STEPHEN C. CRAIG
On January 20, 1993, with Bill Clinton sworn in as our forty-second president and the Democrats assuming control of both elected branches of government, it seemed possible to believe that the era of gridlock was over and that maybe -- just maybe -- Washington's political class would respond to the message of urgency and concern sent by voters when they cast their ballots two-and-a-half months earlier. According to Newsweek columnist Joe Klein, 1992 had been a year in which "civilians dragged the politicians, [campaign professionals] and press kicking and screaming into the election they wanted. It was a year [when] the mystique of pollsters, strategists and mediamasters was put in proper perspective. It was, at long last, the Year of the Voter." An electorate that was typically "apathetic, malleable" and bored with politics became suddenly "obsessed" with the process, seeing the presidential contest in particular as a "turning point" for the nation and following campaign events with a heightened sense of purpose. "Everywhere you went," said Klein ( 1992, p. 14), "on supermarket checkout lines, in coffee shops and saloons, around kitchen tables . . . the talk was of Ross and George and Bill." And when it was over, there was a cautious optimism that things would be different.
That, however, was then and this is now. On January 4, 1995, Newt Gingrich took the oath as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republicans ascended to the majority in both houses of Congress for the first time in more than forty years, and the world of Washington politics -- along with the politics of many states (where the GOP enjoyed dramatic gains in 1994 gubernatorial and legislative races) -- was turned upside down once again. Clinton and the Democrats had not necessarily failed, at least by traditional standards, but they fell far short of implementing the agenda of social and institutional "change" that was critical to their success in the previous election. As it happens, voters were not of a mood to be patient: Given the choice between politics as usual and a bold (albeit uncertain) new beginning, they resoundingly opted for the latter.