Why a Split Decision Is a Sign of Sanity
We're locked in an exquisite immobility
Where is that new President of ours? I know he's here someplace.
Now you see him, now you don't. The presidential election
terminating the Clinton years ends in the ultimate
Clintonism--an astonishing tie, a masterpiece of delicately
balanced ambivalence. We end by looking at a split screen, like
one of those old campaign buttons that shows you one image
(Gore) if you look at it from one angle and a different image
(Bush) if you tilt it slightly. I seem to see Clinton enter
smilingly upon the chaotic scene: "Say, if y'all can't make up
your minds, why don't we just... I mean, if it ain't broke,
don't fix it!"
The Dick Morris gizmo called Clintonism was a triangulated
centrism rigging an elaborate system of moral weights and
counterweights to balance itself safely at the center of the
conflicted American heart. Thus, for example, the leftish
diversity monger from Hope canceled welfare as we know it.
"We are two nations," the novelist John Dos Passos wrote many
years ago. Is that it? Or are we one nation, so intricately
balanced in its impulses, so symmetrically cracked down the
middle, that we cannot decide whether we are compassionate
conservatives or fascist bleeding hearts? It's not that George
Wallace was right long ago, and Ralph Nader is correct now in
asserting that there's not a dime's worth of difference between a
Democrat and a Republican. Allowing for inflation, there's
several dollars' worth.
But the American heart has long since outgrown the old simplisms
in which the parties tend to think, in which the lefties and
righties of talk radio and television tend to bray and hoot.
Clinton instinctively grasps the truth of the new American
sympathies. One thinker who understands them well is Alan Wolfe,
a sociologist who has done admirable research in the
cross-grained, complex but essentially tolerant American
attitudes toward gay rights, abortion and other signature issues.
So the great American rhinoceros has become a brilliant tightrope
walker. Who imagined that the greatest power the earth has ever
known could balance its corpulent, corporate self so exquisitely
and walk across the bridge into the 21st century as if toeing a
cable over the abyss?
The blessing of the election of 2000 may be that no one emerges
from it with a "mandate," for mandates are an invitation to
simpleminded zealotry. The Gingrich Republicans thought they had
a mandate after the 1994 elections. They played it hard and
stupid; look at the grief they quickly came to.
So let not the passive-aggressives of the whining and
victim-singing entitlement left believe the American people have
franchised them to expand their Big-Government dreams. And let
not the primitives and polluters of the screw-'em-all right start
drilling for oil in Yellowstone or mass-producing electric
I say this dangerously split decision is also evidence of some
collective intelligence and sanity in the American electorate.
Either the Bush team or the Gore team will eventually be
installed and will find itself locked in an exquisite immobility
of moderation that may have been the goal of the voters'
unconscious. In any case, at the end of four years, President
Gore or President Bush will have to deal with Senator Hillary
Rodham Clinton, who will be scaling the White House fence with
grappling hooks, claiming the old homestead for her own.