The Toxic Vibe at Antietam

A view of "Bloody Lane" from the observation tower.

Every Civil War battlefield is poignant, preserving within itself a base, murderous vibe.  Each speaks to us in its own way of American folly.  Nowhere is the vibe more toxic than at Antietam.

What led Americans to murder one another there in record numbers?  They had lost patience over a complex problem that they failed to solve politically, and each set of murderers would be damned before they would see their opponents prevail.  And so they were.

In a quiet corner of rural Maryland just off the Potomac River, legions of Union and Confederate soldiers—Americans all—converged in cornfields and country lanes outside Sharpsburg, shooting, bombing, and bayoneting one another in a merciless bloodbath.  It was just one day in a civil war that lasted four years and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men, scarring their families and traumatizing a proud, optimistic nation.  There in the vicinity of Antietam Creek, on September 17, 1862, some 23,000 Americans were wounded or killed.

Masses of dead Americans lying in a field after Antietam in 1862

They were the victims of party politics.  The lofty language Lincoln and others used to give meaning to the Civil War tends to obscure the truth that the war was a travesty, a rebuke to the pretensions of republican government.  The Civil War was the nasty afterbirth of a colossal political deadlock that upended the political system and plunged the nation into catastrophe.  We rarely acknowledge the deeply shameful character of this domestic rumble. The nation’s leadership class so failed the people that at last they and their states lost patience, gave up negotiating, and gambled on settling their differences by force.

When the Civil War broke out, the United States was a young, forward-looking nation.  Its people were migratory and accustomed to risk.  They were experimental, improvisational, adept at breaking with established ways.  Yet, when it came to slavery, their leaders were blinkered.  They were irresponsible and cowardly.  (Historian James G. Randall once dubbed them “the blundering generation.”)  In the first half of the 19th century, when other countries were advancing toward the gradual abolition of slavery (often in their colonial possessions), a generation of American leaders proved incapable of finding a peaceful way past white Southerners’ longstanding reliance on negro slaves.

An enormous literature catalogs the reasons these “antebellum” statesmen failed.  Slavery was deeply rooted in the South’s colonial past. The slaveholding class perceived owning “property” in slaves as vital to Southern prosperity, which was based on export commodities (chiefly tobacco and cotton).  White Southerners also enjoyed more than their fair share of representation in Congress, thanks to the three-fifths clause of the Constitution.

Northern politicians meanwhile turned a blind eye to slavery (the “peculiar” institution), in part because of the North’s own variety of anti-black feeling, but also because agitating for change with respect to slavery threatened the solidarity of the political class across the North-South divide.  No one in power could envision the US with a large free black population.

Northern Democrats, whose party was pro-slavery, were keen to steer clear of the slavery issue because they wanted to remain in power.  They wanted their party to remain dominant and keep control of the White House.  They were committed to preventing the federal government from infringing on the rights of slave-holding states or individual slaveholders.

In short, until the rise of the Republican Party in the late 1850s, slavery was an uncomfortable issue that no mainstream politician wanted to face.  Slavery, that “fire bell in the night,” as Jefferson memorably described it circa 1820, was so potentially divisive a matter that, for many decades, American statesmen conspired to keep it from interfering in national life.

Politically, this strategy of avoidance allowed northern and southern states to enjoy a balance of power.  As territories were settled and new states admitted to the Union, Congress passed various measures in an attempt to ensure that the number of free and slave states would remain equal.  The Missouri Compromise (1820), the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 were all constructed along these lines.

When an initially tiny group of antislavery politicians succeeded in organizing the new Republican Party and putting their candidate Abraham Lincoln in the White House in 1860, Southern legislators were certain they knew what the future held.  They were convinced that the Republicans’ success (though attained solely with the support of Northern states) presaged slavery’s doom—and their own.  Southern leaders who might have stayed in power to mitigate the effects of this untoward political development, recoiled against their minority status.  Fearful and defiant, they withdrew from national politics.  Then they went home and convinced their states to withdraw from the Union.  In doing so, they placed themselves on the wrong side of history, failing their states and fellow-citizens, and spinning a narrative of bitterness and alienation that some Southerners continue to lean on today.

