Who is the post-Bush Republican Party?

In the New Republic online, Reihan Salam (an early and appreciative correspondent to this blog) has a well-written two-part series on the scene in the loser's locker room Tuesday night and beyond -- that is, the fate of Karl Rove, Chuck Hagle, the neocons, Rumsfeld, etc if Bush loses, and of Howard Dean, John Edwards, moveon.org, George Soros and other Democratic players if Kerry loses.

No doubt, it will be ugly either way. But in reading the segment on the Republicans, there seemed to be something missing: who will be doing the punishing? If there are recriminations against a Rove or, as Salam suggests, against Hagel and Senator Lugar for allowing their mild dissents on Iraq to be used for Kerry's purposes, just who is going to dish those recriminations out? Tom DeLay, delivering orders to his henchmen on a phone handset across a Lexan wall? Dennis Hastert? Bill Frist? Dick Cheney? All will be implicated in the meltdown of what had been, if handled correctly, a rare opportunity to hold the presidency and both houses of Congress for almost a decade. There will surely be a period of chaos, and that means that if people like Lugar decide to cooperate with Kerry in a limited way, there may be no one to punish them.

This is one reason I don't fully agree with the widely held view that governance will be a mess either way and that "the climate will be more poisonous if Kerry is elected," as Sam Rosenfeld put it on Tapped, referring specifically to things I had written. (I'll try to comment more fully on Sunday.) In 1993, the Republican Party was firmly under the control of Dole and Gingrich. They could issue the order: give Clinton nothing, concede nothing even if you agree with him. In the wake of a Bush defeat, and with DeLay's legal troubles, I don't think there's anyone to issue that order who would be taken seriously. That leaves the Hagels, Lugars, Snowes Voinoviches, and McCains as free agents, able to be coopted by Kerry if he understands that he has to and understands how to.

On the other hand, even though it became apparent a year ago that there is no such thing as "the Democratic Party establishment," there is a core of leadership that clearly survives a Kerry loss: not Terry McAuliffe, but Pelosi, Daschle or Reid, the Clintons and their circle, the leadership of some of the new organizations, etc. There will be some chaos, and some recriminations, and I'm sure everyone will decide that Kerry was a terrible candidate. (Although show me another who would have made fewer mistakes and performed flawlessly for four and a half hours of high-wire debate.) But there will also be the unbelievable unity in opposition that the party has found -- there will be no DLC-led infighting -- and an understanding that it was never going to be easy to win an election against the incumbent who took us through 9/11 and Karl Rove's slime machine. A Republican loss will be the end of that party's current ascendancy; a Kerry loss will be no more than a severe setback on the Democrats'.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on October 31, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Kerry and the Possibility of Greatness

As a political analyst, Tom Oliphant is the equivalent of a Red Sox broadcaster, always certain that his own homeboys are going all the way this year, not quite finding the distance. It's got its limits as analysis. But on the subject of just those New England politicians who float his bowtie, he is indispensable. I found his argument for the potential that John Kerry could be not just a non-Bush president but in fact a great one, in the current American Prospect, extraordinarily convincing. And this has really troubled me, because I thought I had a grasp of Kerry. I thought that after seven years spent observing a lot of Senators, sometimes in their public roles and sometimes in meetings of 2-3 Senators and some staff, I was correct in dismissing him. He hadn't been much of a presence, didn't seem to have figured out how to make his way in that absurd, entrepreneurial institution, didn't seem even to have a driving passion. I had a sense of him as sort of an incomplete person, unable to find much of a reason to be in public life except for his own sense of himself and a conviction that one can never be too careful. It was a view of him very similar to William Saletan's, expressed often in Slate.

And, I think, wrong. Or maybe right at the time, and for that context, but not right anymore. I still don't quite know how he did it, but this nominee -- despite going into January stuck in a pack of Dean alternatives -- won the nomination more smoothly than any non-incumbent in history, and has raised five times as much money as any Democrat in history: there is some real talent there. I'm certain that his marriage played a role here in centering him around a human purpose. Oliphant says as much.

Citing Ted Kennedy, Oliphant singles out Kerry's leadership, with McCain, of the mid-90s committee to investigate MIA's and POW's in Vietnam as an example of his discipline and skill. I agree with that. The POW commission was an amazing achievement, because it went straight at the most deeply held convictions of its key constituency. The people who demanded and won this commission, and who hung on its every word, believed or profoundly wanted to believe that their loved ones, 20 years later, were still waiting to be released from their Hanoi torture chambers. With McCain, Kerry managed a process that all but silenced this constituency, and even helped lead toward normalization of relations with Vietnam. My mistake was that I thought that achievement was an exception to the rule that Kerry was basically ineffectual. In reality, it was an achievement very much on a par with passing major legislation, and probably an achievement that has more to do with what a president must do well than any typical Senate credential. It was not an exception, just another way of doing things.

