At the dawn of the last century, the surviving members of the Civil War generation took their bows, and were celebrated in the twilight of their lives. William McKinley, representing the old soldiers who had led the country from the days of Reconstruction, defeated the brash populist William Jennings Bryan in 1900 to win a second term. Within a year, however, McKinley was dead from an assassin’s bullet, and young Theodore Roosevelt of New York-a child when McKinley was serving as a captain in the Union Army-became President. The American Century had begun.
The 21st century begins with a new generation already in power. Bill Clinton’s defeat of George Bush in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996 marked the transfer of political power from the G.I. generation to their children, the baby boomers. The transition was inevitable, but it has not been smooth. Bill Clinton’s Presidency will not be remembered, it is safe to say, for its reverence for tradition and for the majesty of the Presidency. It’s a job, the President has said of his office.
No, it is not. Harry S Truman and Ronald Reagan, two men from the apogee of the American Century, may not have agreed on much, but both revered the institution of the Presidency and respected its traditions. Like Mr. Clinton, neither Truman nor Mr. Reagan came from elite backgrounds; they were not and did not aspire to be aristocrats, but they surely prized the nobility and dignity of the Republic’s highest office.
The restoration of that nobility, the return to a seriousness of purpose, surely must be among the priorities of the next administration. We believe Al Gore is best suited for that assignment.
Mr. Gore is not an ideal candidate. His eagerness to please can be grating, and has led him to make statements that are more silly than deliberate. Still, he is the superior choice. His Republican opponent, George W. Bush, may be charming, but he is a lightweight of scandalous proportions. (This is a man, remember, who wondered aloud if those of the Jewish faith were allowed into heaven.) Mr. Bush is inarticulate not because he has trouble expressing himself, but because he has nothing to express. Republicans got behind him last spring simply because he had a famous last name and seemed malleable enough. No Presidential candidate since Warren Harding, chosen in a backroom in 1920 because he was a blank slate and looked vaguely heroic, has been so cavalierly thrust upon the electorate.
Mr. Gore, on the other hand, has spent a lifetime preparing for this moment. To some of his critics, this is an argument against him and for Mr. Bush, who, it is pointed out, didn’t think about being President-indeed, didn’t think about very much at all-until reaching middle age. We have a higher regard for the power of the Presidency and the role of politics in national life. We’d prefer a serious, professional politician to a breezy, unfocused and almost gleefully ignorant cipher.
Mr. Gore’s credentials as a founding member of the Democratic Leadership Council recommend him as a Democrat who wishes to fight tomorrow’s battles, not yesterday’s. He would be good for New York, while Mr. Bush can be counted on to favor the Sunbelt states. Mr. Gore knows that the United States cannot withdraw from a complicated and dangerous world. He realizes that the budget surpluses of the last few years require stewardship, not a wasteful giveaway. And surely he must know that, at some point in the next four years, the business cycle will have its way with our economy. His caution, as opposed to Mr. Bush’s recklessness, is appropriate.
Mr. Gore has had the difficult assignment of distancing himself from the sins of the Clinton administration while not appearing disloyal. We believe he has done so convincingly. He shares Bill Clinton’s commitment to the New Economy, to globalism, to a new Democratic Party that blends the party’s tradition of social justice with the realities of 21st-century economics, but he certainly does not carry with him the stain of the President’s character flaws. Mr. Gore is a better man, indeed, than the President he has served dutifully since 1993. He will not embarrass the nation with personal scandals and sleazy ethics.
Lazio for Senate
A Gore victory, however, may not entirely free us from the curse of Clintonism. Hillary Rodham Clinton, having scanned the landscape to find a hospitable setting for her ambitions, proposes to represent the state (though really just herself and Arkansas-Hollywood cronies) in the U.S. Senate. Standing between her and Capitol Hill is Representative Rick Lazio of Long Island.
The First Lady’s record of mendacity speaks for itself, and requires no repetition here. She has tried to put the past behind her by claiming that she will be a tough advocate for New York’s interests-how she will be able to identify them remains uncertain. It is an absurd claim. Bringing home the proverbial bacon requires cooperation and collegiality; these are not the first two attributes one associates with Mrs. Clinton. In fact, for all her obvious intelligence and mastery of policy details, she will be a detriment to New York in the Senate. Her high-handedness and self-righteousness already have done wonders for her popularity on Capitol Hill. Without the power of her husband’s Presidency, she will be defenseless as her enemies-in both parties-take their revenge on her, and on New York. She will cost the state and city billions and billions in federal dollars.
Leaving aside the question of personality, Mr. Lazio strikes us as the better choice. New York already has one liberal Democrat in the Senate (Charles Schumer). Wouldn’t it be prudent to have a conservative Republican looking after our interests, too?
Mrs. Clinton offers us little more than personal ambition. Mr. Lazio exhibits smiley-faced nothingness. In such a grim contest, New Yorkers ought to side with the candidate who will work best with others. That would be Mr. Lazio.
Corzine for Senate
What a contrast between the New York Senate candidates and Jon Corzine, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs who is running for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey. At a time when politics and global economics are so intertwined, Mr. Corzine would bring a fresh perspective to a body that has been dominated by lawyers.
Mr. Corzine understands the issues that will dominate the new century; indeed, he has helped shape those issues firsthand. It is admirable indeed that he wishes to bring his expertise to Washington, and it should bother nobody that Mr. Corzine is spending more than $56 million of his own money to finance his campaign. It’s his money, after all.
If Mr. Corzine wins, perhaps other business leaders from both parties will come to view government not as an implacable enemy, but as a public service.
The 20th century saw government transformed from a vocation into a profession, with power taken away from the clubhouses and country clubs and centralized in Washington. The 21st century figures to bring equally dramatic changes-a dispersal of power to states and localities, more direct democracy, leaders selected from a larger pool of talented people from a variety of professions.
Al Gore and Jon Corzine are well-suited to this new world. Let’s hope Mr. Lazio uses his eight years of Congressional experience to become a great Senator.