Last year's 'real life' outdid any fiction

Boy, what a year. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

There were two great stories, from a journalist's point of view. First, there was the story of a president, scarred by scandal and impeachment, making a determined effort to achieve a comeback while running his final laps. And then, as we have just seen, there's been an election story reminiscent of "The Perils of Pauline," which would have been rejected as implausible if submitted as a movie script.

I don't know about our readers, but I was both exhilarated and worn out by this year. The ride was so much fun, but I'm ready now for a little rest. I hope the Bush administration will be able to move along in an orderly, quiet fashion until I can get my second wind.

Already, economic tremors are stirring up anxieties. President-elect Bush's first priority will be to try to arrest a slowdown before it drops into a recession.

But let's focus first on the story of Bill Clinton's final year.

Adversaries, including those millions who seem to hate both Clintons, kept hoping that Lewinskygate had finished him politically - that he would pretty much vanish from sight.

But Mr. Clinton just wouldn't stay down. He doesn't miss a single opportunity to travel somewhere, make some pronouncement, honor some hero, or find some other way of staying in the limelight in order to perhaps accomplish something that will help his legacy. As I see it, this has been Clinton's effort to keep history from starting out with a first paragraph that will describe his presidency as "marred by scandal."

I was making this tough assessment of the Clinton presidency the other afternoon at a Christmas party, when I received this quiet rebuke from a valued friend who once was a top official at the World Bank: "That's a bad rap," he said. He thinks Clinton's foreign policy record was notable, particularly his efforts to move the peace process along both in Northern Ireland and the Mideast.

And in the spirit of Christmas - and friendship - I'm moved to say I found my friend's argument persuasive, or at least partly so. I'm sure Clinton has more in mind these days than just shoring up his reputation and improving his record. I honestly believe that, aside from trying to rescue his administration, Clinton is also trying to do good.

But the transcendent story of the year was this unbelievable election deadlock. How could anyone pen such a scenario? Not only did George W. Bush and Al Gore tie in a battle that would go on and on, but also the state legislatures are tied, the Senate is tied, and the House is within a whisper of a tie. All because millions of voters young and old, with varied racial backgrounds and interests, split down the middle on the people they want as their leaders.

Most of the commentators I've been hearing or reading are saying that without a mandate, Mr. Bush will find it difficult to get much done.

Bush claims he knows how to unite politicians of differing parties and opinions. His appointments - particularly those of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice - indicate he does possess that healing touch.

But I'm bemused by the question I hear so often about whether deadlock will prevent Bush from "getting things done." Often this question comes from commentators who are wondering whether Bush will be able to push forward with federal programs to deal with problems. Indeed, they really seem worried that Bush won't be able to carry forward with Mr. Gore's programs. Forget it. Bush didn't promise the Democrats a rose garden.

Bush will be attentive to the Democrats' point of view. He'll reach across and even compromise. But my guess is that Bush, even in this climate of deadlock, will be able to push along his own agenda.

Here comes that big tax cut, like it or not!

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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