Saturday, April 30, 2005

China futures

“A high oil price will damage markets, and he knows that,” President Bush proclaimed this week following his meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The image was unseemly and troubling. President Bush walking hand in hand with the robed monarch as they strolled down a path at his ranch, beseeching the Saudi's aid in alleviating oil price increases that are threatening to stall the U.S. economy and ground his presidency. The tension was palpable as the Saudis--vilified as the home of the 9/11 terrorists and the global financiers of militant Islam--have little reason to placate the United States, or even this President with his family ties to the Royal Family. After all, it is the Bush Doctrine that threatens the legitimacy of the House of Saud, and the riches and privileges of a clan that was just another Bedouin tribe a few generations ago.

What commitments came out of this episode of superpower groveling? Allusions were made to a commitment to increase Saudi production by 2009. However, officials agreed that there had been no request by the United States for the Saudis to increase production in the near-term to alleviate current price pressures. This was diplomat-speak for the President didn't ask for something that the Saudis had determined in advance that they would not provide.

The plain truth is that Saudi Arabia does not have the capacity--in the ground or in the pipeline--to solve the problem that is reflected in the oil markets today. The world has changed, and the Saudis know this. The problem of rising oil prices cannot be solved by incremental Saudi production. It cannot be solved by releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It cannot be solved by drilling in Alaska. The problem reflected in the oil markets today cannot be solved through measures that incrementally address the supply of oil, for the simple reason that the problem reflected in the oil markets today is not a problem of supply, as it has been in the past, it is a problem of demand.

Yes, there are still problems with supply. Venezuela and Iraq have both had difficulty keeping their oil flowing, and the Russian government's prosecution of Yukos has periodically rattled the oil markets. But these problems are endemic to an industry concentrated in developing nations rather than a reflection of organized efforts at global supply manipulation as in the energy crises of years past. As oil rocketed past $40 and $50 per barrel, and predictions of $90 oil were heard, analysts recognized that the driving force in the market is not a problem of supply, it is a problem of demand. It is a problem of China.

China, with 1.3 billion people and an economy growing at almost 10% annually, has become the dominant force in world commodity markets, as illustrated by a doubling of world steel prices over the past two years. The scale of the Chinese economy is evident in the energy markets, where China has become the second largest energy consumer in the world, behind the United States, despite very low consumption on a per capita basis.

The raw numbers illustrate the depth of the problem. In 2001, China consumed 40 quadrillion Btu, or 10% of global energy production. At the same time, per capita energy consumption was 31 million Btu, or less than 10% of the 342 million Btu per capita in the United States. If Chinese per capita energy consumption were to grow over the next two decades from the current level of 31 million Btu to 175 million Btu, as in South Korea and Taiwan, aggregate annual Chinese energy consumption would grow by 144 quadrillion Btu, or an amount equal to 46% of current global production!

The problem that China presents is not going to go away. To the contrary, China has years of growth ahead of her as her people aspire to middle class comfort. While energy demand will ebb and flow as China learns the economic cycles of a market economy, Chinese energy demand will grow inexorably.

The President said at his news conference this week that it was his duty “to define problems facing our nation and to call upon people to act." And so it is. The image of the President toadying to the visiting Saudi symbolized eloquently the problem we face. It remains for the President to articulate to the American people that the current problem of rising oil prices is not transitory, that the world has changed and that it is time to act. We must commit ourselves to the development of a diversified energy economy because the price of not doing so, like the price of oil, is only going to increase.

Today, the dominant challenges facing our nation derive directly from our dependency on oil. The war in Iraq. The trade deficit. The value of the dollar. The stagnant economic recovery. These all flow back to the oil markets, and the oil markets flow back to China. The challenge that we face today in the oil markets is not about the price at the pump, it is about the future that we choose to create for our nation.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A juror speaks

My friend called early this morning, during that moment between sleep and awake. Or maybe it was my imagination.

We had not spoken for several years, not out of any animus, it was just the way life works sometimes.

Angie was on a jury in the Federal corruption case that has dogged the administration of Philadelphia Mayor John Street. Angie, a normally mild-mannered professional woman, was beside herself. Her voice was shaking.

I am going to hang this jury all by myself if I have to, she began. This is Philadelphia. This is an issue of civic pride. We don’t convict people for petty corruption, it is just a matter of basic fairness.

