The Mystery of Ohio

BY BRIAN RUDDOCK

On Tuesday, Ohio – along with nine other states – will hold its Republican presidential nomination contest. In the run-up to “Super Tuesday,” however, the Buckeye State has commanded the lion’s share of media, and candidate, attention. And rightfully so.

Ohio’s primary awards 66 delegates. While they are allocated proportionally, a large defeat would be crippling for either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney. Its centrality to the general election cannot be overstated. Since 1944, only one candidate (J.F.K.) has lost Ohio and won the presidency. Thus, both Santorum and Romney desperately need an Ohio win to convince an uninspired base and unhappy establishment that they are viable threats to defeat President Barack Obama.

But how did we get here? Why is Ohio such a bellwether?

Numbers tell part of the story. Ohio has three major metropolitan areas and 18 votes in the Electoral College (compare that to the 14 votes populous New Jersey has). It has the ninth largest economy in the country. But size alone does not give a state importance in presidential politics. Just ask California (55 votes) or Texas (38).

What makes Ohio such a bellwether is its striking similarity to the country as a whole. It is a veritable microcosm of the broader nation in a number of ways.

Much of this similarity lies in its political diversity. The state spans the ideological gamut. The cities proper (Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati) are by many accounts liberal, but are surrounded by suburbs that range from Reagan Democrat to borderline libertarian. Between the metro areas lie heavily rural pockets that, as a whole, are largely Jacksonian.

A stark display of this diversity became apparent to me the last time Ohio found itself in the limelight. On the infamous night of “The Decision,” I attended a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert about 45 minutes south of Cleveland (ironically, about 10 minutes from where LeBron James was born). Skynyrd was promoting their “God and Guns” album, and the crowd was a petri dish of political scientists’ archetypes. There were college students guzzling Bud Lights; Baby Boomer couples adorning polo shirts and khakis; working class men and women sporting tattoos but not sleeves; and suburban 20-somethings (like myself) trying to mesh. It was not the typical liberal portrayal of Middle America as uneducated, poor hillbillies waving Confederate flags. Rather, it was an inclusive group that had both wealthy and lower class attendees. Many of the same people wearing tattered jean shorts drove home in BMW’s.

Across these various classifications exists a number of sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting interests and concerns, just like in American politics. Agriculture is hugely important to some in the state, as it creates something like $90 billion of annual economic output. Farmers want both low taxes and taxpayer subsidies. They compete with manufacturing interests, which push for tariffs and other import controls on the very same equipment used by farmers. Ohio’s large population of academics favors sustainable development and largely centralized urban planning that brushes against both agricultural and manufacturing interests. Urban social liberals often find themselves at odds with a state that is roughly 3/4 Christian. And on the list goes.

Ohioans are broadly representative of a nation that Washington D.C. and Manhattan often forget about. Many people in the state make a living driving trucks, herding cattle and melting steel. They hunt, they fish, they watch NASCAR and yet they can’t be bucketed with the monolithically rural deep south.

This same representativeness makes Ohio a tough state to campaign in and creates unique problems for both Romney and Santorum. For the former, there is a serious problem of genuineness. Romney’s persona is ill-suited for a Midwest state that values passion and conviction. This disarms what is his biggest strength, and could also be Santorum’s biggest weakness: policy “flexibility.” A candidate in Ohio must be able to talk to free-market advocates one day and protectionist manufacturers the next. Furthermore, while the state is fairly religious, residents are most concerned with preventing another 15 straight months of 10+ percent unemployment.

If Santorum were better known to Ohioans, he would almost certainly lose. He is too extreme to appeal to the many shades of Republican in the state. But that is not the case; many primary voters have only had very limited exposure to the former Pennsylvania senator. He will likely win Ohio this time around.

If he makes it to November, the incumbent will win Ohio and re-election. And the trend will continue.

Brian is a contributing editor who writes about politics, social media and the uniquely fantastic existence of being a long-suffering Cleveland sports fan. 

