Magazine article Insight on the News

Balance of Power Shifts to Party Moderates

Magazine article Insight on the News

Balance of Power Shifts to Party Moderates

Article excerpt

The political parties are pretty possessive about this or that branch of government. Republicans long have seen the White House as justly their property, which goes a long way toward explaining why Bill Clinton's 1992 victory was seen as an affront by many in the Grand Old Party. To them the "Comeback Kid" was an illegitimate heir to Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- his initial informality and later his barnyard manners in the Oval Office served to emphasize his status as interloper and to enrage them further.

In the same way Democrats never have adjusted to Republican rule on Capitol Hill. The loss of the House after 40 years of controlling it came as a rude shock to Democrats, who targeted their fury on Newt Gingrich, the architect of their defeat in 1994. The same zeal Republicans exhibited in their crusade against Clinton was on display in the Democratic vendetta against Gingrich.

And hardly a congressional committee meeting has been held since the GOP captured the Hill without one or another Democratic member mouthing off about how badly the place is being run by the Republicans and how unfair everything is.

Writing on the eve of the polls, this election cycle at times has seemed more like a revenge cycle -- a blood feud between political Hatfields and McCoys. Both sides have been out to settle scores for previous defeats, to secure pounds of flesh for past humiliations. That's always the way it is with elections, but with this one the impulse has been quickened by frustration.

With the electorate afflicted by a bout of political squeamishness -- prompted no doubt by fatigue -- the revenge impulse has had to be disguised in coded rhetoric. So impeachment and interns have not figured prominently. Thongs have not been bared -- though the clumsy Paula Jones has tripped to Manhattan to reveal all for Penthouse and tell a national TV audience how she became a nun for the "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Only Hillary Rodham Clinton has attempted to raise the specter of Newt by trying to smear Rep. Rick Lazio, her Republican rival for the Senate, with the Gingrich brush, accusing him of having been a lackey of the former House speaker. Outside the Big Apple, Democrats have not raised the bogeyman of the right to frighten the children.

But what is unsaid often can be more powerful than what is said. As any dysfunctional married couple knows, the silences can be killing. For all the avoidance of a partisan raking of the past, the ghosts of Gingrich and Monica Lewinsky have haunted this election. Hence the Bush campaign tag of "compassionate conservatism" and the running-mate selection by Al Gore of Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, a bid by the vice president to distance himself from Clinton. …

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