Suddenly, because of all that, the residents who had heretofore ferried back and forth across the Potomac on their daily errands became mortal enemies.  Confederates blew up the bridge at Shepherdstown, Virginia, that was normally used to get to the Maryland side.  Then, after the bridge was gone, tens of thousands of troops who were part of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia waded across the river at night to wage war in what was called the Maryland Campaign.

Lee sought to attack and defeat the Union Army on northern soil, but, even at this early point in the war, his soldiers and he may well have sensed the terrible futility and shamefulness of their resort to violence—the civic degeneration that “freed” them to attack their erstwhile compatriots, whose ancestors had fought with theirs to attain independence in the American Revolution.  Having disavowed their faith in federal politics and the Constitution, Southern “rebels” now poured their energies into slaughtering whomever they encountered in the “bloody cornfield.”

After both sides sickened from their atrocious duties, Lee’s forces retreated back across the river into rebel territory, an admission that their aggressive foray against the defenders of federalism had failed.

In retrospect, we can see how the visceral drama and valor of the Civil War took the heat off “the blundering generation.”  We do not excoriate the political establishment of that time for failing to hang together, for their cowardly abandonment of the federal system.

Because the Civil War at last secured the great goal of emancipation, we can easily be fooled into thinking of it as a noble, progressive event.  It’s blasphemy to admit the war was a terrible disservice to the nation, which would have been better off abolishing slavery by consensual means.  The partisan and sectional conflict leading up to the Civil War exposed frightening vulnerabilities in our Constitutional system, vulnerabilities that are still there, waiting for a freak combination of circumstances to exploit them again.

Sadly, the resort to force did not “settle our differences.”  A vast change in our internal relations occurred when slavery ended, but, as for the necessary change of heart, we’re waiting for it still.  Southern slaveholders never assented to slavery’s end.  Northerners never got serious about the concessions that might have induced the South to give up an immoral labor practice at odds with the nation’s ideals.  Ultimately, enslaved blacks attained freedom despite violent Southern opposition, engendering animosities that confound Americans still.  Still, America lacks consensus on racial equality as a fact and a blessing; still retrograde elements valorize their resistance to modern popular will.

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How Many Enemies Can Trump Make and Survive?

The list of powerful figures Trump has alienated, injured, and offended is growing.  Paradoxically, many of them are members of his own, rather than the opposing, party.  How many such enemies can Trump make and survive?

For more than a year, the GOP establishment has presented a “business-as-usual” facade.  Having tolerated the rise of candidate Trump, who vowed to wage war against the Washington establishment, leading Republicans have mainly tried to make lemonade out of lemons, sucking up to President Trump once he was installed.  House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prostituted themselves, claiming that the president and the GOP-controlled Congress shared the same values and political agenda.  Papering over their differences with Trump for the sake of personal and political gain, they collaborated instead of organizing a principled opposition to him on Capitol Hill.

Individually, some Republicans have spoken out against Trump: Jeff Flake, John McCain, Bob Corker, and Lindsay Graham come to mind.  Their criticisms, though brave, fall short of organized opposition.  As for Trumps’ former rivals for the presidential nomination—remember the legion of GOP candidates that included congressman Rand Paul and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz?—: despite Trump’s shameful treatment of them, these “leaders” have blended into the woodwork of the Capitol, as if to avoid further personal injury.  Republicans on the Hill who have followed the path of least resistance to Trump will go down in history as spineless, feckless cowards.

Belatedly, Republicans are beginning to reckon the costs of this unbecoming position.  Speaker Paul Ryan’s abrupt decision to leave Congress with no plan other than to spend time with his three teenage children in Janesville, Wisconsin, smacks of the political wilderness.  He joins some 36 House Republicans and 3 Senate Republicans fleeing the Hill.  The Republicans have not seen this level of quitting, according to Frontline, since World War II.

