With uncharacteristic staying power the American national gaze this past year has been directed almost entirely outward, at events as they have developed uncertainly around the world—in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Israel and Iraq, in North Korea, in Southeast Asia, and even in a Europe increasingly uncomfortable with the assertive role that the United States is playing. But as any observer of American politics and society well knows, this won't last. Sooner or later public attention will return, as it always does, to the country's social bedrock, domestic affairs, where there is much unfinished business.
Under ordinary circumstances one obvious opportunity for a shift of focus would present itself later this month, when President George W. Bush delivers the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. But if the Republican strategy in the most recent election campaign is any guide, the President will continue to train his sights, and the country's, mainly on the confrontation with Iraq, the war against terrorism, and America's role in the world. No significant shift toward domestic affairs is likely—as Nick Calio, the White House's chief legislative liaison, in essence admitted during an interview with National Public Radio this past December. When asked about the amount of attention that the Bush Administration, given its international preoccupations, will be able to devote to the domestic agenda in 2003 (and whether, indeed, there would be any "air" left for it at all), Calio was not encouraging. "There is always room or air left for a domestic agenda," he said noncommittally.