Oliphant also says the following of Kerry:

Kerry?s other, overarching political thought is that the election of a Democratic president this year would liberate an unknowable number of governance-minded Republicans from the iron grip of the GOP?s congressional leadership, no matter who is in the majority. In the House of Representatives especially, the party discipline Tom DeLay can invoke on President Bush?s behalf would almost by definition be less powerful under a President Kerry. On any given domestic issue, there would be 20 or more Republicans available with the proper enticements and atmosphere. For those to the left of center who recall that JFK?s belief in 1960 was that the country could do better, not that it could be revolutionized, Kerry is the kind of person and politician I believe to be worth trusting for this grubby, central task of coalition building.

This has been my main argument in the set of posts I've written in the category, "The 1/21 project." Whichever party controls Congress, Kerry's only option is to work like hell to build working alliances with the dozen or more House members and the half-dozen Senators who might be able to take their own path. But this is the first that I have heard that understanding attributed to Kerry. If indeed he does understand this point, it would be a good idea for him to say it, strongly and persuasively. As important as it will be to build the coalitions that can win on issues like revamping the tax code, it is equally important that his natural allies understand what he is doing. I think those who excoriate Clinton for selling out liberal policies would feel a little differently if he had done more to convey to them just how limited his range of options was. Kerry likewise needs to show --whether on Thursday night or later -- that he understands that the path back to normalcy will be a long slog full of compromises, but that only from a position of normalcy can we begin to move forward on the things we want to change, like health care and income inequality.

Liberals are already poised to relive the dead predictable cycle of triumphalism and disappointment. The other day, I heard someone make the argument, "we need grass-roots groups in 2005 that can push Kerry, make him do the right thing, and occasionally even support him." I agree about the need, but would reverse the priorities.

As for the potential for greatness in Kerry, I can imagine it. The fact that he seems to understand how he has to govern is one indication; Oliphant has many others. Success in the presidency seems to elude prediction, because the requirements of the job are so different from other political offices as well as most non-political jobs. Given what I thought I knew about Kerry, I'm surprised to find myself voting for him not just as the anti-Bush, but with an enthusiasm about his ability to succeed.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on July 25, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Club for Growth, where is thy sting?

The most persuasive challenge that I have heard to my argument that President Kerry will have to form a working coalition with moderate and independent Republicans in order to govern has been that the Republicans are less at liberty to make that deal than Kerry is. Their own party's factions will eat them alive if they cooperate with a Democrat on taxes and the budget, and more particularly, the Club for Growth will bankroll a serious primary challenge to any Republican who deviates from their nihilistic orthodoxy. This will push all Republicans hard to the right.

E.J. Dionne reflected that argument in his column (interestingly, the column just after the one that foresaw a Democratic sweep comparable a reverse of the Republican gain in 1994), arguing that Bush and Kerry will have an equally hard time governing. He cites Rep. Jim Leach, an Iowa moderate, as arguing that " incumbents worry mostly about primary challenges from ideological hard-liners. 'There is no more underrepresented group in America today than moderates in both parties'" (This is not true of Leach himself, whose toughest challenge came in 2002 from a Democrat, Dr. Julie Thomas.)

But Dionne seemed to change course when quoting another Midwest moderate:


One effect of a Kerry victory might be to bring out into the open Republican divisions that are already beginning to surface. Former representative Steve Gunderson, a Wisconsin Republican, speaks of "a coming civil war in the party" spurred by the efforts of conservatives to purge moderates from its ranks. This civil war over social issues is compounded by new divisions over deficits and the use of tax cuts not only to "promote growth" -- there is, says Gunderson, "nothing wrong with that" -- but also to "shut down the legitimate role of government."

Both Leach and Gunderson are obviously referring to the Club for Growth, which encouraged and financed Rep. Pat Toomey's primary challenge to Arlen Specter as well as other primaries. I think the last sentence would have been slightly more accurate if it had said "This longstanding civil war over social issues has been inflamed by the arrival of conservative funders who are willing to bankroll the social conservatives in exchange for their support of tax cuts to shut down the legitimate role of government." The Deal by which the social conservatives and economic royalists each agree to repress their misgivings about the Bush/DeLay agenda finds its apotheosis in the Club for Growth.

