Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Voice of the People

If you are a Republican, there was little to celebrate last night. Unless, like certain classic conservatives, you understand that the folks who claim to wear Ronald Reagan's mantle are actually Richard Nixon's illegitimate children. And, if you are a Democrat, there is some reason to hope that the agenda will change -- if your party can ignore its own centrifugal forces and not listen to those voices who claim that the President -- like Saddam Hussein -- should be hanged.

As things stand this morning, the Democrats have firm control of the House; and they might just control the Senate. What does that mean? It means that Americans have rejected the neo-conservative vision of a benevolent Pax Americana, where America makes the world, in Woodrow Wilson's phrase, "safe for democracy". The concept was foolish when Wilson, with the best of intentions, articulated it in 1919. It was equally foolish when the folks at the Project for the New American Century rearticulated it in 1996. As the twentieth century proved repeatedly, democracy and safety do not necessarily go hand in hand.

What Ronald Reagan, like his hero Franklin Roosevelt, understood is that -- in the end -- fear leads a nation to a hole in the ground. A nation can accomplish great things if it "has nothing to fear but fear itself;" or if its citizens believe it is "morning again in America."

The present occupant of the White House, supported by his Vice President and his Secretary of Defense, like Mr. Nixon, functions in a constant state of paranoia, suspecting that his enemies are everywhere. But there is a big difference between suspecting who your enemy is and seeing who he is. The difference is the difference between Osama Ben Laden and Saddam Hussein. It is the difference between victory and resignation.

This administration's response to their situation has been, like Nixon's, to claim executive privilege and extra constitutional authority. What they have failed to understand is that the erosion of presidential authority after Watergate, a phenomenon they lament, was a direct response to abuse of that authority. They also have not understood what Roosevelt, Reagan and Bush the Elder understood: that political success is about building political coaltions, both domestic and international which, taken together, are greater than the sum of their parts.

Bush the Elder has what Bush the Younger lacks -- a sense of history, combat experience and experience at the United Nations. Until now he has resisted giving his son advice. Now would be a good time to change that policy.

The question is, has the present administration heard the voice of the people? Recent interviews have suggested that Mr. Cheney is deaf and is committed to more of the same. But, ultimately, the ball is in Bush's court. Now would be a good time to have a serious talk with his father.

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