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NFL Draft 2012: The Market For RG3

BY AUSTIN O’MALLEY

Who will trade up for Robert Griffin III? (Credit: AP)

After an epic combine performance that exceeded even the highest of expectations, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III is the talk of the NFL as teams prepare for April’s draft.  Once the Mothership confirmed that the St. Louis Rams will be selling the No. 2 overall pick, speculation has swirled as to which team will make the move to grab Griffin after the Indianapolis Colts presumably draft Andrew Luck with their first overall selection.

Yi! News’ resident NFL analyst Austin O’Malley explores five possibilities, including which franchise we see as a dark horse to land the Baylor stud.

1. Cleveland Browns (No. 4 overall pick) – On the surface, the Browns seem to be the front-runner, with a pair of first round picks (No. 4 and No. 22) giving them flexibility most other franchises cannot match. However, reports out of St. Louis cite sources within the Rams’ organization claiming that the Browns are unwilling to part with the No. 22 pick. If that’s true, the Browns have a decision to make: stick with Colt McCoy and use the pair of first rounders to continue to build around him, or go all in on RGIII. If Cleveland is truly sold on Griffin, we don’t see how they don’t make a deal for the Heisman winner.

2. Washington Redskins (No. 6 overall pick) – The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also reports that the feeling within Rams’ headquarters suggests that the ‘Skins are the favorite to land the No. 2 pick. Washington owner Dan Snyder has never shied away from making headlines and a young talent like Griffin would give the ‘Skins their most promising QB situation in a decade. We tend to favor the idea of Snyder throwing a ton of cash at Peyton Manning rather than trading up for RGIII. However, when it comes to Snyder, nothing would shock us – including the possibility of him sending St. Louis first round picks in 2012 and beyond in order to finally land a QB they can build around in D.C.

3. Miami Dolphins (No. 8 overall pick) – After a surprisingly stellar season by QB Matt Moore, the Dolphins might be more reluctant to pay a significant price for RGIII. But it’d also be surprising for them to be sold on Moore as a franchise QB. Expect the Fins to at least kick the tires on a potential trade, but we’d count on them being more of a player in the Manning sweepstakes rather than the Griffin game.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 11 overall pick) – This is a darkhorse, but don’t be shocked if the Chiefs make a play. Head coach Romeo Crennel has been sending mixed signals about backing QB Matt Cassel as the franchise QB, first saying Cassel would enter next season as the starter but later saying he would have to compete for the job. If the price is right, the Rams could be keeping the No. 2 pick within Missouri.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 7 overall pick) – The folks over at ProFootballTalk suggest that the Jaguars may be a surprise candidate to trade up for Griffin, but we don’t see it. QB Blaine Gabbert struggled during his rookie season, but he deserves at least another year with some improved talent around him before the franchise admits defeat on their 2011 first round selection. The Jags have more needs they should seek to address in the draft. Trading up to take a QB in the top 10 for the second consecutive year does not make much sense.

Austin is a pro football analyst for Yi!. When he isn’t too busy crushing happy hour at D’Jais, he can be found dominating your local fantasy football league. 

The Top Ten Albums of 2011 (Two Months Late)

BY THE BUNKITIERS

Deer Tick tops the list. (Credit: Deer Tick FB page)

The Bunkitiers recently finalized a two-month long debate on their favorite albums of 2011. Voting ended in a three-way tie for the the No. 9/10 spots, so 11 albums actually made the cut. Wilco receives an honorable mention for their record “The Whole Love,” which missed the list by 1/2 a point. 

9.      Sleeper Agent – Celabrasion

Released: August 2nd

Single(s):  “Get Burned”; “Get It Daddy”; “That’s My Baby”

I must have listened to this album over 50 times this past month.  It may be slightly on the “pop” side of the rock-and-roll spectrum, but the high octane, upbeat songs never disappoint.  The band acknowledges being influenced by the Pixies, but I hear Pixies meets White Stripes meets Grouplove… with a hint of Shampoo.

9.      Jack’s Mannequin – People and Things

Released: September 22nd

Single(s):  “Release Me”; “My Racing Thoughts”

People and Things is Jack’s Mannequin’s most introspective album yet, focusing on the conflicting emotions of old love.  With feelings that range from wistful to happy to hopeless, the album presents a mature tableau, wrapped in the welcome grasp of Jack’s Mannequin’s signature piano-punk sound.

9.      Wye Oak – Civilian

Released: October 24th

Single(s):  “Holy, Holy”; “Civilian”

The girl can sing, and her guitar work might be even more impressive on this meticulously crafted album.  Euphorically contrasting sounds make for an awesome listen, building from smooth and calming to epic surges of loud, raw distortion.

8.      Decemberists – The King is Dead

Released: January 14th

Single(s):  “Calamity Song”; “This Is Why We Fight”

 Somehow this album manages to pay tribute to R.E.M., the Stones, Emmylou Harris, Wilco, the Band and Neil Young while remaining unmistakably true to the Decemberists sound.  A clear departure from their 2009 record, this album features some of their best, most timeless songwriting in years.

7.      F*cked Up – David Comes to Life

Released: June 3rd

Single(s):  “Queen of Hearts”; “The Other Shoe”

Toronto’s biggest and best “hardcore” band’s David Comes to Life is a rock opera set in 1970s and 1980s England about David, a factory worker who meets a girl (Veronica), loses her, gets accused of killing her, and makes an existential journey of self-discovery along the way.  It may take a few listens to get used to the screaming vocals and follow the story, but the powerfully driving sound of melodically layered guitar riffs coupled with guest vocals from the Cults create an undeniably rocking album.  Musically, think Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America meets the Who’s Tommy.

6.      The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?           

Released: March 11th                                                                             

Single(s):  “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)”; “If You Wanna”; “Norgaard”

A “generic” British rock band that some people prematurely write-off as overdone.  Don’t make that mistake.  Every track on this album is a hit, with lyrics so relatable it is nearly impossible to listen through without a few mood swings.  The album flawlessly employs a proven formula that has been misapplied too often for far too long, and makes guitar rock exciting and relevant again.

5.      The Sheepdogs – Five Easy Pieces

Released: August 2nd

Single(s):  “Who?”; “Learn My Lesson”

The first time you hear the Sheepdogs, you wonder how both your parents and Q104.3 never told you about this band.  Then you discover that they only recently got their big break as the first unsigned band ever to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone.  This EP is hopefully just a taste of things to come, and it’s nice to know that CCR and the Allman Brothers’ musical influences live on through the generations.

4.      My Morning Jacket – Circuital

Released: May 31st

Single(s):  “Circuital”; “Holdin’ On To Black Metal”

Circuital is a must have from a big festival jam/rock band known for outrageous stage performances. This is an album true to the inherent passion of music: the songs.  They speak for themselves. “Circuital” – a jam that builds like the excitement from a setting sun on a hot summer night then flows like a warm breeze.  “Outta My System” – a lost Who song that should be from Tommy. “Holding on to Black Metal” – sounds like The Heavy was sent to space with an evil children’s choir.  “You Wanna Freak Out” – Pink Floyd meets Americana… it’s all deadly.

3.      Middle Brother – Middle Brother

Released: March 1st                     

Single(s):  “Middle Brother”; “Me, Me, Me”; “Someday”

This supergroup features an elite group of frontmen (John McCauley of Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit) that would be hard-pressed to release something less than extraordinary.  Their self-titled debut album sounds as if they have been playing together for years, combining raw, sensitive soulful vocals with an off-kilter rock/folk/country feel that only these guys could pull off.  I would give my right pinky to go back in time and witness the writing and recording process for this album. They must have had a blast.

