Now Back to Work

The Washington job holders got about what they wanted in this week's election. Few pink slips. Not much change. Power divided between the White House and Congress.

And in the states, the allocation of governorships remained the same: a 2-to-1 advantage for the Republicans, likely keeping up the pressure for state-initiative versus federal management of government effort.

President Clinton handily won reelection by almost the 50 percent margin he wanted, to claim a minimal mandate. Bob Dole got a respectable share of the electoral vote, almost as many popular votes as Mr. Clinton got last time, and held his party's growing edge in the South as well as helped shore up the GOP's House and Senate margin with his final weekend of nonstop campaigning. The Democrats lost a couple of seats in the Senate but picked up perhaps a dozen in the House, leaving House Speaker Newt Gingrich with only a handful of votes for his majority margin.

In effect if not by design, American voters made it difficult for one branch or one party to gain much of an advantage for the next two years. They acted on James Madison's Constitution design dictum: One can count on self-interest to impel parties, individuals, and branches to police one another.

For all the talk of Washington being the problem, a lot of money and effort were spent by the three parties (including Ross Perot's Reform Party, likely to play a role again in 2000) to get or keep control of it.

This was a professional's election. Whether we like it or not, politics is a growth industry today. Polling, fund-raising, and staffing take money and sophisticated management. The potential for abuse is always there. And we will be treated to a review of the money flow and possible influence peddling of incumbent politicians in the next Congress. President Clinton's effectiveness the past four years, to the extent you want to acknowledge it, was in his career-long absorption in policy and political adaptation. These are the same traits that make opponents call him "slick." But it takes a politician's passion for policy to work through the complex options of legislative change.

The election came down for moderation in change. Working women continued their support of Democrats. Young people supported Clinton much as they had Ronald Reagan, tending to vote for the candidate or party on the rise as they come of age politically. Men divided their votes about evenly between Clinton and Dole. The split-government outcome means that the politicians will go right back at it to seek an advantage for 1998. Campaign finance reform will get partisan attention. Medicare reform may or may not get bipartisan review.

President Clinton will have to figure out how to survive a second term and leave a legacy. He will appoint a new White House staff and a new Cabinet. If sustaining slow but steady economic growth is his first priority, he may want to give even more prominence to Robert Rubin, his Treasury secretary. Departing chief of staff Leon Panetta deserves credit for having brought maturity and discipline to Clinton's actions. Clinton will need, as a lame duck leader, even more self-discipline in his White House to work with a Congress inclined to give him no quarter.

And the succession battle begins. Vice President Al Gore's prospects in 2000 will depend on the state of the economy and on how well Clinton navigates the various inquiries into his own and his administration's conduct. Sen. Bill Bradley among others may think it is his turn to head the ticket. On the Republican side too, Jack Kemp could expect plenty of company in the primaries.

*Richard J. Cattani is editor at large of the Monitor.

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