The Almanac Introductions: 1992-2002|
By Michael Barone
© National Journal Group Inc.
The Almanac of American Politics 1992
Americans at Work. The lead essay in the Introduction to the 1992 Almanac was a good idea -- or would have been if it had been the lead essay in the Introductions to the 1990 or 1994 or 1988 Almanacs. I was struck in the 1980s by the vast increase in the number of jobs in America and, looking back, at the great increase in the number of jobs in the 1970s. If I could have looked ahead to the future, I would have been struck by the great increase in jobs in the 1990s. In my head the idea got stuck: one of the things this country is great at is creating jobs. As I write now, job growth has run well ahead of population growth for three decades: one of the reasons this is the most productive country in the history of the world. Unfortunately, I wrote Americans at Work in late 1990 and early 1991, during the only two-year period in the 17 years between 1983 and 2000 that the number of jobs in America was decreasing. Job statistics, especially those for states, dribble in monthly but well after the fact; as I continued my state write-ups I found that what had been bounteous job creation had turned into job losses. But it was my theme, and I was sticking to it. It is a good thing I make my living writing about politics rather than about economics.
Having said that, I think in the longer run of history the Introduction stands up pretty well -- much better than it stood up for the contemporary reader in 1991 and 1992. Much of the commentary in the media identified the 1980s as a "decade of greed." (Of course the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was in office, was never identified as a "decade of greed.") I wanted to identify it as a decade of work. Work force participation was going up, particularly among women. The 1970s migration to nonmetropolitan (leisure) areas had changed to a 1980s migration to metropolitan (work) areas. I attacked the oft-repeated claim that wages hadn't risen since 1973, noting that that result came because we measured real wages by using the Consumer Price Index which, as economists and government statisticians have since admitted, systematically overstates inflation. (All indexes do, because indexes measure the changing costs of a market basket of goods, but when goods' prices increase we buy less of them and more of something else.) The kind of work Americans were doing changed too, from fabricating jobs to trading jobs, from organization-based work to performance-based work. In the 1960s we had been assured by economists like John Kenneth Galbraith that markets didn't matter much and that giant corporations controlled the economy. But in the years since many giant corporations shrank or disappeared and markets started reasserting themselves. And we were richer and more productive for it.
Another argument that was often heard was that income inequality was increasing after remaining stable from 1947 to 1973. But a huge amount of money would have to be transferred to compensate for those changes, and increasing inequality had its good effects. "The increasing variability of incomes has hurt those who have performed poorly or who have chosen work that the market does not highly value. But it has helped to produce those extra quantums of effort and ingenuity that mean the difference betwee performance and omission, between failure and success, between the Post Office and Federal Express. I also contrasted the adaptation of the military with the unresponsive domestic public sector.
This was all very interesting and, I would argue today, pretty much valid. But it didn't have much to do with the politics of 1990, 1991 and 1992. I did note the general anti-incumbent trend in voting in 1990 and the fact that it was directed particularly at incumbents who raised taxes. I noted that 65% of House Democrats and 70% of House Republicans who had opponents in both 1988 and 1990 saw their percentages drop in 1990, though few lost. That was an amazing trend: I did not go through the tedium of checking the statistics, but as far as I could tell by just looking over the House election results since 1946 there had not been a single year in which the percentages for most incumbents of both parties fell. So I predicted that incumbents in Congress might be in trouble in 1992.
But I didn't predict that George H.W. Bush would. In fact, I did not even mention his support of a tax increase in summer 1990. He had broken his loud promise in the 1988 campaign -- "Read my lips, no new taxes." This was an astonishing and inexcusable omission, a disservice to my readers. "Americans at work are increasingly looking less to government for economic salvation," I wrote. That is perhaps defensible in the sense that voters were not in 1991 looking for the federal government to set up another WPA. But it was grossly misleading as a guide to the politics of 1991 and 1992. I was writing at about the time Bush had enormously positive job ratings after our success in the Gulf war, and presumably I thought -- as did many Democratic politicians who decided not to run for president -- that he would win reelection no matter what happened to the economy. Certainly what I wrote suggested that. I also canvassed the possibility that Democrats who voted against the Gulf war resolution in 1991 would be defeated in 1992; and in retrospect I believe that their votes played a part in defeating Senators Wyche Fowler and Terry Sanford and nearly defeated Senator Ernest Hollings in 1992. But that was a small story next to the presidential race. I imagined that the Democrats would again be pushed to their left in the nomination process. There is no other way to put it: in this Introduction, I blew it.
