The Almanac Introductions: A Retrospective|
By Michael Barone
© National Journal Group Inc.
The Almanac of American Politics 1972, the first of what are now 17 editions of the Almanac, appeared in November 1971, when I was 27. I thought it would disappear without much of a trace, like a stone thrown into a pond. Instead it sold thousands of copies and made quite an impact in Washington.
As it happened, we reached the marketplace at a critical point. The lobbying and political consulting communities in Washington had become large enough to make the Almanac commercially viable. If you look around Washington today and estimate the number of square feet of commercial space that existed before 1971, you will see that it is only a fraction of what it is today. Around 1971, it hit critical mass: look at all those early 1970s modern buildings (do it quickly: some of them are being torn down as I write). It was something of a struggle, but Grant Ujifusa and I found backing for the Almanac every two years. For the 1984 edition we found it a home, at National Journal, which has been publishing it ever since.
It was apparent from the beginning that the Almanac had to have an Introduction, if only to explain the acronyms and abbreviations that were used in the book. At first, we did not provide much in the way of political analysis in the Introductions. But in the middle 1980s, I got into the habit of writing lengthy Introductions which presented an analysis of the political state of the nation.
In time I got into the habit of developing a different overall theme for each Introduction. This has been an invigorating challenge, for each Introduction must be written some time between a biennial November election and the next spring. It should provide a convincing explanation of the preceding election and a look ahead to the next election. It will be read over a period of 18 months, beginning several months after it has been written and ending almost two years later. It should stand up as analysis in light of events and election results unknown to me when it was written.
Today I know that I have written most of the Almanacs I will ever write. For the publication of The Almanac of American Politics 2004, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to review the Introductions of the preceding 16 Almanacs. How well did they stand up over the two years of their election cycles? How well do they stand up today? What did I get right? What did I get wrong? What did I foresee? What did I fail to foresee?
The Internet provides an opportunity to make the previous Introductions and my musings on them available for anyone who may be interested, and to let readers add their own comments. Many Almanac readers and users will not be interested or will not have time to read any of this. But probably some will.
When I first started writing the Almanac, the target audience I had in mind were teenage boys, the kind who are often dismissed as nerds, who have an insatiable hunger for information about American politics: in other words, me at 14. Over the years I have heard from many people who, when they first got hold of an Almanac, fitted that profile, and who have been faithful readers ever since. It is for them, if for no one else, that I undertake this exercise.
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