The election landslide that gave the Republican Party control of both houses of Congress swept away much deadwood without sowing the seeds of, or even preparing the ground for, new ideas.
So negative was the campaign that neither side was prepared to offer new ideas to solve the country's problems, including the impending Social Security crisis, for fear of providing the opposing candidates with ammunition.
The classic examples were the Democratic Party's attack on the Republican's contract with America, and the Republican counterattack on Budget Director Alice M. Rivlin's memo to President Clinton that suggested savings that could be made by tinkering with Social Security.
One problem is neither party conducts any long-term program to explain to the American public what problems the country faces. And, between elections, neither conducts any debate with the public about priorities in attacking the problems or what the possible solutions are.
All of the debate is left to the months and weeks before an election campaign, and then is conducted in 15-second attack sound bites.
President Clinton, in his 1992 presidential campaign, convinced the public that health care was a problem but gave them no idea of what his solution would be and then shut off debate while developing his health care reform plan.
As a result, the public had no investment in the plan that finally was presented - and neither had most members of Congress, who had played no role in developing it.
Both political parties need to develop positions on the country's long-term problems and possible solutions immediately after an election, not immediately before one.
Once the broad outlines of the positions are developed, they can be used to involve the public in debate about the nation's problems.
For example, the Republican Party, now in control of the Congress, needs to involve the public in discussion about the rising burden of entitlements, including Social Security, and how the rising tide can be held back, slowed or paid for.
The public needs to be shown that it cannot continue to demand ever increasing levels of entitlements without being willing to pay for them.
In particular, the Republican Party should begin to educate the public, especially baby boomers, about the looming crisis in the provision of retirement income.
The public needs to know Social Security may not be able to support baby boomers in retirement without either higher Social Security taxes or reduced levels of benefits.
Once the public begins to understand the problem, debate can begin about possible solutions.
The debate will take more than one congressional election cycle. Long-term problems such as the provision of retirement income security will not be solved in two years, or perhaps even four. But the sooner the education process begins, the sooner the public will understand the problems and the possible solutions.
In the meantime, the Republican control of both houses makes it less likely the private pension system will be weakened through taxes.
The Congressional Budget Office often has suggested the removal of the private pension system's tax exemption as a way to reduce the budget deficit. But the Republican Party generally has been more supportive of private pensions than the Democratic Party and is thus less likely to remove the exemption.