The civil war Gunderson sees is not between the social conservatives and the economic conservatives, as might be expected, but between people like him and Leach, who don't fully embrace either the social agenda (incidentally, Gunderson was the first not-quite-out-of-the closet-but-not-really-in Republican member of Congress) or the economic extremism on one side, and the Bush/DeLay/Club-for-Growth crowd that brings both extremes together in unholy alliance, on the other.

But the scenario we're considering here assumes Bush's defeat. If the election result is decisive, and Democrats make some gains in both houses of Congress, doesn't "the deal" go down with it?? The deal was based on Bush and Bush alone; no Republican since Reagan has ever made it work, and Reagan moderated both parties in the deal rather than indulging them. The fierce sectarianism of the Club for Growth, while it may be a spur to the right in the context of complete Republican hegemony takes on a very different character when it becomes a warring faction in a divided opposition. It causes harm today, but a party with as much arrogance and technical advantages as Rove's GOP has some room for error. Once that arrogance is pierced, every warring faction is purely destructive.

The Club's primary challenge to Specter had its desired effect. It made Specter a reliable vote on every budget question and almost every judicial nomination, for most of the period when his vote wouldAnd there are several other reasons why I suspect that the Club for Growth and the threat of a primary challenge won't have much of the effect of forcing moderate Republicans to the right:

First, there is no enforcement mechanism comparable to a telephone call from the president. Remember how Senator George Voinovich in 2003 pranced around for a while insisting that he would never vote for a tax bill that added more than $350 billion to the debt? And then, within minutes after the conference committee produced a half-page summary of the final bill, he agreed to vote for it even though it met that promise only in the most transparently phony way? The Club for Growth had run ads comparing him to Jacques Chirac. And the White House put incredible pressure on him. Which one of those pressures is likely to have had the greater effect on him? Voinovich didn't cave to the ads (he's likely to believe that the people of his state know him to be no Appeasing Frenchie) but it is extremely difficult for any elected official to resist the entreaties of a president and a the party leader, if they make dissent seem equivalent to excommunication from the party. The ads and threats from the Club for Growth, if not reinforced by the President, will amount to very little.

Second, the elected officials know perfectly well that their opponents within their own party are driven by social issues, not taxes, although it is taxes that drives the financing of their opposition. So, for example, the heart of Toomey's primary challenge to Specter rested on anti-abortion voters, who have always been uncomfortable with Specter's pro-choice position and probably make up a majority within the Republican electorate in the state. But while candidates can change their positions on taxes, it's not easy or desirable to change on social issues. Pro-choice politicians stay pro-choice. The more politics is cast into terms of moral absolutes, the more locked-in politicians will be, and the less room to pressure and move them there will be. So a moderate Republican facing a primary challenge from a Club for Growth opponent is likely to know that the only way to really appease the beast is on social issues, which they will not want to adjust.

Third, many moderate Republicans -- especially if they do build effective bridges to Kerry and have something to show for it -- can establish themselves solidly as beloved bipartisan figures in their states or districts, making them essentially untouchable in a primary as well. The Arizona hard-right hates John McCain and would love to run a primary challenge against him, but they can't, because of his larger-than-life stature in the state. The same is true of Olympia Snowe in Maine, Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and several others. One reason Specter was vulnerable to a primary challenge is that he is not a beloved figure in the state (for good reason), and is also vulnerable in the general election. Aggressive primary challenges from the Club for Growth against moderates might not push them to the right, but rather push them to establish deeper bipartisan roots.

Finally, while most of the time, politicians are reflections of the pressures and opportunities around them, rather than their "real" beliefs or character, there are certainly times when politicians stand firm for what they believe, even at risk of their own reelection. That's often been true of moderate Republicans, and those who are concerned about the deficit and the long-term fiscal situation are likely to be willing to take some tough votes on raising taxes if it's part of a plan that will work.

