The Winds of Rebellion
A presidential election is the grand pageant of American democracy -- spectacle in which the events on stage are invested by actors and audience alike with larger-than-life meaning. Parties are prematurely buried and as suddenly disinterred; mighty coalitions are pronounced dead, and realignments confidently proclaimed; old ideologies are consigned to history, and new ones divined in the exit polls before the victor is seated; a back-bench senator named Kennedy or a B-movie actor named Reagan is raised overnight to national icon, only to be returned with time and reexamination to the ranks of fallible men.
And yet, watching the events of 1992 unfold, it was more than ordinarily hard to escape a sense that an order of things was cracking -- that, whatever the denouement, the accustomed patterns of politics would not soon be the same again. The simultaneous crises of faith in the economy and faith in the government had loosed powerful and unpredictable winds of rebellion across the landscape, and the party that had monopolized the presidency for most of the past quarter-century was not alone in their destructive path. The two- party system itself was under siege: it was the year of the outsider, a time of mutiny within each of the major parties and of passion, finally disappointed, for a billionaire salvationist who represented no party at all.
As the avant-garde of a new politics, Pat Buchanan, Jerry Brown, and Ross Perot were an implausible lot, each badly and in the end fatally flawed. But each in his way argued with surprising effect that there was no two-party system anymore -- that America had fallen into the hands of a single incumbent party obsessed only with power, not principle, and sustained by money and chicane. And each in his way offered something that the regular parties no longer seemed able to provide: a sense of empowerment for people who felt abandoned by what had become, in their eyes, a professional governing caste.