Some other Bush policies have been challenged by the new administration with its proposed civilian trial for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Miranda rights for the Christmas Day bomber and pledging to close Guantanamo as of two months ago. But even here, the governing administration is bending to reality. And if (in my view, when) Obama does send KSM back to a military tribunal, that institution will become fully legitimized, understood to be the result of practical empirical considerations rather than of a mere George Bush whim.
This is not to say that the rotation of power is all about consolidation. It's also about challenge. Obama may have accepted (if grudgingly) much of the post-9/11 anti-terror policy -- even the wars -- but he's raised a fundamental challenge to three decades of Reaganite domestic orthodoxy.
This is also to the good. The Reaganite dispensation of low taxes, less regulation and reliance on markets should be challenged lest it become merely rote and dogmatic. Obama has offered a bracingly thorough attack on that dispensation with his unapologetic embrace of a social democratic agenda whose essence -- more centralized government exercising its power through radical health care, energy and education reform -- is the overthrow of Reaganism.
I've made clear what side I take in this debate. I'm encouraged that Obama has been defeated on cap-and-trade and is on the defensive on his health care reform. I'm somewhat more sympathetic but still uneasy about his vision of turning college education into a federal entitlement. But for all the hand-wringing about broken government, partisanship, divisiveness and gridlock, it's hard to recall a more informed, more detailed, more serious, more prolonged national debate than on health care reform.
True, the rotation of power inevitably results in stops and starts and policy zigzags. Yet for all its inefficiency, it in the end creates a near miraculous social stability by setting down layers of legitimacy every time the opposition adopts some of its predecessor's reforms -- while at the same time allowing challenges to fundamental assumptions before they become fossilized.
So, in the middle of the current food fight, as the plates and the tarts and the sharper cutlery fly, step back for a moment. Hail the untidiness. Hail democracy. Hail the rotation of power. Yes, even when Democrats gain office.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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