At the time, it should be said, it was really hard to anticipate how the 1992 election worked out. Bill Clinton was not a candidate for president; he had promised the voters of Arkansas in 1990, when he was in political trouble, that he would serve out his four-year term. And no one had an inkling of any kind that Ross Perot would run for president and would, for a time in spring 1992, lead Bush and Clinton in the polls. Perot, as the Democrats' Deputy National Chairman Paul Tully told me in 1992, "departisanized the critique of Bush" in a way that Clinton, before he was nominated, was totally unable to do; if Perot had been run down by a bus in 1991, Bush might have beaten Clinton by a narrow margin. But, just as I suggested in the Introductions to the 1986 and 1988 Almanacs how the Republicans might some election soon win control of the House, so I should have been suggesting in this Introduction how an adept Democrat might win the presidency in 1992. That is the sort of thing I try to do in these Introductions, and in 1991 I fell down at the job.
Politicians at Work. In looking at the Democratic party in early 1991, I saw few plausible presidential candidates and wrote that "eighteen months away the Democrats had no hope of winning the election." Accurate, perhaps, of most (surely not quite all) individual Democrats' perceptions; inaccurate, as it turned out, as a prediction of conditions. I thought that the dovishness of the Democrats' core constituency would work heavily against them. But what happened instead is that national security issues became much less important in 1991. In March we had won the Gulf war, Kuwait was liberated and few saw future problems in the region. In August the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev collapsed and at the end of December the Soviet Union ceased to exist. At that time I thought that Bush could win with a "red telephone" ad, one arguing that voters needed him as Commander-in-Chief in case of emergency. But by July 1992 voters believed that there would be no emergency any time soon and that Bill Clinton, inexperienced with foreign and defense policy but obviously intelligent and capable of learning, would be a safe choice. I didn't foresee this at all.
Otherwise I saw a dreary political season at hand. The Republicans had lousy candidates. Neither national party had succeeded in casting itself as the party of reform. The Democratic race, between apparently weak candidates, was unpredictable. Turnout would continue to be low; actually it went up a bit, but stayed within the range it has been in since 1972. The House Democrats, having gained nine seats in 1990, looked as if they had recovered from the disarray of the resignations of Jim Wright and Tony Coelho in 1989. But there were still factors tending to destabilize the Democrats' majority. I predicted accurately that redistricting would not help the Democrats much and that the Voting Rights Act (by clustering black voters in black-majority districts) would hurt them, and said there was a one in four chance the Democrats could lose 40 seats and lose control. That didn't happen in 1992, but Republicans did gain seats even as George Bush was winning only 37% of the vote. I noted that House Republicans were bitter at being in the minority. One sentence I like: "An argument can be made that the most scintillating ideas in today's politics come tumbling out of the mouth of Newt Gingrich, if he is given even the slightest bit of encouragement."
The Senate I saw as an even more partisan chamber, as Majority Leader George Mitchell worked to frustrate the Bush administration at almost every turn. The Democrats' hold on the Senate majority seemed pretty firm.
I wrote briefly on the success of reform in the states, reform of education, economic development, welfare and crime, and gave the greatest credit to Bill Clinton. I also noted the political trouble of New Jersey's Governor Jim Florio after his 1990 tax increase.
All in all, a lousy Introduction: perhaps the worst.
Click here for a printable PDF copy of the complete 1992 Introduction.
The Almanac of American Politics 1994
Why were there such great oscillations of public opinion in 1991 and 1992? Because, I wrote in this Introduction, we were in a postwar period, when opinion can oscillate greatly. Voters see before them the "bright, sunlit uplands" Winston Churchill pointed to, but they want a road map to show how they can get across the new terrain. After World War II in Britain, voters ousted Churchill and installed the Labour party, who had a road map, the Beveridge Report. After World War II in the United States, voters gave Republicans congressional majorities; their road map was to remove wage and price controls, cut taxes, restrict labor unions. When that was accomplished, voters gave Democrats majorities and an unexpected fifth term in the White House; their road map was to extend the New Deal. In the United States after victory in the Gulf war and the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, George Bush was a president without a road map. First Ross Perot, then Bill Clinton offered road maps of sort. Bush was swept aside. So goes my account, which makes sense as far as it goes; I didn't canvass the postwar situations in other countries.
I noticed that Bush was particularly hurt by an economic factor not previously of great importance in national politics, at least since the Depression of the 1930s, the collapse of housing prices. The fall was particularly great in New Hampshire, where he beat Patrick Buchanan in the primary by 53%-37%, and in southern California, where his percentages plummeted in the general election. I was on to something here I would expand in the Introductions to the 2002 and 2004 Almanacs: the politically important economic factor was not income but wealth. My narrative account of the campaign is pretty standard stuff. I was struck by how much the poll numbers moved up through July 1992, when Clinton zoomed to 57% as Perot left the race on the last day of the Democratic National Convention, and how little they moved thereafter.
