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Month: November 2004

Collected thoughts

Probably not my last note on this, but quite possibly my last for today:

Kerry was not a bad candidate. There was not a magic candidate who would have gotten the Democrats 51% of the vote. Clinton didn’t win because he was from Arkansas, he won because he was an incredibly good campaigner. He might not have won this election. It’s not as if there’s any evidence that a more moderate candidate (and Kerry’s fairly moderate) would have done better.

The relevations we can draw from this election lie not in the Presidential vote, but in the way the Senate swung to the right. It’s not Kerry’s fault that the Senate Minority Leader lost (an unprecedented event). It’s not Kerry’s fault that Louisiana elected a Republican senator for the first time since 1876. Bobby Jindal, the new senator from Louisiana, is so conservative that even the Republican Party in Louisiana doesn’t like him, and his opponents were very moderate Democrats, as is always the case in Louisiana. He still won an outright majority. Truth is, the vote swung way to the right.

This is really hard, but it’s also really true. Most of the people who read this blog are in the minority, politically. We might get a Democratic candidate who could win an election, but he would not be the kind of guy you’d want to vote for.

Tocqueville said this about the tyranny of the majority:

In my opinion, the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their irresistible strength. I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the inadequate securities which one finds there against tyranny. an individual or a party is wronged in the United States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion, public opinion constitutes the majority; if to the legislature, it represents the majority and implicitly obeys it; if to the executive power, it is appointed by the majority and serves as a passive tool in its hands. The public force consists of the majority under arms; the jury is the majority invested with the right of hearing judicial cases; and in certain states even the judges are elected by the majority. However iniquitous or absurd the measure of which you complain, you must submit to it as well as you can.

And I think he’s right. It’s the flaw of democracy and it is the reason I am not a small-d democrat. (Shock and alarm.) We are today, those of us who hoped for a Kerry victory, wearing John Rawls’ veil of ignorance. We are feeling what it means to be members of a minority in a democratic society. For the first time in quite some time, we’re finding out what it feels like to be definitively on the losing side of an election.

It stings. And here’s what we have to remember. If Kerry had won, a hundred million Americans would now be feeling the exact same way. The house, it is well and truly divided.

Now, historical perspective, cause I love that stuff. We’ve been seriously divided before. It heals. Times change. Republicans learn how to appeal to the south, Christians become politically active, Teddy Roosevelt bolts his party, FDR remakes society, that kinda thing. So it’s not as if this is necessarily going to be the end of America.

But you know, I’d be a lot happier if I could just live in a state that comes fairly close to suiting my political and social leanings without having to worry about what happens in the rest of the country. I think, too, that some of the extremes we see would balance out in this situation. It’s convenient for Texas Republicans to blame northeastern liberals for their problems; politics might get more moderate down there without the bugaboos. Or not, but in the final analysis, I think it’s Texas’ problem who they elect.

Yours for a loose confederation of states, affiliated for mutual self-defense and trade. I think I’ll call it the American Union.


Regarding new directions, I recommend to you David Neiwert, who remembers that the American progressive movement started both inside and outside the cities.

But we have terminology issues here. At present, progressive is used as a substitute for liberal. I’m not entirely sure that’s accurate, considering that Teddy Roosevelt wound up a progressive in the end. My personal current bet is that within ten years we’ll have a moderate party and a conservative party. I hedge this by saying that I don’t think civil liberties are a liberal or a conservative issue — see also William Weld and (odd fellow traveller, here) Bob Barr. I think there’s a small chance that neither of these parties will be the Democratic Party. It’s possible that one of them will be progressive.

Mostly, though, I’m recommending David’s post because it’s nice to have a sense of history.

Weighing the term

What, then, are the fair expectations? How do I judge the next four years?

Things I do not expect of Bush:

  • Peace in Iraq. Not because I think he’s incapable of it, but because I think it’s an incredibly difficult problem. I wouldn’t have expected Kerry to make Iraq work either.

Things I am willing to judge him on:

  • North Korea. He needs to make progress. I define that as North Korea reducing the number of nuclear weapons on hand without actually using them. He said he could do this with his approach, and he needs to follow through.
  • Iran. See above. If Iran gets nukes in the next four years, I’ll count that against Bush.
  • High school graduation rates. They need to be better, over the next four years, than they were during — let’s be fair, let’s say Clinton’s second term.
  • Homes. 7 million new, occupied homes within the next four years. It’s part of his platform.
  • No new draft.
  • Reduction in terrorism. More US citizens died in terrorist attacks in 2003 than died in 2004. On the other hand, fewer people overall died in terrorist attacks in 2003 than in 2002. I’m gonna use two numbers as the benchmark, as reported by the State Department — overall deaths and overall number of people wounded. US military personnel will be filtered out.
  • Deficit halved by 2008. Again, it’s part of his platform.
  • Robot probes on the Moon by 2008. This is kinda cheaty of me, but hell, he promised and I’d like to see it.
  • A national election in Iraq in January 2004 with 60%+ turnout and 90%+ of the country able to vote.

