Only a short time ago the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, whoever that might be, seemed to face two possibilities: losing to George W. Bush by a respectable margin or being wiped out in a colossal landslide. Such dismal prospects, if they had persisted into next year, would have hampered Democratic fund raising and put the entire 2004 ticket at risk of being overwhelmed by a spiral of despondency and self-fulfilling expectations of defeat.
Affirmative action in higher education is almost certainly on its way back to the Supreme Court in the wake of contradictory appellate decisions about racial preferences in admissions. Ten years ago it seemed that the Court might strike down affirmative action altogether in public universities. While that conceivably could still happen, the political context has substantially changed, and the outcome is now more likely to be an adjustment of policies in support of diversity rather than their abrupt reversal. And for that blessing we have to thank the interplay of demography and politics and a subtle shift in American ideals.
The sources of moral anguish are entirely different, and some on each side may reject -- and even resent -- the comparison. But as Catholics confront a sex-abuse scandal in the Church and Jews agonize over events in Israel, there are striking parallels between the moral crises the two groups are experiencing.
History seems to have cheated us out of the freedom from anxiety we expected after the Cold War ended. When the Soviet Union collapsed, no power on earth appeared capable of threatening our security. And for a decade, until September 11, we enjoyed the happy illusion that we had safely arrived in a future that belonged entirely to America. The shattering of that idyll may explain why so many of us who suffered no direct loss last September nonetheless feel we did lose something we had counted on. Victory in Afghanistan has scarcely put to rest anxieties about terrorism; the war, we are told, will move on to its next phase as America gears up for a long struggle with shadowy enemies.