Friday, November 18, 2005

Murtha, the War, and Getting Out

Before Thursday I had started to think some very counterintuitive thoughts for a progressive blogger type.

For instance, after initially rallying behind Harry Reid's Senate shut-down and call for phase II of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation on the use of pre-war intelligence, I'd started to wonder if that was really a good avenue for Democrats to go down. After all, what would such an investigation uncover that wasn't already known? Would the evidence of such an investigation amount to anything more than ambigous conclusions? And perhaps most importantly, would it do anything to improve the course of the conflict and situation in Iraq? Harry Truman's WWII committee on contracts, cost over-runs, and shoddy workmanship in the war effort had just this potential. But I wasn't sure raising anew questions about the intelligence and the use of the intelligence, among other pre-war decisions, was going to amount to much. And politically, was there a danger that such a strategy could in the end prove to be a case of Democratic over-reach, convincing many swing-voters Democrats were just out for blood rather than interested in a constructive solution to the war in Iraq and "war on terrorism" more broadly?

That the Reid Senate maneuver, among other things perhaps, seemed to have energized the White House and encouraged the administration's worst "dissent is unpatriotic" line of attack added to those concerns.

What's more, most Democrats had not really appeared to be offering an alternative course of action in Iraq as I could tell. What could Democrats say to the country about Iraq and what to do there?

The discussion of timetables, or the more radical idea of withdrawal, also hadn't convinced me on either policy or political grounds as being necessarily fruitfull. The "we broke it, we fix it" argument about the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq however over simplified, had a certain merit I couldn't ignore. And most of the Democratic apologies for their Iraq war votes struck me as being too little, too late, lacking a recognition of the propaganda effect that led to the war's approval by fearful Democrats worried about their next elections. Worst of all, the White House counter-charges, that at least some Democrats seemed to regard Iraq as just a much of a threat as the administration, while distorted, also seemed at least partly meritorous even if based only on narrowly construed and taken-out-of-context Democratic party statements.

But John Murtha's public stance yesterday, and the emotional power of his press conference calling for a withdrawal of the troops within, or beginning in at least six months, impressed me, especially given his hawkish background and previous support for the war. That Murtha wasn't Dennis Kucinich, or even John Kerry, made the declaration one of particular import.

And while most Democrats didn't publically jump on the Murtha bandwagon yesterday, it seems pretty clear to me, at least so far, that the Murtha statement was a bombshell, for both the White House just trying to regain its political footing, and for Democrats still trying to protect their national security credentials. While there may not be immediate movement on Murtha's proposition, I suspect it will continue to hang out there in the media stratosphere, serving as a marker of sorts, representing an alternative for the opposition party come election time, and as an item for the media to continually refer back to when discussing the latest war tragedy.

The Murtha call is a line in the sand. The idea of withdrawal has been put on the political map. It's been given credibility.

Now, will it matter?

The administration claims it is holding out for "complete victory" and won't "surrender". But what is victory? Would we know it if we saw it? The capture of Al Zaqari and the dismantling of "Al Qaeda in Iraq", or is the insurgency comprised of much more than this most recent boogey-man, eight of diamonds, deck card of hostile elements the administration once used as its measure of progress in routing the old Baathist regime?

Does victory mean the official establishment of an on-paper Iraqi military/police force? Or would it need to be a more substantive indicator?

And what of our long-term military establishment plans for permanent war bases in Iraq?

These are some of the questions that Murtha's declaration may help to lift back into the public debate on Iraq. And Murta's framework may soon prove the best response.

5 Deferments

Republicans on hawkish Democratic Congressman John Murtha, Vietnam Veteran

Da White House:

Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America. So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party. The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists. After seeing his statement, we remain baffled -- nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer.

Republican House Speaker, Denny Hastert:

I am saddened by the comments made today by Rep. Murtha. It is clear that as Nancy Pelosi's top lieutenant on armed services, Rep. Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans. To add insult to injury, this is done while the President is on foreign soil.

