Monthly Archives: November 2004

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The fate of weblogs at the BBC 

Stuart Hughes reports:

  Within the BBC, there’s currently some debate and head-scratching taking place over whether employees should be allowed to keep personal blogs — and if so, whether policies need to be formulated to advise staff on what they should and should not talk about in the public domain.
  It’s obviously an area of some interest to me — although I’m glad to say that the approach so far has been marked by dialogue and consultation rather than confrontation.
  There’s no sign that I’m going to be silenced just yet.

To my eyes, the BBC seems to understand the Web better than just about any other big media organisation. So I hope and expect that Hughes’s cautious optimism will be justified.

Forget it, Rudy 

I’ve only recently come across the wonderfully named PolySigh. Here’s its comment on the prospect of Rudy Giuliani running for president in 2008, in a list enticingly titled People Who Will Never Be President:

  If Rudy was realistic, he would run for governor of New York in 2006. Instead, he has convinced himself that he can be elected president. He certainly could be elected; he might even make a good president. But to be elected, Rudy first needs to be nominated. And the Republican Party is not going to nominate a pro-choice (including partial-birth-abortion), pro-gay-rights (including domestic partner benefits for city employees), pro-gun-control, thrice-married, opera-lover for president. If nothing else, the South Carolina primary would wipe him out. Conservatives are starting to make their opposition clear. If the issues don’t do it, his crossdressing will.

The limits of outsourcing for India 

Behind the Financial Times’s subscription firewall, Vijay Joshi has a fascinatingly heterodox analysis of the limitations of India’s outsourcing boom. His argument is that India desperately needs export-oriented manufacturing to supply the tens of millions of unskilled jobs the country requires. Outsourcing just doesn’t cut it in terms of job creation:

  Some people think that the information technology sector could be India’s saviour. But its quantitative significance in the near term is extremely limited. IT-related output is currently less than 1 per cent of GDP. More significantly the sector employs less than 1m people. This could increase by another million by 2010. While undoubtedly helpful, it pales into insignificance when one considers that India’s labour force will rise by 40m by 2010 to an estimated 450m people (and much of the rise will occur in backward states). We must remember also that growth of the IT sector will be constrained by the rate at which the supply of educated labour can be increased. Note that only 5 per cent of India’s relevant age-group receives college education.

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Da Ponte, not Mozart 

Josh Marshall: “The difficulty for Democrats today is that they excel at the libretto of politics but have little feel for the score.”

Sometimes the most interesting things don’t appear on weblogs 

Well, that goes to show how out of touch I am with local scandals. I wrote on Friday about MP and Spectator editor Boris Johnson’s tirade against American justice, when it turns out the story everyone was interested in with Johnson was his affair.

It hasn’t hit his weblog yet, but the result — his sacking from the Conservative front bench — is a major news story in London.

One small point I noticed in the extensive coverage of Borisgate: he was born in New York. That means that if he decides to flee these shores and seeks US citizenship, he could run for president, unlike governor Arnold. Now Boris Johnson as a US political candidate. That would be interesting.

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The special relationship 

It’s a sign of how strange political alignments can become that Conservative MP Boris Johnson can write the following about Tony Blair’s summit with president Bush:

  It just seems to be give, give, give, this Special Relationship. And that is why, if Tony Blair is casting around for something he might ask by way of requital for his devotion, I have a suggestion. It is that the Americans should stop treating this country like a vassal state, whose citizens can be whisked off for trial — without any evidence as to their crime — in the territory of the imperial power.

This isn’t, as you might suspect, about Guantanamo prisoners, but about David Bermingham, who is caught up in an Enron-related trial.

Incidentally, has anyone explained why president Bush seemed to laugh when asked a question about the opportunities for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his joint press appearance with Blair? It was truly odd.

Personal journey 

Richard Edelman has a wonderful reflection on the arrival of his family in the US:

  I gave the approximate dates of emigration from Europe of my father’s parents to the Hamburg officials. Amazingly, they came back with photocopies of the original passenger logs. My grandfather, Selig Edelmanova (note the ova), age 6, left Hamburg on June 4, 1888 with his mother and two older sisters. He came from Minsk, Russia. My grandmother, age 3, left Hamburg on March 6, 1890 with her father, mother and three siblings. She came from Kalisch, Poland. I am even the proud owner of a photo of the ship Warrington, which carried my grandfather to Liverpool and then to New York.