I think the road map metaphor explains the result as well as anything. "Bush simply would not give voters the domestic road map they wanted. The clearest map came from Perot, but he disqualified himself by his flakiness. Clinton provided a road map of sorts, with lines going off in all directions; but at least he was interested and empathetic." Polls showed continued doubts about the efficacy of big government programs, a desire for domestic reform, a willingness to tolerate behaviors considered illegitimate a generation before, and Clinton's road map was seemed headed in pretty much the same direction. On foreign policy, I got it mostly but not completely right. "The end of the Cold War, many analysts told us, meant the obsolescence of the foreign policy hawks, because there was no Soviet Union to defend against any more. It is more apt to say that the beginning of the Gulf War meant the obsolescence of foreign policy doves, because it became apparent there were circumstances in which the extension of American military power was safe and good." The second sentence, I think now, was right; the first, I think, ignores that "many analysts" were right to say that foreign policy hawkishness was less salient politically though it gets it right if it is taken to mean that Americans were no longer ready to back military action.
The demographic analysis here is derived from exit polls. Highlights: married women voted like men; Clinton's best education group was people with graduate degrees (teachers, social workers and professors as well as doctors and lawyers); religion was the great divider, with the less observant backing Clinton and giving many of their votes to Perot. I divided the country into nine regions -- too many for a succinct analysis. What was most striking here was the emergence of something like straight ticket voting. Perot voters, polls showed, were about equally split between Clinton and Bush as their second choice. Nationally, and within seven of the nine regions, the Clinton percentage margin and the percentage margin of Democratic House candidates tracked closely. This turned out to be the beginning of a convergence between presidential and House voting which came to be fully apparent in 2000.
The Clinton administration. I noted the sharp leftward shift of Clinton just after he took office on issues both cultural (gays in the military) and economic (tax increases). This led directly, I think, to the Republican victory in 1994: voters did not get what they had voted for. As at the beginning of the Reagan administration, I provided descriptions of leading Clinton appointees.
The House. I called the House a "cocoon," where the Democratic leadership managed to insulate its members from outside political pressures and to vote for unpopular policies. And I stepped up my prediction that Republicans might win control. I noted that Republicans had gained 10 seats in 1992 even as Bush was losing, and recited the reasons, some by now familiar to faithful Almanac Introduction readers, of reasons Democrats stood to lose seats: redistricting, term limits (this helped defeat Speaker Thomas Foley), the move toward straight ticket voting (after all, Clinton lost the South, where Democrats still held a majority of seats, the fact that 1992 Democratic freshmen campaigned on national rather than local issues. I noted that Gingrich was likely to be the Republican leader in the next Congress and that neither he nor any other House Republican had any experience leading a House majority.
The Senate. I saw the Senate as dominated by Robert Byrd, Bob Dole, Sam Nunn and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Nothing about Majority Leader George Mitchell; Senate leaders have less room for initiative when the president is of their party, but he was an able leader and I should have said something about him. I wrote that "Republicans may have an outside chance at a majority" in 1994; too cautious, as it turned out. Two Democrats were defeated and five Democrats who retired were replaced by Republicans.
Click here for a printable PDF copy of the complete 1994 Introduction.
The Almanac of American Politics 1996
The Restoration of the Constitutional Order and the Return to Tocquevillian America
This Introduction, with the most pompous title of any, is in some ways my favorite, but it has one major and unforgiveable flaw. It describes very well how the Republicans won their sweeping victories in 1994 and why those victories were not an aberrancy but a reflection of the character of the country and the convictions of the Democrats. But it misses pretty much entirely the recovery of Bill Clinton from his parlous state in early 1995 and how he managed to win reelection convincingly.
I took the 1994 election as a clear indication that "wherever history is headed, it is no longer headed left." This was in contrast to the thesis of the leading New Deal historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who describes American history as a cycle of leftward movements, then stasis for a generation, then another leftward movement. He thought the Clinton years would be another movement left; not so. That verdict still stands.
Bill Clinton had campaigned as a centrist and tried to govern as a leftist. His tax increase went through, by one vote in the Senate, but Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care proposals collapsed in ruins. Democrats, who had held on to control of the House for years by letting incumbents run on local issues and local aid, nationalized the elections, and Newt Gingrich's Republicans happily did so too, with their Contract with America. The national party also came out for gun control -- an issue that tests well in national polls, but was disastrous for House Democrats in many districts. "The long course of election results over the last quarter century proves, as much as these things can ever be proved, that 1992 was the exception and 1994 is the rule." That turned out to be a bit of an overstatement. Republicans have not run quite as well as they did in 1994, but they have held onto the House and regained the presidency in 2000 and in 2002 the Senate majority they had lost for 18 months. As the candidates of the incumbent party at a time of apparent peace and apparent prosperity, Bill Clinton won 49% of the vote in 1996 and Al Gore won 48% of the vote in 2000. 1992 does look like the exception, but Republican majorities still are not quite the rule.