The question is, what will become of the free-floating political capital that these phalanxes of displaced and disaffected Republicans embody?  How long will it be before Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Flake, Paul Ryan, and their ilk find a new party model, or a new means of influencing a politics grown ever more chaotic and uncertain?   How long will it be before moderates of all stripes realize that it is very much in their interests to unite?  The GOP is becoming a Trump casualty.  Will its survivors stand against their destroyer now?

A Noteworthy Day in Politics

Tuesday, January 9, was a noteworthy day in politics, particularly if viewed with the question of Trump’s re-electability in mind.  On three different fronts, events cautioned against writing off or underestimating the president, whose manners and morals Americans rightly revile.  In other eras, the president’s lack of virtue would have posed an insuperable obstacle to his attaining office, but this is a more easy-going time, when Americans temporize more and cut others more slack when it comes to low and disreputable behavior.  Indeed, the cynicism that has prompted many formerly disapproving GOP party stalwarts to support and collaborate with Trump, has given him a boost and a shot at political viability, that’s disturbing.  That Trump’s leading detractors within the GOP would be so willing to make common cause with him would have been difficult to foresee just one year ago.  Yet this cynicism is the cornerstone on which the GOP establishment will build its Trump-era achievements.

Click here for the audio version.

1. The market is booming

The Democrats have every reason to be afraid.  For what if, despite Mr. Trump’s bigotry and ineptitude, his White House ends up being associated with prosperity and peace?  Since his inauguration, the stock market has climbed.  On Tuesday, stock indexes again closed at or near all-time highs.  The major indices rose about 20 percent in 2017, meaning that everyone with money invested in the market is significantly richer than when Mr. Trump took office just one year ago.

Trump has taken other actions on the economic front that will become “credits” for him if “good times” continue.  He opted for continuity and moderation at the Fed in choosing Jerome Powell to succeed outgoing Fed chair Janet Yellin.  Trump can also take credit for the poorly crafted “tax reform” bill that Congress has passed, which will lower taxes for many Americans, at least through the next election cycle, after which many of the benefits will expire.  (Note the cynicism again.)

2. Inter-Korean talks

Tuesday brought news of a positive break in the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula.  With little fanfare, representatives of North and South Korea met face-to-face and agreed that North Korea would participate in the Winter Olympic Games, which will open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on February 8.  In the US, the evening news aired startling footage of delegations from the two sides, shaking hands and grinning after their meeting in the Demilitarized Zone.  It was the first such meeting since late 2015, breaking up a dynamic of deterioration that North Korea’s worrisome advances in proto-nuclear bomb testing had brought on.

Though North Korea’s desire to participate in the Olympics mainly prompted the meeting, it was symbolically and diplomatically important, resulting in “gains” for the Koreas and the Trump administration.  The sudden thaw in relations is a win for North Korea, in that it will be spared the humiliation and “invisibility” of being excluded from the international games (an exclusion that Russia, for example, will be suffering).  Inclusion is meaningful to all Koreans as a symbolic token of unification. It also allows the North to share in the gratification and global recognition that comes from South Korea’s hosting the games.  The South’s concession gives credence to the prospect of better North-South relations, which its new president, Moon Jae-in, has promised.

Amid the happy buzz of this inter-Korean detente, whom did President Moon credit but Donald J. Trump?  Moon connected the breakthrough to Trump’s blunt promise to wipe the North Korean regime off the face of the earth should it attempt a nuclear strike on the US or its allies.  For the past several months, Trump has engaged in nuclear brinkmanship.  Now, though, he can argue that it’s paid off.

