Containment or rollback? Of the Republicans, I mean—not communism in the 1950s. It is a question about the (happy) results of the midterm elections. Were they just a vote against George W. Bush or do they represent a decisive shift in the orientation of Americans? Has conservatism been contained or has the American center, which moved right in recent decades, shifted ground? In one way, it doesn’t matter. Bush’s Washington gave us the Baghdad Botch, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the Katrina Calamity, disinvestment in America’s future (aka “tax relief” for the top percentiles), an effort to privatize Social Security, a pharmaceutical reform that is the Medicare equivalent to three-card monte, and non-treatment of our ailing health care system. So voters opted for Democratic checks—both the reality and institutional kinds—on Republican governance.
It is not enough. Americans are disenchanted by the Iraq War, but they aren’t re-enchanted by liberalism. Polls show that only 27 percent of them call the vote a Democratic mandate, while 64 percent say only that it repudiates Republican leadership. Just 13 percent ascribe Democratic victory to support for Democratic programs, only 16 percent to opposition to Republican programs, but 63 percent to anti-Bush sentiment (CNN/Opinion Research Corporation). Studies show no great ideological shifts between 2004 and today: about a fifth of Americans identify as liberals, a third as conservatives, and the rest in the middle. Washington’s new Democratic majority comes from a Rahm Emmanuel/Howard Dean axis. Left success in these volatile times depends on keeping “centrists” and liberals together, lest the former (or significant percentages of them) shift Republican again, and then on moving the center leftward. Frances Fox Piven and Michael Walzer present differing views of the left on this issue.
Some of the toughest questions will concern foreign policy. Consider Iran’s aggressive ambitions. Here is a militant theocracy pursuing nuclear weapons, calling for genocide against a member of the UN, and seeking hegemony in a rattled region. It’s rattled, in part, thanks to disheartening U.S. policy. The United States has a long record of stumbling when it comes to Iran. Think of Washington’s support for the 1953 coup. Remember the utter incompetence of Jimmy Carter’s policies. In this issue we publish a remarkable speech made in Tehran by Joschka Fischer, Germany’s ex–foreign minister. He presents the stakes with candor. In addition, we feature a symposium on Iran and the West. The problems raised in the symposium have frightening implications. People on the left need to be thoughtful and not clichéd in approaching them. See Fred Halliday’s critical article on the romance of some leftists with Islamic extremists—the jihadism of fools. Not that there are wise holy wars.
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