Tocquevillian America. Here the argument was that America was returning to the character Alexis de Tocqueville described in Democracy in America in the 1830s -- egalitarian, individualistic, decentralized, religious, property-loving, lightly governed. Industrialism, the Progressives of the early 20th century, the New Dealers and World War II had made America a more centralized, less individualistic country. Now post-industrial America was returning to its basic character. I suppose some people will say I was exaggerating here. But I continue to think that this analysis does much to explain where we have been heading in history and where we are going. The New Dealers think politics is about economic redistribution, but the more important task of government is maintaining basic order, a framework in which people can live their lives. Republicans lost their majority because of the economic disorder of the 1930s; Democrats lost their majority because of the cultural disorder of the 1960s and, I might have added, the economic disorder of the late 1970s. In this context much of politics revolves around conflicts between cultural values -- the politics of cultural variety again, which I had written about 12 years before. Voters in 1934 voted against the economic elite; voters in 1994 were voting against the cultural elite, the heavily Democratic graduate school graduates, who were attempting to foist culturally liberal policies on a country that believed they were wrong. You may not buy it, but I think it's a good explanation.
The House. Here the tone was too triumphalist: the constitutional order was restored and the House, mentioned before the Senate and the president in the Constitution, was going to dominate government. Not for so very long, and not as much as I suggested. Bill Clinton did become relevant again. But still, Newt Gingrich's Republican House did have some very important policy achievements -- the virtual freeze in federal spending in 1995, the welfare act in 1996, the balanced budget agreement in 1997. None of these things would have happened if Republicans had won 13 fewer seats in 1994 and Democrats still had a majority in the House. The huge budget deficits of the early 1990s were whittled away by three things, of roughly equal fiscal magnitude: the 1993 tax increase, which Republicans would never have passed; the 1995 budget freeze, which Democrats would never have passed; and the end of the payout to savings and loan depositors, which would have happened whoever was in office. Bill Clinton figured out how to increase his own popularity to the detriment of the House Republicans and how to win reelection by a solid margin. But the Republican House has made a real difference in public policy.
I also presented little essays on how Phillip Burton built the liberal Democratic House, which mostly prevailed from 1974 to 1994, and how Newt Gingrich built the conservative Republican House, elected in 1994. I think this is an elegant description, aided by the fact that I used to talk with Burton frequently from about 1974 until his death in 1983 and that I had talked with Gingrich frequently since 1983. Evidently it rang true to some Democrats. Congressman George Miller, a friend and protégé of Burton, told me in 1995, "You're almost getting me to like that guy" -- meaning Gingrich. I was cautious about predicting that the Gingrich regime would last as long as the Burton regime. "But it does seem to be a regime more in line with the constitutional order, in that it contemporaneously reflects public opinion on national issues as the Framers intended the House would, and with high-tech communications, for its has fared best on cable TV and worst in newspapers." And this was before Fox News Channel.
Incidentally, the political coverage in 1994 suggests that these Almanac introductions might not be as influential as some think. Starting with the Introduction to the 1986 Almanac, I had argued that the Democrats' hold on the House was less secure than most people thought, and that the institutional advantages that enabled them to hold House majorities were weakening. But no one was quick to see the possibility of a Republican victory in 1994. The first writer in the national press to say that Republicans had a serious chance of winning control of the House was me, in a column in U.S. News & World Report, which appeared in late June 1994.
The Senate. On election night 1992 Democrats seemed to have a 58-42 majority in the Senate; a few days after the 1994 elections, Republicans had a 54-46 margin. I saw Bob Dole as the dominant figure in the new Republican Senate, and he was until he resigned from the Senate in June 1996 in an attempt to jump-start his presidential campaign. Looking ahead, I thought Republicans stood to gain seats in 1996, but said that was by no means certain.
The Presidency. For the first time in an Almanac Introduction, the presidency appeared after the House and Senate instead of before. Some might see that as a cheap shot against Bill Clinton, and note that by the end of 1995 he had the political edge over the Republican House. But I think the big news out of 1994 was the new Republican House.
