Meanwhile, liberals are left with the feeling of not just having been beaten, but conqueredand by an opponent who, given his record of spectacular policy failures, should have lost. Yes, Democrats did plenty of things right. They waged a united fight, raised a lot of small-donor money, and began to build a new opposition infrastructure. And yes, there is plenty of blame to go around, from an admirable but not widely loved presidential candidate to his stunningly ineffective strategists. But at this point, it requires a willful act of self-deception not to see the deeper problem: conservatives have won the war of ideasand have done so in part because progressives offered no compelling vision of their own.

Coming up with such a vision is not easy. But it’s not that hard. Conservatives have one, whether you agree with it or not. Progressives had one in the form of the New Democratic agenda that Bill Clinton campaigned on and governed by. That agenda did not emerge from nowhere in 1992. It was the fruit of years of tough debate among reform-minded center/left politicians, citizens, scholars, and journalistsa debate carried out, among other places, in the pages of this magazine.

Now, it’s time to renew that debate, and we at the Monthly aim to be at the center of it, by doing more of what we do best: uncovering the evolving ways power works in Washington, and discovering the new ideas that can drive the country forward.

In the latter categorythe vision thingwe have three offerings in this month’s issue. First is a roundtable conversation about the future of the Democrats (What Now? pg 20) with some of our favorite writers and thinkers, including E.J. Dionne, Walter Shapiro, Ed Kilgore, Michael Tomasky, and Jim Pinkerton. Second is a profile by David Sirota of Brian Schweitzer, Montana’s new Democratic governor-elect. Schweitzer triumphed in one of the reddest of red states by rallying hunters, fishermen, and small business people against the GOP politicians and lobbyists who have long dominated the state’s government. If you think there’s a lesson there for progressive politicians all over the country, you’re right. Third is David Whitman’s deeply-reported piece (Partly Sunny, page 31) about how environmentalists stubbornly blocked the one Bush administration proposal that would have reduced air pollution dramatically, the Clear Skies Initiative. Like I said, when the left gets it wrong, we point it out.

In the former categoryhow Washington workswe present this month’s cover story, by editor Amy Sullivan (Bob in Paradise,page 25). It’s an in-depth look at Washington’s most powerful conservative pundit, Robert Novak, and how insiders on both sides of the aisle give him a free pass for ethical lapseslike outing an undercover CIA operativethat would sink any other columnist. Also, check out the delightful piece by Ayelish McGarvey (Evangelical Elitists, page 11), on the church where top Beltway conservatives such as Tucker Carlson go to worship without having to associate with the hoi polloi.

Finally, as in every issue, we explore the political sociology of American culture. This month, managing editor Christina Larson critiques the new movie about Alfred Kinsey and asks why social conservatives persist in seeing the late sexologist as the spawn of Satan. And famed comic book journalist Joe Sacco serves up the final installment of his presidential campaign coverage, Meanwhile in America (Sacco fans take heart; we will republish the entire series in book form next year).

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.