favor of a more aggressive role for the Court in policing the bounds of the Commerce Clause (and the Spending Clause, which was at issue in the Medicaid legislation). And while Roberts ultimately voted to uphold the Act, he did so on a ground that, for Obama, plays terribly: that it’s a tax.

Now, much as Jefferson was two centuries ago, Obama is boxed in. What is he to do? He can’t criticize the Court for judicial activism, as it upheld the law (putting aside the way the Court limited the Medicaid provisions, which are not particularly salient to voters). The decision undercuts a potential theme of his campaign — that a conservative Court is out of control. And yet Obama can’t trumpet the decision either, since it states that Democrats overreached in trying to justify the law under the Commerce Clause. Worse yet, it calls the mandate something that Democrats didn’t want it to be: a tax.

Conversely, the decision may be the optimal result for Mitt Romney. If the Court had struck down the mandate, it would have taken off the table an issue that Republican base voters care tremendously about. But in upholding the law, the Court didn’t just leave that issue on the table; it gave Romney tremendous ammunition he can use to criticize Obama as a tax raiser.

There was much contrarian wisdom floating around prior to the decision about how a defeat might be helpful to Obama, as he could run against the Court. Jeffrey Toobin criticized this as “nonsense”: “Winners win, and losers lose.” We’ll never know if Obama could have potentially won by losing the health care case. But the coming months will tell whether he might have lost by winning.


And therein hangs a tale: about grassroots Democrats who act like activists, who hold that slaps are sometimes what it takes to get the political job done, and Democratic leaders who act like you can solve all political problems with a hug. Which, pretty much, was Tom Barrett’s entire election platform. As I explained here in May, the leading candidate in the primary to face Walker in the recall ran with a take-no-prisoners strategy to restore union rights: she pledged to veto any budget that didn’t restore collective bargaining. That meant that if she won the statehouse, Republican legislators in Madison could hold on to their anti-union law only on pain of shutting down the state.

Then, out of nowhere, little more than two months before Election day, a new candidate announced: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Two days earlier, he’d had a $400-a-plate fundraising luncheon, closed to the media, hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Here was a signal: Barrett was the Democratic Party Establishment’s man. And the Democratic Establishment, in this age of Barack Obama, does things in a very certain way: it never takes any prisoners, never takes the most gutsy path (this is even true for the vaunted “tough guy” Rahm Emanuel, whose standing orders as White House chief of staff was never to take on any fights unless victory was assured in advance).

Barrett immediately announced a different plan to reverse the anti-union law if he became governor: He would call a special legislative session, in which he would introduce a standalone repeal bill. He would make it hard for his side on purpose. He would make the lions lay down with the lambs, Obama style. He would sell himself to the electorate as the peacemaker. He would follow the Bill Clinton strategy, triangulate against his own side. If swing voters hate union cronyism, he would prove he wasn’t a union crony. “I’m not the union guy,” he would say on the campaign trail – he was the guy the unions didn’t want; they even tried to talk him out of running.

There are many problems with this strategy. The first has to do with the way the media works. Programmed robotically to see any political issue in polarized terms, journalists will register “leftist” pugnacity no matter how conciliatory a Democrat behaves in actual fact – as with Bill Clinton in the 1990s and Barack Obama now. The second problem is that it requires Democrats to simultaneously surrender the actual benefits of being bold, tough partisans. The Republicans enjoy the grassroots energy of a fierce field army on the ground convinced they are fighting for nothing less than the survival of civilization (meanwhile they harvest moderates in a far more efficient way – using their money advantage to saturate the electorate with slick TV ads). Democrats appeal to moderates as their activist strategy – although, in an old saw Democrats have long ago forgotten, moderates are the people who don’t knock on doors on election day. Liberal activists who show up do so reluctantly – having already seen their candidate sell them out.