Earlier this year, we were told America was splitting apart. Itwas said that ''multiculturalism'' revealed an American stress fracture, that the harsh candidacies of David Duke and Pat Buchanan showed the political dimension of the ugly situation, that ''polarization'' would be the hallmark of the coming election, that the Los Angeles riot proved it, that a long hot summer would drill it home.
There will be more to come. You will hear complaints that this is the lowest, stupidest, ugliest, silliest, rottenest, and, above all, the most divisive campaign ever.
Wrong. America is coming together; you could see that at the conventions. The people are being heard. Beneath all the balloons are some emerging agreements about first principles that have long been contentious. Consider a few. The idea of bigger government is dead. Isolationism is dead. Trade and markets work. Pluralism -- both ethnic and cultural -- is with us. Values count.
The Republicans, wisely, want to make big government the issue. But the argument has shifted. It is not about somewhat more government vs. the same amount of government. It now concerns the same amount of government vs. less government. Bill Clinton keeps saying, ''I hate bureaucracy.''
There is cultural pluralism, too. The gay and lesbian signs were prominent on the convention floor in New York. That would have been impossible a generation ago. And social conservative Bill Bennett had it right in Houston when he talked about ''the tumultuous issue of alternative lifestyles.'' He said: ''Heaven knows there are lots of them. This is a free country. Within very broad limits people may live as they wish.''
That crucial thought noted, Mr. Bennett and other conservatives correctly say, it is not irrelevant to debate those aspects of private choice that touch public policy -- condoms vs. abstinence in public schools, gays in the military, voluntary prayer, etc.
Does this mean that Republicans and Democrats are the same, that liberals and conservatives would have the same policies? Surely not. It means that they have a different emphasis on items that are becoming part of our common set of beliefs.
The election process -- ugly as it may seem -- will further push the politicians to get in line with what the people already believe.
Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.