A final aside: I was thinking about the Club for Growth and comparing it to the wars over the Democratic Leadership Council and its opponents that flared during the late 1990s, and which many consider exceptionally destructive. (I remember being at a big "what is the liberal agenda?" dinner in late 2000 when someone finally banged down their silverware and said, "Can we try for one minute to remember that we're trying to beat conservative Republicans, not the DLC!") In some ways this was destructive, or distracting, but as far as I can recall, the DLC never bankrolled a primary challenge of an incumbent liberal member of Congress. Nor did liberals bankroll challenges to conservative Democrats, unless they had gone completely off the reservation. (I guess there are some exceptions from the 1970s when liberals took out aging incumbent Democrats, but I don't know how ideological those campaigns were.) My memory could be wrong about this, but generally, liberal and conservative Democrats have come from different regions and had a live and let live attitude toward each other, while nonetheless battling over the national vision of the party. If you think that was destructive, then the Club for Growth attacks will be vastly more destructive to the teetering Republican coalition.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on July 6, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The Many Presidencies of Bill Clinton

My comments on the need for a President Kerry to find a way early on to find compromise with centrist Republicans, and in effect split the opposition party, stirred up some responses, so much so that it even split Michael Froomkin and Brad DeLong, who, if I recall correctly, are childhood friends. I hate to be responsible for such a breach, so I'll say a little more.

Both see my comments in the context of the omnipresent Clinton administration. DeLong says my advice is similar to the advice that Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen (and others) gave Clinton in 1993: to reach the centrist coalition around Senators like Breaux, Chaffee and Durenberger. (Good advice, although a question remains, which I'll pick up later.) Froomkin thinks the problem with Clinton was that he negotiated too much: "He triangulated. He fogged about. He appointed Republicans as judges." And, he argues, if Kerry wins by a landslide, he will have a mandate to govern and won't have to compromise with anyone, and we should conduct ourselves now as if that were possible.

This quarrel reminds me of what I think is the key thing to realize about the Clinton era: It was not a single administration. The way to understand Clinton is as something like a prime ministers in a European parliamentary system, a Gladstone or a Poincaré, who dominate their era not in a single government, but by moving in and out of power, forming several different governments with different coalitions over the years. Brad DeLong's key political lessons, like mine, come from the first Clinton government. Froomkin is basically complaining about the second Clinton government, which he formed after the brief Gingrich premiereship.

The first Clinton government did not triangulate. It came in with a little much triumphalism, and thought the only task was to organize the Democrats, which turned out to be more difficult than they realized. It had one huge, enormous accomplishment: the budget bill of 1993, which not only brought in the revenues that would eventually get the budget back on track, but also transformed numerous aspects of government: the entire student loan system, for example. That was passed by using the one process by which a single party can move an agenda entirely on its own, if it controls both Houses of Congress and the Presidency: the process of budget reconciliation. (I wrote about reconciliation, which has been the key to Bush's domination of the agenda, in my long essay on the Senate a few weeks ago.) Even then, he had to surrender key parts of the agenda, such as the BTU Tax (a comprehensive tax on energy, which later became Congressional shorthand for forcing House members to vote for something unpopular and then surrendering on it in the Senate: "We got BTU'd"), and it squeaked by on a single vote. But everything else Clinton tried to do -- his economic stimulus package, his crime bill, his health plan, basically foundered on the shoals of his failure to understand the limits of his power and mandate.

The question that remains unanswered is a historical counterfactual: We know that Clinton did not do much to reach Republicans in the first year, but we also know that Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, in an unprecedented move, essentially sent the word to his troops that they were not to treat Clinton the way Democrats had treated the first Bush or Reagan -- that they should not give him nothing. Do not allow him to govern. So, if Clinton had tried harder, would he have been able to break Dole's party discipline? I don't know. However, I suspect that the discipline in opposition to Kerry will not be nearly as tight. Back then, even moderate Republicans, especially in the House, were sick of being pushed around by the Democratic majority and could find common cause. Now they're sick of being pushed around by their own conservative colleagues. The split is there.

It was the second Clinton government, the one that he formed sometime in late 1995, that triangulated its way back to reelection. By that point, Clinton was negotiating with Republicans, but he was doing so from weakness, just as I worry about Kerry having to do. He was negotiating with Trent Lott and Orrin Hatch, not choosing who to negotiate with and when to negotiate. This is what I want Kerry to avoid.

I agree that I don't want to concede all of this in July of the election year. That's why making McCain the VP probably wouldn't have made sense. A candidate cannot put forth a persuasive agenda for renewal and simultaneously acknowledge how much of it he will have to compromise on. But, by the same token, I want to avoid the cycle of disappointment when Kerry faces the recognition that his power to implement an agenda depends on his finding a working relationship with Congress.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on June 22, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Negotiating With the Republicans

A week in Maryland and DC -- some vacation, some meetings -- and I found almost no opportunity to update the blog. Not much to report from the trip, other than a reminder that, when I lived in DC, I would always notice tourists dragging their drooping kids around and think, "Don't people realize that little kids aren't built to handle this climate?" And then, there I am, in my shorts and sandals, tugging a three-year-old across the Mall. Still, she was pretty firm that if she was in Washington, she wanted to see the White House and the Capitol, not the Zoo, and was pretty excited about the whole thing. Then I went off to my meetings and left my wife to keep her busy for another day and a half, which they did.

