This issue marks the fiftieth anniversary of our magazine. We plan a number of events in the coming year to celebrate, even if the political environment is uncongenial to elation. It prompts dissent instead. Our main event remains the ideas and arguments in our pages. We write for our times, against them, imagining better ones-insisting on the values of political democracy and social equality, on liberty with solidarity. Our anniversary issue engages the present, but also provides a little perspective on Dissent‘s values and history.
If you want to know why Dissent is “left-wing,” look at what the most right-wing administration in recent memory calls its “compassionate conservatism”: taxes cut to the benefit of those who can most afford them; Medicare reformed and an energy bill designed to the advantage of corporations and Mr. Bush’s political fortunes; disregard of civil liberties; determined chipping at the wall separating religion and state.
Every criticism of this administration is not “Bush-bashing.” Yes, some attacks on Mr. Bush are puerile. They resemble nothing so much as conservative vilification of Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The trouble with the Bush presidency is political not personal; policies, not syntax, are the problem. This president, who came into office after losing the popular vote, is a domestic unilateralist in war time. That should worry everyone, not least because his election campaign and right-wing pundits seek to make disagreement indistinguishable from sedition.
Some Republican congressmen recently proposed replacing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s likeness on the dime with Ronald Reagan’s. It is a cheap shot, but only on the surface. Look below. The Bush presidency is the unrepressed id of Reaganism. Unlike in the 1980s, there is no Democratic Party majority in Congress to be a restraining reality principle. And the Republicans certainly have no democratic superego. Think of Clinton’s impeachment, the Florida vote in 2000, the Texas reapportionment, the California recall. Connect the dots, and read Sean Wilentz’s indictment of the GOP’s “will to power” in this issue.
What has the president done to persuade foes of the Iraq War-or, indeed, to enable a supporter of it like me-to give his administration a benefit of the doubt? Because it is rhetorical, this question is very, very scary. Were I Iraqi I’d fret a lot that my country’s needs may be sacrificed to American electoral politics. What could be worse for America’s role in the world or for the image of democracy? Several authors in this issue address today’s unsettling international scene. Jeff Faux writes elegantly on behalf of social democratic values in global economics. Paul Berman argues artfully about the left and the war. Michael Walzer and his critics dispute vigorously the meaning of American empire.
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