September 11 will be commemorated this year as a day of national and private grief, but it is also a political anniversary. One year ago, the postCold War era came to an end and a new phase in our country's history began. What this new phase will be -- whether the September 11 attacks will stand as an isolated episode or initiate a longer and perhaps more dreadful chain of events -- we cannot possibly know. The past year, however, has already told us a great deal about the strengths and limitations of President George W. Bush's response to 9-11 and the definition that he has given to this new stage in our nation's life.
The dimensions of the collapse in the telecommunications industry during the past two years have been staggering. Half a million people have lost their jobs. In that time, the Dow Jones communication technology index has dropped 86 percent; the wireless communications index, 89 percent. These are declines in value worthy of comparison to the great crash of 1929. Out of the $7 trillion decline in the stock market since its peak, about $2 trillion have disappeared in the capitalization of telecom companies. Twenty-three telecom companies have gone bankrupt in a wave capped off by the July 21 collapse of WorldCom, the single largest bankruptcy in American history.
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.