In the course of three days in DC, I had an interesting conversation with someone who I will just identify as one of the most savvy and successful of liberal policy advocates. He laid out the following scenario for a Kerry administration, regardless of whether Democrats win back the Senate by a tiny margin or not: Kerry comes in with a head of steam, has some great policy ideas, but can't get anything passed. Around the middle of the year, in the face of futility, he has to start negotiating with the Republicans.

This goes back to my first comments on the transition, but I think that is a terrible, highly undesirable outcome. It is more or less what one would expect, based on the experience of the Clinton Administration and, conversely, the first Bush administration. But it is a disaster. It means that Kerry, probably with his job approval rating sinking, will find himself trying to negotiate with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. This will not be like Reagan negotiating with Tip O'Neill in the 1980s, a respectful conflict of viewpoints. Frist not only will be scheming to run against Kerry in 2008, he not only knows no boundaries to the primacy of political power, but he also has shown not even an inkling of regard for the country or its long-term well-being. Nothing good will come of that.

And this prediction reinforces my belief that Kerry's only hope for success, even if he is blessed with a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, is to begin very early on working with the Republicans that he can work with: as I put it in that previous post, "moderate and not-so-moderate Republicans, from Snowe and Chafee to McCain and Hagel in the Senate, and their handful of counterparts in the House." One key to political power, I believe, is understanding in advance when you will have to negotiate and when you can exercise power. And when you know you have to negotiate -- as Kerry will have to -- you want to decide for yourself when you negotiate and with whom you negotiate. Kerry's choice, then, is likely to be this: Do I negotiate with Snowe and Voinovich in January, or with Frist and DeLay, from a position of weakness, in September? That's not a hard choice.

I'm quite hopeful that Kerry understands this, and that one advantage of his Senate career is that he knows these Republicans and has a history of working well with them. But then the question becomes, will the Democrats let him cut this deal? There will be the partisan triumphalism: "We won. Why do we have to deal with those assholes?" There will be specific differences on issues, because the Republicans are likely to put a much higher priority on long-term deficit reduction, which will bring to a boil the long-simmering conflict over "Rubinomics." But, Ashcroft's Office of Legal Counsel is wrong: President's don't get to operate unilaterally. And Kerry will have an easier time negotiating with people like Senators Snowe and Voinovich, who are decent and well-meaning and who do not set out to destroy government, than Clinton had negoiating with the nominal Democrats of his day, such as Senator Shelby of Alabama.

In short, President Kerry will only be able to govern if he is able to split the Republican Party. The split has already opened thanks to the White House's ideology of total control and the embarassment and chaos it has caused; Bush's defeat will open it much wider, freeing Republican moderates to acknowledge the insanity of the past three and a half years. But Kerry must complete the split, just as Reagan completed the split of the Democratic Party, and we must allow/encourage him to do it. Otherwise, we're doomed to watch him negotiate the terms of surrender of his presidency to a soulless cat-murderer.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on June 21, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

1/21

As the possibility that Senator Kerry will win the Presidency becomes more apparent (I refuse to say that it is becoming more likely, because I think it was always a strong possibility, and we're only just beginning to see it), I've had several conversations by e-mail or in person that go something like this:

Me: "You know, we're really fooling ourselves if we think everything's going to change overnight just because Kerry wins. We can't start singing "Happy Days Are Here Again." There's so much work to be done, and the political environment is so poisonous. Imagine the disaster if there is a backlash against Kerry, as there was against Clinton, and we lose everything in 2006. The election is just the beginning of the hard work."

Other person: "Yes, yes, I agree completely." And then, "We really have to organize to hold Kerry's feet to the fire, so that he does the right things, not like that awful sell-out Clinton." Or, "I agree. Kerry could break our heart. He wasn't such a great Senator, after all."

So, actually, you don't agree. In fact, I think you don't even know what I was saying. And if that's the attitude that liberals go into the next administration with, we are sunk. While we're busy "holding Kerry's feet to the fire," the Republican right will be trying to chop off his head. I won't take this metaphor further, but before we know it, we'll have four years of paralysis followed by a landslide for the Jeb Bush-Tom DeLay ticket in 2008. (OK, I exaggerate slightly, but not about the paralysis.)

