Romance novels need a canon
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
A contemporary romantic comedy set to Elvis Costello and lots of luxurious and sinful sugary treats. Read the whole essay.
There’s still a week left, but the prevailing expectation is that Scott Walker will survive Wisconsin’s June 5 recall election.
The Republican incumbent has led by a margin in the mid-single digits for the past few weeks, though Democrats insist their internal polls are closer. Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate, turned in an aggressive and generally well-received performance in a Friday debate, the first of two head-to-head showdowns, and is now playing up the ongoing federal inquiry into Walker’s fundraising practices from his days as a county executive. The possibility of a late charge by Barrett can’t be dismissed, but he enters the campaign’s final days as a decided underdog.
Not surprisingly, this has Republicans pointing to the state as a ripe November target for Mitt Romney. There’s plenty of logic to this. The recall effort has been the story in Wisconsin for a year now, and the partisan and ideological lines are clearly drawn. So, given this polarized, high-interest climate, if the numbers end up breaking the GOP’s way on June 5, how could it not be some kind of harbinger for the fall?
Actually, there’s a good reason to think it won’t be: The same polls that have Walker well-positioned to fend off Barrett don’t give Romney quite the same strength. The most recent public survey, released last week by St. Norbert College and Wisconsin Public Radio, put Walker ahead 50 to 45 percent in the recall race and Obama up 49 to 43 percent on the presidential side. Before that, a poll from Marquette Law School gave Walker a six-point lead while showing a dead heat in the Romney-Obama contest.
It’s a reminder of the very mixed partisan and ideological messages that swing voters frequently send. In theory, it’s hard to imagine a voter brushing off the Democratic portrayal of Walker as a far-right ideologue, tool of the rich and destroyer of middle-class jobs while simultaneously buying into the same caricature of Romney. But swing voters often aren’t making straight judgments on policy and ideology, which is why where they say they stand on major issues often doesn’t line up with how they say they’ll vote in an election. So it’s very possible that Wisconsin voters will give Walker the go-ahead to finish his term and then vote to give Obama a second one this fall.
There have been so few statewide recall campaigns in American history that it’s hard to draw meaningful lessons from the past, but the example of California is worth keeping in mind here. In October 2003, the state’s voters recalled Gray Davis and installed Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor. Added together, Schwarzenegger and the other major Republican candidate on the ballot, Tom McClintock, took 62 percent of the vote, prompting Republicans to argue that the state’s political terrain had shifted and that George W. Bush would have a shot of winning it in 2004.
“Anybody who says California is impossible or out of play is wrong,” Ken Mehlman, who was then one of Bush’s top political aides, said at the time.
But the California recall was a harbinger of nothing. In 2004, John Kerry beat Bush by 10 points in the state, a number that was just two points off Al Gore’s 2000 pace – and consistent with a national popular vote shift in Bush’s favor.
Determining how competitive Wisconsin should be this fall is a tricky matter. Viewed one way, the state is a Democratic bastion at the presidential level: Obama won it by 14 points in 2008 and the state has gone blue for six straight elections. Even Michael Dukakis carried it! But this paints a misleading picture. The ’08 result represented the most dramatic swing in the country from 2004, when Kerry won the state by just two-fifths of one point. It was even closer in 2000, when Gore took it by a fifth of a point. And Dukakis’s win in ’88 could be chalked up to a brutal upper-Midwest economy that resulted in just about the only non-coastal patch of blue on that year’s electoral map.
The polls that have Obama and Romney in a close race in the state are a dramatic illustration of the erosion of Obama’s standing with economically anxious middle-class white voters. The state now seems back to being one where Democrats have a small built-in advantage but where Republicans can compete.
But this would have been true with or without the recall. Which means that Obama’s chances in the state are the same right now as they will be the morning after next week’s recall vote – no matter the result.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornackiMore Steve Kornacki.
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
"Welcome to Temptation" by Jennifer Crusie
Another of Crusie's romantic comedies, this one in the shadow of an ostentatiously phallic water tower. Read the whole essay.
"A Gentleman Undone" by Cecilia Grant
A Regency romance with beautifully broken people and some seriously steamy sex. Read the whole essay.
"Black Silk" by Judith Ivory
A beautifully written, exquisitely slow-building Regency; the plot is centered on a box with some very curious images, as Edward Gorey might say. Read the whole essay.
"For My Lady's Heart" by Laura Kinsale
A medieval romance, the period piece functions much like a dystopia, with the courageous lady and noble knight struggling to find happiness despite the authoritarian society. Read the whole essay.
"Sweet Disorder" by Rose Lerner
A Regency that uses the limitations on women of the time to good effect; the main character is poor and needs to sell her vote ... or rather her husband's vote. But to sell it, she needs to get a husband first ... Read the whole essay.
"Frenemy of the People" by Nora Olsen
Clarissa is sitting at an awards banquet when she suddenly realizes she likes pictures of Kimye for both Kim and Kanye and she is totally bi. So she texts to all her friends, "I am totally bi!" Drama and romance ensue ... but not quite with who she expects. I got an advanced copy of this YA lesbian romance, and I’d urge folks to reserve a copy; it’s a delight. Read the whole essay.
"The Slightest Provocation" by Pam Rosenthal
A separated couple works to reconcile against a background of political intrigue; sort of "His Gal Friday" as a spy novel set in the Regency. Read the whole essay.
"Again" by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Set among workers on a period soap opera, it manages to be contemporary and historical both at the same time. Read the whole essay.
War Room is our political news and commentary blog, with coverage and commentary throughout the day.