- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2000

The division in public opinion, as close as it is, isn't as neatly packaged as in His and Hers, nor is it as absolutely conservative vs. knee-jerk liberal as the punditry makes it seem. And a good thing too.

The politics and punditry of polarity dramatize the arguments, but they exaggerate. There's a big middle and the middle isn't as mushy as it used to be. We've lost sight of that in the tumult since Nov. 7.

Even on an issue as divisive as abortion, there's a large gray area. Depicted on a Bell curve, the two sides are wide apart. But large numbers of voters on both sides are repelled by partial-birth abortion, and large majorities say parents of a minor child should be notified when she seeks an abortion.

Men and women of the middle reason that it's vicious to kill a full-term infant, that even the term "abortion" is a euphemism for such a procedure. Parents want to be notified of a minor child's abortion for common sense reasons: At such a traumatic time a child especially needs a parent's loving concern. (A judge can intercede in those instances when a parent should not be consulted.)

The big government vs. less government argument is not always as angry as it sometimes seems, either. Despite some conservative disdain for George W.'s "compassionate conservatism," he cut into the liberal argument that Republicans don't care about the poor among us. He reminded voters that the welfare reform act that President Clinton signed was Republican legislation.

Few Americans continue to defend welfare dependency as good for able-bodied men and women. Instead of encouraging single moms to rely on Big Daddy, both conservatives and liberals crusade to educate fathers to take responsibility for their children. The number of welfare recipients is half what it was at its peak in 1994. The majority of lower skilled women in the lower income population receive larger paychecks than they did on welfare.

Both presidential candidates said they want educational reform. Americans afraid of vouchers argue that vouchers will wreck the public school system, but any parent with a child stuck in a bad public school knows of one public school that has failed already. Liberals and conservatives have joined together in many cities to create charter schools which use public school money, but run independently of the public school system. Such schools can't be created fast enough for parents in the middle.

The culture wars supposedly pit the permissive against the restrictive. But parents across the spectrum say they want the television networks, the movie studios, with or without a nudge from the politicians, to clean up prime time and cut out the cheap sex and violence. Who isn't outraged when a child is exposed to raw pornography on the Internet? The most devout defenders of the First Amendment welcome a little restraint on the part of the producers.

Al Gore won majorities of blacks, single women, the unions and city folk. George W. did better with white men, married women and the rural inhabitants of the fly-over states. According to a poll taken for the Democratic Leadership Council, 47 percent of the electorate describes itself as "moderate" and views George W. as right of center and closer to them than Al Gore.

The major differences between the two presidential candidates can be characterized as personal style, the grind vs. the goof-off, the uptight vs. the laid back. But both men were educated in the Ivy League and both have got their on-the-job training in tough political campaigns.

Al Gore's sing-song rhetoric and George W.'s inarticulate phrasing have been roundly mocked, but neither has been ridiculed more than Dwight Eisenhower for his garbled syntax or Adlai Stevenson for his egghead manner. Eisenhower won the presidency, and Stevenson had to settle for laughing at himself. ("Eggheads of the world, unite!" he said. "You have nothing to lose but your yolks.")

When George W. Bush is finally sworn in on Jan. 20 and the country rallies behind him, as it will, most of us will emphasize what we have in common, rather than celebrate what separates us. Then the furniture will start flying. It's the American way.

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