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Should they stay or should they go? 

Tyler Cowen is in India, applying his economist’s mind to all manner of things. Today, he wonders how people would or should react to the knowledge that global warming will cause massive flooding in low-lying Calcutta. A taster:

  If the sea level rises considerably, the watery real estate of West Bengal will fall in value. Let’s say we knew that Calcutta would flood in fifty years’ time, how would the adjustment process work? Will people leave a dying city too rapidly or too slowly, as defined in economic terms?
  Under one scenario, not everyone need leave the city. The city ought to shrink, but can survive at a less populated level. Furthermore then suppose that the stayers are better off, because they do not incur migration costs. Each person then will wish that others leave and he gets to stay. Migration will become a game of “chicken,” and people will postpone leaving for as long as possible, hoping to be the lucky stayers. This is related to the reason why not all auto workers leave Detroit when the plant shuts down. They are hoping they will be rehired if/when a scaled plant reopens; everyone waits for the other guy to leave.

And from the blue corner… 

Frank Rich has some good news in The New York Times: “John Kerry’s defeat notwithstanding, it’s blue America, not red, that is inexorably winning the culture war, and by a landslide. Kerry voters who have been flagellating themselves since Election Day with a vengeance worthy of ‘The Passion of the Christ’ should wake up and smell the Chardonnay.”

Armistice Day 

A number of years ago, for reasons that are no longer clear to me, I disdained the wearing of a poppy for Armistice Day. I suspect it was something about not wanting to be associated with Colonel Blimps and militarism in general.

Now I’m happy to buy a poppy and one of my sons wore one to school today. Even if I don’t agree with the current war, honouring those who fought in wars seems a good thing to do. With the 60th D-Day commemorations still vivid for me, it’s more than a good thing.

I heard on the radio yesterday, however, that some good people on the left are once again having qualms about poppies. A handful of people wear white poppies instead of red, as a symbol of peace. But it’s precisely the blood shed that is being remembered (my father left some — fortunately only some — of his blood on French soil in 1944). The poppies and the two-minute silence today are vital links with a past of sacrifice.

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The path of extended decline 

A devastating piece in today’s Financial Times on the likely shape of a second Bush term economic policy. Adam Posen writes (subscribers only):

  Markets tend to assume that the US political system will prevent lasting extremist policies so, even now, observers discount the likelihood of the Bush administration fully pursuing — let alone passing — this economic agenda. If the thin blue line of Democrats and the responsible Republican moderates in the Senate bravely fulfil their constitutional role, perhaps the damage will be limited. If not, we can foresee the US economy following the path to extended decline of the British economy in the 1960s and 1970s and of Japan in the 1990s.
  But, as Japan and the UK showed, once the political-economy dynamic is in motion, it takes years for the opposition to reverse it, even as its failures become obvious. That long-term preclusion of alternative policies is ultimately the goal of the Bush economic agenda.

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Face facts 

Daniel Davies is irreplaceable.

  It’s time for the UK to face facts, agree that we have very little in common with Europe and a lot in common with the USA, and join the United States. Not only would this be good for Britain, the addition of 60 million voters, substantially all of whom are politically to the left of John Kerry, would presumably solve a few problems for you lot too.

Read the whole thing. Further proof that the best writers are now in the blogosphere, not in the newspaper pages.

Upstarts upend everything 

Jay Rosen, reflecting on BloggerCon III:

  The people of Moore’s law are not necessarily optimistic about events in the world, but it’s so normal to them they don’t realize how optimistic is their casual assumption that platforms change, and new, more powerful, progressively smarter ones will get built. We’ll be able to do way more.
  That kind of overturn hasn’t happened in mainstream journalism for at least 30 years, and almost no one in mainstream journalism is ready for it to happen now. But in the tech community, even the kids in college have lived through a couple of revolutions. It’s no big deal…
  There can be new terms, as described in the New York Times Magazine cover story on political blogging:
  A pizza-stained paper plate sat between Moulitsas and Atrios. Together, they have more readers than The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  More readers who are deeply engaged and in fact help produce a site like Daily Kos. The people in the tech industry are used to this happening. Upstarts upend everything. Journalists don’t even know that it’s happening, or what that pizza-stained plate means for them.

