#REVIEW: A Promised Land, by Barack Obama

This one sat on my shelf for a lot longer than I expected it to. Amazon tells me it arrived at my house on February 6, so it took almost exactly four months for me to actually read it once I had it. There are reasons, I suppose; the fact that the damn book is two inches thick and 700-pages-plus-endnotes long certainly had something to do with it, but the simple fact is that while I wanted to hear what Barack Obama had to say about his presidency, I didn’t really feel like I was ready for it. Frankly, I was angry with him, and not really for any good reason; the last four years were not his fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wasn’t really ready to remind myself of a time where I not only liked the president but was reasonably happy to be living in America. And while I feel like Joe Biden has had an enormously consequential first 100 days, it remains to be seen whether we’ll be right back neck-deep in shit in a couple of years.

On Sunday, unwilling to take yet another Unread Shelf picture with this damn book in it, I begrudgingly picked it up and started it. The entire idea of wading through it made me tired, frankly, and I was fully prepared to force myself through a hundred pages and then put it down, convincing myself that I’d tried and it’s not like I can’t pick it back up later. I wasn’t going to burn the thing or anything, but I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it.

Well, it’s the 3rd, and I probably read the last 300 pages of the thing today– which turned out to only be volume one of Obama’s memoirs, ending with the night they killed Osama bin Laden– so apparently I got over that. Obama has always been an engaging author (I have both of his previous books) and that is on full display here. There is also something about reading what is essentially a history book about a time that I remember. I have said this before, but let me remind you: not only have I voted for Obama nearly every time he has run for public office (I moved into his district in 1998; he became an Illinois state Senator in 1997) but my life intersected with his in a lot of ways. I know exactly where his home in Hyde Park was. His first kiss with Michelle was at a Baskin-Robbins that was literally across the street from my first apartment in Chicago; there’s a plaque there now. I had several classes with Bill Ayers in graduate school, and Ayers was very nearly my Ph.D advisor. And I’ve met Jeremiah Wright, his pastor. I am one of those people who was telling everyone that he was going to be our first Black President, although I figured it would be 2012 or 2016 before he ran. Honestly, I wasn’t terribly happy with his decision to run in 2008, thinking he was too young and inexperienced; his campaign convinced me I was wrong about that. Obama was my President in a way that no other President has been, and unless Pete Buttigieg actually succeeds in gaining the White House at some point in the future, it’s hard to imagine that any such thing will happen again.

tl;dr I barely put the damn book down for four days, and even took it to work on Tuesday. It’s exactly as good as Barack Obama’s memoirs ought to be, and it shouldn’t be especially surprising that I enjoyed it. Honestly, I feel dumb that it surprised me; I let myself get too caught up in my head over the whole thing and forgot that being reminded of a time where even if I didn’t agree with everything the guy in the White House did (he made terrible choices on education, which was the worst thing about his presidency, or at least his domestic policy) I at least trusted him to think. And there’s something to be said about voting for someone who you are absolutely certain is smarter than you. I wish I could do it more often, honestly.

(Before you say anything: Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris are both smarter than me. I’m not convinced that Biden is, but he’s absolutely a better President than I could be.)

Anyway, go read the book. Even if you don’t tear through it like I did, it’s engaging and interesting, and while I can imagine someone who finds it a little dry (did you find Obama too professorial? You will feel the same way about the book. He gets into the weeds.) I am absolutely not that person. Maybe wait for paperback, as the list price of the hardcover is $45, but go read it.

In which I explain as far as I know

To be clear, I hope he dies, and I don’t care who knows it, and the notion that he might die alone and gasping for breath from a disease that he refused to do anything to prevent is so karmically beautiful that I almost don’t know what to do about it.

A few years ago, I was trying to not be that kind of person; I have given up that fight. It’s lost. I hope he dies. He’s a terrible person and he’s responsible for hundreds of thousands of dead people and the fact that my mother never got a funeral and his painful, solitary death would be one of the very few 2020 events that counted as positive.

That said, it’s a little bit constitutionally complicated, so let’s run through some scenarios.

If he dies before the election: Mike Pence becomes President until at least Jan. 20. It is too late for the Republican Party to put anyone else’s name on the ballots. They are printed and thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people have already voted, and state deadlines have passed. However, continue reading.

If he dies before the election, and loses the election: Mike Pence is still President until Jan. 20, there is likely no Vice President named, and Biden becomes President on January 20.

If he loses the election, then dies: As above. Pence takes office until Jan. 20.

