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Optimism curdles into fear

By Washington Post
Published October 31, 2006


WASHINGTON - Ronald Reagan's brilliant achievement on behalf of American conservatism was to capture hope and optimism from a liberal movement that enjoyed a near monopoly on those virtues from the day Franklin Roosevelt told us we had nothing to fear but fear itself.

Whatever else it will be remembered for, this year's election campaign will mark the moment when Republican leaders who govern in the name of conservatism turned definitely away from hope and waged one of the most trivial and ugly campaigns in our country's history.

It's common to gather all political attacks under one large rubric called "negative campaigning" and to condemn the lot.

But this is misleading.

A conservative who attacks his opponent for wanting to raise taxes and a liberal who accuses an adversary of favoring cuts in Medicare or environmental programs are both being "negative," but legitimately so, presuming that the criticisms are rooted in fact.

If candidates can't air their disagreements, what's the point of free elections?

But this year, Republican campaigners and their advocates in the conservative media have crossed line after line in sheer meanness, triviality and tastelessness.

Conservative optimism and its promise of morning in America have curdled into the gloom of a Halloween midnight horror show.

The reason is obvious: With the public turning on President Bush's policies in Iraq, most Republicans would prefer not to defend the war.

E.J. Dionne's e-mail address is


2006, Washington Post Writers Group

[Last modified October 31, 2006, 01:53:32]

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