More maps for understanding 

To add to the Vanderbei purple America map, Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan have produced fascinating cartograms of the US election results.

As they explain:

  We can correct for this [the fact that there are a lot of large, low population states in “red” America] by making use of a cartogram, a map in which the sizes of states have been rescaled according to their population. That is, states are drawn with a size proportional not to their sheer topographic acreage — which has little to do with politics — but to the number of their inhabitants, states with more people appearing larger than states with fewer, regardless of their actual area on the ground. Thus, on such a map, the state of Rhode Island, with its 1.1 million inhabitants, would appear about twice the size of Wyoming, which has half a million, even though Wyoming has 60 times the acreage of Rhode Island.

They have produced both a state-level cartogram and a county-level cartogram. Essential viewing, particularly for those depressed by the uncorrected electoral map.

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Purple mountains’ majesty 

I was shocked yesterday to see the maps showing which counties went for Bush and which for Kerry. The conclusion from that image is that only the cities are blue; the rest of the country is red.

But Robert Vanderbei, a professor of operations research and financial engineering at Princeton, has produced a powerful corrective. His map colours counties on the actual percentage vote, so there’s a spectrum of results from red to blue, with various shades of purple in between. The real picture is that the US is a purple country just about everywhere (via Crooked Timber).

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I can stand the despair 

“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can stand the despair. It’s the hope.” From Clockwise.

For cheering up 

Apropos of nothing, I’ve recently read one book and thumbed through another that I can recommend.

The Rule of Four is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, called by someone “The Da Vinci Code for intellectuals”. More in the Umberto Eco line, I thought. Lots of fun (and particularly enjoyable for me since it’s set at Princeton). The great humanist Anthony Grafton’s review in The New York Review of Books was both very un-NYRB and lots of fun, too.

Lost Worlds by Michael Bywater is a compendium of amusing little essays about the things that have vanished from our world (clerks, melancholy, the British Warm, Canford Cliffs, etc). Some of it is too twee for me, and it predictably has a cover blurb from Stephen Fry. But more good moments than bad.

Alien nation  

When it looks like opposition to gay marriage was a crucial factor in the presidential race, I wonder if I can ever come to terms with what about half of America has become. In Europe, Rocco Buttiglione‘s abhorrent views are sufficient that a healthy majority of Euro MPs forced the abandonment of the entire European Commission. In Washington now, Buttiglione would be a shoe-in for a cabinet post.

Chris Bertram has a nice reflection on what he likes about America, somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s famous list in his film Manhattan. But as Bertram points out:

  The thirteen original states that brought us the Constitution voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry.
  The states that didn’t secede and which fought against slavery voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry.
  Black America which brought us in Martin Luther King, one of the greatest moral exemplars of modern times as well as the blues, jazz and soul voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry.
  California, home of the modern motion picture industry, voted for Kerry.

Tom Friedman picks up on this as well (maybe this is a welcome return to form for Tom, after a few years in the wilderness): “But what troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don’t just favor different policies than I do — they favor a whole different kind of America. We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.”

I don’t have any optimism about the likely course of the second Bush administration. Everything about the first four years and the Bush character suggests it will be relentless and divisive. It’s also virtually certain to continue to be thoroughly incompetent.

But I can find some optimism about the future course of America. I don’t find it in any way inevitable that “red” America has won for a generation. The US retains an enormous ability to reshape itself in good ways, as well as bad. There is a vast task ahead for everyone who wants to see a progressive future for America — and perforce for the world. We must not give up hope.

The best of the morning after the night before 

I’ve encountered a lot of excellent writing in the aftermath of Bush’s re-election. Here’s a quick run-down of the best.

