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Election 2000: Winner-take-all Sweepstakes

by Franz Schurmann

One party will likely win the White House, Congress and a good number of state and local offices in 2000
(PNS) -- A winner-take-all war is going on between Republicans and Democrats whose outcome will likely be determined on election eve, 2000. On that night one party will likely win both the White House, Congress and a good number of state and local offices.

As an historian, I see two historical currents leading to this outcome. The first is that since its founding, America always has had a national direction. The second is that during most of its history, one party dominated for significant stretches of time.

It doesn't take a historian's crystal ball to see that the year 2000 will be one of worldwide challenges. The biggest is the wrenching transformation of the world's biggest country, Russia. At the same time the oil-rich Islamic world will face a choice of directions -- either towards more peace or more conflict. And by November of 2000, Americans will have a clearer sense of whether our prosperity is continuing or on the decline.

America will need strong leadership to cope with these challenges. But it is the party that has figured out how to define the national direction that will emerge as the dominant force of the 21st century.

America's enduring sense of national direction came from the American revolution whose participants felt there was some divine purpose in its birth. But the founding fathers, far from being fanatics, were shrewd operators willing to bet heavily on long-term futures.

During the 1790's, the ruling Hamiltonian Federalists were determined to weld together the 13 states into a single nation with a clear national direction. They succeeded but were shattered in the 1800 elections when the Jeffersonian Democrat-Republicans swept into power with an agenda of states rights.

But Jefferson took over the Federalist faith in an American national purpose and tied it onto states rights democracy. He soon found a way to make the contradictory agenda work rather than explode. With the 1803 Louisiana Purchase he launched the country on an expansionist direction outward.

By the 1830's the contradictions got too strong for the Jeffersonian direction to contain States rights became equated with slavery. Expansionist Northern farmers and businessmen clashed violently with equally expansionist Southern plantation owners. In 1860 the new Lincoln Republicans smashed the Democrats and launched 72 years of Republican rule.

The newly dominant Republicans accepted Jeffersonian expansionism but added a new national direction: increase both national and personal wealth through industry, business and agriculture. In the racist spirit of the age they promised that everyone who was "free, white and twenty-one" could become rich.

However, in the 1930's the Republicans shifted from expansionism to isolationism. And, in 1931, they saw their get-rich national direction undermined by the Great Depression. The Roosevelt Democrats swept into power early in 1933 and kept it till January 1969.

At first FDR accepted Republican isolationism even as he expanded state power to help the poor and those battered by the Depression. But in 1940 he took over the old Jeffersonian expansionism which Republican candidate Wilkie advocated through the slogan "one world."

With smashing victory in World War II, a new national direction was set for the post-war period. The New Deal preached a strong and good government acting as savior at home and leader in the world.

The Vietnam War shattered this national direction. But no new one took its place. The Republican Reaganites thought they had found one by creating huge amounts of wealth through revolutionizing the global economy. But their presidential candidates lost to the Democrats in 1992 and 1996.

Looking at two centuries of American national direction reveals three constants. One is the commitment to interwoven national and personal wealth. A second is that America's destiny is linked to the world beyond its borders. And the third is that a successful national direction requires strong government.

Clinton is now fashioning a new national direction linking these three constants together. He has accepted the Reaganite idea that America cannot extricate itself from global leadership and that increasing wealth at home can only be gained globally. But he has added a new non-Reaganite element -- global peace-making. The mantra for the new course could be called: national prosperity through global peace.

There is no way this new national purpose can be achieved through a divided government. It can only be done if one or the other party wins decisively in November 2000. And if both parties fail in this challenge, some new political force will arise to fill the void and lead the country -- and the world -- into the 21st century.

Pacific News Service editor Franz Schurmann, a professor emeritus of history and sociology at UC-Berkeley, is author of "American Soul" (Mercury House, 1995)

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Albion Monitor November 23, 1998 (

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