This administration has given the Democrats the thing they needed most: the opportunity to define themselves.
As theologians frequently say, when they are asked to explain why there is evil in God’s world: how else would we know good?
Without the Bush administration, how else would we know good government?
The biggest problem that Democrats and liberals had was their own success.
They had solved many of the great social and economic problems of the ages. Even through the brinkmanship of the Cold War, there was a large degree of international stability.
The economy grew in a spectacular manner. The benefits of that growth ran deep and wide. It was combined with historically unprecedented stability. Government agencies and regulations protected business from many of it’s own worst excesses. They protected consumers from bad food, bad drugs, dangerous goods, inadequate building practices, and, later on, polluted air and poisoned water. There were social safety nets. Public education was universal, including free or at least affordable, colleges and universities. Minorities and women gained equal rights, at least under the law.
Through most of its life, liberalism could compare itself to real world alternatives: monarchies, Fascism, Communism, theocracies, caste systems, apartheid, segregation, and the failures of laissez faire capitalism as symbolized by the Great Depression.
Those old enemies fell, one by one.
At which point, liberalism was no longer competing against the real world. It was competing against ideal worlds. On the left there was a politically correct, Birkenstock, earnest hippie, post-Marxist utopia. Over on the right, they were having a Reagan dream of Disneyfied Tom Sawyer land, where Nigger Jim understood that they weren’t really racists. One required more than a government could probably do, the other insisted that no government was really needed, being as how folks were so basically good.
The Bush administration has given liberals and the Democrats something to measure themselves against: simple bad government.
Democrats no longer have to top themselves. They no longer have to promise more and more perfection, more and more fixes, more and more deals for this group and that group. They can offer something quite simple. Something they have a track record of achieving: reasonably good government.
Bring the budget back toward balance. Pursue economic policies that create jobs. Devise an energy plan that that’s more than an excuse to drill where it will do the most damage. Kick the cronies out of government agencies and get them ready to actually deal with emergencies. And even with their regular jobs.
Get business and labor working together again to solve the cost issues of medical care and pensions. Nobody will be happy if GM goes under.
Organize Homeland Security to provide some security, instead of just milling around eating money. Put someone diplomatic over at the UN.
Even catch some terrorists and put them on trial.