On Sunday, Michael Bersin and I got up at the crack of dawn and gathered up all of our paraphernalia and hit the road for Joplin. We had requested media credentials from the White House and we made the cut, so we got to cover the event right alongside the old media that hates our guts.
Now — I’m not just a blogger for a couple of decidedly liberal news sites — I am also a party hack, and I admit that freely. At least two days a week I am over in Independence in the Jackson County Democratic Committee office. My raison d’etre is to get Democrats elected because before we can accomplish anything we want to see brought about, we have to win elections and control majorities and chairmanships of committees.
Over the last few days, I have found myself thinking back on the service and the words of both President Obama and Governor Nixon, and of course about the politics of what I saw on Sunday.
I’m not going to point fingers at Eric Cantor for politicizing it first by demanding relief for Joplin be offset with spending cuts or it was a non-starter. I’m absolutely not mad at him for making it about politics.
I’m grateful he made it about politics. Because you know what? It’s always about politics. Everything. Is. Always. About. Politics, because all politics is, is the distribution and application of power, and that means everything we do has a political element, from two people deciding on where to go for lunch or what toppings to put on the pizza to the decision by the House Majority Leader to withhold relief from the devastation of a natural disaster unless corresponding spending cuts are made.
In 2008, President Obama lost Missouri by a mere one-tenth of one percent. Less than 4000 votes out of approximately three million cast, and the race in Missouri wasn’t called for two weeks. If the election had been close, we could have woke up one morning a few weeks later asking how the hell we turned into Florida and reset the clock to 2000.
Now let’s leave aside the fact that in reality, Obama probably won it. A lot of provisional ballots were cast in inner city precincts that were never counted, and I am pretty comfortable asserting that those young black people I personally saw filling out provisional ballots in MY precinct while I was voting weren’t filling them out for John McCain and Sister Sarah. Obama didn’t need our eleven electoral votes to win, so he didn’t sue to have those ballots counted.
I talk to campaign people all the time, and after the election they all said that I shouldn’t plan on seeing much of an Obama presence in Missouri, he would concentrate on the states he won in 08. That conventional wisdom seems to have shifted, though.
It started when the republicans ginned up their voter suppression schemes all across the land, and since the tornado that devastated Joplin, talk of Obama skipping Missouri has all but been abandoned.
Then Eric Cantor opened his mouth and opened the door for Democrats to hammer the hell out of republicans with their venality and callous disregard for the suffering of a community that was devastated by the worst tornado in decades. And their crass disregard is directed at “their own.” The Missouri seventh congressional district is the most solidly republican of any in the state. In 2008, McCain carried it with more than 60% and so did Kenny Hulshoff — and Nixon won his election in a double digit landslide.
The response to the tragedy in Joplin was immediate and competent and it stood in stark contrast against the Bush administration and their response — or lack thereof — to Hurricane Katrina. Nixon sent the National Guard and Obama sent FEMA, and they both stayed out of the way for a few days and let the professionals work.
And then the President came to town to grieve with them and promise that they would not be forgotten, that Joplin would be rebuilt and that wasn’t just a promise from him, that was a promise from America. And I saw a crowd of people who were overcome with gratitude that he came to mourn their dead and celebrate the strength and resolve of the living with them.
I’m a pretty good judge of this political stuff, and I have the archives to prove it. President Obama lost the Missouri Seventh by 2:1 — so did Jay Nixon — and neither one of them is going to win down there next year. But they don’t have to. That is the reddest, most solidly republican part of the state, and all they have to do is pick up a few votes from people who may have been sobered up just a little bit by the events of the past week and a half. If they narrow the gap and the ratio is 3:2 next year, Obama carries Missouri and the nation and we get our bellwether status back.
I’m pretty confident that Obama is going to go after our ten electoral votes with a vengance and a fury, and I think it’s going to be worth his while. Because if a conservative really is a liberal who has been mugged, a liberal is a conservative who has had his house blown away by a tornado.