Things I’m deliberately leaving out:

  • Jobs. I don’t know how to measure them; I haven’t done the research necessary for me to feel comfortable picking one stat or the other.
  • Reduce the number of abortions performed in this country. This isn’t there for two reasons: a) the CDC is not publishing statistics on this, and b) I don’t think it’s a relevant metric for measuring the health of the country.

What am I missing? I’m trying to keep it to things he’s said he could do and things that are reasonable to expect. And are any of these unfair?


11/07/2004: North Korea can’t reduce the number of weapons by using them; Mars mission refined to reflect his actual promise; US military personnel filtered out of the casualty stats (since long-term success may require short-term sacrifice); added a list of things I’m leaving out on purpose; added election in Iraq in January.


Well, that was unexpected and I have no explanation. Ohio is within the polling margin of error, so I’m disappointed but not shocked. The 5% margin in Florida is surprising. Possibly I should have been paying attention to Gallup. The interesting question for me, right now, is how the pollsters failed to catch a chunk of Bush voters, cause Florida wasn’t even close. And Zogby’s not gonna have quite as many clients next cycle. Ah, the perils of being a celebrity pollster. Then again, I seem to have made similar mistakes.

(t.rev, this is your cue to tell me that polls aren’t worth buckets of warm spit, and you will be correct.)

I suspect that when the votes are all counted, we’ll have a clear winner, which is good. Also, the Redskins predictive effect is now gone, which is a small comfort. Other than that, well, I’ll give Bush a clean slate and we’ll see what happens over the course of the next year. But let’s be real — he’s likely to lose me with the first Supreme Court appointment. Unless it’s Posner, which I could possibly get used to.

Over the shoulder

Everything you need to know about exit polls is right here. Note that the numbers are particularly likely to be off this year, because they weight the results based on past turnout at each precinct, and we know that the turnout this year is hugely unusually high.

But yeah, the leaked numbers are warming the cockles of my heart, too. Even if I don’t think Kerry is actually going to win Pennsylvania by 20 points.

Twice a day

Mickey Kaus is not a guy I count on to get it right that often, but his endorsement of Kerry is rooted in a clarity of vision that I’ve seen from barely any pundit. I’m gonna go ahead and quote this, since he doesn’t have permalinks:

What’s at stake isn’t how to give millions of relatively healthy Americans better health care. It’s how to stop millions of relatively healthy Americans (and other humans) from eventually dying at the hands of aggrieved groups who will in coming decades a) find it easier and easier to organize, thanks to the Web, and b) be increasingly be able to get their hands on increasingly destructive weapons, especially bioweapons. I get this basic framework from my colleague Robert Wright’s excellent series on terrorism, available here. (For appropriate accompanying atmospherics, I recommend the unsuccessful but eerily prescient film Twelve Monkeys.) Currently the dominant threat is Islamic extremist terrorism. But after that it will be some other flavor of terrorism—environmental radicals, perhaps, or animal rights fanatics, or separatists, or superempowered Columbine nihilists, or all of them at once.


In the larger war on terror, however, it’s no contest. Both candidates will hunt down and kill existing terrorists. The issue is how many new terrorists are we creating—as Donald Rumsfeld famously wrote, “Is our current situation such that ‘the harder we work, the behinder we get.’?” Let’s say that n is the number of net new terrorists who’ll come online in the next four years. Isn’t it obvious that n is a lot lower if Kerry is president than if Bush is president? Even if you think the Iraq war was worth fighting, as it may well turn out in the long run to have been, it’s hard to deny that it has angered millions around the world, and that Bush is a focal point of their anger. A tiny but definitely non-trivial percentage of these people will be angry enough to try to do us harm, and as the years go by technology will make it easier for them to accomplish this. We lower the volume of lethal hatred simply by thanking Bush for his efforts and retiring him.


I’m continually amazed that bloggers, of all people, don’t appreciate the way intensely motivated individuals, operating without centralized state (or any other) control, can be empowered by new technology to do us tremendous harm. To put it in mundane current blogospheric terms, when it comes to preventing future attacks, the terrorists will more and more come to resemble bloggers in their pajamas and America will come to resemble CBS. That’s not a position we should be comfortable in. (Yes, it may be hard for small groups of non-state bloggers to develop nuclear weapons. But it might not be hard to acquire nuclear weapons. And bioweapons may well be developable by alarmingly small groups.)

Yeah, that’s what I thought.