Editors' note: Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who passed away yesterday at age 89, contributed several articles to the Prospect over the years, in addition to serving as a founding sponsor of the magazine. His last piece, written for the December 2004 issue, foresaw the ruling GOP coalition's swift post-election demise.
Alan Brinkley's illuminating piece is right in concluding that the “only real option” for Democrats is to convert Republicans (and, presumably, independent voters) into Democrats. He sees years of hard labor before this can be accomplished. I am more optimistic. I think that the lethal Republican combination of hubris and incompetence will expedite matters, but only if the Democrats are prepared to step into the breach.
The true significance of the disputed 2000 election has thus far escaped public attention. This was an election that elevated the popular-vote loser to the American presidency. But that astounding fact has been obscured: first by the flood of electoral complaints about deceptive ballots, hanging chads, and so on in Florida; then by the political astuteness of the court-appointed president in behaving as if he had won the White House by a landslide; and now by the effect of September 11 in presidentializing George W. Bush and giving him commanding popularity in the polls.
Liberals may well wonder where we go from here. An ambiguous and questionable election, a president who ignores the fact that he lost the popular vote by more than half a million, a cabinet of corporate retreads and right-wing ideologues, a near statistical tie in Congress--all this creates a tricky terrain on which to maneuver.
The startling collapse of communism, not with a bang (except in Romania) but a whimper, presents the democratic world with a new array of challenges. For the United States, an age of military competition with the Soviet Union is coming to an end. In its place looms a new age of economic competition. The chief rival is no longer the communist foe that has preoccupied American policy for forty years. The chief rivals today are, ironically, the nations the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union defeated in the Second World War -- Japan and Germany -- now the most dynamic and thrusting economic powers on the planet.