Liberals are my life. At least, they used to be. Back when I was in academia, I lived and breathed liberals. I’ve been traveling lately in the land of the liberals, many of whom I know and love. I was struck by the paranoia and anger. The best seller list really is indicative of the trend of the culture. There is a deep belief out there, shared by well educated professionals, that there is a lying right wing conspiracy ready to take over the world–that FOX News and conservative think tanks somehow overbalance the entire mainstream media, Hollywood, and all of academia. After 9/11, there were all sorts of wild conspiracy theories floating around on the fringes. To accept the reality of 9/11 was to give up the post-sixties cultural stance, and that was intolerable. Now the aftermath of Iraq seems to have spread an only slightly more mild form of paranoia among much of the liberal mainstream. The liberal mood today seems to be tinged as much with fear (at the prospect that Bush will win despite his troubles) as with a kind of bloodlust of vindication and revenge. This election is shaping up as an epic cultural moment. I remember when liberals used to cluck at the McLaughlin group for being such an open political food-fight. Liberals preferred the comparative calm of Washington Week in Review, where everyone was decorous (because everyone was a like-minded liberal.) Now the whole country seems to have been drawn into a sort of gigantic version of the McLaughlin Group–but a good deal more bitter than the original. The funny thing is, conservatives have been slammed by a Supreme Court that they by rights ought to have controlled. Yet I don’t think we feel quite as panicked by that as we ought to. We’re used to losing our cultural battles. Liberals, on the other hand, are used to winning their cultural battles. They understand that this whole 9/11-Iraq business puts something fundamental about who they are into doubt. Liberals see the coming election as a chance to get their status back, yet they’re terrified by the thought that Bush might be vindicated anyway. If the Democrats offer up Dean and he loses, it would be very bad for the left. Back when president Bush was the presumptive winner, there was very much less at stake. So as I say, it looks to be an epochal battle, tinged with paranoia and rage, but shadowed by fear.