Josh Marshall:

  Yesterday evening I heard various commentators say that Kerry’s defeat would usher in a civil war among Democrats. Tucker Carlson said it would or should lead to a ‘Goldwater moment’ for the Democrats.
  As I’ve noted above, I don’t want to diminish the scope of what’s happened. But a civil war over what exactly? Yes, some consultants will get a hard shake. And I’m certain there will be backbiting against Kerry (which I for one will very much disagree with.) But a civil war over what? The right and the left of the party were remarkably united in this cycle and managed to find points of compromise on key issues.
  In some ways this would all be conceptually easier for Democrats to deal with if President Bush had managed a realignment of our politics in the post-9/11 world. But when I look at the results from last night what I see is that they are virtually identical to four years ago. Pretty much the same states going each way and a very close to even race — though of course the president’s 51% makes all the difference in the world.
  As I said, if the Dems had been crushed, that would be one thing. If the American people were coalescing away from them, etc. But that’s not what has happened here. In 2000 the country was divided into two (increasingly hostile) camps. And it’s still exactly the same way. If anything it seems only more entrenched — perhaps symbolically and geographically captured by the flip between New Hampshire and New Mexico from 2000.
  The country is bitterly divided. And as much as anyone President Bush has divided it. But president Bush got 51% and if there’s anything I’ve learned from watching him for the last four years-plus, it is that his team will take this as a popular mandate for an aggressive push for their agenda — notwithstanding the profound division in the country or what has happened over the previous four years.
  For the Democrats, what I fear most (and what I’ve privately worried about for months) is this: Energy cools after an election. That’s inevitable. But organization and institutions can survive. And it is within institutions and organizational infrastructure that energy and power exist and persist.
  Certainly it would have been more pleasant (and perhaps better) to nurture all the organization and infrastructure that has been built up over the last two years under a President Kerry. But my concern over the last few months has been that if Bush won, all of these groups and organizations and incipient infrastructure would simply be allowed to wither, as though it had been tried and found not to have worked.
  That, as a factual judgment, I think is just plain wrong. And if that were allowed to happen it would truly be tragic. The truth is that what Democrats have begun to build over the last two years is tremendously important. It just wasn’t enough, not yet.

Kieran Healy:

  Right now the Democrats don’t have a plausible spiel on morality. I don’t mean that they’re less likely to be moral people, just that they don’t have a coherent way of talking to their own base — let alone the electorate — about what they stand for in religious terms. The fact that it is just a spiel can be seen from the fact that… the upper reaches of the Bush Administration are not exactly staffed with devout Christians and the President, unlike Kerry, hasn’t been to Church in years.

Amy Sullivan:

  I gotta say, it doesn’t help much when exit polls and sloppy reporting use terms like “moral values” and “moral issues” as shorthand for very narrow, divisive issues like abortion and gay marriage, feeding into twenty years of Republican rhetoric. Opposition to the war in Iraq is a moral issue. The alleviation of poverty is a moral issue. Concern about abortion is a moral value, yes, but you can stay at the level of empty rhetoric about a “culture of life” or you can talk about how to actually reduce abortion rates, which is what most people care about more. (Did you hear once during this election season that abortion rates have risen under W. after they fell dramatically during Clinton’s eight years in office?)
  “Religious” does not mean Republican. And “moral” does not mean conservative. There’s going to be a lot of discussion about all of this over the coming weeks and months, and it’s incredibly important to make sure we’re neither sloppy about our terms nor overly broad in how we characterize “the faithful.”

Jim Moore:

  During this campaign we hid what philosophy we had, pretended to be more conservative than we were, and as a result reeked of inauthenticity. Not surprisingly, voters chose the more authentic party, the bolder party, even if they disagreed with this party and its candidates on many specific issues.
  We on the liberal side need to develop a political philosophy for the 21st century, a philosophy that provides principled guidance to action.

Dave Winer:

  Arrived in Palo Alto. Listened to Kerry’s concession speech about a dozen times on the radio. It was great. Next time, be careful about nominating a guy who gives a great concession speech. The best concession speech is an overdose of sleeping pills, or a self-inflicted bullet wound in the head. You want a guy who can’t conceive of losing. The Democrats have had too many great losers. I want a great winner in 2008.

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Something to grab hold of 

Through the fog of disappointment and tiredness (I stayed up to 6am watching the coverage, at which point the depressing reality was all too clear), I admire the few people who seem to be able to find encouragement in the gloom.

