Pleased with your president, or chancellor, or...

"ARE YOU

January 09, 1993

"ARE YOU pleased with your president, or chancellor, or prime minister?" asks the London Economist. "If so, you are probably in a minority, at least if you live in one of the rich democracies."

The leaders of the powerful industrial nations, the Economist continues, are almost without exception in bad stead with their constituents. Fortunately for them, so are their opponents.

The German chancellor and French president are as low in popular esteem as they have been since achieving office. The hTC British prime minister barely held onto his job this year.

In Japan, the hitherto invincible Liberal Democrats are scrambling to stay in power in the face of popular disgust over corruption. Italian politics is more fragmented than ever -- which is saying a good deal. Our Canadian neighbors again rejected a constitutional amendment backed by all three national parties. And in the United States we elected a president with less than half the popular vote -- and only double the vote of an amateur politician.

What's wrong? In part, the Economist says, it is the decline of political parties, as voters focus more on single issues than broad philosophies. And the declining repute of politicians as a breed, encouraged by a prying press and a better educated electorate. Yet the same voters (and prying press, the Economist fails to add) demands more of its politicians these days. No more communist menace -- at home or abroad -- to provide the winning issues.

"Only the arrogant assume the worst of voters, who, despite their lack of love for politicians, are not entirely selfish and unconcerned for their fellow human beings," the Economist concludes.

Noting the growth of referenda as a means of making major decisions, it says that "as politics continues to shift away from collectivism and toward individualism, [direct democracy's] potency will grow."

A comforting thought for Europeans, perhaps, but less so for Americans who routinely cast ballots on issues as mundane as parking garages as well as volatile ones like.

* * *

Democratic Mayor Lloyd Helt of Sykesville is stepping down in May. His wife, Republican Alderman Ruth Gray of Annapolis is resigning her post, too. No more commuter marriage for them.

It was an odd-couple political tie from the start. Note her bridal invitation: "He was well-mannered. . . He was neatly groomed. . . He was superficially appealling. . . But I don't know what I could have been thinking when I MARRIED A REPUBLICAN," read the invitation. "The bone-chilling fantasy-shocker of a monster whose opinions are as horrifying as its idea of a good time!"

"It walks! It talks! It puts its foot in its own mouth!"

That was 1990. Now the dual-party combo takes up residence on a new political stage in Westminster. What will do they for an encore?

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