PRESIDENT-ELECT Bill Clinton can take one deep breath and then must get on with it. The job of governing is built on the foundation of campaigning. Campaigning in another form will have to continue.
Clinton's first tasks will be to secure relationships in Congress, to embrace its new members, and to include the nation's governors and mayors in asserting a new direction for the country.
The Democrats will now have an alignment in controlling a majority of executive and legislative offices. Clinton will want to listen and not dominate. He is already familiar with problems at the state level, especially the transfer of federal spending and tax burdens. He will want to rebuild Democratic Party identification, which eroded during a dozen years of GOP rule.
Politics is as much about relationships as about programs. Ideas billboarded during the campaign will have to be vetted for their constituency in Congress. More women in the Senate and House, more minority politicians, have broken the white male model in Washington. Educated young working women gave Clinton much of his margin. This new leadership wedge should be encouraged, not abandoned.
Clinton did not win a mandate. His margin was decisive but underwhelming. George Bush took a third of the popular votes, Ross Perot a fifth.
Clinton has won the right to earn a mandate over the next four years, the right to become president. He brings an evident skill to this task. He was the best-prepared Democrat at the start of the nomination run. He endured character attacks. His governing record and his home state were belittled. His voice and body drained of energy, he fought on. He showed humility in confessing a self-image of "the fat boy in the band," a restlessness in avoiding capture behind a desk. These say something about his lik ely governing style.
As to the losers: Bush appeared to want the office more than the job. At the GOP convention he courted the hard-right constituency on nongoverning matters. He argued for who was fitter for the office, forgetting that Americans will often settle for someone less than perfect who will get the job done. The Republican Party, however, has had a good run in the White House under Presidents Reagan and Bush. It's by no means clear that Clinton will be able to turn the economy around. Bush beat Dukakis by more e lectoral votes than Clinton beat Bush. So Republicans could come right back into the White House in 1996.
Perot proved that an independent base supported by a lot of dollars and widespread voter restlessness can launch an energetic campaign. Perot was a meteor. He was the political innovator of '92; he stayed mostly off the road, relying on talk shows and media buys instead. But not even a billionaire could bankroll himself into the White House.
Nearly 100 million Americans voted in this election. The disgusting climax of personal attacks did not discourage them. People wanted to have their say. Spurred on by depleted pocketbooks and the Perot option, they thought their votes counted. Incumbents who ran mostly won. So much for the cliches of voter apathy, media occlusion, and anger against incumbents.
Bush has earned the freedom to use the fishing reel he bought Monday. He has done a lot of things well. He never did, however, come up with a program for the future. And he would have had to face accountability for the past - Iran-contra, Iraqgate, the savings-and-loan scandals - still in the inquiry stage.
It gets difficult in a new way for Clinton. He has to take hold of the Middle East peace process, where Israel is expecting him to let up. He has to decide how to embrace the idea of a North American manufacturing and trade community. Europe will be watching for signals on agriculture, trade, and military matters. Will Clinton get on the road soon to assert America's new posture in world affairs? Does he have a James Baker III in the wings for secretary of state? How will he fit his vice president, Al Go re, into the White House operation?
Now that Clinton can wipe off the campaign mud, the election gets interesting in an entirely different way.