2.      Funeral Party – The Golden Age of Knowhere       

Released: March 29th                                                                                           

Single(s): “Finale”; “New York City Moves to the Sound of L.A.”; “Just Because”

High energy jams with piercing vocals and powerfully addicting guitar riffs.  Think Free Energy meets Mars Volta.  For some of us, “Finale” was the single of the year, and the rest of the album does not disappoint.

1.      Deer Tick – Divine Providence

Released: October 24th

Single(s):  “Main Street”; “Let’s All Go To the Bar”; “The Bump”

This band puts on one of the best live shows we have ever seen.  With Divine Providence, Deer Tick has finally recorded an album true to their live sound: raw, loud, heartfelt and (most of all) fun as hell.  The album is jam-packed with fun, catchy hits fueled by booze and raw emotion, all with a sincerity that makes it just a bit easier to have faith in the future of music.  The album sailed through to the top spot by a wide margin, making four out of the five voters’ top 10 (including two #1 votes and a #2).  Props to McCauley (and Goldsmith of Dawes for that matter) for releasing two amazing albums in a year.  Look out for Delta Spirit’s new album release on March 13th.

The Bunkitiers are contributing writers to Yi!, covering the latest artists, albums and live shows in the New York City area. 

A Brief Evisceration of Rick Santorum

BY BRIAN RUDDOCK

Our boy? Credit: Associated Press.

Rick Santorum is the latest Republican presidential nomination candidate to emerge as a serious threat to Mitt Romney, leading national polls by upwards of 15 points a week prior to the Arizona and Michigan primaries. The RCP Average has Romney in the lead as we approach Super Tuesday, coming off one sloppy win and one nice win in two states that he should have crushed. But to date, it has been a struggle for the former Massachusetts governor.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. Primary voters tend to be more passionate than general election voters; the juxtaposition of the fiery, intense Santorum and “Romneybot 2.0” certainly plays to the former’s advantage.

Unlike the other former GOP national poll leaders, however, Santorum is widely believed to be capable of sustaining his success and giving Romney a true run for his money. The New York Times’ Nate Silver argues why he thinks the former Pennsylvania senator has a legitimate shot at winning the nomination. As a liberal supporter of President Obama, this probably makes Silver giddy. As a libertarian who is offended by much of the Obama presidency, it makes me extremely worried. Indeed, even a close defeat for Santorum in the primaries would be a negative development for the Republican Party.

Rick Santorum is a big government conservative. He fundamentally believes that government has the authority and duty to cultivate better, more moral citizens through whatever programs and laws it sees fit. As Reason’s Jonathan Rauch noted in 2005:

A list of the government interventions that Santorum endorses includes national service, promotion of prison ministries, “individual development accounts,” publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, economic literacy programs in “every school in America”

Combine this with his consistent opposition to gay marriage, and you have a candidate who, if in office, would use your taxpayer dollars to impose his own sweater-vested ethos upon you.

Furthermore, on economic issues, Santorum’s calls for less government belie his actual policy positions. He voted for No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D (aka the Prescription Drug Bill), the “Bridge To Nowhere”, and countless other expensive boondoggles financed by debt. On economic policy, Santorum is closer to George W. Bush than Ronald Reagan.

Santorum combines the worst elements of Republicans and Democrats. (Did I mention that he was a noted influence peddler?) In the short run, his very presence harms Republicans’ chances of taking the White House. As evidenced by Romney’s recent awkward claim of being “severely conservative”, Santorum has already forced the tone of the primaries rightward. Independent voters are going to decide the general election; the more they see Romney and Santorum arguing about who did more to ban homosexuals from marrying, the worse off Republicans will be in November.

In the long run, Santorum’s rise paints a picture of the Republican Party that no normal 30 year old or younger would ever think about identifying with. The GOP is already far from cool. Rick Santorum will make it toxic.

Brian is a contributing editor who writes about politics, social media and the uniquely fantastic existence of being a long-suffering Cleveland sports fan.