Four years ago, America as we knew it changed. The terrorists attacked our people and attacked our nation. Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives. Families were destroyed, and our children lost their sense of peace. On that day, we learned that we no longer had a choice. Failure to act -- and act strongly -- left our nation vulnerable to Osama bin Laden and his band of terrorist followers.

But now, Rep. Murtha and other Democrats want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world. It is unfortunate that this is all politics all the time. We need to have a strong consistent policy that will protect our men and women who are fighting to protect us overseas. We must not cower like European nations who are now fighting terrorists on their soil.

Republican House member, Geoff Davis

I think it's important to understand the political climate in which these shameful statements have been made. Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, as well as Abu Musab Zarqawi, have made it quite clear in their internal propaganda that they cannot win unless they can drive the Americans out. And they know that they can't do that there, so they've brought the battlefield to the halls of Congress. And, frankly, the liberal leadership have put politics ahead of sound, fiscal and national security policy. And what they have done is cooperated with our enemies and are emboldening our enemies.

Bush and Cheney:

Bush, traveling in South Korea, told reporters he agrees with Vice President Cheney's view that politicians who criticize the administration's handling of prewar intelligence are engaging in "dishonest and reprehensible...I expect there to be criticism," Bush said. "But when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that's irresponsible. They looked at the same intelligence I did, and they voted -- many of them voted -- to support the decision I made. . . . So I agree with the vice president."


I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"Two 'Bridges to Nowhere' Tumble Down in Congress"

Great headline isn't it? It's from the NYT and makes it seem like Congress defunded the infamous Bridges to Nowhere scheme in Alaska.

The story's first two paragraphs seem to confirm that result:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 - Congressional Republicans decided Wednesday to take a legislative wrecking ball to two Alaskan bridge projects that had demolished the party's reputation for fiscal austerity.

Straining to show new dedication to lower spending, House and Senate negotiators took the rare step of eliminating a requirement that $442 million be spent to build the two bridges, spans that became cemented in the national consciousness as "bridges to nowhere" because of the remote territory and small populations involved.

Um, but then we get to the third paragraph:

The change will not save the federal government any money. Instead, the $442 million will be turned over to the state with no strings attached, allowing lawmakers and the governor there to parcel it out for transportation projects as they see fit, including the bridges should they so choose.

What? But wait, it gets worse:

The bridges - a mile-long, 200-foot-high bridge connecting Ketchikan to a sparsely populated island and regional airport and a second one linking Anchorage to a port nearly two miles across an inlet - have been aggressively defended by Alaskan lawmakers, who said the projects would promote growth. They complained that their state had been maligned and were able to defeat a move in the Senate to direct the bridge money to hurricane relief.

Senator Ted Stevens, a powerful Republican from Alaska who had threatened to resign had the Senate shifted the money to the Gulf Coast, said Wednesday that he was resigned to the elimination of the requirement that the money go to the bridges.

So, what do we have here? Well, the official Bridges to Nowhere "earmark" was eliminated, but Alaska still gets all the money and can do with it what they wish--including spend it on the infamous bridges if they so desire.

And the money could still go to the Bridges, rather than to the Gulf Coast, which, you know, maybe could actually use the money.

So if you see this headline or something like it today, be sure to read the fine print.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Long Lost Brothers 2?

Maybe this is a better comparison.

Long Lost Brothers?

Is it just me, or do these guys look alike?

Adrian Rogers is Dead

Who's Adrian Rogers?

Glad you asked.

The Rev. Adrian P. Rogers, the three-time president of the Southern Baptist Convention who led a conservative takeover of the powerful denomination that helped usher in a resurgence of conservative Christians on pulpits and in politics, died on Tuesday in Memphis. He was 74.

His death was announced on the Web site of a ministry he founded, Love Worth Finding, He had cancer and pneumonia, according to The Baptist Press News.

Mr. Rogers, who used the honorific Dr. because of his many honorary degrees, was a riveting preacher who helped revive the fundamentalist Christian message that the Bible is to be regarded as literally true.

He took over leadership of the Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis in 1972 and built it into one of the nation's earliest megachurches, with a new suburban campus in Cordova, Tenn., and a congregation of 29,000. He retired as pastor in March.