My view of Clinton in early 1995 was that by switching course on policy in 1993 and by dissembling in many instances he had lost the voters' attention: "we feel free to press the mute button every time we see his face on the screen." This was a serious misjudgment. Clinton seized the national attention after the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 and, with the help of Dick Morris, set the theme: angry white males [read: Newt Gingrich and his House Republicans] bombed Oklahoma City. This, plus Gingrich's excesses, lowered the House Republicans' standing with the public; I should have seen this and didn't. Even more grievously, I failed to suggest that Clinton could employ something like his triangulating strategy, standing above liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, to strengthen his standing with the public. This he had effectively done by the end of 1995, and in 1996 the Clinton campaign shrewdly ran ads all across the country, except in Washington, New York and Los Angeles, while the Dole campaign, out of money, could put nothing on the air. There is an old rule in politics that presidents get in trouble in their second terms because out of hubris they go too far and therefore cost their party many seats in the offyear election. But Clinton had his hubris in his first two years and learned shrewdly from his setbacks.
There followed some description of the nominating process and nine Republican candidates (one of them, Pete Wilson, dropped out early).
I realize that this Introduction grated on many liberal readers and I think that the tone in some places was too triumphalist. I was overexuberant perhaps because my analysis of how the Democrats could lose control of the House, an analysis almost no one in my profession seemed to share, had been proven true. But I should have shown more forebearance. Even more important, I should have devoted time and space to an analysis of how Bill Clinton could improve his standing. This is a serious weakness of an Introduction which I still believe has many strengths.
Click here for a printable PDF copy of the complete 1996 Introduction.
The Almanac of American Politics 1998
This Introduction is untitled; here I call it Unsettled Arguments. Most of those covering the 1996 election predicted a Clinton landslide and, more cautiously, predicted Democrats would win back control of the House. Clinton won by an unambiguous margin, and Democrats came close to recapturing the House; but I looked at the numbers and saw a different story. Clinton won only 49% of the popular vote and, since most Perot voters were hostile to him (unlike 1992), this was actually a closer election than almost any expected. Republicans won the popular vote for the House by a 48.9%-48.5% margin. The Democratic percentages for president and House were almost identical, within 1% of each other, nationally and in each of the five regions I used for analysis in this Introduction. We had moved back to something that looked very much like straight ticket voting. Clinton and Democrats had clearly improved their standing since 1994. But House Democrats did not regain all the ground they had lost since 1992. Newt Gingrich had hoped 1996 would be like 1896; Bill Clinton hoped 1996 would be like 1948; both were disappointed.
I did not know it then, but this was the first manifestation of a deadlock between the parties that I believe prevailed from the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 to the attacks of September 11, 2001. I argued that Clinton's victory was contingent, and therefore perhaps evanescent, while the Republicans' victory was fundamental. I wouldn't push this theory very hard -- perhaps I would not push it at all -- today. The same partisan balance held with eerie precision for six-and-a-half years -- a long time in American politics.
In this Introduction I gave an account of how Clinton improved his fortunes in 1995 and 1996 -- something I should have made a start on doing two years before. I recounted how he raised record amounts of money and propitiated potential critics on the left, Edward Kennedy and Jesse Jackson. I noted how Bob Dole was an uninspirational victor in the Republican primaries and noted that Lamar Alexander, if he had won 7,000-odd more votes in New Hampshire, might have been the nominee instead (anyone left standing as the chief opponent of Patrick Buchanan would have won). I gave what I think is a reasonably fair account of the campaign. I noted that Clinton's first term and his reelection had not resulted in a leftward direction on policy.
Looking ahead, I thought that no one owned the future. "The 1992 and 1996 Clinton presidential victories stand for the proposition that a New Democrat beats an Old Republican. The 1994 and 1996 Republican congressional victories stand for the proposition that New Republicans beat Old Democrats. The three decades after the New Deal stand for the proposition that Old Democrats beat Old Republicans. But no one can be sure now if New Democrats beat New Republicans, or vice versa." I think that still stands as of June 2003.
Then I repeated from the Introduction to the 1996 Almanac the section on Tocquevillian America. The New Deal historians' theories don't explain much about the last 20 years of American politics; this theory does better. There followed an analysis of the exit polls, similar to the analysis of the 1992 results, since they were similar too. I noted the tendency of different regions to trend toward the dominant party; in a country where people increasingly can choose where they live, and politics is based on cultural attitudes, that is a natural tendency. We all know of people who wouldn't leave New York City for Texas, and people who wouldn't leave Texas for New York City; the former are heavily Democratic, the latter heavily Republican. Then I took a look at five regions of the country -- the Northeast Corridor (including metro Philadelphia but not the rest of Pennsylvania) and the Pacific Rim culturally liberal and heavily Democratic, the South Atlantic and the Interior culturally conservative and heavily Republican and the Interior, 40% of the country, culturally mixed and politically marginal.