If he dies before the election, and wins the election: This seems unlikely but isn’t impossible, and is where it starts getting complicated. The Republican party is in control of both their nominees and their nomination process, neither of which are specified in the Constitution, since the Constitution knows nothing of political parties. Furthermore, remember, you’re technically not actually voting for President, you’re voting for electors who are bound, sometimes not actually legally, to vote for that person later. There would, no doubt, be a quick party convention where someone– presumably Pence– would be nominated for President, along with a different VP. The Party would then inform their electors in the states they won to vote for whoever the person they chose was. This would have the potential to get really, really interesting if the Republicans find out they can’t coalesce around a single candidate, but that goes beyond my knowledge of the procedures involved. This would skirt some state laws that require electors to vote for the person that won the popular vote in that state, but I don’t see actual prosecutions being likely in this case, although that little wrinkle has potential to make this even more complicated if, say, there’s a state that he won that somehow has a Democratic legislature and governor.

If he wins the election, then dies before the electors have voted and the votes are officially certified by the House: The Electoral College votes on December 14, over a month after the election, and then there’s over a month between the Electoral College voting and the actual inauguration. This is where it gets really interesting. Pence still takes office for at least a little while, but I don’t know if things still work the same way as they would if he wasn’t alive for the election. I think they probably do, so long as the electors have not voted yet, the party can still scramble to pull an actual ticket together, and it wouldn’t automatically be Pence.

If he wins the election, the votes are certified, and then he dies: Pence becomes President, and remains President for the second term, as far as I know. For all I know, it ends up in the Supreme Court, because holy shit is there no precedent for this, but I don’t see it coming out any other way.

Not a lawyer, blah blah blah. If you see anything I’ve blatantly gotten wrong, let me know.

In which my mayor runs for President

It’s a good video. It’s a real good video. I’ve mentioned recently how wild I think it is that my life keeps intersecting with Democratic Presidential candidates– not that I can find the post right now, but I swear I have– and now my mayor Pete Buttigieg has announced that he’s forming an exploratory committee to run for President.

I, uh, don’t really want to be in a position where I have to vote for him. This is a weird thing to write, right? Hell, I didn’t think Barack Obama was ready to run for President early on in his run, when he’d only been in the Senate for two years, and he very quickly proved me completely wrong on that front. Pete Buttigieg passes one of my first smell tests for someone running for President, which is do I think this person is smarter than me, and he also passes my second smell test, which is do I think this person would be a better President than I would. He is, and he would. However, I would be a pretty terrible President, so that second one in particular is kind of a low bar. I do not think that being mayor of a town of 100,000 for, what, six years or so adequately prepares you for the Presidency no matter how good of a mayor I think you were– and don’t misunderstand me, I’m quite fond of the guy. I just don’t know what the hell he’s thinking right now, because even if he’s essentially trying to run for VP he’s up against Mike Pence, and frankly as much as I despise Mike Pence I think Buttigieg is not enough to move Indiana back into the blue column given that a former Governor is the VP right now.

(Fun fact: there have been more Vice Presidents from Indiana, at six, than any state other than New York. There have been two just in my lifetime.)

If I had my druthers– and the world working the way it does, I have actually told him this– Buttigieg would have his eye on the Governor’s mansion or a Senate seat right now. Indiana has had both Democratic Senators and Governors in the not terribly recent past; while the state is pretty uniformly red right now, it’s not going to last forever, and I think we have another wave election or two potentially headed our way at the moment. I think eight or twelve years down the line we will be looking at him much more seriously as a Presidential candidate– again, my main objection is to him running now.  I can very easily imagine a world where I’m happier to vote for him further on down the road.

But hey, I’ve been surprised before. Maybe the dude is even savvier than I think he is and he’ll find a way to light a fire under his candidacy. That would be damned impressive, close to impossible, but maybe. At any rate, it’ll be fun to keep an eye on.

(I am, at the moment, on team Kamala Harris. My affiliation is loose; I haven’t bought a jersey yet or anything, and of the currently declared candidates the only one I really have genuine problems with is Tulsi Gabbard. But just so y’all know where I’m coming from.)

Shall we play a game?

300px-WOPR_test.pngFor some reason I’ve been fiddling with this in my head for the last few days: what would the American presidency have looked like if the 22nd Amendment had never passed?  (The 22nd amendment was the one limiting presidencies to two terms, passed because FDR decided he was cool enough for four.)

Now, obviously, there’s a lot of butterfly-effect stuff that might have happened with this, and most of that I’ve ignored, although it might be fun to play with later.  The main rule I’m working with is that people who were interested in the presidency stay interested in the presidency.  So, for example, you can imagine that different Presidents might have altered our Vietnam policy from what it was, and that if our Vietnam policy is different, perhaps John McCain is never shot down and imprisoned for five and a half years, or perhaps whoever is in office intensifies the war and McCain never even makes it out.  For the purposes of this conversation, McCain survives the war and is still interested in being President during the years he ran.  If you want to play along and go into more detail, feel free, but that’s where I’m coming from.

So.  That in mind, here we go:

All elections before 1952 are unchanged, because there was nothing preventing Presidents from running for a third term– and, in fact, both the Roosevelts did— only the tradition that no one should serve longer than Washington did.

