TPM Cafe: Opinion

Among political scientists and journalists there is a ongoing debate about the extent to which elections--especially presidential elections--are determined by "fundamentals" like incumbency and the performance of the economy or by the exciting events reported in daily campaign coverage.

As it happens, there are two new books just out that represent the extremes in this debate: The Gamble, by political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, which argues the 2012 presidential outcome can be explained almost entirely by fundamentals, and Double Down, by the political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, whose view of what matters most is best expressed by the title of their earlier book on the 2008 campaign, Game Change. I'll give you one guess which book is already on the New York Times bestseller list and has been optioned to HBO.

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This essay first appeared in Sunday's Dallas Morning News.

Mere moments after Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, and two days after Oswald fired the shots that killed President John F. Kennedy, the professional football team from the city where the president was murdered took the field in Cleveland.

Back then, the Dallas Cowboys were not "America's Team" -- rather, they were a sad-sack franchise in the midst of a string of unsuccessful seasons after their founding in 1960. Added to the burdens of playing losing football was a far greater one that day on the shores of Lake Erie: representing Dallas, which stood accused of being an accomplice in the death of a president.

It is stunning that the National Football League actually played football just 48 hours after the assassination. Commissioner Pete Rozelle ordered the games to go on because, at the time, he believed that that was the way the slain president would have wanted it. Rozelle later came to realize he had erred, and it's notable that the NFL, when faced with the calamity of Sept. 11 nearly four decades later, canceled its games scheduled for five days after that tragedy. So the Cowboys went to Cleveland and lost in front of a hostile, eerily quiet crowd; announcers were instructed to refer to the team only as the Cowboys, dropping the Dallas.

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John F. Kennedy's assassination might have been almost inevitable. It didn't have to happen on Nov. 22, 1963, but given a host of factors, JFK was unlikely to have made it out of his presidency alive.

Almost no one disputes that the security surrounding President Kennedy was thin on Nov. 22, as it usually was. The leader of the free world, the most powerful person on the globe, was guarded by twenty-eight Secret Service agents in Dallas, only twelve of whom were actually in the motorcade.

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To grasp fully the searing impact on American citizens of President John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, one need only look to the massive outpouring of condolence mail sent to Jacqueline Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of her husband's death.

On the first day mail was delivered to the White House after the assassination, Mrs. Kennedy received 45,000 letters. Within eight weeks that number had grown to 800,000, and to 1.5 million a year and a half later. A cross-section of 15,000 American letters, preserved at the Kennedy Library in Boston, capture vividly the response of "average" Americans to Kennedy's death.Mail poured in from every state in the union, from big cities and small towns, from highly educated Americans and from those barely literate, from people of diverse racial and ethnic origins, as well as religious and political persuasions. The age of the writers ranged from five year-old children to centenarians.

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Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently launched the next salvo in the seemingly never-ending war on reproductive rights. Late last week, Graham introduced a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, and asked Senate leaders to allow a vote prior to next year's midterm elections.

The "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" would outlaw abortion after the 20th week of gestation, which is generally counted from the first day of the woman's last menstrual period. The bill would allow for terminations in cases of rape; where the woman's life is in danger; or when the pregnancy was the result of "incest against a minor."

If Graham's proposal sounds familiar, that's because it is. Earlier this year, the House passed a similar bill, and a number of states either currently outlaw abortion around 20 weeks or are considering doing so. The rationale behind all of these measures lies in the highly controversial idea of "fetal pain," a concept that few reputable physicians and medical establishments support but which has nevertheless gained traction in the anti-choice movement over the past several years.

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What prompted President Obama to up the ante on the minimum wage? In January 2013, in his State of the Union address, he proposed raising the minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $9 an hour. Then last week he announced that he supports hiking it to $10.10 an hour.

It is unlikely that his change of heart was the result of key economic advisers persuading him that a bigger wage boost was needed to reduce poverty and stimulate the economy. Both of those things are true, and surely entered into his thinking, but the major impetus was political. He was responding to the growing protest movement, public opinion polls and election outcomes that reflect widespread sentiment that people who work full time shouldn't be mired in poverty. It is a heartening reminder that democracy - the messy mix of forces that typically pits organized people versus organized money - still can work.

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When New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was invited to Brown University to give a speech on Oct. 29, student and community protesters drowned him out, booing and reading tracts explaining why they opposed his policing tactics like the controversial stop-and-frisk policy. With these actions -- ebullient, youthful and angry -- they were doing exactly what the core principle of free speech suggests they should: combatting Kelly's speech with their own. In this case, the protesters' speech happened to be louder, and the Kelly's talk was interrupted about 30 minutes in. Many, including the university administration, immediately decried the activists as uncouth and even deserving of punishment.

The controversy came to a head last week, with even some prominent liberals calling the protests out of line. But these students engineered the correct response to Kelly, who as NYPD commissioner has been responsible for some of the most odious policing policies this country has seen. Kelly is the architect of stop and frisk, which has been exposed as both broadly racist and individually humiliating. He oversaw an invasive program of spying on Muslim citizens based purely on their religious affiliation. He worked with the creators of a deeply offensive anti-Islam video that was shown to NYPD recruits.

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I started watching basketball as a child. As a 12-year-old girl growing up in suburban Arizona, I remember all too well the heated 1993 championship series the Phoenix Suns played against the Chicago Bulls, and the heartbreak I felt as Jon Paxson's 3-point shot led the Bulls to their first three-peat of the '90s. As a college student at the University of Arizona, I fell in love with the Arizona Wildcats and March Madness along with my classmates. The start of each new season still makes me giddy: now living in the Bay Area, watching the rise of the Golden State Warriors is probably my favorite pastime. It's hard not to become swept up in the pace of the game -- particularly the NBA, with all of the cult of personality and showboating and decadence it fosters.

And over these many years of enjoying games with friends and family, I recall one observation being regularly thrown around: the NBA is an "escape" for young black children from poor backgrounds.

Sometimes, this is true. Allen Iverson, who played in the NBA for 15 years (Detroit Pistons, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers) has a story of triumph over economic odds. Bleacher Report wrote in 2008 that, when he was a child, "Iverson's house would sometimes be engulfed in sewage after the sewage line blew under his house. His mother couldn't always work and the family would go without water, heating and lighting for days. When asked what he wanted to do after he left school, Iverson often referred to 'the Plan.' The plan was to make it through high school, go to college and earn a place in the NBA. He stuck to the plan and become one of the best basketball players ever."

But research published in the New York Times recently reveals that Iverson's story is not common at all. In fact, poor children have less of a shot of making it into the NBA -- and many professional sports -- than their wealthier competitors.

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People always ask when Veterans Day rolls around, what it stands for or what it means to me personally.

Is it just a day off of work or an event or family gathering? Is it a parade with floats and fire engines blazing their sirens, clowns on trikes adorning flags, or old men and women waving from classic sports cars and sporting a flat-billed hat with web netting in the back?

This is how I remember it. And of course I remember the candy and music and dancing. As a kid, this is all I knew. I knew that it was a day that those men and women in uniform were like Gods--towering in formations and stepping in unison through the streets of my neighborhood--keeping their own beat with the sounds of their heels striking the pavement.

I knew nothing of the day's meaning or why they were there, but I loved the military because that's what we do--and there was a connection to this significant day.

I remember the parades like they were yesterday--vivid and real. But more clearly now, I remember when Veterans Day became something I would never forget--something more than an event and something that became a part of my entire existence.

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