His first election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, in 1979, was the turning point in the conservatives' battle for dominance over theological liberals and moderates - a battle that had been simmering for more than 15 years.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination, with more than 16 million members, and the second largest religious group in the nation, after the Roman Catholic Church.

"After World War II, some of our seminaries and our institutions took a turn to the left, a turn that the rank and file didn't take," said Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy and lobbying arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Dr. Rogers was part of that first generation of people who went to seminary and heard the Bible attacked in the classroom," Dr. Land said, "and resolved that when they got to a position of authority and influence, they would use it to try to bring the seminaries and institutions back into line with what Baptists have always believed about the Bible."

After Mr. Rogers's election, the conservatives never lost the presidency. He was re-elected president in 1986 and 1987, and he appointed committee members to replace the trustees who ran the denomination's six seminaries, national agencies and ministries.

Under the conservatives' control, the convention reversed course and became an opponent of abortion. It took controversial positions in favor of evangelizing Jews, boycotting the Walt Disney Company because of its gay-friendly policies, and asserting that women were mandated by the Bible to "submit" to their husbands. Mr. Rogers helped revise the Baptist confession of faith in 2000, which said that only men could serve as pastors.

"Rogers was the rhetorician of this movement," said Bill J. Leonard, a church historian who is dean of Wake Forest University Divinity School and author of "Baptists in America" (2005, Columbia University Press).

The takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention has been a model for conservatives in other Protestant denominations who are trying to wrest control of church institutions from their liberal-to-moderate wings, Dr. Leonard said.

Mr. Rogers was particularly involved in overhauling the Southern Baptist seminaries and curriculums, said Dr. Leonard, who was pushed out along with other moderates. He said that from 1990 to 1995, about 80 percent of the faculty members in the six seminaries either were forced out or took early retirement as a result of the conservative takeover.

Mr. Rogers, born in West Palm Beach, Fla., was a high school football star who said he heard his call to the ministry one day while lying face down on the field. He graduated from Stetson University in Deland, Fla., in 1954 and from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1958.

He is survived by his wife, Joyce, of Memphis; two sons, Steve of North Palm Beach, Fla., and David, a missionary in Madrid; two daughters, Gayle Foster, of Snellville, Ga., and Janice Edmiston of Arlington, Tenn.; and nine grandchildren.

In October, Mr. Rogers told The Florida Baptist Witness that out of everything he had accomplished in his life, "I think the part that God allowed me to have in the turning of the Southern Baptist Convention may have the longest-lasting effect and be the most significant."

In the NYT print version, there's a quote from James Dobson, on whose Focus on the Family board Rogers sat:

(Rogers) was "a staunch ally in the battle to defend biblical values in our culture."

Since I run this here blog I get to say what's important about this man and this article on his death. And what I find compelling is the reference by Richard Land that Rogers was among the first seminarians to find the bible "attacked" in the classroom.

I'm not sure how old biblical criticism is--it probably goes back at least to the apostalic era--but I imagine that the post-war era, when the young Rogers would have entered seminary, was a time when bible scholarship (which for fundamentalists is kind of a contradiction in terms) began to be taken more seriously. Certainly the theories of Charles Darwin, and the Scopes trial raised questions about biblical literalness that fundamentalists had long assumed were, um, gospel truth.

Since that time, scholars and theologians have continued to make great strides in uncovering many of the mysteries of how, when and why the books of the bible came to be written.

Richard Friedman, in Who Wrote The Bible, argues that the old testament reflects two strands of historical writing from two branches of the family of Abraham, the people of Israel's patriarch, who were separated when Jacob took his family into Egypt but who came to be reunited after the Israelite exodus experience. His theory supports those scholars who find in the Genesis creation story, seemingly two separate accounts (for more on this, please see Karen Armstrong's In The Beginning). Friedman contends this pattern of parallel bible accounts continues throughout scripture as the two histories of the people were woven together in an effort, after the Babylonian captivity, to create a united people.