John Quiggin paints what strikes me (and Quiggin himself) as an unlikely scenario, but we can hope:

  The future looks awful, but I thought I’d sketch out the optimistic scenario, which is, roughly speaking, a repeat of Reagan’s second term.
  In his first term, Reagan was, in many respects, worse than Bush has been. His buildup of nuclear weapons, undertaken with the support of advisers such as Perle, ran a severe risk of destroying the entire world. In economic policy, he discarded the mainstream Republican economic advisers and went for what George Bush senior called “voodoo economics”, massive tax cuts undertaken on the basis of the supply-side economic theories of people like Arthur Laffer and Jude Wanniski. This produced a peak deficit equal to 6.2 per cent of GDP in 1984, considerably higher than the peak under Bush so far.
  In his second term, Reagan ignored his foreign policy advisers and signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Gorbachev. Whereas Perle and others saw Reagan’s rhetoric about bargaining from a position of strength as mere words, covering the creation of a nuclear capacity that could fight and win the inevitable showdown with Russia, Reagan actually believed it, and when he found a suitable partner in Gorbachev he put it into practice. START I, initiated by Reagan and Gorbachev, followed in 1991.
  Meanwhile, on economic policy, Reagan listened to his mainstream advisers and took steps to wind back the deficit. He left the US with a big increase in public debt, partially unwound under Clinton, but the outcome was far better than it would have been if he hadn’t changed course.
  At about the same time, the Plaza Accords produced a concerted policy of depreciating the overvalued US dollar and reducing the trade deficit.
  What are the chances that we’ll see something similar from Bush? In foreign policy, this would entail a shift towards bilateral or multilateral peacemaking, and in domestic policy, a serious attempt to balance the budget and the trade account. In my judgement, the likelihood is close to zero. But I’d be interested to hear what others have to say.

Mark Schmitt takes a more bullish, long-term Democratic view. His vision has some chance of coming to pass, it seems to me (but look how badly my own political projections did):

  One important thing to remember: Now Bush is fully responsible for the consequences of his mistakes. He’s responsible for Iraq, he’s responsible for the budget, for Medicare, etc. What Colin Powell called the Pottery Barn Rule applies: He broke them, he owns them. That’s not good news for the world, because Bush wasn’t competent to deal with the situation of peace and prosperity handed to him in 2001; he certainly isn’t be competent to handle a mess. The dangers are profound.
  But politically, it at least avoids a situation where Kerry would have borne the responsibility and blame for Iraq or for raising taxes. All accountability now rests with Bush and his party. Everything that’s been swept under the carpet until after the election will come creeping out. And the best use of all the resources of people, brains, money, and coordination that’s been built this year, in addition to developing a stronger base of ideas, is to find ways to hold Bush, DeLay et. al. absolutely accountable for their choices. I really believe that this will be like Nixon’s second term, and thus the seeds of a bigger long-term change than could have occurred just by Kerry winning the election.

Nice timing 

Tony Blair did a clever comic turn during prime minister’s questions today, at a moment when the US presidential election is still officially undeclared. After the formulaic recitation of his appointments, he said, “I’m sure the whole House will join me in sending congratulations to president… [pause for dramatic effect] Karzai on his election.”

Uh oh 

Ohio is looking bad.

Maybe it was a mistake to stay up 

Bad sign. At the beginning of the evening, John Simpson at the Republican headquarters couldn’t find anyone to talk to. Now they’re queuing up to chat with him. Bridget Kendall in Boston had no problem finding interviewees before. Now, not a sausage.

Stick with the day job 

Well, it’s not over until it’s over, but with everything hanging on Ohio (and Wisconsin), I think I can definitely say that I won’t be giving up the day job for political punditry.

I don’t get it. What happened to the young? 

Both Daily Kos and Josh Marshall report that the youth vote didn’t show up.

Nail biter 

The BBC is suggesting Bush is going to take Florida. Apparently the actual tally so far, with lots of precincts reporting, has Bush up by 4%. That’s awfully hard to make up. So it does look like Ohio will be completely decisive. Josh Marshall rightly asks why no one is covering the Republican law suit strategy to suppress the vote there.

Jesse Jackson’s still got it 

Asked about whether the long lines at polling stations would put off African-American voters, Jesse Jackson told the BBC, “We waited a lot longer in the march on Selma. Nelson Mandela was in jail for 27 years for the right to vote. We can wait a few hours.”