Yes, there is a place for holding Democratic politicians accountable, for building a strong movement on their left flank that both pulls them toward the left and protects them as they take chances. But political maturity means recognizing just how limited the next president's freedom of movement will be. The very best-case scenario would be a slightly less Republican House and a narrow Democratic edge in the Senate, combined with an electoral result that is sufficiently decisive that it represents an unmistakable rejection of Bushism. It's not impossible to get something done in that situation, which is basically the mirror image of what Reagan had in 1981. But it will require Kerry to put his first priority into working with moderate and not-so-moderate Republicans, from Snowe and Chafee to McCain and Hagel in the Senate, and their handful of counterparts in the House. Basically, I think he has to force them to decide: Do you want to work together to govern this country, or do you want to wage another pitched battle? But he has to listen to them and accomodate them, even ahead of liberal factions within the Democratic Party, because otherwise, he's dead in the water.

And then there are two things that Kerry has to do fairly early in his first year or two: He must deal with the long-term fiscal crisis, which in this case means raising revenues by, at the very least, ending the scheduled tax cuts, restoring the Estate Tax, and clawing back the upper-income and investment tax breaks from the three Bush tax cuts, or preferably by a sweeping tax reform. And he has to deal with Iraq. That will put Kerry in the position of asking the American people for the sacrifice and patience that Bush never acknowledged, in support of a war that Kerry would never have launched and does not own. If he feels horribly like he's been set up, it's because he was.

Democrats of all stripes have been beautifully, responsibly cynical in uniting behind a solid candidate and setting all our internal disagreements to the side, in the interest of ending the current insanity. However, too many people seem to think that the sentence ends November 6, and that at that point a battle for the soul of the President can begin. In particular, the old debate over the priority of long-term deficit reduction (aka "Rubinomics") vs. social and health spending seems ready to burst out as soon as the election results are in.

And there's nothing wrong with that. No one should bury their opinions, and we will all be stronger for the most vigorous debate about options. But as Kerry moves forward, there has to be as strong a commitment to helping him succeed there was to electing him, so if he doesn't embrace exactly the position we want, we're still on board.

In general, I often think that liberals/the left have a one-directional view of political power: it's about pressure. The idea is that, as an advocacy group or activist, you line up and unite to get someone elected, and then after the election, your role becomes to put pressure on him or her. And often, this cycle ends in disappointment. "We helped elect him, and then he turned out to be just another politician."

What's missing from this approach to politics is the idea that politicians need support as well. Politicians are not just "good" or "bad," "our guy" or "just another politician." Even the most decent and committed politicians have to be savvy calculators of their own freedom to act and the consequences. Advocacy groups have to help expand that freedom of action, not only by threatening negative consequences if they do the "wrong" thing, but also by rewarding them for doing the best they can, even if it's not exactly what "we" want.

The other dimension of this is that, just as in the election, people have to be able to look beyond their own issue or interest. The key thing here is taxes. Everyone interested in education, health care, environmental issues, work and family balance, etc., can have no higher priority than restoring the long-term fiscal balance so that government can act on these issues. Looking at the history of state tax policy, it's easy to see that people will put their energy into a tax fight if they think they will be at the head of the line for the resulting revenues. For example, if a governor proposes an income tax surcharge in order to reduce class sizes, the teachers' unions and other education advocates will throw themselves into it. But for the revenue battle ahead, everyone needs to be involved, even if they have no assurance of being at the head of the line for the revenues. Again, the unity that has gone into the election itself must be sustained, if Kerry is to succeed at all.

The first years of the Clinton administration were a searing and educational experience. On the one hand, the administration was a little too smug and triumphalist, too unfamiliar with Congress to understand the limits of its power. On the other hand, no one could ever have predicted that the Republican leadership would have given the word, "Do not let this president succeed, even when you agree with him." It had never happened before. But outside groups, those that became disenchanted with Clinton in various ways, also never quite appreciated the limits to his power.

I'd like to focus some attention in this weblog to the question of how to make the Kerry administration succeed, to understand the limits of the next president's power and how to give him more room to move. Why not? -- While everyone else is focusing on the election, a few of us should think about what might come next. I've created a new category here, "The 1/21 Project," for the day after the inauguration. I'd welcome other thoughts on this in the comments and on other blogs that link here.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on April 19, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack