There is a school of thought that the Republican Party should not over-react to the 2012 presidential election. That the circumstances were unusual enough to explain the 51-47% loss, and that under more normal conditions, those few million votes could be flipped without any great shift in message. It’s an argument most recently outlined by Romney strategist Stuart Stevens, who wrote that Obama “was a charismatic African American president with a billion dollars, no primary…How easy is that to replicate?” His point was that since Obama was black...

November 30, 2012

“The Second Inaugural”

This week I wrote about two Civil War documents that are relatively obscure, the “Cornerstone Speech” and the "Order of Retaliation.” Today’s document is among the most famous of that period of history – in fact, it is chiseled on the side of Lincoln’s memorial in Washington.

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is one of a handful of memorable inaugural speeches. For whatever reason, almost all the speeches presidents give after taking the oath of office are boring and forgettable. Aside from FDR’s “nothing...

November 29, 2012

“Order of Retaliation”

In the Civil War Era, racism was widespread in every region of the United States. That fact sometimes leads to the lazy conclusion that attitudes were essentially the same in the North and South, or that the federal government was only marginally better in its treatment of African Americans than was the Confederacy.

But one 215-word government document shows there was a profound difference.

The South, of course, saw African-Americans as property. And when the Union Army accepted black soldiers, it was...

November 28, 2012

"The Cornerstone Speech"

It would be wrong to say that the new movie Lincoln has revived interest in the Civil War, because interest is always high. In some ways, it is the war that most stirs Americans, perhaps because the issues of race and region are still so present in our lives. In any case, it is fair to say that Spielberg’s Lincoln has stoked our attention further.

If you read the history leading up to the war, the most obvious fact of all is that the issue of slavery was at the very center of the conflict. The great...

November 27, 2012

Just about ten years ago I cancelled my subscription to the New Yorker, and stopped listening to NPR. I enjoyed both, and generally respected their journalism, but they were making me worse at my job.

My job, in one way or another, is to convince other people to support the causes I think are important. People who do that for a living – speechwriters, political ad makers, communications professionals – need to remain connected to the audience they are trying to reach. And if your audience is watching ABC or Fox news, and reading Parade...

November 26, 2012

President Obama’s share of the white vote in 2012 was substantially higher in northern states than southern ones, as reported by the NBC political blog First Read. In Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia, he got less than the national average (39%) and in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa he got more than it. The farther north you went, the higher the percentage of white people voted for the black President – in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa he got about half the voters of European ancestry. The farther south...

November 21, 2012

A lot of the non-sports coverage of sports is negative. The stories that cross over into the broader culture are often about misbehaviors and arrests, over-spending and bankruptcies, greed, or health concerns like concussions. And there is -- as with almost every aspect of life at almost every period in history -- a nostalgia for a purer game of generations past.

But the truth is there are a lot of great things about sports today. And there are trends and innovations that make big time professional sports a better influence on our culture...

November 20, 2012

There's always been a noticeable difference between President Obama in campaign settings and in his official capacity.

In election-mode, he is high energy, gives a great political speech, and throws around catch-phrases with ease and style ("Yes we can!," "Fired up and ready to go!," "Romnesia"). But in the White House, he often seems to be the opposite -- a little too serious, even boring, and reluctant to be too political. I'm exaggerating somewhat, he's hardly non-political as President, but the difference in tone is clear to me....

November 19, 2012

I think President Obama may have a better second term honeymoon with Congress than most presidents. Not because Republicans like him any better, but because their political situation has sunk in.

After the 2008 elections, I think many Republicans viewed their defeat – failing to win the House, Senate, or Presidency – as something of a fluke. President Bush’s unpopularity and the world economic collapse were rare events and they knew the pendulum would swing back their way. With political energy from the Tea Party, their best political...

November 14, 2012

The Electoral College, the Senate filibuster, and the gerrymandered redistricting all have two things in common: They are hard to defend and generate a lot of partisan hypocrisy.

In each case, these longstanding institutions frustrate the will of the majority. The Electoral College means that once in a while the presidential candidate who gets the most votes in the United States doesn't become President of the United States. The filibuster blocks laws that are supported by the representatives of a majority of the people. And...

November 13, 2012