The House. I noted that Newt Gingrich and the House Republicans gave up on setting the agenda but, perhaps for deadline reasons, did not take note of the budget agreement reached by Gingrich and White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. I didn't provide a forecast of the 1998 elections. Too bad: at around the same time I wrote an article for the Weekly Standard arguing that it was not inevitable that the opposition would pick up a large number of seats in the offyear election in the president's second term. This had often happened in history, but only to presidents who had coattails and whose hubris led him to pursue unpopular policies. Clinton had shown his hubris in his first term, and was not about to raise taxes or turn over a major program to his wife again.
The Senate. This was a Senate, I wrote, using Harry McPherson's terms, of few whales and many minnows. My forecast of the 1998 elections was pretty close to being right.
The Presidency. Even though I had no inkling that Clinton would be impeached, I compared him to Richard Nixon. Nixon was a conservative who on policy mostly deferred to liberals; Clinton was a liberal who on policy mostly deferred to conservatives. Times and not the man were in control. I took some note of the Clinton fundraising scandals.
The 2000 Election. It didn't seem early to look ahead to 2000 when, as in only two years since 1920 (1960 and 1988) Americans would have to elect a new president. I took a quick look at Democratic candidates and constituencies and provided an alphabetical list of 27 possible Republican candidates (I missed Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes).
Click here for a full text of the 1998 Introduction.
The Almanac of American Politics 2000
Crunchiness and Sogginess.
Again, no title appeared on this Introduction, but the obvious title was Crunchiness and Sogginess. These terms I lifted from a 1988 editorial (leader to the Brits) in the Economist. I began by noting the closeness of the 1998 House elections and the fact that neither party won a majority of the vote. Then I went to the editorial: "Crunchy systems are those in which small changes have a big effect. Sogginess is comfortable uncertainty." Crunchy choices are clear-cut binary choices; a light switch is off or on. Soggy choices are a muddle and not easily perceived: a dimmer. Crunchy leaders included Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill; soggy leaders included the Appeasers of the 1930s. Ronald Reagan was genially crunchy and Newt Gingrich aggressively (Democrats would say obnoxiously) crunchy. Bill Clinton was the essence of sogginess. Americans were in a crunchy mood in the early 1990s and a soggy mood in the late 1990s; Bill Clinton profited from each. In 1996 he ran a soggy campaign against the crunchy Dole/Gingrich Republicans. Voters hated the crunchy issue of impeachment and wished it would go away, as eventually it did. Some prescience here: "Clinton's inclination to settle foreign crises with a soggy verbal formula has worked in some places, but may not continue to do so in the very crunchy cases of Iraq and North Korea." I might have added Israel and Northern Ireland.
Looking ahead to 2000, I said that voters might be facing a crunchy choice between a Republican and a Democratic government; and they didn't like crunchy choices. I thought it would be in the interest of the Democratic nominee to run a soggy campaign. But I noted that Al Gore was instinctively crunchy and George W. Bush, with his "compassionate conservatism," instinctively soggy. And so it was in the 2000 campaign, to Gore's detriment, I think. This was a pretty good example of letting the reader know what might come ahead.
The America of the Exit Polls. Not much new here, because the exit polls were pretty much the same. I used the same five regions as in the Introduction to the 1998 Almanac.
The Political Government. I argued that there was a bipartisan move to reform Social Security with individual investment accounts and Medicare with more market-oriented approaches that seemed in line with my vision (not reprised here) of a Tocquevillian America. But in early 1999, perhaps out of loyalty to the liberals who backed him so stoutly on impeachment, perhaps at the urging of Al Gore, Clinton ditched both reforms. A moment for bipartisan reform was lost. Clinton's defenders liked to say that his personal failings had no political effect. I think this was just one of several instances in which they did.
The House. "The House Republicans' continuing problem is that the House is a crunchy institution operating in a soggy time." That pretty well says it; the Republican House would become less visible when George W. Bush took office in January 2001 and the nation suddenly would become more crunchy in September 2001. I predicted that the new Speaker, Dennis Hastert, would respect the autonomy of committee chairmen more than Gingrich, and I think he did so, but after a few missteps he ran the House with a stronger hand than I felt able to predict. I said that the House Democrats, united in anger at the Republican majority, were on issues divided among themselves -- an accurate assessment, as their split vote on the Iraq war resolution in October 2002 would show. I said it was impossible to predict which party would win the House in 2000. I looked ahead to redistricting and got some things wrong: California did not produce a partisan Democratic plan and Texas did not produce, at least for 2002, a partisan Republican plan.