3.  Cuing Congress on immigration reform

Above all, Tuesday’s unusual meeting on immigration reform, which brought Congressional leaders of both parties together at the White House, illustrates what makes the president so politically dangerous.  This meeting, which was novel in its conception and effects, was the lead story in a news-heavy day.  What made the meeting novel was that Trump instigated bipartisan discussion of the immigration issue right there on the spot.  Pledging to “take the heat” and sign whatever immigration reform bill Congress might come up with, he prompted a nearly one-hour discussion between Democrats and Republicans, who sparred back and forth as the television cameras rolled.  At the end of the meeting, participants emerged with consensus on the four broad topics that an acceptable bill must treat.  Mr. Trump looked presidential, in that he gave direction to his party and the legislature, while reminding the Congress that working out the details of legislation was its Constitutional role, not his.

Video of the event showed Republicans and Democrats in the same room, publicly and spontaneously working out a point of policy: just what is supposed to happen routinely in the House and Senate chambers, but which in fact has not happened there in decades.  The publicity that used to surround such spontaneous exchanges is the very thing that once gave serving in the US Congress such enormous prestige.  One can only hope that the ballyhoo surrounding Tuesday’s activities will inspire senators and representatives to revive their historic tradition of open and authentic deliberation.

Word has leaked out that, in the unrecorded portion of this meeting, Trump used vulgar language to demonize immigrants from Haiti and African countries.  The fact that Trump is both immoral and a nimble politician is precisely what his opponents must reckon with more aggressively.  He is inept, unacceptable, and embarrassing; he is also intent on transforming American trade and foreign policy and restoring American prosperity.  Trump’s opponents mustn’t be satisfied with denouncing his latest outrage: they must devote their attention to figuring out how to defeat this thick-skinned monster and his party at the polls.  Trump is a change-agent without a heart, and he will continue to hold power and rack up “successes” until those who oppose him figure out how to chip away at his base by offering viable alternative policies.

From a Person without a Party

Dawn under a cloud in Minneapolis.

I find it lonely, not being able to identify with either the Republican or the Democratic party.  I regret that they have left me behind.  Each is hurtling forward along on an increasingly weird and alienating rhetorical arc, becoming ever more oriented toward the constituencies who still find the establishment line urgent and interesting.  Both parties are curiously bereft of talent, of true leadership and direction.  I see no one I want to follow.  For the first time in my life, I feel that there is no one out ahead of the rest of us, articulating what we need to be doing, where we should be going now.  I look at the strange pass that the two parties have come to, at their increasingly desperate struggle for supremacy, and I wonder how much more time will pass before they collapse and fail.

What do I mean by a “weird and alienating rhetorical arc”?  In the case of the Republicans, I mean an opportunism and a style of revenge politics that is ignoble, unchristian, unpatriotic, and downright damaging to the nation.  Trump is too small a man to leave the sound policies of his predecessor in place, while Republicans in Congress, determined to destroy the Affordable Care Act, have shown a callousness toward ordinary citizens that few initiatives in American politics can match.  (Remember the heat Reagan took when he went after school lunches?)  In Alabama, voters for Roy Moore showed the same willingness to throw moral scruples aside for the sake of partisan advantage.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, doubling down on the very points that doomed them in 2016, are blazing a weirdly alienating arc of their own.  Democratic-leaning commentators are back to reading poll-numbers like tea-leaves.  They have not gone out to get to know the “fly-over zone.”  They are back in their privileged haunts, pontificating.  In the face of Trump’s victory, and given the many heinous aspects of the President’s behavior, the Democrats have found an excuse to ignore the legitimate frustrations of Trump’s voter base.  That Democrats need to win over some of these voters hasn’t kept them from behaving like patronizing snobs.  Democrats who believe they can write off the white vote, or the rural vote, or the vote of people who are working-class and uneducated, are as callous and provincial as their Republican foes.  Circumstances have thrust Democrats in a defensive posture.  If they can’t break out of it and review what America needs, they’ll be in big trouble in 2018.

