A COUPLE OF PANELS were assembled last week by political consultant Jennifer Laszlo, and the consensus at the All Star break is that next November's midterm election will be a record low turnout that won't change much.
We are happy, therefore we do not vote. President Clinton, a Democrat, remains immensely popular despite a special prosecutor's relentless investigation of him. He is presiding over a humming economy and a balanced budget. The result is a complacency that will reward Republicans with continued control of the House and Senate and the governors' offices. Go figure it out.At the start of the year, it looked to a lot of analysts like the Monica Lewinsky scandal had the potential to take Clinton down and the Democrats with him. Later, it looked like the scary tactics of the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, had the potential of a backlash against congressional Republicans.
Now, it looks - in political terms at least - like everything is canceling everything out in that whole sordid episode, as we wait for Starr . . . and wait . . . and wait.
Voters are trying to have an energetic debate here, but the political world keeps smoothing everything over.
Affirmative action at one point appeared destined to be a big wedge issue of this campaign. So did bilingual education. The two subjects came out of California with tremendous momentum from state referenda indicating public patience had reached an end on both. But raising them seems to be more the mark of desperation by a candidate than anything.
The Republican congressional leadership is in a don't-rock-the-boat stance. Any subject that will cause heavy breathing in an audience is to be avoided.
Last year, Sen. William Roth, R-Del., set up his party for a grassroots tax revolt, exposing abuses by the Internal Revenue Service. But the result has been a bureaucracy-control bill and a long wrangle over a flat tax that has alarmed homeowners who could lose piles of mortgage interest tax deductions.
Speaker Newt Gingrich at one point this year sounded angry at the tobacco companies and eager to distance the Republicans from any association with them. But now that the Senate has killed off a comprehensive settlement, Gingrich has turned to a narrower-gauge ultra-light alternative with no kick.
At the White House, President Clinton is trying to rescue his domestic program from oblivion, but - without majorities - all he can accomplish is to pick at the carcass of his failed 1994 health reform bill. Closing the lucrative federal employees market to substandard health insurers is awfully small game for a president with a 60 percent approval rating.
Republicans earlier this year thought they had found a sure thing by attacking Clinton's China trip, charging he was ignoring human rights violations and attempts by Beijing to buy U.S. political access. But with American business heavily in favor of strengthening the relationship with China, there has been nothing since Clinton returned except some light grumbling over Clinton's statements on Taiwan independence.
On China and some other issues, much of the GOP has taken a page out of Clinton's book. If you can't beat him, steal his issues and join him.
The public doesn't seem to be paying any attention to any of it. Laszlo's bipartisan assemblage of pollsters seemed to agree Washington is losing contact with people - particularly young people - like never before.
Even Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott's controversial remark that homosexuality is "both a sin and a disease" is not resonating the way it might have a few years ago.
Alistair Cooke, the BBC's U.S. correspondent, said on his radio program that in the American media "the arguments over homosexuality assume that most Americans approve of people being what they choose to be sexually with an opposition almost exclusively of wild Southern evangelists."
Cooke said the range is much wider than that - running "to those who feel with the gifted comedy writer - MASH's author, Larry Gelbart - that they are living through the last 10 minutes of the Roman Empire."