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Putting politics aside Id

<$NoAd$>Putting politics aside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that today is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Sixty years ago this year, the Nazi death camps were liberated by Allied forces, and the full extent of the genocide was made known. Many of us have read the books, seen the movies, and gone to the museums, but as this event fades further and further into the past, it becomes ancient history to too many -- or trivialized too often.

While the day has a special significance in Israel and to Jews all over the world, there’s a more universal resonance to this day of remembrance: a day to reflect on humans’ capacity for evil -- and capacity for inaction in its face. Recognizing those frailties one day a year, hopefully could go a long way to stiffening our resolve when confronted with such barbarism in our own times.

I punched the data

I punched the data into the seat calculator and consulted a swingometer, but I overlooked one thing: the gamblers. While no one in political punditry puts their money where their mouth is, these guys do. And what do the bettors say? The average spread for the size of the Labour majority is 89 seats. Above the danger zone for Blair, but since it’s below the expectations of the polls which are putting the majority in the triple digits, it could mean trouble for Blair with his own backbenchers.

So what’s going on?

A friend of mine at a major British paper tells me that the senior editors at his august publication are not encouraged with the "mood on the ground" reports they're getting from their correspondents from various constituencies this morning. Like the gamblers, most of the editors are predicting a majority in the 80s, with one guessing it could be as low as 60.

Of course, this could be lingering resentment toward Blair that these editors are hearing in their own Islington echo-chambers (how many of your friends on the Upper West Side were convinced that Kerry was going to win?). But, take the reports from the ground, add in the wisdom of the market, and the targeted campaigns that the Tories and Lib Dems ran, and it could be a rough next few weeks for Blair -– and a rougher one for Howard. The reports in today’s papers are that the Lib Dems are making in-roads in Tory constituencies, meaning that like in 2001, they may be the biggest winners.

A battered Tony Blair, an invigorated anti-war Lib Dem party -– it has the makings of a bad day for President Bush.

Polls open in the

Polls open in the UK in a couple of hours, but at the end of the last day of campaigning, a friend in the Labour boiler room sent me their compendium of all the latest public polls. They averaged the numbers from all the public polls conducted over the last three days, and came up with: Labour at 37.2 percent, Conservatives at 32.5, and Lib Dems at 22.8. Compared to 2001 totals, it appears that the Tory base has come home, and Labour has bled a little –- about 4 percentage points –- to the Lib Dems. Of course, what matters is what happens in the “marginals” or swing seats where the campaign has really been fought. Nonetheless, Brits obsess over the “swing” and use the swing in the overall vote total to figure out who will win what in Parliament.

Going to the BBC’s handy seat calculator -- which is almost as cool as its “swingometer,” which I assure you has nothing to do with Austin Powers -- we find that these numbers would result in a Labour majority of 118 seats, and Tony Blair would rest easy. But to stress again, it’s not how many runs your score, it’s how many games you win (Exhibit A: Gore 2000). This fight tomorrow will be a ground war fought in marginals all across Britain. It’s a turnout game now.

One of those guys slogging it out in the marginals is Steve Morgan. I have to give him and the folks at Morgan Allen Moore a million thanks for their invaluable election night guide. Democratic politicos know Steve as the guy who handles the foreign press at any major Democratic event -– New Hampshire primary night, the Convention, etc. At home, he’s the Michael Whouley of British politics (so much so, that their companies merged), the foremost Welsh expert on American football, and as of last week, the father of Cai. Congratulations, Steve.

Back to the British

Back to the British election primer.

The Dynamics to Watch: Blair vs. Bush. The absolutely single-biggest liability for Tony Blair is that voters think that he is George W. Bush’s “poodle” and that he lied about Iraq. In fact, the latest Financial Times poll found that 62 percent of British adults believe Blair lied about Iraq; another poll for the Guardian found a majority who say he’s not trustworthy. The Lib Dems have been relentless in whacking Blair on this, and in recent days, the Tories (who supported the war, but have a lingering odor of imperial anti-Americanism) have joined in. While Blair’s support for the war and defense of his decision in the face of withering and personal opposition is admirable, his lack of personal support has dampened Labour enthusiasm. If Blair suffers for Iraq, he only has Bush to thank. If Blair is toppled, there could be a noticeable cooling of US-UK relations.

