Excuse me, but we've been here already. Before our Compassionate Conservative-in-Chief bumbles any further toward diverting billions of dollars from the existing budget to create "enterprise zones" and an ownership society in the Gulf Coast for people who didn't invest their wealth justly in the first place, he -- and liberals, too -- might study how New York City rose above devastation as bad as New Orleans' before September 11. Only hard-won syntheses of left and right got New York beyond the old shouting matches in which each side was right only about how the other was wrong.
Ranting like yours against capitalism is so over, a vaguely neoconservative friend and writer of learned essays chided me last winter as I ranted, indeed, against proposals to privatize Social Security. Recently, another writer-acquaintance, David Brooks, chided French and Dutch voters for rebuffing higher living standards (more jobs and consumer goods) by refusing to ratify the European Union's proposed constitution, in an effort to defend their outmoded social-welfare networks and their ineffable quality of life.
Here I am, three days after this election, teaching a seminar on "New Conceptions of American National Identity" at Yale, where George W. Bush, John Kerry, and I overlapped as undergraduates in the late 1960s. Surely I will have to tell my students how Bush has revived an old conception of our national identity that depends heavily on notions about free markets and spiritual salvation that are necessary but nowhere near sufficient to sustaining republican freedom.
If some of us anti-Bush Americans seem on the verge of a nervous breakdown in these final days, it's not necessarily because John Kerry is our heart's desire or even because George W. Bush and Co., under cover of fighting terrorism, are spending the country into crushing debt that will drive the social compact back to the 1890s. Nor are we wrought up because a Republican ticket led by two former draft dodgers (as defined by every conservative Republican since the late 1960s, when both men did their dodging), has savaged war heroes like Max Cleland, John McCain, and Kerry himself.