The Senate. I said this Republican Senate was more partisan than the Republican Senate of the 1980s and repeated my statement in the Introduction to the 1998 Almanac that it had few whales and many minnows. "Will the Republicans retain control in 2000? The easy answer is, probably, but not for sure." On the list of possible turnovers I identified them all but one: Nevada, where Republicans gained an open seat, and Virginia, where they beat an incumbent; Florida, where Republicans lost an open seat; and Delaware, Michigan, Missouri and Washington, where Republican incumbents lost. If those had been the only party switches Republicans would have had a 51-49 majority, and a switch by Jim Jeffords would not have given the Democrats majority status. But in July 2000 Georgia Republican Paul Coverdell suddenly died, and the Democratic governor appointed popular Democrat Zell Miller to fill his seat; Miller held the seat in November. So my prediction was actually spot on.
The Presidency. I said that, as of the first half of 1999, Bill Clinton "leaves a legacy less of achievements than of accommodations, less of initiatives than of maneuvers, less of achieving honor than of evading, or trying to evade, dishonor." That's harsh but I think justified. I went over the impeachment episode here, and argued that "the reaction on both sides could be attacked as partisan, though both could be defended: Republicans had available a strong argument that Clinton violated his constitutional duty; Democrats had available an argument, not perhaps as strong but not contemptible either, that the remedy was out of proportion to the offense. There is a strong natural tendency to break ties in favor of the home team, and the strong feelings of party activists on both sides, and of Democratic fundraisers, gave added strength to the impulse to take one's party's side." I think this is pretty evenhanded and fair. I noted how much Clinton was campaigning for Al Gore -- a vivid contrast from Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 or Ronald Reagan in 1988, and said that "the centrality of his role tends to increase the institutional tendency of the Vice Presidency to diminish the incumbent." Gore had a hard time figuring out how to deal with Clinton throughout the campaign, not because Gore is stupid but because the problem has no ideal solution.
The 2000 Field. I included, as in the 1988 Almanac, descriptions of all the then active presidential candidates. I noted Bill Bradley's lack of institutional support and wrote that Gore's "greater problem could be that in a soggy era, when voters prize consensus, he is temperamentally crunchy, given to harshly condemning opponents in private as well as public, and with a bitterness that Bill Clinton (or George W. Bush) almost never sound." The section on George W. Bush built on my coverage of his 1994 campaign and his governorship; the sentence about the Texas media is missing a "not." On John McCain, I said: "His poll ratings rose as he distinguished himself from the field and spotlighted his special credentials. Yet his stands, as on campaign finance and tobacco, can repel many Republican politicians and voters." A pretty good summary of his strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.
Looking ahead to the general election, I said neither party had any reason to be confident it would win. I guesstimated electoral votes based on voting in House elections, which with the convergence of presidential and House voting seemed a pretty good proxy. By that measure I scored the Northeast Corridor and the Pacific Rim unanimously Democratic, except for New Hampshire, and the South Atlantic and the Great Interior unanimously Republican except for New Mexico; I failed to note that Florida would be close. In the Mississippi Valley I assigned states according to their 1996-98 House vote and came up with a national margin for the Republican nominee of 281-253 (with 4 votes unaccountably omitted), not too far from the 271-266 actual margin. But I assumed Al Gore would carry Tennessee and West Virginia: Karl Rove was way ahead of me (and the Gore campaign) on that.
Overall I think this Introduction stands up pretty well. My perception that presidential and House voting had converged enabled me to give quite an accurate forecast of the 2000 presidential numbers.
Two days after the 1998 election, Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- the subject of my two longest profiles in the body of the Almanac -- announced their retirements. This was a sad moment for me because, in different ways, I admired and liked both of them. Both took a long and original view of history and yet at the same time had great political skills and considerable political achievements. Gingrich was forced out, the victim of his own flaws and crunchiness. Moynihan chose his own moment to step off the political stage, though he was an active co-Chairman of George W. Bush's Social Security Commission (read the report of the co-chairmen, and you'll know who wrote it. My feelings about him you can see in the obituary articles I wrote that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and U.S. News & World Report.
Click here for a full text of the 2000 Introduction.
The Almanac of American Politics 2002
The 49% Nation.
I feel that this Introduction had far more effect on political discourse and commentary than any previous Almanac Introduction. The Politics of Cultural Variety, Tocquevillian America: these were good concepts, I think, but no one else used them very much. The 49% Nation, on the other hand, is a concept that you encounter frequently, sometimes with attribution. It comes, obviously, from my study of the election returns and the observation that we had had three straight presidential election and three straight House elections in which neither party won a majority. That had not happened since the 1880s, and even Strom Thurmond didn't remember that.
