Back in the 1960s a great intellectual controversy flared up over a conceptual phrase - "the end of ideology" - invented by Daniel Bell, the eminent Harvard philosopher emeritus. He defined ideology with its locus in the industrial West as "the conversion of ideas into social levers."
What Mr. Bell was arguing was that the "Age of Ideology" was over. "Ideology," he wrote, "which once was the road to action, has come to be a dead end." Existing ideologies are "exhausted." The debate that followed publication of his book "The End of Ideology" had a reincarnation in the debate which followed Francis Fukuyama's article in National Interest about "the end of history."
If anything is clear in today's presidential campaign it is that we have reached an "end of ideology" as far as the two major political parties are concerned. Whether we like it or not, this presidential campaign, the last of the century, is startlingly different from previous electoral contests in that no dramatic issue divides President Clinton and Bob Dole either in domestic or foreign policy.
One could say that from 1932 on, with few exceptions, presidential campaigns were based on rival ideologies about some major issue - Hoover-Roosevelt (the Depression), Truman-Dewey (labor and Taft-Hartley), Eisenhower-Stevenson (domestic communism), Johnson-Goldwater (arms and the man), Nixon-McGovern (the culture), Reagan-Mondale (taxes), Bush-Dukakis (crime). Different agendas were offered the public and debated. What is being debated now? Mr. Clinton is adopting, as his own, issue after issue raised by Mr. Dole. Fred Barnes made this point in the Aug. 19 Weekly Standard when he wrote about Mr. Clinton: "Consciously or not, he's become in many ways a more conservative president than Ronald Reagan." I'll wait while you re-read that sentence.
Recently I watched on the Lehrer show one of the most intelligent of our analysts, Paul Wolfowitz, defense undersecretary in the Bush administration, struggling to find a major flaw in Mr. Clinton's handling of the Iraq crisis. I would say Mr. Wolfowitz couldn't find any such, any more than former Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick could find any major area of disagreement in her recent debate with the present U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright. Even on foreign policy, there seems to be no …