Government Spending

Editor's Note: Four More Years…But of What?

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If history is any guide–a questionable assumption in a post?Cold War, post-9/11, post?Dan Rather world in which many of the old verities seem as unreliable as the dodgy newsman's secret memos–George W. Bush has anywhere from six months to two years before his second term is completely mired in a scandal that will be as unpredictable as it is agenda-crushing. (Really, who could have anticipated the irresistibly tawdry denouement to Bill Clinton's White House years?) No wonder Dubya is talking about using his "political capital" to jump-start a series of legacy projects. The son of a one-term president probably knows better than most that he's living on borrowed time.

I've never been a Bush booster. He spends too much money, plays loose with civil liberties, and, to my mind, failed to articulate a persuasive case for war in Iraq. But so far I've been impressed with the things he's been talking about doing during the next four years, especially tax simplification (always a good idea), immigration liberalization (ditto), and Social Security privatization (though the plan he apparently has endorsed for this is puny and insignificant). It's far from clear that Bush will accomplish much before scandal–or the equally inevitable and debilitating lame duckness of a second termer–kicks in.

In "Four More Years!?!?!" (page 22), we asked a series of pundits and pols to reveal their hopes and fears about the next four years. It says something that most participants–ranging from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) to former reason Editor Virginia Postrel to Nobel Prize winner Vernon Smith to ACLU President Nadine Strossen–express ambivalence about Bush's agenda, his ability to get things done, or both. This much is certain: If Bush helps deliver anything approaching democracy in the Middle East, his legacy will be nothing short of monumental. The stakes certainly are high. As Contributing Editor Michael Young–the opinion editor of Lebanon's Daily Star, the most important English-language paper in the Arab world–writes, "Otherwise the Iraqi adventure will have been a spectacular waste of life."

Other stories in this issue also raise what might be called legacy questions. In "Our Forgotten Goddess" (page 46), Senior Editor Brian Doherty discusses Isabel Paterson, the largely forgotten literary critic who hugely, if indirectly, influenced the contemporary libertarian movement by arguing that human freedom is a precondition for human flourishing. Assistant Editor Julian Sanchez argues that the great contribution of controversial sexologist Alfred Kinsey, subject of a new movie and novel, was to radically individualize sexuality ("Doctor Sex, Ph.D.," page 60). And in an interview that begins on page 38, Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash and The Baroque Cycle and one of the most imaginative and insightful voices in contemporary American letters, explains why Leibniz, Newton, and the Age of Enlightenment may be even more important to the next four years than anything George Bush pulls off in a second term.