It was early, and I was not up to speed on the case or what had set her off.

Philadelphia City Hall was the most expensive public project in the country at the time it was built. It fed families from Allentown to Johnstown. Gus Baxter had 69 people on the payroll when he was on the school board. Frank Rizzo scoffed at the notion that he should not channel money to his friends. ‘What? He would ask in boffo wonder, you want me to give those jobs to my enemies??

Now they want me to put Corey Kemp in jail because Commerce Bank approved his loan, and he got a free weekend down shore? Why should I do that? For who? For what? [Commerce Bank CEO] Vernon Hill gets a pass and Kemp goes down? Kemp is the littlest of fish in all of this.

Angie was really going now, and she still had not told me why she had called.

Vince Fumo got $17 million for his little non-profit in exchange for supporting a PECO rate hike. And he is proud of it! A few cents on each bill he calls it, but that $17 million is his! Non-profit my ass. And what does the FBI do? You want corruption, there’s your corruption. No free weekends down shore for Vince, he will take a 35-room house, thank you very much. PECO even hid the payment from their Board.

But is Fumo indicted? Is PECO management prosecuted? Not a word. Rendell’s person said it was great. About time PECO gave money to help a non-profit that was for the little people. You know, instead of the Orchestra, the Zoo, some theatre. You know, the elites. $17 million for Vince Fumo, Little Person.

What do the Republicans do when they see what Fumo is getting away with? Do they bring down the holy wrath of God and the FBI? How about the SEC, the IRS? Nah, [Republican Speaker of the House] Perzell, the Head Republican in Charge does what any God-fearing Pennsylvania politician would do in this circumstance. He hired a lawyer and created his own non-profit.

This is Pennsylvania, we don’t do petty corruption, and if this is the best they [the FBI and the US Attorney] can do, they oughta go back to New Jersey. If we send Kemp away for this it will set us back 50 years.

And the judge told us we need to send a message. To who? The state legislature got into casino gambling in a big way. But as an act of good government, they limited each legislator to having no more than 1% ownership of any casino licensed by the State. It took people a while to realize that with more than 200 legislators, there still was not enough to go around. You want corruption, we will show you corruption!

So Corey Kemp is going to take the fall. He will spend time in prison while Mayor Street will take his lumps by being labeled one of the five worst mayors by Time magazine. Ron White, his Ray McClendon, his Bob Haldeman, his gatekeeper-pit bull died just in time, so he will do OK. We are left with a few bankers who were just following the time-honored rules of public finance in Pennsylvania.

Corey Kemp. A weekend down shore and a few points off his mortgage, and he is the one who is going down. He is the best the FBI can do.

Not if I have anything to do with it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A moment of truths

On his morning talk show––aptly titled “Morning in America”––former Reagan administration Secretary of Education and morality Tsar Bill Bennett commented that mainstream American society seems to value those who seek the truth, but is wary, if not disdainful, of those who have found it. He cited this irony without comment, but it was not unreasonable to sense that for Bennett this wariness reflects a character flaw in the moral depth of American society.

Moral relativism has always been the target of Bennett’s ire. While he does not wear his own faith on his sleeve, Augustinian precepts that dictate a subordination of the interests of the self to higher values are sprinkled through his commentary. However, a disdain for moral relativism does not lead to an admiration for moral absolutism, and the wariness toward those who profess the Truth may reflect a moral view that certitude of eternal truths is itself a morally ambiguous stance.

Perhaps there is no act on earth as filled with moral nuance as the selection of the pope. The election of Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II followed the three-week reign and sudden death of John Paul I. Wojtyla’s selection at the time was inspired. Where John Paul I was a warm and beloved father figure, Wojtyla was truly a man suited to lead during that historical moment. A Polish priest who had suffered under Soviet tyranny, as pope, Wojtyla spoke with a moral authority that grew out of his own personal story.

And what of today’s historical moment? As the 115 cardinals entered their conclave in Rome, they had been left with the words of German prelate Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was reputed to control 50 votes as the conclave began. In his homily to his gathered brethren, Ratzinger inveighed against the “dictatorship of relativism” that rested as one of the greatest threats facing the Church, and facing the Collegium as they selected the next leader of the Church.

