The following is the text of the column which caught the attention of the White House and led to the appointment of Andrei H. Cherny '97 as a speechwriter for President Clinton and Vice President Gore.
The balloons have all popped, the confetti been swept away. Lawn signs will be pulled down and bumper stickers will erode. High school bands in swing states will go back to playing at football games instead of political rallies. Our airwaves can be reclaimed in the name of products we don't need, after having been temporarily subjugated by candidates we don't want. It is all over. Bob Dole, who first faced the voters at age 27, has waged his last campaign and lost. Bill Clinton, who ran his first race at age 28, has waged his last campaign and won.
It all seems so very obvious and anti-climactic now. The race contained few surprises and each of the parties did little more than play their perfunctory parts. Yet, less than two years ago, the experts predicted a far different outcome for the 1996 presidential contest. Back then the Republicans were revolting and the President was arguing with the press about whether he had some relevance to the process of government. The week after the 1994 elections Time charitably said that, "if not gone, certainly radically diminished was the prospect of William Jefferson Clinton's gaining a second term." Yet, Tuesday night it was the same President who was beaming in front of the Old State House in Arkansas, having been reelected in an electoral college landslide.
Exactly a year ago this week, U.S. News & World Report asked on its cover, "Democrats: Is the Party Over?" Inside it declared that the "world's oldest political party is fighting for its life." Such talk has long since disappeared as the Republicans have spent much time of this year on the defensive. Bill Clinton and the Democrats have recaptured the political center.
In the days following the midterm election, pundits presented the President with one of two options to have a chance of reclaiming his presidency from oblivion. The first was to oppose the Republicans at every step. If they say "yes", say "no." If they say "stop," say "go." If they say "high," barnstorm the nation furiously insisting "low."
The second option was to accept their interpreted verdict of the nation and ever so softly tap the breaks on the hurtling Republican revolution. If they say "high," say "I'll jump as high as you want." Clinton, wisely, took neither opition. He forged his own path by looking inward and realizing that articulating and trusting in who he was all along was the surest path to success.
Clinton was neither a demagogue nor a Demo-GOP. Instead, he became what he had promised to be in 1992 and throughout his career: a raging centrist who would fight for middle class interests and mainstream values. In 1994, voters didn't vote for a "do nothing" government. They wanted a government that works and has real accomplishments on real problems. For all the criticism of Clinton's "little programs," school construction, teenage curfews, and child literacy have a lot bigger impact on American families than the "big ideas" that some inside the Beltway demanded.
Yet, Clinton's pygmy proposals are representative of more than what they seem at first glance. In 1960, John F. Kennedy '40 and Richard M. Nixon spent much of the fall arguing about the fate of Quemoy and Matsu, two small islands off the coast of China. Yet for all the hand-wringing that year and thenceforth about spending so much of the election on such minute specks of land, the argument was really about how the candidates would deal with the Communist menace--a debate definitely worth having. When George Bush spent the fall of 1988 talking about the Pledge of Allegiance and prison furloughs, Americans understood it as the criticism of a Democratic Party that too often failed to recognize America's special place in the world and sought to strike an improper balance between the rights of criminals and their victims.
So too this year's campaign issues of V-chips, education tax breaks, and cellular phones for neighborhood watch groups can also be seen as the articulation of a different vision of government than that which we have come to expect from the overheated debates in Washington. It is a vision of government that neither solves problems for people nor leaves them alone to fend for themselves. Rather, Bill Clinton's winning vision is one that gives people the means to fix their own problems.
For a politician who seems to constantly be under fire for a perceived lack of consistency, this is a strain that runs indelibly through his entire career. In 1974, a young Bill Clinton fresh out of law school campaigned for Congress. He recalled "the words of a friend of mine who works on the Scott Country road crew, "the people want a hand up, not a hand out." Twenty-tow years later, Clinton spoke in Cleveland on the last day of his last campaign. He called on Americans to "work together to give everyone the tools they need, the chance--not a guarantee, but a chance to make the most of our own lives and build that bridge to the 21st century together."
This was the question in 1996. A 15 percent tax cut that would give individuals greater autonomy from the government or a government that works for American community to create equal opportunities for advancement. By no means a small question, the argument over individualism versus community has the potential to play an even greater role as we enter a world where technology both separates people from one another and concurrently demands they work in teams to succeed. That's big enough debate for any election.
Now, after endless months of campaigning, the 1996 election has drawn to a close. For those of you are feeling withdrawal from a lack of discussion of bridges, villages and "whatever"--never fear. Disappointed with Tuesday's results? Bide your time. Voters of New Hampshire: lock your doors! After all, its only 1,461 days until the presidential election.