THE falling away of the chief contention of our times - between the communist and democratic systems, wherein China lags - has not brought us the peace-of-mind dividend we might have expected. A lot of contention is left over: Bosnian ethnic strife, US-Japan trade, oil prices, global agriculture policy, Washington economic legislation.
How can the citizen contribute to unity when the human race seems so inclined to withhold support?
This newspaper's values require us to state that the address to any dispute begins, for us, with an examination of what is going on in our own thinking. Our approach is to consider first whether any obtuseness, hardness of heart, or self-will is keeping us from seeing our perceived adversary's worth and needs.
We try to use the knowledge that our emotional reactions give us. The emotional intensities aroused by disputes frustrate solutions; but they also can guide us to self-examination and, by reversal, to unity. Intensities: Think of the abortion controversy in Europe and America. Or the asylum issue in Germany, where that country's attempt to cancel its historical transgressions by opening its doors to refugees has soured economically and socially. Or the Balkan hostilities.
Time is an unsettling factor. Cities are living through another phase of cultural change. Boston, for example, is no longer the city of Brahmins and Irish: 40 percent of the the city's population is black, Hispanic, or Asian. Much community tension derives from a lag in perceiving how things are: Continually surprised by change, we are less secure in our judgment and lash out at newcomers, or at those who cling to their privileges.
Now the policy part:
President Clinton is having a hard time getting much respect in Congress for his budget, energy tax, health care, and other initiatives. He has just appointed a new spokesman, David Gergen, to help get across his message. The American political system, however, was not designed to make it easy for the chief executive to govern. The Madisonian view prevailed: Because each region or interest group could be counted on to pursue its interests, a system of checks and balances was best suited to keeping the na tion energetic while stopping any one unit from stealing the show.
Frankly, the economic weather is driven by forces bigger than those that would be affected by the president's economic cloud-seeding proposals. Recession in Europe and elsewhere is making it difficult for the US recovery to find any legs. A worldwide revolution in work methods is eliminating both blue-collar and white-collar jobs. Expansion of the older section of the population is driving up health-care costs. Mr. Clinton took a risk in promising so much change. He said he could create jobs while drasti cally cutting the deficit, defying the economic link between the two.
Despite this pragmatic reading of Clinton's dilemma, we urge Congress to meet the president halfway.
With the appointment of Gergen, an experienced White House communicator for several Republican presidents, Clinton has signaled at least a willingness to employ a bipartisan sensibility for a fresh start. He should be given the stimulus measures he wants, especially those of social benefit (jobs for youths).
And Clinton should meet Congress halfway. The president may try to go to the country to sell his proposals over his fellow politicians' heads. But he hasn't the energy, an experienced-enough staff, or a sufficiently developed sense of direction to try to power his way to victory. His Democratic majorities are deceiving: Other loyalties, as on energy issues, cross party lines in moderate linkages; conservative coalitions still exist on social issues.
While Clinton has been stumbling across the Washington terrain, events abroad - most urgently the strife in Bosnia and Croatia - are exposing the need to develop working coalitions among the world's governments.
A leader creates unity through vision, not salesmanship or will. Clinton should keep it simple. He should concentrate on three issues: his budget approach, in which he would make major concessions to achieve a first-step deficit-reduction goal; health-care reform, to begin containing costs and extending service; and a crash foreign-policy education course for himself and the nation.
Unity requires that colleagues act collegially, the media do not buzz around like gnats, and the people not frustrate leaders with orneriness.
The world steadily moves toward unity, economically and politically. And individual rights gain currency.
In recent national elections, citizens showed they want better performance from leaders. They withheld support from officeholders. Now, however, all must help to make our governments and institutions work.