Blair vs. Brown. The tension between these one-time parliamentary officemates got particularly intense in the months leading up to the election. Years ago, Blair made a deal with Brown: he would stand for party leader, make Brown a very powerful Chancellor, and eventually step aside for Brown to take over. Their tensions reflect the tensions within the party: to many Labourites, Brown is one of them –- not the slippery Blair who “sold out” Labour principles. After jockeying with Brown and allowing the distance to grow, the Blairites realized that because of Iraq, Blair needed Brown to bring home the base. Since then, they have been inseparable on the campaign trail. Yet, there are enough Labour rebels that if the margin of victory dips below the triple digits and gets anywhere close to 50, the pressure on Blair to give way to Brown will be great.

Blair vs. Howard. The other night, after flipping between the Daily Show and that new HBO movie about FDR and his struggle with polio, I caught one of the BBC’s top political advisers being interviewed on C-SPAN. He made the key point to remember about Michael Howard: “Not only was he a member of the most unpopular cabinet in postwar British history, he was the most unpopular member of the most unpopular cabinet in postwar British history.” The nasty tone the Tory campaign has taken in the final few weeks has only underscored that point. Labour wants to make the choice between them and the Tories one between forward vs. back; Labour success vs. Tory failure. Check out this Labour party election broadcast (scroll down to “Remember?”); it’s the best use of Barbra Streisand in a political campaign since her November 2000 robo-calls to gay households in South Beach!

Update: TPM readers are just verklepmt over my reference to Barbra Streisand above. Yes, it's not Streisand's recording of the "The Way We Were" in the Labour party election broadcast linked above. However, since the song was written for her, first recorded by her, and inextricably tied up with her, I referenced it as a Streisand song. Thanks to all the readers who wrote in.

Wow. One little attempt

Wow. One little attempt at humble, self-deprecating humor, and I am the poster child for all that's wrong with Democratic politics. I assure TPM readers -- those who very nicely suggested some books to read and those who not so nicely see me as an ignoramus -- that I do know quite a bit about Social Security. Compared to Josh and Matt, I am a novice. That's why it won't be my focus this week.

Now, I'm really off to the gym, and later tonight, I'll continue with the British election primer.

Despite living there for

Despite living there for the better part of four years, there are many things I can’t explain about Britain: the instinct to queue, the bad plumbing, and how a culture with such bland native food can love curry so much. What I can explain are the basics about the British elections held tomorrow. These next few posts should set the scene for people just tuning in to these elections.

The Basics: 646 parliamentary seats are at stake -– 529 of them are in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales, and 18 in Northern Ireland. 324 is the number needed to form a majority government. Seats are allocated on a first past-the-post basis in each district. That is, it doesn’t matter how many votes each party gets nationwide; it matters how many ridings a party wins. Thus, it’s possible to win the most votes, but not the most seats -– a phenomenon that last happened in February 1974.

The Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, holds a 160-seat overall majority and have had a commanding majority since winning election in 1997. If Labour wins re-election, it will be the first time in British political history that Labour has won three consecutive elections.

The Players: The Labour Party, led by Blair and his once and future rival, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, is the main center-left party. Blair has re-made the party into New Labour, shedding its socialist past, attracting middle-class voters, and proving that Labour can manage the economy -– and quite successfully at that. There’s a tension within the party between the working-class beans-on-toast crowd and the more affluent focaccia- and-roasted-vegetables set (think Quad Cities vs. Tribeca). Bigger than these class differences is the huge rift within the party on the war in Iraq. This is -- by far -- Blair’s biggest vulnerability.

The Conservative Party (aka the Tories), led by Michael Howard currently has 165 seats in Parliament. The Conservative Party today is like the Republican Party in 1940: a small opposition party of rural and wealthy voters that has to contend with a rejuvenated and dominant progressive party. After being obliterated in 1997 and embarrassed in 2001, the Tories are having a more successful campaign in 2005 -- one waged on the basis of social issues such as: crime, school discipline, and immigration. While – as James Harding notes in Slate -- their campaign lacks the big vision of Thatcher, the Tories stand to gain seats this election because of their careful targeting of swing districts and the mere fact that they really have only one direction to go.