Recent scholarship of the new testament has, if anything, been even more revealing. Among the more interesting theories of the origin of the gospel stories of Jesus are that they were written to serve as liturgical readings to supplement the readings of the Jewish Torah that took place in the synagogues (for more on this, please see Liberating the Gospels, by Bishop John Shelby Spong). More specifically, there is evidence to believe that the gospel accounts are ordered, not as strict biography or history, but in a pattern set to correspond to the readings affiliated with the various Jewish festivals. This is a pattern that even some conservative Christian scholars have come to accept, for instance in the book of John, who's text reveals an author seeking to show how Jesus replaced the various symbols and feasts of the Jewish cycle. Furthermore, it now also seems evident that Mark was the first gospel to be written, followed at least decade or more later by the writers of Matthew and Luke, who had Mark at their side as they constructed their accounts, but changed Mark's earlier account for specific purposes.

In any event, all of this is to say that this is some of the background involved in the fundamentalists' dispute with modernity and scholarship within the church itself. These in-depth scriptural studies have not always lent themselves to the demands of evangelism and the reassurance of "faith" required by many members of the church community, who have been taught, and many in the pews who want to believe, that the bible and the preacher shouldn't be questioned, the least of all my uppitty, elitist liberal scholars trying to undermine the gospel.

And this Rogers guy was apparently instrumental in purging the seminaries of this type of scholarship, or at least of those researchers whose findings revealed evidence the church would rather not know, or debate.

The end result is a church leadership that is meaner and more manipulative, and a church body that is more bitter, more narrow-minded, and less able to relate to the practices of an evolving world where reason and serious inquiry interfere with the demands of "faith".

As I've written previously, I think this is obviously a disturbing trend, both for the church and for those outside of it. For those in the church, and supposedly interested in the "truth", it seems worthwhile, even necessary to me, to subject the claims of the bible, or at least the claims of leading fundamentalists to a thorough examination, and to not be afraid to question long-held assumptions, even as the church becomes more defensive and critical of dissidents who aren't as willing any more to blindly follow their leaders.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"The Inspections Aren't Working"

Remember that line from the pre-Iraq-war days? That was what the administration and its allies pushed on us after they paid lip service to the idea of diplomatically resolving the U.S.'s dispute with Baghdad. The UN WMD inspectors weren't in the country more than a few hours before "the inspections aren't working" became the Republican talking point of the hour.

Thankfully, Matt Yglesias retrieves this important factor in the politics leading to the invasion in March 2003:

That notwithstanding, in order to appease Colin Powell and/or Tony Blair, the administration eventually found itself at the UN, sponsoring resolutions and offering ultimata. Thus, the ready-made preemption/prevention morass got dragged into yet another idea -- coercive diplomacy, where threats of war are intended to produce not war, but compliance with demands.

Unfortunately for Bush, Saddam unexpectedly wound up substantially complying with his demands and inspectors entered the country. It was here that we got the very most egregious dissembling about weapons of mass destruction. Inspectors were on the ground, not finding weapons, debunking certain specific administration claims, and asking the US for the rest of the evidence to substantiate all the big talk.

The hawks chose to portray this situation as proof that inspections "weren't working" because the (obviously incompetent) inspectors were failing to find the WMD facilities that "everyone knew" were there.

The other critical element in this strange debate (I say "strange" in the sense that I don't know why the administration wants to "go here"--they're only digging their grave a little deeper by keeping the pre-war "intelligence" issues alive) is that the war is going badly. If the Mission was in fact Accomplished in May, 2003, we wouldn't be having this discussion. But as Matt says:

There's a lesson or two in here about honesty, but first and foremost it should be a lesson about strategy. The war has not, shall we say, gone swimmingly, which is always a risk when you go to war. Nor did the intelligence -- even the parts of it the administration wasn't spinning, twisting, or otherwise sexing up -- hold up to scrutiny, which is also always a risk in the intel game. The result has been something of a fiasco across the entire spectrum of American power.

