During the recent presidential election campaign, we were invited by sophisticates in the media to admire the skill with which President Clinton engineered his own re-election (with the help of Dick Morris) by means of what was called “triangulation.” This meant that the President created his own political middle ground by a rhetorical strategy of distancing himself from many of his supporters in Congress, and from such traditional liberal Democratic issues as Federal welfare guarantees, while at the same time characterizing his Republican opponents as “extremists.” Thus the man at the very center of American politics was able to represent himself as being, in some important sense, above politics, and a moderating influence on both sides in an atmosphere of, as people (or at least the press) had become persuaded, “incivility” and bitter partisanship.

Naturally, such a strategy depended absolutely on...

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