The elections presage troubling times in American life. The Republicans certainly triumphed. But their claim to a “mandate” for a zealous agenda is, if unsurprising, reckless-especially in wartime. They are bad winners when they prevail, but no less than when they lose, as George W. Bush did the popular presidential vote in 2000. They proceeded as if they had a popular mandate four years ago. Now they proceed, with smug surety, as if they need not heed the 48 percent of the electorate that voted Democratic (and which, presumably, lacks “values”).
“I earned capital in the campaign,” declared the president, “and now I intend to spend it.” No malapropism here, just translation of the ballot into a business venture-an interesting exercise in democratic “values.” As to spending, well, other values-the sort you might find in our pages-could lead you to pose some questions and connect dots: Spend just what on whose behalf? Does this president’s idea of tax “simplification” simply mean more for those who have the most and “sorry, no budget” for those who have less? Will privatization of Social Security ensure American well-being in coming years any more than, say, faith-based vaccines will protect us from flu this winter?
Consider: Republican John Thune, South Dakota’s new senator, is a creationist. Will this earn him a seat on the Science, Technology, and Transportation Subcommittee? (Should creationists be given responsibility for the Department of Homeland Security’s research into biological terrorism?) His party comrade, senator-elect Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, supports the death penalty for physicians who perform abortions-a “pro-life” position. Newly-elected senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina wants to bar single mothers from teaching (“values” surely dictate that they earn their virtue, I mean living, as maids for married parents). Did “values” persuade the GOP House majority to repeal its rule against assigning leadership roles to congressmen indicted for felonies (their leader, Tom DeLay, is under criminal investigation). When these conservatives inveigh about “values,” they are usually reaching for their dogmas . . . or a political prophylactic.
Dissent magazine, a quarterly, doesn’t try to cover elections the way weeklies and monthlies do. Our job differs. It demands some immediate observations, but we also take a little time for deliberation. So our Spring issue will bring considerations about the unhappy state of post-election politics. This issue presents articles that address some important, abiding concerns: Clifford Geertz examines the idea of the third world revolution; Andrei S. Markovits analyzes the trajectory of the European left; Joseph A. McCartin argues for “democratizing the demand for workers’ rights”; Susie Linfield explores the obscene “dance of civilizations” revealed by the scandal at Abu Ghraib; and we continue ...
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