Editor’s Page

Editor’s Page

Iraq is not Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson sacrificed a popular majority and promising social reforms to a futile war. George Bush – who won the presidency while losing the popular vote – and the leadership of Congress-which owes its legislative majorities to slim electoral margins-are using the prospects of terror and war to impose their conservative domestic priorities.

The threat of terror is real. Anyone who scoffs at it will lose moral and political credibility-and ought to. But I don’t see how the threat of terror is met by a pledge of allegiance to tax cuts geared to the wealthy. Unlike most of my Dissent colleagues, I support the use of force against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. (Read the differing views in this issue’s symposium on Iraq). But I can easily imagine (and sympathize with) a young soldier who asks, “If I must risk my life, perhaps sacrifice it, why isn’t paying a fair, proportionate share for the public weal also part of patriotism? Just who sacrifices what in the name of citizenship?”

New York City, the site of Ground Zero, has a budget gap of about $6 billion; California’s is $21 billion. If Congress would freeze federal tax cuts for the top one half of one percent of taxpayers, it could save some $600 billion in the next two decades (as Gene Sperling, the former Clinton adviser, pointed out recently in the Washington Post). It’s something to think about as the Department of Homeland Security is established concurrent with tax cuts. It’s something Democrats ought to address loudly and persistently (read Michael Tomasky’s smart analysis of the post-election Democratic Party).

During the Second World War, Britain’s Conservative prime minister, Winston Churchill, invited the Labour Party into his government and had to take account of its concerns. I don’t really expect Churchillian gestures, even in this precarious hour, by America’s ruling Republicans. But if they made them, they would include a freeze in tax cuts, real compromise on judicial appointments, and an end to talk about privatizing Social Security. As Bill Clinton appointed a Republican to be defense secretary, so George W. Bush could appoint a Democrat to the cabinet. The position of attorney general would be my first choice. (John Ashcroft could announce that he is sacrificing his job for the national good.)

If this last suggestion is a bit implausible, what about establishing a new post, say, Special Deputy Attorney-General for the Protection of Civil Liberties in War Time, and appointing a liberal Democrat to it? Perhaps a parallel appointment could be made in the new Department of Homeland Security. The alternative to patriotic piggybacking is domestic multilateralism.

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