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Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 2001 / 18 Kislev, 5762

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Winners and losers --
THE war against terrorism has changed America, and American politics, in ways that are still hard to understand. A widely circulated memo by Democratic consultants James Carville and Stanley Greenberg argues that Democrats in 2002 will benefit from "dominant themes and values that have emerged since September 11-unity, coming together in community, country, seriousness of purpose, and freedom of choice."

Some Republican strategists argue that their candidates will benefit from the focus on defense, foreign policy, and national strength. Polling shows that Republicans don't share Bush's stratospheric job ratings and that incumbents of both parties have higher job approval than before September 11. Republicans have slightly more incumbents in both House and Senate races, and so far there's no evidence of significant change in the excruciatingly tight partisan divide.

But the war has increased respect for some groups and their ideas and decreased respect for others, with clear implications for politics. Two losers are groups that held veto power in the two parties in the 1990s-the religious right and the feminist left.

In a struggle against those who seek to impose their religious views by force and terror, a shadow is cast on the religious right, even though its methods are democratic and its goals consistent with American rights. On September 13, the Rev. Jerry Falwell said that "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way . . . helped this happen." After a storm of criticism from conservatives and liberals alike, he apologized. But the religious right's effort to get government to buttress its moral principles still seems suspect as we contrast American freedom with Islamist intolerance.

Out of sync. The feminist left-discredited by its hypocrisy in decrying sexual harassment when it was allegedly committed by Republicans and condoning it when it was plainly committed by Bill Clinton-was critical of the Taliban for its treatment of women pre-September 11. But after, prominent feminists opposed military action and called for conciliation-a response as out of sync with popular opinion as Falwell's. It seems less important now to insist, as feminists did in the Tailhook scandal, that carrier pilots not horse around with willing female colleagues and more important that these pilots know how to use their machines to destroy the enemy.

The war in Afghanistan has emphasized society's need for the masculine virtues long scorned by feminists: military and technological prowess, which has been helping win the war. Soldiers and high-tech innovators have gained prestige. Those who embody the feminine virtues of conciliation and compromise-counselors and therapists-and the manipulators of words-lawyers, the media-have lost prestige. The war has weakened the liberal notion that all issues are complex and require the ministration of credentialed experts, but it has strengthened the conservative idea that big issues require moral clarity and decisive action. It is a time for the sharp moral clarity of George W. Bush, not the dazzling manipulation of words of a Bill Clinton.

The war has also weakened the multiculturalists who want to keep us apart. The victims of the September 11 attacks, the rescue workers who chanted "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" when George W. Bush first went to ground zero, hailed from every ethnic and racial group. Much more important, they were all Americans. Watching on television, Americans instinctively recognized that our differentness is one of the things that make us the same. In particular, Latinos, who the multiculturalists hoped would become an adversarial proletariat, are now proudly flying the American flag and volunteering for military service. This war may turn out to be an annealing event for them, as World War II was for Italian-Americans, an opportunity to prove that they are an integral part of this country.

This has been a bad war for the campus left and, at least at first, for the press, which have long taken an adversarial attitude toward the military and middle-class society, though the press's increasingly patriotic tone is improving its ratings. The war has taken the edge off antigovernment sentiment. But a war whose success is due to high-tech machines and highly flexible special forces may not increase support for a lumbering program like the current Social Security system. An increased respect for masculine virtues, for the warrior spirit and technological competence, an increased sense that for all our ethnic differences we are all Americans-these could help Republicans and help change Democrats.

Michael Baone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2001, Michael Barone