- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Well, then. Whoever gets to be president of the United States, with or without the U. S. Supreme Court’s collaboration (I write without knowing) — we’d all be well-advised to prepare for a wrestling match with reality.

The “separation of church and state” — so called — is widely seen in America as interdicting meaningful relationships between religion and politics. Except that theology keeps peering through the cracks in the great wall of separation, saying — as at this particular moment of strife and stress — surprise, surprise; here we go again, another contest over human power, and no obvious winners, Republican or Democratic. Calling Adam and Eve! Look what you dumb clucks began in that garden.

Turn power into the be-all and end-all of life, make its exercise the gold standard of human accomplishment, and you can expect this kind of thing. You expect it because, in these circumstances, power becomes more important than the means of acquiring it. Winning gets to be the main thing. The pseudo-justifications follow: to “do well,” and to pass “useful laws,” this sort of thing. The drive is all the same: to acquire power.

What makes Republicans the less dangerous of the two political parties — I didn’t say harmless, I said less dangerous — is that they normally want to do less for us than Democrats do. They want to cut taxes and regulations and thus “reduce government.” Democrats don’t want to cut much of anything. Less government, less power, is a motto that fails to attract the party that virtually invented — you’d be right about this one, Al — big government.

Yes, this mess is about chads; yes, it’s about smooth-tongued lawyers; and it’s also about an America torn between different ideals. But mostly, it’s about the lust for the levers of power.

My readers will differ among themselves on the point that follows. I am obliged to offer it all the same. It is that Al Gore craves power with more intensity than is good for him or, especially, us, the citizens; he drags the country through this bitter and divisive process because he seemingly believes power to be his destiny, his right.

I’m softer than others are on Tipper’s heartthrob, who, for all the lousiness of his political, er, vision, doesn’t strike me as essentially worse than a lot of other politicians. He strikes me as, in some sense, a creature of his times.

First, consider the man he now works for — one who doesn’t usually tempt me to softness. Big Bill is the consummate political animal: every gene, every corpuscle is engaged with the exercise of power. This sort of thing can be catching if you stand too close.

Second, what about Al as the ultimate enabler, those voters who want him to put all that power to work — “fighting” for us, blocking school vouchers, resisting “tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent,” protecting “reproductive rights,” and affirming affirmative action? Without such as these cheering while he and David Boies fight on in the judicial system, Al might modestly have stepped aside long ago, accepting narrow but apparent defeat. (A related point: During the campaign, he might also have avoided dumb and divisive rhetoric about, e.g., “the wealthiest 2 percent.” He didn’t because plenty of voters respond to divisive rhetoric.)

Consider likewise how long there has been a constituency for Al’s “vision” — about seven decades, that’s how long. People tend to smack their lips at the idea of someone’s wielding power in their behalf. If there are voters out there, ready to be roused against the wealthiest 2 percent, someone — why not Al? — is going to entreat their votes.

The Founding Fathers, of whom we have profitably heard much this election season, knew all about such corruptions. Thus they erected constitutional barriers to the exercise of naked power, no pun intended; such barriers as Al has stumbled over more than once. For instance, the Electoral College, the very body that Mrs. Clinton — are you stunned, gentle reader? — says she wants to abolish.

Belief in the limitation of human power (there’s little we can do about the divine variety) can sound like a libertarian boilerplate. It should not. We intentionally limit governmental power because, on the evidence, seekers after raw power are rarely the sort you’d care to invite home for dinner. Their real appetites lie elsewhere. Unless we’re careful, we all may get bitten.

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