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.
It is not much more than a year since the 2000 presidential election was finally decided, but it seems like an eternity. The Republicans have now accomplished what they were unable to achieve at the polls: They have gained decisive control of the national debate and virtually locked their agenda in place for years to come. The tax cut laid the foundation; then September 11 and the war on terrorism provided the functional equivalent of the Cold War. It is the Reagan formula all over again: tax cuts, huge increases in military expenditures, deficits, and the consequent exclusion of all the initiatives that liberals might offer.
Wartime generates violations of civil liberties.
Wartime justifies restrictions of civil liberties. So we have heard since
September 11 from people variously trying to explain or to defend
departures from standing protections of individual rights. A historical
perspective suggests, however, that we have reason for vigilance but not
for resignation about liberty's fate--and at this point no grounds for
believing doom is at hand.