Peace and Partisanship

WITH peace breaking out all over, there has been almost overnight a realignment of the US political parties. The Republicans have moved from strong or even strident anticommunism to a more muted attitude of suspicion of communist aspirations. There is little talk now, even among right-wing elements, of communist intentions of taking over the world. Peace has rattled the GOP ideologues - and politicians. But the Democrats, too, are still charting a party line on how to respond to glasnost, the opening of the Berlin Wall, and Mikhail Gorbachev's popularity.

They snap at Bush for being slow to hail this rebirth of individual freedom in East Europe. But one senses a reservation in this Democratic position. Democrats are just as uncertain as the Republicans on how far this revival will go. They can't be sure that Mr. Gorbachev will survive. Could a hardliner succeed Gorbachev? Could the clock suddenly be turned back?

Both Republicans and Democrats are taking the position publicly that freedom is on the march. But the uncertainty of events and where they may lead has left the battle lines of both parties much less than firm.

Who will gain the most if peace takes hold permanently? The Democrats think they are the beneficiaries. Certainly, within their more liberal ranks are found those who first counseled a nuclear freeze and advocated deep cuts in arms production - based on a less-fearful view of Soviet intentions.

So the Democrats may well profit politically by telling the voters that they first foresaw the new day in Europe and were first to recommend a less-militant - and less-costly - US posture.

Therefore if foresight is rewarded by the voters, the Democrats should be the gainers. Yet the Democrats didn't predict the opening of the wall. They were as astonished as the Republicans by that development and all the other surprising happenings ``behind the Iron Curtain.''

The reality is that peace isn't here yet. At best, we are in a twilight in which the communist oppression has dramatically lessened. Democracy has taken new life. And global tension is lower than it has been since the first postwar years.

But the nuclear missiles still are in place. A possible attack still is theoretically only minutes away. Those facts will help maintain a GOP position that says: ``We welcome the changes in Soviet thinking and the progress toward democracy - but we still must keep our guard up.''

So the Republicans will probably end up with a relatively hard position on how to deal with the new Soviet posture. They doubtless will continue to charge the Democrats with being soft on the communists - asserting that they remain reckless in pushing for too much disarmament in light of the continuing potential threat.

How will the American voters respond to this realignment? My guess is that the current euphoria in this country over the leap forward of democracy in Europe is such that, at least initially, most people are going to like what the Democrats are saying. They are more than ready for a peaceful world.

Moreover, the voters are already hailing this new Europe as signaling a great opportunity for the US to accomplish massive cutbacks in spending for the military - and thus be able to find revenue for needed domestic programs and for reducing the budget deficit.

But wait! Let's not forget that a Republican president is presiding while these epochal events are taking place. Mr. Bush will be given credit for this happening during his watch. That's bound to help the GOP.

Let's not forget, too, that there are many Americans who are convinced that Gorbachev's move to glasnost was prompted by the big Reagan buildup in the US military. They believe that Gorbachev decided that the Soviets simply couldn't keep up with the arms race and, at the same time, deal with growing economic problems in Russia.

So, while the voters may be beguiled by the softer line of the Democrats on dealing with the Soviets, they may well end up by giving their votes to George Bush in 1992.

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