Magazine article The American Prospect

The Democrats' Energy Problem. (Comment)

Magazine article The American Prospect

The Democrats' Energy Problem. (Comment)

Article excerpt

IT IS NOT MUCH MORE THAN A year since the 2000 presidential election was finally decided, but it seems like an eternity. The Republicans have now accomplished what they were unable to achieve at the polls: They have gained decisive control of the national debate and virtually locked their agenda in place for years to come. The tax cut laid the foundation; then September 11 and the war on terrorism provided the functional equivalent of the Cold War. It is the Reagan formula all over again: tax cuts, huge increases in military expenditures, deficits, and the consequent exclusion of all the initiatives that liberals might offer.

In the face of Bush's popularity, many Democrats have comforted themselves with the thought that his father also enjoyed stratospheric ratings after the Gulf War in 1991 but was beaten by Clinton the next year. In this year's elections, moreover, Bush won't be on the ticket, and the historical pattern favors the party out of the White House. In this reassuring view, Democrats should fight the midterm elections only on local issues and wait to challenge the Republicans frontally in 2004, by which time the Bush bubble will have burst.

When the Gulf War was over, however, it was over. The war on terrorism has no end in sight. The brilliant success of the Afghan campaign has raised expectations of what force can accomplish not just in Iraq, but even in Iran and North Korea. And since terrorism can emerge suddenly anywhere, it provides an indefinite warrant for intensified security measures as well as renewed defense spending. Homeland security gives the Republicans an overarching rationale for everything that they have wanted to do, and they plan to use it to create a new Republican era in American politics.

After September 11, no Democrat who fails to recognize the gravity of the genuine threats that Americans confront has a prayer. But Democrats will seem to have acquiesced in Bush's entire framework for both foreign policy and domestic priorities unless they start drawing sharp distinctions between the justifiable response to terrorism and the Republican seizure of the historical moment.

THE ONE ELEMENT IN THE CURRENT picture that works in the Democrats' favor is the Enron collapse. …

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