Ratzinger served for many years as the enforcer of doctrine within the Church. Certainly no one on earth is more likely to be imbued with the certainty of his faith than a man in that position, and no one would expect that the members of the College of Cardinals to be any less certain. As he and the cardinals consider the state of the Church as an international community, the challenges are not insignificant. The American Church has not recovered from the priest abuse scandals that have roiled congregations, and the growth of the Church in the developing continents of Africa and South America needs to be balanced against its traditional European power base where church attendance is declining. Ratzinger has expressed the view that the Church must be prepared to shrink in size, to regroup around its core doctrine, in the face of pressures to dilute the purity of its traditions.

But the larger issues that the Ratzinger will face as pope are the challenges from without. Five years ago, Ratzinger authored the declaration Dominus Iesus, which reaffirmed the sole primacy of the Catholic faith as a source of universal truth and a means to salvation. This declaration was greeted with some consternation by other religious leaders, as it was a step back from earlier Church efforts to reach out to other branches of the monotheistic universe, whether the Protestant or Orthodox Christian communities or beyond, and suggest the legitimacy of other paths to spiritual enlightenment.

Today, a return to religious fundamentalism is becoming the norm rather than the exception, and the days of the mediation of difference have given way to the assertion of doctrinal certitude. For Americans, this evolution is most apparent in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. But the assertive urges of religious fundamentalism are not limited to Islamism. For example, in India, the international view of a booming economy and growing middle class masks the increasing power of Hindu fundamentalists, whose power and influence on both the political and educational systems mirrors the Christian conservative efforts in the United States.

In the Ukraine, the Catholic Church in the western part of the country is in a war for hearts, minds and territory with the Russian Orthodox Church. This conflict, which had been long-suppressed during the Soviet era, is a product of the overlay of historical territorial ambiguity and schismatic differences in religious doctrine that date back more than a millennium. As the colonial and Cold War conflicts that defined much of the 20th century fade into memory, they have been replaced by far older disagreements over the nature of faith and of truth.

So, in this historical moment, as Ratzinger’s words still resonate, the new pope and the cardinals must together must weigh the direction of the Church in a world of conflicting truths. Bill Bennett should not be surprised that American’s abjure the embrace of absolute truths, at least in the public square. After all, there are so many of them. But for the leaders of the Catholic Church, the challenge is greater. Institutional pressures no doubt demand the doctrinal cohesion that Ratzinger calls forth. However, it is worth noting that Church doctrine has in fact evolved over the ages, and the truths of one millennium are the quaint artifacts of another. As the cardinals made their choice and the white smoke rose over the Vatican, one must wonder how the stance of the new pope will embrace the challenges that face the world, and not just those of the Church itself.

In this historical moment, as Truth is on the rise, a small bit of relativism might not be such a bad thing.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Frist Agonistes

Bill Frist is trying too hard. Like Don Quixote armed only with hubris and the nuclear option, Frist has mounted his faithful steed and is riding out to the countryside to slay the judicial tyranny that is victimizing our country.

Bill Frist wants to be president very badly. In the hope of winning the primary votes––if not the hearts and minds––of Christian conservatives, he has been pursuing a strategy of unvarnished pandering to the right wing of his own party. During the Terri Schiavo affair Frist, a Harvard-trained surgeon, threw medical ethics to the wind as he pronounced his medical opinion on Schiavo’s condition from the well of the Senate based. This Sunday, Frist will speak at a rally of the Family Research Council, whose President, Tony Perkins, has thrown down the gauntlet against a judiciary that has been working “like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms.”

Things are really spinning out of control here, and at times one can only watch in wonder. Frist’s antics are increasingly the focus of concern by those within his own party, and not just the radical left wing Republican cabal of John McCain and the New England Senators. Centrists Chuck Hagel, Lindsay Graham and Jack Danforth all raised concern over the past few days about the destruction of what remains of comity and judgment in the leadership of the Senate.

From a Democratic standpoint, however, Frist is doing just fine. As long as he continues to play Chong to Tom Delay’s Cheech, Frist is deepening fissures within the Republican Party, and ultimately undermining the credibility of the Party in the eyes of a public that still has a center, even if the political parties seem to have forsaken it. For New York Senator Hillary Clinton, there is no better scenario than a political race against Bill Frist. It would be two Senators with no executive experience running against each other. Her Achilles Heel would be thus shielded against Republican arrows.

But that race will never come to be. Frist is trying too hard, too soon. “Judicial tyranny” may be effective rhetoric for playing to the right, but on the floor of the Senate and in the broader public debate reality will sink in. The fact is that the federal judiciary today was overwhelmingly appointed by Republican presidents. According to the Los Angeles Times ninety-four of the 162 active judges now on the U.S. Court of Appeals were Republican appointees, while on 10 of the 13 circuit courts, Republican appointees have “a clear majority.” And then of course there is the Supreme Court with only two Democratic appointees––whatever one thinks of David Souter.

At some point in the debate, as the sides are drawn and the issue is engaged, people will seek to put a face on the problem. They will look at who these judges are and who put them there. And the realization will slowly emerge: tyranny thy face is Bush.

Whatever the outcome this term, Frist can only emerge as damaged goods. As a leader, he will either have failed to execute the nuclear option and kill the judicial filibuster as demanded by the right, or he will have dealt a staggering blow to the traditions that are the cornerstone of the Senate, the institution he has sworn his fealty to lead.

Frist’s real problem is that he is a lame duck. Since he announced his decision not to seek reelection in 2006 in order to run for president, he has come face to face with his own political mortality. In eighteen months he will lose not only the position of Majority Leader, but also his Senate seat. The impact of that change will be swift. Not only will he lose the standing and attention he was accorded as Leader, but as private citizen those whom he stepped on will not hesitate to pay him back in kind.

Today, the right wing groups are happy to play up to him. He has power, and can help them move their agenda. But once he steps down they will move on. And like Howard Baker, the fellow Tennessean and Senate Leader who failed badly in his presidential bid after leaving the Senate, he will find that the reception of Dr. Bill Frist, Citizen, on the campaign trail will not what he hoped it would be. He has to make hay now, for tomorrow no one will be paying him any mind.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The party of Frederick Douglass

Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, spoke at Howard University last week. He was there to listen, he said, and to strengthen the dialog between the Republican Party and the African American community. He was there as a leader of the Party of Lincoln and the Party of Frederick Douglass, the party that had led the fight against slavery and signed the emancipation proclamation, to win back the hearts and minds––and votes–– of the Black community.

The image of Ken Mehlman claiming the mantle of the Party of Lincoln and the Party of Frederick Douglass might seem laughable to some, but don’t laugh, his argument was solid. The Democrat Party has taken you for granted, he said, and we are here to compete for your support and your loyalty. Competition is good. If there is competition, you have more leverage with both parties.

Rush Limbaugh, the dean of Republican talk radio and an architect of Republican spin, has taken to ridiculing the Democrats of late as the party that was pro-slavery. Rush takes great pleasure in using politically correct arguments against the Democrats, hoisting them on their own petard, if you will. The arguments he hones one week regularly migrate into Republican talking points the following week. A bit of Rush could be heard in Mehlman’s words, and Mehlman clearly relished the opportunity to play the good guy in front of a Black audience.

The Republicans are feeling their oats. While Democrats are still debating the implications of the 2004 race, Republicans are moving ahead and taking the fight to the Democratic base. Republican strategies have been effective over the past thirty years in breaking down the cohesion of the Democratic coalition. Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy ended the Democratic Party’s control of the post-reconstruction South, and Ronald Reagan built Republican strength among Catholics and in Middle America. Having successfully stripped away large portions of the white working class and middle class, Republicans are eagerly taking the fight to minority communities, knowing that if they can force the Democrats to defend their base, their battle is won.

The Republican strategy is the political equivalent of Robert E. Lee invading Pennsylvania to take the fight to the home territory of the North, and the battle over social security reform may well be Gettysburg for the Democratic Party. As the Bush Administration’s proposal for social security reform was introduced, an early argument made by the administration was that the creation of private accounts would particularly benefit African Americans. Blacks die younger, on average, and accordingly benefit less from the current social security model. In particular, the ability to pass private accounts along to the next generation would enable a modicum of trans-generational wealth accumulation in the Black community. This argument will not die easily. The Republicans are putting money on the table, and proposing to put that money in people’s pockets. In politics as in finance, cash is king.

