This Fascinating Election

November 01, 1992

When future historians look back on the 1992 election, what will fascinate them?

The winner, for starters. Whether it is George Bush or Bill Clinton, historians will note that Mr. Bush was the last of the World War II generation to serve in the presidency. Mind-sets honed in the "good war" against Hitler have collided with attitudes nurtured by the "bad war" against Vietnam to produce differing views of the U.S. world role.

Which brings us to the second way in which this election differs from any that have come before: the breakup of the Soviet Union. Every election since 1945 has been obsessed with the need to deal with the communist threat. Until now, it has been a unifying theme for the Republican Party. With the Cold War over -- an epochal event on Mr. Bush's watch -- voter interest refocused on domestic issues, long the Democrats' strong suit.

Which brings us to the third way that makes this campaign

distinctive. The U.S. economy is afflicted by a singular lack of confidence. Not since the Great Depression has there been such pessimism. This explains, more than anything else, why the Democrats have led recently in an election that had been considered a shoo-in for the Republicans.

Which brings us to the fourth way that differentiates this election. The Democratic Party, after years of being undercut by its left-wing elements, has moved toward the center where the votes are. The Republican Party, in contrast, has allowed its image to be pushed to the right.

Which brings us to a fifth new factor in the person of Ross Perot, the first billionaire who has tried to use his fortune to buy the presidency. His ability to purchase huge chunks of television time has impelled Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton to try to match him by making themselves available for talk shows and interviews on a scale that almost amounts to overkill.

Historians with the advantage of hindsight and voting data may discern other factors that have made this one of the most interesting elections in U.S. history. It has been an instructive election as well -- one that has focused the attention of American voters on the huge deficits and social ills that result from 'N government mismanagement. If the lessons learned bring remedial action, the self-corrective forces of democracy will prevail once again.

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