Personally, I expect to remain ambivalent about the parties until I hear someone articulating a politics that is plausible, efficient, and broadly humane.  I want to hear from candidates whose interests are truly national: who have fresh ideas about wringing prosperity from our own resources while mitigating the degradation of the natural world.  I want to hear from candidates who want to beautify and uplift local economies, who care about bridging the urban-rural divide.  I want to hear from candidates about bringing immigrants out of the shadows, giving every inhabitant of our country a legal status, and controlling our borders in ways that are smart and modern.  I want to hear from candidates with new ideas about public schooling and work, who believe the US can become a new kind of “maker nation,” one whose future is more creditable and peaceable than its past.  Bring on a capacious and inclusive vision, and save us from the desiccated remnants ruling the republic now.

Unseen Fires

Flying west, I looked down on hundreds of miles of gauzy blue haze wreathing the mountains, which in time I recognized as smoke from forest fires.  Down there, something was raging: a cataclysmic process was underway, but from my vantage the details of the drama were lost, and what we classify as “a natural disaster” impressed me mainly as a profound, impersonal phenomenon, caused by forces of an epic scale.  Even after becoming aware that “something was wrong,” my primary response was awe, which, true to Burke’s famous observations on “the sublime,” was tinged with fear—appropriate given the danger and destruction unseen fires were generating below.

These were not the widely publicized forest fires sweeping Southern California, but spontaneous conflagrations in the northern Rockies, obscure fires that didn’t make the national news.  The sight of these unseen fires has stayed with me, supplying a metaphor for the state of the nation in 2017.  Despite the outwardly smooth operation of the federal government, political fires have periodically sprung up here and there, fires which must burn no matter how much Americans want to suppress them, no matter how much we tell ourselves these fires should not be.  These popular outbreaks, periodically rupturing the conventional veneer of the political order, point up a disconnect between our decrepit yet monopolistic party system and what ordinary Americans want and need.  Reckoning with the stunted and demeaning character of much of American life (let alone acknowledging it) is not exactly a priority on Capitol Hill.

Yet Americans’ unfulfilled cravings for respect and incorporation fueled many of the year’s top stories, including such diverse phenomenon as the #MeToo movement and the Charlottesville riots.  Sadly, as our political system becomes ever more consolidated into a national bureaucracy, picking candidates from Washington and funding them with outsider money, the need is ever greater for leadership that originates in and is oriented mainly toward the interests and distinctive character of localities.  Democrats looking for redemption could do worse than recommit themselves to the “reddest” and most woe-begone parts of the nation.  For only with good leadership at the local level will the dangerously divisive character of local culture wane.

Image: Aerial photograph of smoke from an unseen fire
in the Western US, @ 2017 Susan Barsy

One Day More: The Ground

Washington DC (Low aerial), © 2016 Susan Barsy

We set back our clocks, adding an extra hour to an already interminable election cycle, suspending for just a few more minutes the climactic process that will end tomorrow.  At last, there will be an end to a certain kind of theorizing.  Election Day will produce a snapshot of national sentiment.  A new political adventure will begin.

The presidential race has generated abundant evidence pointing to the topsy-turvy condition of the country, its leadership and parties.  On the PBS NewsHour, Mark Shields noted the strange inversion that’s occurring: whereas ordinary blue-collar Americans used to tip the scale Democratic in national elections, the Democratic Party has become the ‘upscale’ party, while blue-collar America is flocking to Trump.  David Brooks noted that the nation was already divided at the outset, but that those divisions have become more calcified in the campaign.  He went so far as to say that ‘people are just going with their gene pool,‘ an unfortunate measure of how ‘identity politics’ and a growing reliance on demographic categories (common in the social sciences) are encouraging evenly highly intelligent people to adopt an essentialized and racist view of American voters.

Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, captured the incipient re-alignment that appears to be happening.  She argues eloquently that the people Trump represents are not a ‘wing’ of the Republican Party, but a huge constituency that has broken off from the Republican Party already.  The Republican Party was living on borrowed time even before Trump came along, with events of the past fifteen years rupturing the identity of belief that used to unite the party’s base with its leaders.  The party will either have to reunite around a new constellation of ideas or end up in pieces.  Meanwhile, the Democracy, formerly the party of change, is now the party of cozy continuity.  While Sanders’ challenge to Clinton should have been a wake-up call to the party, it’s difficult to imagine its ideology changing much under a Clinton presidency.