"The inspections aren't working." Of the misdirections, deceptions, half-truths, exaggerations, and propoganda we were subjected to in the aftermath of 9-11, the administration's running roughshod over the inspections process--and by extension, the UN and its disarmament team led by Hans Blix, an institution and individual that came to be ridiculed and trashed for their supposingly being duped by Hussein, and for not serving America's interests of the moment, was perhaps the worst of the lot. One can almost defend, by any means necessary, the need to force Iraq to open its operations to weapons inspections, as required by the various UN resolutions worked out in the ending of the first Gulf War. But to sabotage the inspections process itself so America's military machine could launch its Shock and Awe campaign was to assume the same tactics as other infamous nationalist and militant bullies have done, both in the last century, and throughout history.

And now that war has unraveled, the "intelligence" and political failures preceding the war have come into greater scrutiny. Well, better late than never.

If there's any consolation in this for Americans suspicious of its own country's future military ambitions (and some of the most patriotic of America's founders--Jefferson, Madison--worried of the effect of "standing militaries") it is this: the Iraq debacle has made future wars less likely, and the propoganda that fuels them, less believable.

And although the administration is firing on its Democratic critics, it has enough problems fending off opponents that were once its friends--former Colin Powell aide, Lawrence Wilkerson comes to mind--and members of its own party in Congress that want answers.

Update: The Rude Pundit has the "rest of the story" about those Democratic quotes before the war that the President quoted yesterday, here. But in any event, I agree with Josh Marshall that we Democrats shouldn't be embarassed or try to cover up any Democratic collusion in this matter. Let the chips fall where they may, as Josh says.

Let them dig through the transcripts. And if there's collateral damage among today's accusers, so be it. Let the facts get hashed out and the chips fall. There's only one side of this argument running scared from the truth. We know what happened. We were there. We all remember.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Monday Morning Quarterback

Redskins 35
Tampa Bay 36

Yes, yes, an excruciating, agonizing defeat. But I'm having a hard time being angry at the team or apocalyptic about its season prospects (playoffs!!!?? playoffs!!!?!?!). The killer was their not being able to get a first down when they had the ball at their own 20 with 3:46 left to go. Should they have run three straight times? As hard as it is to say right now with perfect hindsight, I think the answer is yes. They had been running well all day. They needed to run the clock down and avoid a mistake through the air. It was a sane strategy. They just didn't get it done. And their defense now has holes, largely because of injuries. They need Cornelius Griffin and Sean Taylor back, and Carlos Rogers healthy again. Next up: Oakland Raiders.

Vikings 24
Giants 21

Only consolation for Redskins loss was this strange Giants debacle at home against the Vikings, who didn't score a single offensive touchdown, yet sneaked out of New Jersey a winner against a team that hung 36 on us two weeks ago.

Ravens 3
Jaguars 30

I hope Ray Lewis and Ed Reed come back soon. I'm only a fair-weather Ravens fan, but this is getting ugly.

Jets 3
Panthers 30

The Jets aren't getting any respect on the field or in the New York Times sports section. The first two pages are dedicated to the Giants (who, admittedly, are now 6-3 and presumably playoff bound) while the Jets get relegated to the third and fourth pages. But its worse than that. The Giants got at least four different articles to the Jets measly two. Of course, if the Jets would win, that might help their case.

Mike Shanahan 31
Al Davis 17

I don't like it that the Raiders lost at home to the Broncos to drop to 3-6. That might make them a pretty angry team next week for the Redskins, who might be tempted to take them lightly. They shouldn't.

KC 3
Buffalo 14

What happened to KC's offense? I know Priest Holmes was out, but they still have Larry Johnson and Trent Green.

GB 33
Atlanta 25

Another weird game, or at least weird result. But then, if you have Brett Farve on your team, anything's possible.

Rams 16
Seahawks 31

Seahawks are finally making some noise, after the many years of Mike Holgrem's leadership and Matt Hasselback's QBing. Shaun Alexander having a career year. This team could be hard to beat in the playoffs especially if they have home-field.

Patriots 23
Dolphins 16

Won't the Pats just go away already?


This should be a very good game.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What the President Wants

It shouldn't be surprising that the president flipped out the other day, and went off haranging Democratics and other skeptics of his administration's Iraq policy.

