The Washington Times

Without further ado, Lindberg’s List of the top political stories of 1999:

10. Soft money parity. In the first six months of the election cycle two years ago, Democrats raised 63 cents in soft money for every dollar Republicans raised. This cycle, Democrats raised 85 cents on the GOP dollar.

That’s a major step diminishing a traditional GOP advantage, with potential implications both at the polls and for Republican opposition to a soft-money ban.

9. Hillary for Senate. A politically ambitious first lady deciding to run for Senate while her husband is still in the White House? Why not. And given the lightning rod nature of Mrs. Clinton’s reputation, what would already have been an interesting race involving New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on the GOP side may now be the most closely watched non-presidential contest ever.

8. The test ban treaty failure. The Republican Senate’s emphatic rejection of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons tests, strongly favored by the Clinton administration, illuminated the single biggest difference between the two party mainstreams on foreign policy: Republicans are deeply suspicious of the utility of arms control agreements, whereas Democrats see them as essential, not only for the terms of the agreements themselves but also as the fruit of multilateral commitment to common goals.

7. “Protecting Social Security.” Seizing on President Clinton’s own rhetoric, Republicans in Congress in budget negotiations insisted on preventing the government from spending an amount equal to the surplus of Social Security taxes collected over benefits paid out. In the past, the government has routinely used that money to offset other spending. The budget implications, if this firewall stays up, are staggering. It is, in effect, an artificial deficit acting to restrain additional spending.

6. Al Gore’s halting start. A sitting vice president who has at his disposal the resources of a president committed to his succession, as well as of the party establishment, ought to be formidable. Mr. Gore spent most of 1999 being anything but, spending money hand over fist with little to show for it but increasing support for his once belittled rival, Bill Bradley. Only late in the year did Mr. Gore begin to move forward – with a tellingly triangulated simultaneous attack against Mr. Bradley for risky spending proposals and GOP front-runner George W. Bush for risky tax-cutting proposals. But Mr. Gore has lost a lot of time and money.

5. The George W. Bush campaign. Under the leadership of Karl Rove, this has been quite simply the most impressive presidential campaign operation in recent memory, from its awesome fund-raising skills, to its strategic plan, to its well-organized shadow government of most of the best GOP policy minds. The big question: Is the candidate himself up to the task?

4. Kosovo. President Clinton himself announced an eponymous doctrine of U.S. humanitarian intervention, where possible, to halt ethnic bloodshed. A better post-Kosovo formulation of a Clinton Doctrine might be this: Such is the overwhelming nature of U.S. power in the world today that even those who are especially unequipped to do so can wield it relatively effectively. Meanwhile, as the U.S. administration’s political leaders stumbled to victory, their opponents in the House of Representatives slipped into incoherence, voting in effect not to continue and not to stop. The strands of partisanship, engagement and isolationism displayed here will take some serious sorting out.

3. The end of the independent counsel. Throughout the 1980s, when their comrades were the targets, Republicans denounced the overkill of these unaccountable prosecutors. In the 1990s, Democrats found themselves in the crosshairs and found the experience equally unpleasant. After the impeachment proceedings against Mr. Clinton, both sides had had enough, and the law expired quietly. With its death, the injury that such independent prosecutors inflict on our constitutional system of separation of powers, thoroughly detailed by Justice Antonin Scalia in his lonely dissent to the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the law, came to an end as well.

2. Impeachment and acquittal. Mr. Clinton has been presenting himself as the defender of a besieged Constitution. (See No. 3.) It isn’t working. His problem comes not from his Republican attackers, but from the harsh condemnation of his actions from his fellow Democrats, even as they refused to remove him from office, and from a judge’s contempt ruling on his deception. His acquittal was not the vindication of an innocent man; it was a judgment about proportion. The blot on his reputation is permanent.

1. Peace and prosperity. The international situation, while hardly free of danger, has never been so benign. The immensity of U.S. dominance on the world stage is only beginning to sink in at home. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy continues its unprecedented surge, and expectations about its future performance have led to new records in equity markets at a time when more people than ever are shareholders. For the first time perhaps ever, the backdrop against which U.S. politics plays itself out is bereft of crisis.

The status quo looks good. Who owns this status quo? Who has the best claim as its protector? Or will the political prize go to those who most persuasively identify its unseen threats and dangers? The answer to that question is apt to be the top political story of 2000.