To the victor belong the headaches

The next four years are going to be a bad time to be President.

Ordinarily, winning elections is good for the party that wins them, and losing is bad. As Michael Harrington pointed out to the antiwar Democrats who sat out the 1968 election, coalitions are built on victories, not defeats.

But there are counterexamples: imagine how much better off the Democrats would be — how much better off the country would be — if Ford had beaten Carter in 1976. Then it would have been Ford, and not Carter, sweeping up the economic mess of the Nixon years, and the Republicans, not the Democrats, taking the heat. No Carter, no Reagan.

I’m terrified, of course, that George W. Bush might win re-election. I think the results would be catastrophic for the country (especially its physical environment), and for the world. But I’m no longer worried that Bush and his cronies will succeed in permanently entrenching themselves in power.

The backlash against Bushism has already begun: in the mainstream media, in the national security elite, even in the Supreme Court. And the newfound willingness of ordinary Democrats to shell out for the candidates they back is unlikely to be lost again, at least as long as GWB is there to stoke the fires of fear and hatred. But if it’s Kerry who has to preside over the necessarily painful process of restoring fiscal balance, all bets are off.

So if you’re a Democrat and working hard for Kerry this year, you’re likely engaging in a nobly patriotic act, putting country above party. I would have expected no less of you, but pat yourself on the back just the same.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: