A word before I sign off for the next 312 days …
As awful as the reading agenda has been for me this year, it seems to have ended strong with two books I’ll recap. There have been a handful of others I’ve made it through despite distractions and other demands on time. But these two seem to offer a bit more usefulness looking forward to the 2010 elections. At least from my perspective.
The Audacity to Win – David Plouffe
This is probably obvious in terms of applying anything to politics. But my sense of the book around the midway point was actually one of disappointment. Plouffe had promised to write a book that offered lessons of the 2008 Obama campaign and how they could apply to businesses and other organizations. But after the first two chapters, the book seemed to denigrate into a reading of “Here’s what happened … and if you watched CNN relentlessly during 2007/8, you probably already knew this.” The formula Plouffe stuck with for this portion of the book was as follows:
a) we had a tough decision to make
b) we stuck to our guns and took a gamble
c) we won … scoreboard
There are a few fairly minor tales of “unforced errors” that created a blip of friction between Obama and staff. But nothing that really made this part of the book more entertaining than … say, the quadrennial Newsweek campaign book, or the more old-school Elizabeth Drew version. Needless to say, the book falls far short of the Ted White standard.
What this part of the book has going for it, however, is that it at least gives an insider view of the most covered, entertaining, and exciting Presidential campaign in decades. There’s also a nice setup of the blow-by-blow campaigning in the first two chapters. The book’s epilogue reads as if it were the first thing Plouffe wrote for the book, as it tracks with his original goal of offering some added meaning from the campaign experience.
Combined, the three chapters offer some insight into the decision-making that goes into running for any office, the setup of a functioning campaign, and an overview of how the day-to-day work of a campaign flows from the organizing principles established at the outset.
The Fourth Part of the World – Toby Lester
I haven’t even finished this one yet, but it’s already moved high on my list of favorite books. The book is, ostensibly, about the Waldseemüller Map of 1507 – the first to give identity to the American continent. But that map didn’t simply exist in isolation … it was an outgrowth of the maps that preceded it and the explorers who pushed the understanding of those maps one step further. It’s a tale told over centuries and Lester gives a very readable narrative to all of the history involved.
What’s of particular interest to me from this is a point that I’ve made to others in the process of showing various political maps. Essentially, a map displaying political results can be viewed for one of two reasons: to understand what the heck just happened, or to understand what could happen next. As a matter of personal practice, the former has rarely been of interest to me. The latter, on the other hand … very much so.
A couple of cases in point:
1. It was probably the 1988 election where I started taking out some blank maps and coloring them in. I remember having some down time at UH-D and there was one reference book that showed election results by county for a host of different elections. Whether it was understanding how William Proxmire did in Wisconsin, or how Dems in Texas were winning my home state, I definitely think that my steady flow of dimes into the copier warrant having one named in my honor.
It was out of this that I recall looking at two points of interest: what was the difference between Texas Dems that did and did not win statewide; and (nationally,) where were the opportunities that would need to fall into place for a Dem to win the White House in 1992.
For the latter, Dukakis’ loss in 1988 might have made this a bit of a challenge. But I remember noticing that a lot of Bush counties along the Mississippi River could very well swing the other direction for a candidate who appealed to those voters more than, say … Michael Dukakis. Four years later, Bill Clinton would manage that very feat.
For the former, it meant a preview of where the Dem coalition would fall apart as those areas where Phil Gramm proved popular would eventually coalesce around the GOP even more in the years ahead.
2. After deciding to pick up the habit again and putting together a statewide precinct map of the Moody-Willet Supreme Court contest, a very different view was evident. There was now, very visibly, an opportunity to put together more of an urban/suburban coalition than in the past. The rural areas we had spent decades losing was becoming less populous and their electorates were nearing the point of diminishing returns for the GOP. Urban areas were still growing and increasingly Dem-friendly. And the suburbs had approached the early point of a dramatic shift.
Going into the 2008 cycle, there were numerous precincts in the western and northwestern part of Harris County that I felt were ripe for swinging in favor of Dem candidates. Part of those were used in targeting opportunities for the Skelly campaign and I’m a little proud to note that every one flipped blue for the first time in eons. Outside of CD7, there were several precincts east of Katy I noticed that went over 40% for Bill Moody in 2006 and might be ready to flip, at minimum, for a strong Dem Hispanic candidate. Fortunately, those precincts didn’t just flip for Adrian Garcia. They apparently got enough of a swing that Dr. Murray thought enough to take note of them.
It remains to be seen whether 2010 will be a year in which candidates exploit those shifts, or even if those shifts hold. But the broader point in connecting my own pastime with Lester’s book is the realization that maps aren’t beneficial just for their accuracy of location … but also for what the possibilities that they inform us of.
Simply showing someone what happened in the past tense with shades of red and blue may very well be informative for a large number of people. But seeing a map for the opportunities of what can be added to the previous effort strikes me as far more meaningful. That’s roughly what Lester describes in the exploration and mapping of the world at a time when it was not fully known.
I’d hoped to spend some time in January sharing what little I’ve learned over the past few years about creating some of the maps I’ve posted on this blog. The recent job change seems to put a crimp in those plans. But I do hope to see a few others take up the habit and discuss those areas around the county and state (and beyond) that they know better than anyone else.