I got my idea of separating the nation into the top 7 and next 16 metro areas and the non-major metro North and South also from studying election returns. After the 1988 election, I cumulated the totals for George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis and was surprised to find that Bush had run even in the Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago metro areas; I mentioned this in the Introductions to the 1990 and later Almanacs. In October 2000 almost every political reporter was puzzled why Florida, heavily for the elder Bush in 1988, was in 2000 closely contested and why New Jersey and California, heavily and somewhat less heavily for the elder Bush in 1988, were so heavily Democratic as to be uncontested in 2000. We were also puzzled why states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington, which voted for Michael Dukakis, were closely contested in 2000. So I sat down with my calculator and calculated the presidential vote in 1988, 1992 and 1996 in each state, separating out each major (2 million people plus) metro area.
The results were revealing. Bill Clinton had made major gains over Dukakis in most major areas. But he had run behind him in some rural areas. (Remember that their percentages were not that far apart: Dukakis won 46% of the vote and Clinton 43% and 49%). Aggregating the figures, I wrote a column for U.S. News & World Report arguing that Democrats under Clinton had made major gains in major metro areas but had suffered smaller offsetting losses outside major metro areas. I was a little queasy about the column, but my editor Stephen Smith loved it and so did many reporters. "Michael Barone has figured it all out!" Mickey Kaus proclaimed on his kausfiles.com website. That column was the basis of this Introduction.
Those numbers lead to the conclusion that, more than ever, American politics was splitting people on cultural not economic lines. Bush ran far worse than his father in affluent suburban counties, far better in many rural counties. There was little split along income lines, and vast differences according to intensity of religious belief. I used data from a survey by the University of Akron and the Ethics and Public Policy Center to back this up. Affluent secular suburbanites had been attracted by the cultural liberalism of the Clinton administration. Modest income religious rural people had been repelled by it. I argued that demographically the Bush nation was growing a little more than the Gore nation, pointing to fast-growing outer suburban counties which produced huge Republican majorities.
The Political Government. The Republicans had majorities in early 2001, as I started writing, but "This is not control. But it is incumbency, and incumbents ordinarily have one great power in politics and government, and that is to set the agenda." Yup: the more so after September 11.
The Presidency. This is a long essay on George W. Bush and his campaign. It notes that it was very different from his father's 1992 campaign: Al Gore ran more like his father, who had been defeated 30 years before, than George W. Bush ran like his father, who had been defeated eight years before. Feeling vindication for comments in the Introductions to the 1998 and 2000 Almanacs, I noted that Bush was the soggy candidate and Gore the crunchy candidate.
The House. "Control matters, very much, in the House as it has operated for the last quarter century." Once again I recounted how Tip O'Neill ran the House, and how Democratic and Republican speakers have followed his example: a fair lot of history here. I wrote that even with a small majority the Republican leadership would probably remain mostly in control, as it did. "But can't the Democrats look forward to controlling the House since out-of-presidential power parties inevitably gain seats in non-presidential years? The answer is not necessarily yes." Correct, if not smoothly written. I pointed out that Bush carried most districts in 2000, and that Democrats representing Bush districts had no recent experience (in most cases, no experience) campaigning with a popular Republican president in office. Republicans in Gore districts, in contrast, were used to winning when Clinton was in office. Redistricting, I predicted, would work in favor of Republicans -- the first time it had worked for the president's party since the 1960s -- with a net gain of five to 10 seats. It turned out, I estimate, to be five seats.
The Senate. I began with Senator Robert Byrd's account of the way the Senate was last organized when it was evenly divided, in 1881. In May this section had to be redrafted after Jim Jeffords switched parties and gave Democrats the majority. I noted that as Minority Leader Daschle had done a superb job of holding the Democratic Caucus together and predicted he would use his ability to schedule business "to frustrate Bush on matters large and small." But I did not suggest, as I should have done, that Bush had the ability to make small matters seem large -- like the employment rules for the Department of Homeland Security. "What will happen to the Senate in the 2002 elections? Almost anything." I pointed out that most of the serious contests seemed likely to be in states Bush carried.
This was one of the stronger Introductions, in my view. Certainly the idea of the 49% nation was widely taken up. And I think that my long-held view that cultural attitudes, specifically religious views, correlate more highly with political views than any other demographic factor. Of course, I did not anticipate September 11. But I think the view presented here provided a good basis for understanding American politics in the post-September 11 world. And that, of course, is the subject of the Introduction to The Almanac of American Politics 2004, to which the reader is referred.
Click here for a full text of the 2002 Introduction.
National Journal Group offers both print and electronic reprint services, as well as permissions for academic use, photocopying and republication. Click here to order, or call us at 877-394-7350.