The targeting of the African American vote, as well as other minority communities whose vote is already in play, will become a serious issue for Democrats as 2008 approaches. George Bush imagines a legacy that establishes the Republican Party as the dominant majority party for decades. This effort requires the successful wooing of at least a significant minority of the African American vote, if only to neutralize the traditional complaints about Republican racial bias. Do not be surprised if George Bush finds an appropriate moment to issue an apology for slavery, suggesting as he does his opposition to all of the Democrat-supported institutions that have subjugated Black America through the life of the Nation, from slavery to welfare to underperforming schools. Once you have reestablished your party as the party of Frederick Douglass, the rest should come easily.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Bill Bradley's view of the world

I like Bill Bradley. I thought that Bill Bradley was a good Senator. A former Princeton great and New York Knick pretty good, Bradley was good on the court moving without the ball, and excellent off the court talking about the problem of race in America.

This week, writing in the New York Times, Bradley offered his prescription for the problems facing the Democratic Party. In A Party Inverted, Bradley argues that the root of the Democrat’s problem is the fixation with charismatic leaders. “We are still hypnotized by Jack Kennedy, and the promise of a charismatic leader who can change America by the strength and style of his personality.”

Bradley describes the Republican Party as a pyramid. Constructed with layers of large donors, foundations and think tanks, political strategists and a conservative media, the candidate that sits on top is largely replaceable. He juxtaposes this with a Democratic Party that forces each potential candidate to build his or her own pyramid of financial, political and media support, and awards the Party nomination to the person who does that best. The Republican Party is built on a solid foundation, while the Democratic Party rests like an inverted pyramid on the wiles and wherewithal of a single leader.

Bradley’s analysis does a disservice to both parties, but it does serve as an effective rationale for his own failure as a presidential candidate. Bill Bradley’s presidential bids failed in large measure because he was not charismatic. He was a smart guy, who was good on the issues, but he was a ponderous speaker who failed to generate a following within the media or the public. Bradley’s analysis suggests that his own failed campaigns resulted from his Party’s wistful yearnings for Camelot.

There are two fundamental flaws in Bradley’s argument. First, his view of the Republican Party discounts the political skills of the person at the top. As Bradley suggests: “Because the pyramid is stable, all you have to do is put a different top on it and it works fine.” Republicans love this analysis. While conservative talk show hosts routinely decry the Democratic tendency to view all Republican leaders as idiots, Bradley’s analysis feeds into a Democratic habit of underestimating their opponent.

Suggesting to a Democratic activisty that George Bush is not an idiot, it is like talking to a wall. This view of Republican presidents goes back to Ronald Reagan, who despite years of studying in the development of his political philosophy and years of building a movement challenging the mainstream within his Party was nonetheless dismissed as a simpleton by the broad swath of Democratic activists.

This patronizing attitude ill-serves the Democratic Party on two levels. First, it supports Republican efforts to cast Democrats as arrogant and elitist in the eyes of the working class and middle class voters who formerly were the core of the Democratic coalition. Second, politics is war by other means and to adhere to a world-view ex ante that denigrates the competence of the leader of your adversary is to lend a psychological advantage to your opponent before the battle begins. That shit-eating grin on George Bush’s face after each victory is the smile of a man who knows that once again his adversaries have underestimated him.

Second, the suggestion that the historic success of the Democratic Party can be chalked up to charismatic individuals is misguided. As Tip O’Neill preached, all politics is local, and the success of the Democratic Party from the New Deal to Bill Clinton rested not on JFK’s soaring rhetoric, but rather on the connection made by the Party to real issues that affected the lives of real people. Bill Clinton might have seemed charismatic after a few years in the White House, but at the 1988 convention his hour-long speech was the source of ridicule. It was his political skill and––not unlike George Bush––his ability to connect with people that were the source of his success.

The success of the Republican Party in stripping away elements of the Democratic coalition, whether through Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Reagan’s wooing of the blue collar voter or more recent Republican inroads with Asian and Hispanic voters reflects their ability to convince voters that they care about issues that matter to them. If something has been inverted, it is not Bradley’s pyramids, but rather the odd sense that the Republicans are succeeding in framing themselves as the party of the masses while the Democrats are the party of the elites. For Democrats, the problem is not a reliance on charismatic leaders, but the need to move away from single-issue politics and build their message around principles that have salience for the lives and aspirations of the voters they seek to represent.

