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Gray November, Coming Up

(Reprinted from SOBRANS, March 2006, page 1)
This is what we call a midterm election year, and it may be the most convulsive one since 1994. President Bush and his party, who barely a year ago had it all, have plunged to their lowest level of popularity ever, and the Democrats are hoping to regain at least one house of Congress, maybe both, this fall. Bush’s conduct is widely seen as incompetent, illegal, and even unconstitutional. His staunchest supporters don’t show much enthusiasm anymore, and some Democrats are murmuring about everything from censure to impeachment. Unlikely, but no longer unthinkable.

The pundits agree that neither party has found a compelling theme, but the Democrats may not need one. Disgust with the Republicans may be such a seismic force that the voters won’t be very particular about reasons for chucking them out at the first This is the lead article to the March 2006 issue, Gray November, Coming Up -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them. opportunity. My old friend Fred Barnes (we used to be neighbors) has written a book praising Bush for “redefining” American conservatism. Well, if that’s an achievement, let’s give credit where credit is due. Certainly Bush has left conservatism, as popularly understood, unrecognizable.

After repudiating “nation-building” during the 2000 campaign, Bush adopted it with a vengeance after 9/11: his presidency has been defined by his announced mission of “global democratic revolution.” Such talk used to make conservatives shudder. Even his father was willing to settle for a “new world order” — a comparatively minor adjustment, involving little bloodshed. Old Bush, it’s true, did agree to raise new taxes, but this was because he realized that Big Government had to be paid for eventually, and, unlike his son, he didn’t favor Infinite Government.

It’s not that I want the Democrats in power. But there is no longer much reason to prefer the Republicans, and a return to “gridlock” — the mutual frustration that is all we can pray for in a two-party system — looks like the last, if not exactly best, hope for democracy. Unfortunately, our Constitution makes no provision for a military coup; so much for the vaunted wisdom of the Framers. (Should we be grateful that our generals don’t see the Constitution as a living document?)

The pressing issue this year is the Iraq war. The Democrats are divided about it, but despite growing opposition to it among their base, they don’t oppose it in principle; both parties agree that “world leadership” — a sunny euphemism for global empire — is America’s vocation. They have tactical differences (mostly opportunistic) about what this historic role requires here and now, and of course the Democrats are glad to exploit Bush’s “quagmire” now that the public is disillusioned with it.

As usual, the question this fall will be not whether we’ll get bigger government — that’s a given — but which brand of tyranny we’re likely to get and how much. “Faith, there’s small choice among rotten apples.”

Joseph Sobran

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