Does public life recapitulate grade school? To judge by the pitched and petulant fights on the playground of politics, you’d think so.
Syndicated columnist Dionne (They Only Look Dead, 1996, etc.) allows that there are good reasons for the tense tenor in this election year: for liberals and moderates, he says, “the sense of alienation, estrangement, and anger inspired by this president is unlike anything they have experienced in their political lifetimes,” enough to make them nostalgic for Nixon. On the opposite side of the fence stand disgruntled white guys who can’t get over the fact that Bill Clinton raised taxes on the rich (whereupon “all Americans—including the wealthy—then prospered”) and threw Reaganism out the window; neither can they get over the fact that the American electorate failed to line up behind them to impeach Slick Willie. The Democrats as a whole, Dionne notes, were traumatized by 9/11 and rushed to the side of Bush, only to be rebuffed by the man who swore he would be a “uniter, not a divider”—and who then almost immediately lowered taxes on the wealthy while pretending he was giving tax relief to the poor and middle class, precisely because “voters didn’t like the idea.” What to do? Why, throw the bum out, of course. And unceremoniously, as Dionne argues that, if anything, the Democrats haven’t played hard-enough hardball against the Bushies; after 9/11, he writes, “Democrats were bewildered. Forget left and right: they even missed chances to fight Bush hard on issues that could have united moderates and liberals.” In the anybody-but-Bush exigency, Dionne urges, that unity of left and center against hard right is essential. (“The first task of politics now,” he writes, “is to prevent a sharp turn to the right.”) If it happens, he prophesies, and if the Dems adopt a “Bogart liberalism” that’s both tough and smart, then it’s out the door with the GOP.
Balm for those who long to see a revivified—and not-quite-so-spiteful—opposition and a return to Kennedy-era liberalism.