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The American Electorate Shrugs its Shoulders
By Scott Gillette

 sgillette@politicalusa.com

11/14/2000

After a long, arduous campaign, the people's will has spoken, and the verdict is…deadlock.

The winner of the Oval Office, amazingly, has yet to be determined, but no matter who gets the nod, the platform that gets the winner there be so attenuated that it lost most of its relevance. Furthermore, the Republicans will have a 50%-51% advantage in both houses in Congress, which still leaves the Democrats and Republicans with the ability to advance nothing alone, but everything together. 

What does this mean politically? In short, more of the same. Since the Presidential election of 1996, American politics has had a remarkable lack of new and innovative proposals. Sure, there have sideshow affairs like Clinton's impeachment and Elian Gonzalez, but not much in terms of policy shifts since welfare reform.  Sure, the deficit turned into a surplus, but contrary to political posturing, that had nothing to do with any change in policy, and everything to do with the economy's latent strength. You've seen nothing yet, and you're likely to see more of that nothing in the future.

The advent of the new economy has produced a kind of "new politics", in which the vast majority of people look at government as a second-tier spectator sport, with little or no bearing on their own lives. It is also a politics stripped of its ideological fervor, as the major issues that make
politics important in the first place are in a kind of holding pattern, and real differences are addressed on a symbolic level, or in matters of small degrees. 

None of that is going to change anytime soon for two reasons. First, because of the deadlock, it can't. Second, it doesn't seem that the American people want it to change.

So the new Congress and president, whoever it may be, will strive for bipartisanship for a while, and it may create a certain earnest atmosphere of good intentions for a few months. But don't expect it to last, nor should it. Partisanship is a natural, healthy part of politics, as it is based on fundamental differences in how the country should be governed. Moreover, the two major parties have to distinguish themselves from each other at some point, and that means they have to bicker.

Money should continue to flow into the federal treasury, as the fundamentals of the economy look reasonably good in the short-term. Moreover, politicians in both parties will insist that we can't afford a tax cut, because the debt needs to be payed off and Social Security needs
to be preserved, all the while providing themselves record levels of pork and spending. Lobbyists and pollsters will continue to thrive, and campaign finance reform will remain an issue more for show than anything else. More than 95% of Congressmen running for reelection in 2002 will win again. 

The political right will complain about the ever-growing size of government and the inability of the Republicans to do anything about it, but they will stick with the GOP. The left will continue to complain that everything that happens in Washington is under the tutelage of the corporations, and they will not come back to the Democratic Party. The Green Party will grow as a force in American politics in the years to come.

There are many public policy questions that will not receive the attention they deserve. The 10% of the population that makes up the stubborn underclass will continue to experience social pathologies and stagnant expectations for a better future even during this time of prosperity.

Unfortunately, as this recent election demonstrates, the interests of the old earn far more attention than the poor and the young, because the old vote and the poor and young do not.

Moreover, in spite of current economic numbers, our economy still remains worse than the economy of yesteryear. There once was a time in this country when a person out of high school could get married and buy a mortgage on a nice house, while today's college graduate can barely afford an apartment.  This is a direct consequence of the U.S. leaving its monetary anchor in the 1970s. The effort to return the U.S. dollar, and by default the worldwide monetary system, to stability and thereby preserve long-term prosperity for our posterity remains one of the great causes of our generation.

But for now, these issues remain at the periphery of American politics, and deserve more attention in another column. It is a mixed blessing to live in times where politics is on the periphery of our lives. On the one hand, much needs to be done. On the other hand, a nation consumed by politics cannot be well adjusted, and it is a credit to our society that most individuals can pursue happiness without being forever reminded by political events and realities. When it comes to politics, America has shrugged its shoulders, with a bit of a smile on its face.

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© Scott Gillette, 2000

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View expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Political USA.


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