I’m feeling pretty buoyant 

It’s early, I know, but the fact that Virginia and North Carolina are proving difficult to call (along with Ohio) makes it seem as though Kerry is doing very well indeed.

The BBC is doing wonderfully well 

In 2000, the BBC did a very poor job with its election coverage. I ended up watching CNN. Now I’m zapping occasionally to CNN and CNBC, but the BBC is the one to watch. David Dimbleby is in fine fettle, and they have the wonderful find of academic psephologist Alan Lichtmann. He’s just about the first person on this kind of programme I’ve heard declare, “This means absolutely nothing.”

And I just got to hear the awful David Frum admit that he’s feeling pretty worried, not least because Bush didn’t get one of the districts in Maine. (Update: Maine looks like it’s splitting 3-1.)

Simon Schama declares New Hampshire 

The BBC has historian Simon Schama in New York, but because his daughter was getting out the vote in New Hampshire, he reckons it’s going for Kerry.

Amazing photos from Philadelphia 

The BBC has just shown an amazing helicopter photo from Philadelphia. The polls have closed in Pennsylvania, but there were queues snaking around for hundreds of metres outside one polling station (as long as you’re in the line, you can vote). The same is apparently the case in Ohio.

297 and 317 

Here’s an analysis I haven’t seen before. Brian Weatherson on Crooked Timber notes that if Kerry gets 297 electoral votes, it would require two states to be overturned for Bush to win. With 317 electoral votes, three states would need to be overturned.

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Peter Snow has gone over the edge 

The BBC has just started its election night coverage. Peter Snow, who does the whizzo information graphics, has been turning into a comic turn over a number of years. He’s finally gone over the top. On his interactive map, where states change colours and pop up and down, he had a giant, computer-generated Marine One (the presidential helicopter) land. I guess the idea is that when we know who has won, Peter’s CGI Marine One will land, the door will open, and out will step…

Understanding exit polls 

Mystery Pollster explains exit polls. Definitive.

The nature of the Kerry presidency 

The two best things I’ve read recently about a Kerry presidency are Amy Sullivan on Political Animal and Mark Schmitt on The Decembrist.


  So now, as it’s become trendy for liberal political types to predict that even if Kerry wins, he’ll be a sub-par president, I’m going to extend this unusual run of optimism even more. If elected, John Kerry will be a perfectly fine president. Maybe even better than that. He’ll have real and daunting challenges to deal with, there’s no question about it. This isn’t going to be an easy run for anyone. But why all the wailing about how horrible he’ll be? Some complain that he’s a micro-manager, he can’t make up his mind, he’ll never get anything done. Sound like anyone else you know… cough, cough, Bill Clinton? And although the Clinton-Gore legacy is somewhat rightly revered in Democratic circles, there were an awful lot of wasted opportunities during those eight years. Surely Kerry could manage to shepherd through at least as many far-reaching programs as they did.


  If Kerry wins, expectations will be low. And that’s a great thing. Because all that can be done for a few years is to make things less bad. As anyone who’s been reading The Decembrist knows, the early years of the Clinton administration were a formative experience for me. The sense of triumphalism in 1993 was ultimately a disaster. The White House didn’t understand the limits of what it could do, in the face of a completely intransigent Republican bloc, and more importantly, key Democratic constituencies had been led to expect such a transformation of government that they were all too quick to write Clinton off as a sellout when he couldn’t deliver. This all but forced Clinton to “triangulate” after 1994 — to try to build a new governing coalition around a very dubious set of deals with the Republican majority and swing voters. This saved his hide but did not create a long-term basis for governing.
  Kerry will not make this mistake, and the Democratic and independent constituencies that will come together to make his victory will retain their skeptical, no-illusions unity for some period into the next year. The memory of Bush-DeLayism will be so fresh (and will probably remain alive in the House) that the old infighting between DLC Democrats and labor Democrats, or between deficit-fearing “Rubinomics” and invest-in-America liberalism might be quiescent. This is a big deal. If Kerry can manage these conflicts, and if he can free up just a few Republicans who are willing to deal with him on an honest basis, then he can govern the country succesfully. Whether he can do that is as big a worry for me as the election outcome itself, but I believe the conditions are in place.