Whether Trump wins or not, his candidacy has established that voters who want to stick it to the establishment and ‘the system’ are nearly a national majority.  As my husband put it, a ‘Republican revolution’ is happening.  Whatever Trump’s personal destiny, his views on trade, immigration, terrorism, and the need to push back against an overreaching government will likely be taken up and refined—in fact, if Politico is to be believed, they already are.  Ideologues who have the patience to tune ideas to the times should be listening to the electorate, which is clamoring for a form of small-state protectionism that neither the Republican nor the Democratic party currently affords.

Image: Aerial of Washington DC in November
by Susan Barsy

Should Republicans Dump the Tea Party?

Zachary Taylor uncomfortably balancing atop a scale filled with acrimonious legislators.
The answer is yes, unquestionably.

Dump the Tea Party, and the Republican Party may survive; the faction that is the Tea Party will die.

As it is, the Republican Party is imploding. Yes, on the surface, with Tea Partyiers included, the GOP looks like a majority party.  But what does it matter, when a party’s members cannot agree, when they cannot accomplish anything?

The paralysis gripping the House of Representatives tells the story.  Over the past few years, Tea Party intransigence has scuttled many constructive common-sense measures enjoying the assent of moderate lawmakers.  At the Tea Party’s insistence, the House has approved countless Tea Party-centered bills that then die because they are so far out of the established mainstream.  Americans want Obamacare; they want the federal government to continue to run; and, yes, Americans would rather have federal debt than to bring a protective Union to its knees.  Yet the Tea Party has striven again and again to demolish elements of federal governance that generations of responsible lawmakers and jurists have painstaking built up.

The speaker’s contest gearing up in the House showcases the dilemma of a party that cannot control or even influence its own destructive minority wing.

Yet some of the leading figures of this do-nothing faction are now gunning for the Presidency, figures like Mario Rubio and Ted Cruz, so naïve and uncooperative (and in the case of Cruz so despised by his Republican colleagues) that they are incapable of collaborative achievement.  Out of sync with everything but their own narcissism, these candidates would make poor presidents, since they haven’t a clue as to how to marshal party power.

Dumping the Tea Party would be painful for the GOP establishment but would leave the GOP free to forge legislation with centrists on the other side of the aisle.  In terms of presidential politics, a purge would reassure moderate voters, who might respond surprisingly positively to this disinterested gesture of patriotism and good will.

The Tea Party are anti-federalists whose views, goals, and tactics jeopardize the power and integrity of United States. Cut the Tea Party adrift, and be the Grand Old Party again.

Image: “Congressional Scales” (1850),
published by the firm of Nathaniel Currier, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Click here to go to the source.

The cartoon shows President Zachary Taylor uncomfortably balanced atop a scales filled with acrimonious legislators.  He holds two controversial pieces of legislation as weights.  Political opponents in the scales taunt one another, one declaring that ‘We can hold out as long as they can’; another that ‘My patience is as inexhaustible as the federal treasury.’

The GOP candidates debate on CNN

I expect Donald Trump’s support to wane slightly after last night’s debate.  Of the eleven Republican presidential candidates to appear, several of his rivals are likely to gain.

Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio pulled out strong performances; Chris Christie had some effective moments, too.

Scott Walker was allowed plenty of airtime but came off as bland; Mick Huckabee came across as pleading for our indulgence (he had least business being on the stage).  Ben Carson lost ground by relying too much on low-energy generalities.  Kasich had one or two strong moments but relied too much on his record of performance in Ohio and the Senate.  The demand was for vision, and a sharp take on policy.

The moderator, Jake Tapper, with occasional questions from Dana Bash and radio personality Hugh Hewitt, did a great job of keeping the three-hour debate focused.  It was a strenuous format.  Candidates were called on unpredictably.  Tapper shifted the topic of debate often and quickly, sometimes arbitrarily cutting off comfortable discussions.  By and large, candidates spoke spontaneously and avoided boring set speeches.  Ted Cruz and Scott Walker were the worst when it came to spontaneity.  Cruz, of all the major candidates, is the most personally unappealing.  And, although Fiorina came across as powerful and poised, she fell back on rehearsed remarks too much, both in her discussion of the military and in the closing.

