Ronald Brownstein

Ronald Brownstein is the national affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

Recent Articles

The Life of the Parties

Party of the People: A History of the Democrats By Jules Witcover, Random House, 758 pages, $35.00 Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans By Lewis L. Gould, Random House, 588 pages, $35.00 Few institutions of any sort in American life have remained relevant for as long as the two national political parties. The Democratic Party traces its roots back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the 1790s. The Republican Party will celebrate its 150th anniversary next year. Not many other products on the shelf in 1854, much less the 1790s, are still attracting customers today. Even more remarkable than the sheer longevity of the two parties is their dominance. No other major party has emerged since the Republicans replaced the Whigs as the principal rival to the Democrats in the 1850s, though a steady procession of third-party movements, breakaway insurgencies and charismatic leaders (from Theodore Roosevelt to Ross Perot) have regularly offered alternatives. Invariably, reports of...

The War About War

The War Over Iraq: Saddam's Tyranny and America's Mission By Lawrence F. Kaplan and William Kristol, Encounter Books, 153 pages, $25.95 The confrontation with Iraq is a war in service of an idea. The idea is what has come to be known as preemption -- President Bush's frequently expressed belief that after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States must strike proactively against regimes that develop weapons of mass destruction, harbor terrorists or both. That was the centerpiece of Bush's closing argument to the American public in his final pre-war speech two nights before the invasion began. Even at that late moment, Bush did not try to portray Iraq as an imminent threat to American national security. Nor did he point to a specific provocation from Saddam Hussein -- such as the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 -- that demanded an immediate response. In justifying war, Bush instead leaned most heavily on the risk that Iraq might someday provide terrorists with weapons of mass...

The Bush Breakthrough

In numerical terms, the losses Democrats suffered in last week's election were not that large. But psychologically they could hardly have been more devastating. The unexpected reversals instantly set off a crisis of confidence among Democrats in Washington. In the usual manner of the capital, groups from every point on the ideological spectrum interpreted the results as new justification for what they wanted to do anyway. The liberal Americans for Democratic Action saw the losses as proof the party had lost its edge in a fruitless search for "the mushy middle." Not surprisingly, the Democratic Leadership Council took home exactly the opposite message: "After four straight election cycles of campaigning on an agenda pretty much limited to promising the moon on prescription drugs and attacking Republicans on Social Security, it's time for the congressional wing of the party, and the political consultants who have relentlessly promoted this message . . . to bury it once and for all."...

Books in Review

The Emerging Democratic Majority By John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira. Scribner, 213 pages, $24.00 W ith the 2002 campaign in its final days, the two parties are engaged in a form of trench warfare. Neither side is expecting a big breakthrough this November. There seems little chance that Republicans will significantly pad their margin in the House or that Democrats will significantly enlarge their fragile one-seat majority in the Senate. Either side could just as easily lose control in the chamber it now holds. Looking state by state and district by district, it's possible to construct scenarios in which either party runs well enough to control either chamber. But when all the votes are counted, the odds are high that on both sides of Capitol Hill, the margin of control will be low. The prospect of another narrowly divided election follows a 2000 campaign that split the country almost exactly in half. Indeed, viewed from all angles, the 2000 result was probably the closest thing to a...

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