For Democrats, the only good thing to come from Tuesday's loss of the Senate election in Massachusetts is this: It could wipe the grin off Robert Gibbs's face.
The Democrats' failed struggle to hold onto Ted Kennedy's seat in the liberal state showed how badly the party's brand had been damaged over the past year. But as the White House press corps challenged President Obama's press secretary on Tuesday afternoon about the anticipated loss, Gibbs answered with his usual mix of wisecracks and insults.
"Broadly speaking, can you talk about the difference between 59 and 60 votes in the Senate and what that means for the president's agenda this year?"
"Broadly, it's one," Gibbs answered.
One of the great supposed achievements of the 2008 presidential race was that President Obama and the Democratic Party gained a formidable political weapon: the most detailed databases ever amassed on the views and voting habits of registered U.S. voters. Obama had deployed social technologies on a grand scale. And Democrats were said to be ahead of Republicans in deploying distributed volunteers to make Web-enabled phone-bank calls.
During such calls, volunteers could fill out online forms, building files on each John and Jane Doe–who they said they voted for, what issues moved them. In the two months before the 2008 elections, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) added 223 million new pieces of data on voters, giving the DNC ten times the amount of data they'd had in the 2004 campaign. (That's what Voter Activation Network, a company based in Somerville, MA that builds front-end software for DNC database, told me after Obama won.)
One of the most alarming conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a widely respected organization established by the United Nations, is that glaciers in the Himalayas could be gone 25 years from now, eliminating a primary source of water for hundreds of millions of people. But a number of glaciologists have argued that this conclusion is wrong, and now the IPCC admits that the conclusion is largely unsubstantiated, based on news reports rather than published, peer-reviewed scientific studies.