The Liberal Democrats. Imagine if the Deaniacs split from the Democratic Party over Iraq, and you've got the Lib Dems. This is a middle-class party strong in university towns, and in odd suburban places throughout Britain. Led by Charles Kennedy, the Lib Dems have 51 seats in Parliament. Their pure anti-war stance has attracted many disgruntled Labourites as well as some Muslim voters. Lib Dems can play the Nader role in this election, siphoning off enough Labour votes to throw the election to the Tories or diminish the Labour majority enough as to provoke a leadership challenge to Blair. If there is a total Tory meltdown (a swing of about 10 percent from Tory to Lib Dem), the Lib Dems could become the official opposition.

More to come. But in my effort not to totally embrace the blogger lifestyle, I'm off to the gym.

Chuck Todd the man

<$NoAd$>Chuck Todd, the man behind Hotline, has an excellent column today on the National Journal website (subscription only) about the big issue looming on the radar screen for 2008: immigration. He writes:

There's a disconnect between the politically correct legislators and media in Washington and the general public on the issue. Call it xenophobia if you want, but these [anti-immigration] initiatives are popular with the public, particularly as the economy stagnates and some lower-income workers are looking for someone to blame.

Add in the possibility of a terrorist attack, and the shut-the-doors crowd will be clamoring for the Great Wall of Brownsville.

Chuck is right that immigration will be a big issue for both parties, but on the presidential level, I still believe that it stands to damage the GOP more. While many rank-and-file Democrats may have serious reservations about immigration, there is no Democratic anti-immigration constituency -– and in the presidential nominating process, it’s the groups and activists who count. The GOP not only has an anti-immigration constituency, they also already have anti-immigration candidates. One Tom Tancredo in the race, and the whole field can easily be pulled to the right. While the opposite dynamic could happen on the left, the ambivalence toward unchecked immigration among Hispanics themselves should put a break on that.

Matt has raised an

Matt has raised an interesting point: New Labour is to the right of Old Labour in relative terms, but in absolute terms, it is to the left of the New Democrats in the US. Thus, Matt says, why does the DLC and other New Democrats embrace Blair and New Labour and folks like the old guard at the American Prospect have its reservations?

My first instinct is to say, well England is England and the US is the US; chalk up their individual positions to their unique political cultures and history. But, it wouldn’t be so bold to attack the very premise of Matt’s argument: is New Labour really to the “left of mainstream thinking inside the Democratic party?” Read its latest manifesto. All things being equal (because it still is another country), what in it couldn’t conceivably been uttered by Bill Clinton -– or Joe Lieberman? Just because Britain has nationalized health care and stronger unions, it doesn’t mean that it’s a socialist paradise. Couldn't it be said that New Labour is to the right of the mainstream thinking inside the Democratic Party?

The thing to remember is that the main dividing line between New Labour and New Democrats and the more recalcitrant portions of their respective parties is a realization that the industrial age has come and gone and that we now live in a interdependent world which demands different policy responses in order to live up to the values of fairness, equality, opportunity, etc. that progressives cherish. If you drill down past the name-calling and the various issue positions, at the root of the divide is that New Labour and New Democrats are people on the left who have come to terms with -– and even embraced -- the market. In Britain, this entailed a more drastic break (one that culminated in the Labour Party repealing its Clause IV which called for the nationalization of the means of production). In both countries, it has resulted in a shift in how government provides for its citizens -– namely, finding ways to help people get what they need to compete in the global marketplace and using the power of the market to achieve social ends.

I don’t want to go on and on and on about this, and before the “netroots” starts burning my digital likeness in effigy, let me say that there is a lot more to say about this as it relates to foreign policy, domestic policy, and political strategy. That said, check out the relevant books on the topic: Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw’s Commanding Heights (which lays out the history of the rise of the market), Andrei Cherny’s The Next Deal (which only gets more relevant as time goes on), and although I have yet to read it, Thomas Friedman’s latest, The World is Flat, I am sure has a lot to say about this.

Well Matt has certainly

Well, Matt has certainly set the stage for my debut. I just got back from the dentist, so let me do the requisite introductory remarks now, and think about what Matt wrote while I dig out from what's in my in-box.

To start, let me just say that it's a real honor to be on this side of TPM. I’ve been a faithful reader of the site since the dark days of the 2000 recount when Josh’s first posts were glimmers of hope for a dejected Gore speechwriter stuck sunning himself in the Plumbers and Pipefitters’ parking lot in West Palm Beach while his future employment slowly slipped out of reach. I’ve been a huge admirer and friend of Josh’s ever since he stuck up for me when a certain liberal magazine blackballed me for having the gall of supporting President Clinton’s agenda. And, of course, over the past few months, Josh -- and Matt Yglesias -- have performed a real service by guiding us all through the complex thicket of Social Security privatization. But until the tan and rested Josh returns from his tropical paradise, that service will be on hold.

I must confess that I know just about nothing about Social Security. When I have a question, I call Josh. When that fails, I bother Peter Orszag or Jason Furman. And when I have a real retirement question -– that is, investing on top of Social Security -- I follow my grandmother’s advice: “Ask your Uncle Arnie.” So, for the next few days, we’ll be taking a break from Social Security and talking mostly -– but not exclusively -- about the biggest political news happening this week, the British elections and why we Americans should care.

I first went to England as a grad student in Politics in 1994. While I didn’t study British politics, just being there for the rise of New Labour and their eventual election in 1997 was an education in and of itself (you’d be amazed what one can learn procrastinating from the work you’re supposed to do; then again, if you’re reading this, you probably already know.). It, in turn, informed my own work on the rise of the New Democrats which I turned into a book, Reinventing Democrats: The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to Clinton (Kansas, 2000). Since then, I’ve followed New Labour closely, writing about it from time to time, and most recently -– and this is the last shameless plug, I swear -– this week for my column for the New Republic Online.

As we approach tomorrow’s election day, I’ll post as often as I can -- and as often as I hear from my sources all across the UK (actually, it’s just an eclectic group of my friends scattered across southern England, including journalists, politicos, political scientists, and the world’s expert on the 17th century English book trade). To that, I welcome the thoughts of any British TPM readers that may be out there. And, of course, if you have any good gossip or stories outside of the British Isles that need attention, now’s your chance. I got a password to TPM -- and Josh won’t be back until Sunday.

My time here will

My time here will be done shortly, with Kenneth Baer taking over in just a little while. It's been a real pleasure to blog for you all here and to get feedback from Josh's massive audience of readers. Speaking of which, a person doesn't just undertake uncompensated work for his own amusement. No! This was all a devious plot to promote my own work. So I hope that if you like what you've read, you'll check out my writing elsewhere. My blog has mostly been dedicated to silly stuff since I've been saving serious content for TPM, but after the handover there will be a return to substantive political commentary over there. In addition, I co-write Tapped with my colleagues from The American Prospect and you can browse my archived columns and magazine articles for the Prospect if you're so inclined.

If you really, really like what you read here you might want to call up The New York Times Book Review and say something like, "hey, have you heard of this Matthew Yglesias character? Wouldn't it be great if you actually printed that review of two books about Ronald Reagan you have on file and that you already paid him for?"

People also should know that I am capable of writing about things other than Social Security, I just thought it would be appropriate to focus on that issue this week since we're in the midst of a major now phase-out push and as we all know it's both a crucial issue and something TPM has played a big role in throughout the year. But to prove I have ideas on other subjects, and because Kenneth says he's going to be writing some about the British elections, here's a concluding thought. Tony Blair, as everyone knows, has moved the Labour Party to the right, dubbing it "New Labour" and antagonizing the apostles of "Old Labour" ideology. This, it seems, has greatly endeared him to "New Democrats" here in the USA who've been engaged in a similar project. But how similar is it, really? Iraq War aside, it seems to me that Blair's substantive views on domestic policy -- on the NHS, say -- would place him well to the left of mainstream thinking inside the Democratic Party. Which is to say that while he plays a similar role to Bill Clinton relative to the British political scene, in absolute terms his views are quite different simply because "Old Labour" was far to the left of anywhere the Democrats have ever been. So what gives?

There seems to me to be some muddled thinking on both sides of this question. The DLC should like Blair less, and my distinctly Old Democrat bosses at the Prospect should like him more. Since my successor literally wrote the book on the DLC, perhaps he can enlighten us about this. I'll also note that anyone who thinks the Liberal Democrats have gotten to Blair's left by opposing fees for university students needs to think harder. Free college tuition is a subsidy to the upper middle class, not to the poor. Given the availability of student loans, the main barrier to higher education for working class kids isn't tuition, per se, it's primary and secondary school systems that don't let them compete on a level playing field in the admissions sweepstakes. Now I'll doubtless enrage you all by suggesting that No Child Left Behind is a step in the right direction in that regard and sign off. But remember: Social Security now, Social Security tomorrow, Social Security forever!