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Why a Split Decision Is a Sign of Sanity

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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 chairs.

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.


Cover Date: November 20, 2000



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