1952 election:  This actually remains unchanged.  Truman was grandfathered in by the 22nd Amendment and could have run again had he wanted to, but he lost the New Hampshire primary to Estes Kefauver and dropped out quickly.  Dwight Eisenhower becomes President.

1956 election:  Eisenhower demolishes Adlai Stevenson, and is elected to his second term.  No change.

1960 election: Still able to run, and not much trusting his Vice-President, Eisenhower runs against a young Senator named John F. Kennedy.  In the actual election, Kennedy only barely squeaked by an unsupported Richard Nixon and may only have won by cheating in Chicago.  In my alternate universe, Eisenhower easily wins a third term.

1964 election: Real-world Eisenhower started having major health issues in 1965.  In my world, after the stresses of a third term, those health problems manifest a bit earlier and Eisenhower declines to run for a fourth term in office.  The 1964 election is therefore Nixon vs. Kennedy again, and Kennedy wins.

Note that because Kennedy was not President in 1963, he’s still alive in this scenario.  I’m choosing to decide that Oswald would not have shot Eisenhower.  Kennedy was in Dallas on a campaign stop, after all; Ike may as well have gone elsewhere.

1968 election:  Kennedy easily defeats Barry Goldwater and wins a second term.

1972 election: Running against Richard Nixon again, Kennedy wins a third term in office.  In 1973 his Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson passes away from a massive heart attack (NOTE: this actually happened) and Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri, JFK’s original pick for the Vice-Presidency, is named to fill the role.

1976 election: Finally unable to deny his health issues any longer, JFK declines to run for a fourth term.  Sitting Vice-President Stuart Symington is unable to defeat former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter in the Democratic primary, but California governor Ronald Reagan wins the election.

1980 election:  Reagan defeats Carter again.

1984 election: Reagan makes a thin paste of Walter Mondale and spreads it on his toast for breakfast, winning 49 states and beginning his third term.  (NOTE: You could make a good argument that Mondale, having never been Carter’s VP, would not be the nominee in 1984.  I would contend that Reagan loses to no one in 1984 so the name of the punching bag is irrelevant.)

1988 election:  Reagan becomes the third three-term President in a row to decline to run for a fourth term.  We all know his Alzheimer’s was starting to kick in in 1998 anyway, and now he’s at the end of three terms, not just two, so it probably would have been worse.  Gerald Ford, his VP, runs against Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis and easily wins election.

(Why Ford?  Because George HW Bush’s career becomes mightily murky if Nixon is never President.  He had just lost an election for the Senate when Nixon appointed him ambassador to the UN in 1971, and didn’t hold elected office again until being elected Vice-President with Reagan in 1980.  Without Nixon in the White House, he never runs for Senate (it was Nixon’s idea) so maybe he’s still in the House or still in the Senate and maybe he would have run; it’s hard to say.  This is another place where folk can argue.)

1992 election: Ford, not actually a very good President, is defeated by Bill Clinton, serving the same single term he’d served anyway, just not in the same years.

1996 election: Clinton defeats Bob Dole for a second term.

2000 election:  Clinton runs against George W. Bush, the former Governor of Texas.  Now, in the real world, Al Gore won the popular vote and lost the electoral college, at least partially because of his incomprehensible choice to run away from Clinton’s accomplishments as President.  Clinton himself, a much savvier politician with sky-high approval ratings (68% in 2000) and unlikely to run away from his own record, easily defeats Shrub for a third term.

2004 election: Clinton bucks the tradition set by the previous three three-term presidents and chooses to run for a fourth term, because, really, Clinton would have to be dead to decide not to run for office.  However!  After 12 years of Clinton scandals, the nation has decided it would rather shoot itself in the face than ever hear the word “Whitewater” again, and a popular maverick politician by the name of John McCain narrowly defeats Clinton in the 2004 election.

(I can hear you: whaaaat?  I put it to you that GWBush destroyed John McCain, and McCain was actually a fairly popular politician on a bipartisan level before, specifically, the 2000 South Carolina primary.  The shame of having had to endorse the guy who used his own daughter against him in South Carolina broke something in him.  I think this is at least arguably possible.  And if not, well: fight me!  That’s what this is for.  🙂  )

And, at any rate, it doesn’t matter much anyway, because:

2008 election:  Barack Obama defeats McCain anyway, stopping him after a single term in office.  (And this is fuzzy too, though, right?  If Clinton is still in office, does 9/11 happen?  Do we go to war in Iraq?  Obama used the war as a cudgel against both Clinton and McCain.  Absent that war, potentially, what happens?  Or does McCain start a different war in between 2004-2008?)

2012 election:  Barack Obama wins a second term, defeating Mitt Romney.

2016 election: Barack Obama wins 48 states against any of these yahoos, for the easiest third term since Reagan.


So.  What did I get wrong?  Let’s argue!