Friday, April 01, 2005

It's too late, Jack

John Danforth is no ordinary Republican. The former United Nations Ambassador and three-term Senator from Missouri is old school. For years the only ordained minister in Congress, Danforth did not wear his faith on his sleeve, because you just did not do that. Son of Donald Danforth, the co-founder of Ralston Purina, Danforth came from St. Louis, a town where five large companies dominated the economy and politics for decades, and where he and his brother Bill Danforth, physician and long-time chairman of Washington University learned that to lead is to serve.

Writing in the New York Times this week, Danforth went public with his view of the nature of politics and the direction of his party. Stopping just short of suggesting a vast right wing conspiracy—he used the word “agenda” instead––Danforth decried the usurpation of the traditional values of the Republican Party by the Christian conservatives in their midst. Gone, he suggested, were the days when the Republicans stood for limited government, low taxes, limited regulation, a strong private economy, fiscal prudence and vibrant internationalism. “As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.”

For twenty years, the Republican Party has sought to live with the “Big Tent” vision of Lee Atwater, as a party where fiscal and social conservatives could co-exist in the name of success and power. Having felt the heel of the Democratic boot since the failure of the Goldwater and Watergate years, leaders of the Party from across the political spectrum were willing to subordinate their differences for the good of the whole. This formula worked well for years, with some notable outbreaks of discord, such as candidate George Bush attacking the supply-siders’ Voodoo Economics, and Arlen Specter’s aborted threats to block pro-life judges,

Now, the ascendancy of the social conservatives within the party, and their increasing determination to assert their will on their less faithful brethren is testing the coherence of the party. Last year Pete Peterson, former Cabinet Secretary and Party insider, launched a scathing attack on his party’s contribution to the bankrupting of the country through the continuing pursuit of tax cuts with no regard for mounting deficits. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill contributed his view of a government run by ideologues, while this year Christine Todd Whitman, herself the scion of a powerful Republican family, moved one step further by issuing her own call to reverse the right wing putsch that has taken over the party that was once hers.

Well, the toothpaste is out of the tube, as Bob Haldeman was wont to say, and it will be very tough to put it back. The Christian conservatives play for keeps, and there is not a whole lot of give in their view of the world. Plus, God is on their side. Not the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Ishmael, not the God of Job or the God of Isaiah, but their God, the God of Jerry Falwell, the God of Pat Robertson and the God of Randall Terry.

There is some irony in all of this, as the moderates in the Republican Party conspired along the path to the coming political Armageddon. George Bush the Elder, a Connecticut patrician Republican who knew better, disavowed his own roots and embraced voodoo economics. Jack Danforth was mute in his writing on the event for which his is most remembered, his championing of Clarence Thomas’ confirmation as Supreme Court Justice. Each step along the way, traditionalists within the Party acquiesced to candidates and policies that were anathema, but which were seen as necessary to Party unity. Fiscal conservatives remained quiet while deficits soared. Social liberals remained silent as libertarian values were cast aside. Internationalists murmured and then fell silent as the righteous brayed and the march to war gained speed. It turned out that the warmth inside the Big Tent came from the books that were being burned.

So what now? Books are being written? OK, but so what? The social conservatives and radicals within the party do not care. As Rush Limbaugh likes to say, people in the middle of the road get run over. The leadership of the Party does not care about Pete Peterson, Paul O’Neill or Christy Whitman. They do not care about Jack Danforth and his brand of upper class, elite Republicanism. They might be on Danforth’s radar screen, but he is not on theirs. The battle Christy Whitman cares about is already over. Tom DeLay is moving on to the next war. The war against judicial tyranny.

Stay tuned, for next front in the culture wars is about to be joined. The Party that reached the apogee of power through a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court is going after the judiciary. As Tom DeLay proclaimed yesterday, the next assault will be against "an arrogant, out-of-control judiciary that thumbed its nose at Congress... The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

But this war has gone inside, and it is the Republican Party, not the nation, that will be tested. If the Party does not stand for a nation of laws, it stands for nothing. But one thing is certain, the big tent has collapsed and it only remains to be seen who will survive.