But we should understand what the president, and in particular his "brain", and apparently his soul, Karl Rove, wants to accomplish by doing so.

What they want is to force the debate about the Iraq war off of the political agenda. Although Phase II of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation of the pre-war intelligence was tasked with analyzing the political uses and manipulation of that intelligence, the president and his allies, understandably, would rather that didn't precede, and in the event that it does, want to hamstring it ahead of time, by asserting that any such investigation is really fruitless at best, and traitorous at worst.

Nevertheless, while the president's new attack strategy will embolden his base, it will likely only inflame congressional Democrats, and attract even greater media scrutiny.

So, Bring It On.

The New Wedge Politics

Howard Fineman of Newsweek wrote a column last week about how Democrats were adopting a wedge strategy, pitting officials in the administration against one another in the aftermath of the Scooter Libby indictments.

Today, Alan Ehrenhalt, the executive editor of Governing magazine, has an NYT op-ed suggesting that the new Republican majority, much like its Democratic predecessor, is standing precariously on some critical fault lines, which last week's elections in California, New Jersey, and Virginia have partially exposed:

ONE thing we used to know for sure about the two political parties was that only one was really a party. That was the Republicans. They were a distinct minority in the country, but they did have a certain cohesion and a more or less consistent view of the world, built on a faith in limited government.

Democrats didn't have anything like that. They were a big, sloppy bundle of contradictions, a coalition of convenience in which Mississippi segregationists and Manhattan socialists pretended to have something in common. The only thing keeping them together was a desire to win elections and head Congressional committees. Sooner or later the sheer absurdity of it had to sink them, and it did.

Now we are entering a political era defined by a similar contradiction, except that the roles are reversed. Democrats are the minority party, but one that, for better or worse, consists of people and interests with a similar political and cultural language. Any differences in strategy and policy choice are essentially at the margins. On the issues that Democrats care about most these days - abortion, the role of religion, the war in Iraq - there aren't that many dissenters. The dissenters have left.

Republicans, meanwhile, have built a sprawling, wobbly tent in which libertarians, Christian moralists and suburban business owners all pretend to have similar goals. But as it was for the Democratic Party of 30 years ago, that tent is too flimsily constructed to stay up forever.
This month's election results don't suggest when its collapse will occur, but they offer a few clues to how it might happen.

Exhibit A is Virginia, where the Democratic governor-elect, Timothy M. Kaine, tore through the fragile Republican constituencies, winning almost every populous suburban county, even the conservative exurbs outside Washington and Richmond, and leaving his Republican opponent stuck with a rump coalition of rural diehards, Christian activists and anti-tax militants that lost by more than 100,000 votes.

Exhibit B is California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, tried to rally the majority that elected him in 2003, only to find that it no longer existed. Virginia was a Republican defeat; California was a humiliation. All four of Mr. Schwarzenegger's favored ballot measures, labeled as a package that would reform California politics, failed by substantial margins, driven to defeat not so much by the governor's tactical ineptitude as by his inability to construct a viable coalition of interests that cared about enacting it as much as the opponents, led by public employees, cared about defeating it.

But perhaps the most striking exhibit is Colorado, which passed Referendum C, a ballot proposition that suspends one of the Republican anti-tax movement's proudest national achievements: the 1992 state constitutional amendment forcing Colorado to return budget surpluses to the voters regardless of the fiscal climate or any perceived need for public investment.

Referendum C is the product of an alliance between the state's Republican governor (long a supporter of the amendment) and the Democratic House speaker. That partnership brought together organized education, Chambers of Commerce, suburban mayors, real estate developers and conventional labor Democrats, all of whom believed that the state couldn't meet its education and transportation needs while systematically emptying its treasury every year.

Left on the other side were a Christian right that didn't particularly care about the issue, some urban blue-collar populists and an anti-tax militia that lacked sufficient strength to be competitive.

Perhaps no one looked sillier in the aftermath of the Colorado vote than Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, who barnstormed against Referendum C and declared after the vote that Gov. Bill Owens, the referendum's chief supporter, had forfeited his future in national politics. Mr. Owens responded that he didn't want a career in national politics.

