Mood Indigo and the Eight-Year Cycle

Is it bad for America if the government changes hands from one party to the other every eight years?

February 2, 2000

Is it bad for America if the government changes hands from one party to the other every eight years?

A journalist friend, plying his trade in Washington’s political scene, recently had a revealing lunch with a White House staffer. It seems that even with the Vice President’s campaign running better than ever, the prevailing mood among his White House associates is still rather dour. The staffer offered the following explanation.

“Well, you know, there really is a natural cycle — an ebb and a flow — to sharing political power in a democracy. I still remember vividly Inauguration Day 1993. I mean, after 12 years out in the cold, we Democrats had finally won back the White House. We’d been out of office so long, we barely knew how to unlock the door to the place.”

“Fortunately, Stu Eizenstat was there. He’d been around during the Carter years. Had it not been for him, I don’t know what we would have done. See, when your party doesn’t win the White House but once every 12 years, you lose all the folks who had the experience the last time around. All those folks who knew how to run the place, they’ve gone into retirement.

“You get out of practice, so to speak — and that’s bad for everybody concerned. For a democracy to function smoothly, you need both parties to have a deep pool of talent and a fresh set of skills.”

“Sure, it would be nice if we also got 12 years in office — just like the Republicans had with Reagan and Bush. But let’s not forget that, by 2004, the Republicans will have gotten pretty rusty in terms of how to run the country. For the good of American democracy, it might not be that bad if George W. Bush got a crack at it in 2000.”

Of course, as a veteran Washington reporter, my friend has gotten used to hearing such masterful and mesmerizing spin. Apparently learning from the master himself, all of the Clintonites have by now become highly skilled in the art of self-rationalization — so much so that they can make it seem like a victory even if Clinton is succeeded by a Republican in the White House.

Pity poor Al Bore, with political friends like this, who needs adversaries in the other party.