Getting Beyond Politics as Usual


I'm writing this just a few days after the midterm elections, and the dust from the Great Democratic Revival—or was it the Amazing Republican Implosion?—has yet to settle. As the Democrats prepare to take control of both houses of Congress for the first time in a dozen years, it's not clear what sort of legislation to expect from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her crew, or what sort of interaction they'll have with President Bush and his chastened colleagues in the GOP.

Libertarian-leaning Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who cruised to re-election even as other Arizona Republicans got walloped at the polls, is upbeat, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that fiscally conservative Republicans will be able to reach meaningful compromises on immigration and tax cuts with the many "moderate Democrats" coming into office, because they are "genuinely cut from the same cloth we are." Maybe, maybe not. I suspect that most Reason readers will agree that a couple of years of good, old-fashioned partisan gridlock sounds pretty good right about now.

This much seems certain: As David Weigel underscores in "The Myth of the 'Values Voters'? (page 14), the Republican Party's governing strategy of pushing an ultra-conservative social agenda while jacking up spending is as played out as Rick Santorum's ability to win re-election in Pennsylvania. If Republicans expect to win back Congress—or hold the White House—in 2008, they'd do well to focus on Weigel's summary of the current political mood: "A lot of voters just want the government to leave them alone." No more botched wars, no more Terri Schiavo interventions, and no more out-of-control spending resolutions. Indeed, many of the victorious Democrats this time around—Montana's Jon Tester, who booted out incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, comes to mind—stuck to that basic script.

Something else seems equally ironclad and is on vivid display in the rest of this issue: While partisan politics remain extremely important, the biggest issues of the day hardly revolve around whether your senator or representative has an R or a D after his name. Julian Sanchez's cover story, "The Pinpoint Search" (page 20), explores fascinating and in many ways disturbing new technologies that will allow law enforcement agencies unprecedented access to our most intimate activities. Even hard-core libertarians are split on how best to respond to such a world. Marian L. Tupy (page 30) asks, "Is Liberalism Dead in Central Europe?," where authoritarianism is making a disturbing comeback. In "What We Believe" (page 58), Peter Bagge casts a gimlet eye on how Americans' susceptibility to hysterias dovetails neatly with a loss of faith in the Bill of Rights.

Katherine Mangu-Ward's "Space Travel for Fun and Profit" (page 38) reminds us of another truism, one especially important to keep in mind right after elections. The most interesting stuff always happens beyond politics. In detailing the burgeoning space tourism industry, she reminds us that in a free society the true visionaries have their sights set on bigger targets than winning public office.