Indeed, it is Mr. Norquist's informal political alliance, what he calls the "Leave Us Alone" coalition, that points up the most serious rents in the 21st-century Republican fabric. Over the past decade, the coalition has grown from its original libertarian base to include Christian Right activists whose agenda of moral regulation represents a flat rejection of libertarian values. It is the modern-day equivalent of Bella Abzug, the New York feminist, and James Eastland, the Mississippi segregationist, attending Democratic conventions together in the 1960's. It is too ridiculous to last, and it won't.

The potential for schism in the unwieldy Republican ranks is nothing new; it goes back to the debate between libertarians and Christian moralists that played out in the National Review in the 1950's. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won a presidential election as head of a movement that improbably fused together disciples of Jerry Falwell and disciples of Milton Friedman. But all the factions could agree on the need for a tough stand against Communism, no matter what their differences might be over abortion or federal spending.

The danger to Republicans of life without an evil empire became clear in 1992, the first post-cold-war presidential election. In that contest, the dominant role of social-issue conservatives - especially at the national convention in Houston - led to the defeat of George H. W. Bush and the election of Bill Clinton as president.

Mr. Clinton made his mistakes, but he never failed to understand that the Republican alliance was tenuous and easily sundered, which is why he won two terms and would have won a third. Al Gore, utterly inept at exploiting the same vulnerabilities, still managed to outpoll George W. Bush by more than 500,000 in the popular vote in 2000.

What Republicans desperately needed after Mr. Clinton was an international enemy threatening enough to replace the Soviets, and by a remarkable turn of events, they soon had one. The terrorist attacks of 2001 not only unified the country for a brief time; they also gave the Bush administration a grace period of more than three years in which anti-terrorist rallying cries were sufficiently compelling to paper over factional and ideological differences that the party ultimately would have to confront.

The grace period has ended. The results in Virginia, California and Colorado are the first serious warning to Republicans that they now must deal with political life largely as it existed on Sept. 10, 2001, and for nearly a decade before that. They are a hyper-extended family whose members are starting to realize that they have very little to say to each other. The internecine arguments over the year's Supreme Court nominees and last week's House budget bickering only serve to underscore the discomfort.

None of this means that the Democratic Party will return to majority status any time soon. What it does suggest is that running against Republicans, in much of the country, is no longer the political equivalent of rocket science. It requires candidates who can find the torn places in the tent and then push through them. Bill Clinton knew how to do that; incumbent governor Mark Warner and his successor Tim Kaine learned how to do it in Virginia. John Kerry never quite figured it out and didn't become president.

It remains to be seen whether the next Democratic applicant for the job will grasp the opportunity. But it is there for the taking.

There's much that can be said about this column, but the important thing is the suggestion, or at least implication, that future Democratic prospects will probably have more to do with how well the party can drive wedges in the Republican coalition, and that will depend in large part, on the sectional politics of particular regions, and the specifics and timing of local conditions. In other words, progressives dreaming of a comprehensive, ideological strategy to take back the country, are probably going to have to learn to be content with simply fracturing the Republican base(s). It may not be sexy, but it will probably have to do.

The old Democratic New Deal majority was based primarily on three crucial elements that are largely no longer operative: the solid south; labor unions; and urban political machines.

The solid south is not only gone, it has completely flipped sides. At the national level, labor unions are basically dead, although they may exert some influence at the state and local level from time to time (see California). And the mythical urban machine is defunct, although cities continue to provide a large plurality, if not majority, of the party's votes.

With the old Democratic majority dead and buried, progressives will need to consider new strategies to exploit the current regime's weaknesses and contradictions.

Although I'm not as sanguine as Ehrenhalt that the schism between economic libertarians and moral regulationists is as severe as it should seem on its face, it should be evident that the radical conservative view of government and society is unsustainable. Government can't be starved if it is to be even modestly viable for conservative aims. And the authoritarian ideals of the religious right are inconsistent, even hostile to the most basic values of pluralism, democracy, and popular sovereignty.