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Who Has the Center?


Since the end of the Cold War, America has been searching for its political center. The symbolic end of the Cold War, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, came in November, 1989. That was during the third term of the Reagan Administration when George H.W. Bush was President.

Nine years earlier, with the election of Ronald Reagan, America took a soft right turn. One of the hallmarks of Reagan's genius was his steadfast refusal to deal with social issues. There was little for the religious right to get lathered about because Reagan and his administration would not deal with it, it's craziness, or it's issues which are fabric tearing social issues. For example, little was said regarding abortion during the Reagan years. It seems so refreshing now viewed in the rearview mirror of history.

In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected, and for eight years we had peace and prosperity. The Clinton years must be reckoned as fairly "liberal" years, if labels matter. Actually, from the heights of hindsight, it looks as if Clinton was a soft left turn that complemented Reagan's soft right.

Perhaps the re-creation of how the world produces and shares information, and the attendant increase in asset values from stocks to real estate, distracted us from our pettier natures. For a few years there was enough to go around. And Clinton did earn considerable credibility with moderates with his reform of welfare.

In 2000, of coarse, George W. Bush was elected president in the closest election in American history. Caught unawares by 9/11, his promise of "compassionate conservatism" gave way to a darker mood of unbridled executive power, preemptive and unpopular wars, torture as a government policy, unwarranted eavesdropping on our own citizens, and a shameful betrayal of an undercover C.I.A. agent by her own vice-president. These national embarrassments prompted three quarters of us think that our country was on the wrong path. The financial meltdown that accompanied Dubya's final act only reinforced the wrong path perception.

These Bush years comprise a hard right turn in our political lives. History will hold the likes of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld and their fellow "neocons" as perfect examples of what leadership can do in the face of an apathetic populace and a timid press. It will also show what a vigorous Greek Chorus of blow-hard eggers-on can do to keep a minority of the engaged enraged.

How ironic would it be if no more "Baby Boomers" are elected president, and these two men, Bill Clinton and Junior Bush, who truly do represent all the dichotomies of that generation, become the standards, politically, by which the Boomers are judged?

In that case, let's hope history's talk turns to the great music the Boomers made. Or movies. Or fiction. Anything else.

Now we are six months into the Presidency of Barack Obama. So far, it looks like a coarse-correction, a soft left turn of the Bill Clinton variety. That's not saying much considering the ditch by the right side of the road that Bush put us in. But it could be a lot worse. Imagine, if you will, a President Huckabee, or Hilary and all her attendant dramas, or McCain with his dizzy lack of concentration.

Our president is bright, ambitious, and unafraid. These are good things.

Now let's turn our attention to the Congress.

Never, it seems, are all messes in a democracy cleaned up at the same time.