We devote this issue almost entirely to American politics, looking back to the disputed presidential election and forward to the administration of Bush II. The mix of articles is incomplete; we can’t cover everything at once. But the pieces add up; they make for some necessary self-reflection. The rest of the world, for the moment, is slighted.
There are four points that we begin to address here, and will continue to deal with. First, the most extraordinary fact about the election and the current political scene is that half the people are absent. The two parties have agreed among themselves to compete for 51 percent of 50 percent of the electorate. But the left should not accept that agreement, just as we should not make our peace with the more general decline in political participation and organizational membership. Who are these people who have withdrawn from, or declined to enter, or (as Ruth Rosen suggests) been excluded from the political arena? In the book section, Tom Edsall provides a useful, and sure to be disputed, account of the actual electorate. We also need to think about the potential electorate. n Second, an election that produced a statistical tie might be expected to lead to a centrist, assiduously bipartisan government. But I am fairly sure, and most of our writers agree, that Bush II will construct a centrist façade and serve as a front for a hard-right administration. His proposed tax cut is one of the purest pieces of class interest legislation that we have seen for years. And look for a sustained and serious campaign against the labor movement, which was Bush’s most effective opponent last November. Would that the Democratic champions of “working Americans” had similar courage in defense of their presumably different convictions!
Third, the courage of the Democrats is a real issue. They will continue to be strongly tempted to play the bipartisan game. But what we most need at this moment is partisan politics. The country is deeply divided, and the Democratic half probably has the greater chance for growth over the next decades. Al Gore’s voters came from segments of the population (new immigrants, for example) likely to expand. But to seize this opportunity, the party has to play for bigger stakes than 51 percent of 50 percent. n Fourth, the Greens made a difference, and so we have to rejoin the old leftist debate about third parties, as Sean Wilentz, Todd Gitlin, and Ellen Willis do with admirable energy. Because of the difference the Greens made, they may not be much of factor in 2004. After four years of Republican environmentalism, any Democrat is likely to look good. Still, given the current leadership and programmatic posture of the Democratic Party, the question of thirdness won’t go away.