It was fascinating to hear how the candidates varied.  Their discussions of the legalization of marijuana, of the consequences of US’s military involvement in Iraq, the Iran nuclear deal, immigration reform, and the role of the Supreme Court under John Roberts, were particularly revealing.  Only Rand Paul and Ben Carson resolutely refrained from saber-rattling.  The other candidates vied to out-do one another with violent promises.  Scott Walker promised that if elected President, he would undo the nuclear deal with Iran ‘on day one.’  Fiorina likewise asserted that we should have no dealings whatever with Vladimir Putin, a position that Bush, Trump, and Paul all used to draw a contrast.  Several of the candidates invoked Reagan, insisting that the US is strongest when engaged diplomatically with the world’s scariest players.

Trump claimed that he would restore respect for America and ‘get along with everybody,’ but, when asked about his limited knowledge of foreign affairs, said only that he would put together a first-rate team.  Bush pleaded, more effectively than did Kasich, for a foreign policy committed to multilateralism and steady global engagement.  When one of Bush’s rivals tried to attack his brother’s record after 9-11, Bush’s simple response, ‘he kept us safe,’ drew sustained applause.

Cruz’s worst moment came when he tried to disavow his one-time support for John Roberts, whom he now depicts as an arch-enemy.  Trump’s worst moment came when he tried to compliment Carly on her beauty.  He also failed to summon a convincing reply when Bush accused him of having tried to get concessions on casino gambling from Hillary after giving her campaign money.

Bush’s best moments came when he admitted having smoking pot forty years ago, when he argued for a nuanced approach to immigration, and when, in the debate’s closing moments, he threw out the goal of propelling the US toward a high-growth-rate economy.  Marco Rubio showed his command of a rational immigration reform plan, but looked callow when he proclaimed that he had missed votes in the Senate because (essentially) the entire direction of Congress is mistaken.  His announced determination to leave the Senate in order to seek the presidency shows how unprepared to be president he really is.

All in all, the debate was refreshing in its breadth and intensity.  In the press of competition, the candidates, desperate to differentiate themselves from one another, came across quite candidly.  The bracing back-and-forth of this, the second GOP debate, casts into relief the dangerously lackluster character of the Democratic field.   A Democratic contest between Hillary and Bernie is going to make for poor entertainment indeed.  For now, the energy is with GOP field.

The Democratic Party of my dreams

I’m still waiting for a breakout Democrat to cast the party along new lines. I’m tired of the old Democratic party, which still plays identity politics, makes bad bargains with public resources, and is generally very loose with money. I’m tired of big government that’s inefficient and behind the times.  I want a small powerful government that does things well.

I’m waiting for a new Democratic party to come along, that’s resolutely focused not on unions but on all who work.  Most workers are not, and may never be, organized.  For their sake, the party needs to demand corporate responsibility and corporate investment in our citizens and our native economy.  I’m waiting for a new party that cares about industry and sustainability, that’s ardent and uncompromising about making high-quality, next-generation goods here in the States, and that believes in the collective capacities of the citizenry to take the US economy higher.

I’m waiting for a party that’s proud of universal health coverage, that insists on quality public education, and favors everything local and green.  I want a party that’s candid about globalism’s dark side.  That wants to curtail immigration sharply for a while, in order to take into account all who are here, strengthen our civic fabric, and restore American citizenship’s prestige.

I’m waiting for Democrats who will demand peace: who will foreswear the siren song, the illusory notion that we can ever really “protect American interests abroad.”  I’m waiting for a party that will respect the sovereignty of other nations and that’s clear-eyed enough to refrain from unending militarism abroad.

I’m waiting, and I’m sure that a large population waits with me.