Jewish World Review August 3, 2000 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5760
Between now and a few months from now, likely voters will take a reasonably serious look at George W. Bush and Al Gore. What Gore desperately hopes they will see will be, in the person of Bush, an ugly fraud--not a "compassionate conservative" but a secretly right-wing, plutocratic tool of fellow plutocrats.
President Clinton, Gore's master and teacher, sounded this note in remarks to Democratic fat cats as the Republican convention was beginning. "Their strategy is to talk about compassion and all," Clinton said at a fundraiser in Tampa, Fla. "It's a pretty package, and they're hoping if they wrap it tight enough, nobody will open it before Christmas." Meanwhile, New York senatorial candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton denounced the GOP convention as a "scripted show" (this from the people who brought you "The Man From Hope," the Hollywood-produced hagiography of the man from Hot Springs). Meanwhile, fellow talking-pointers in the Democratic Party and in the allied press shrieked their shock at the discovery that Bush has selected as his running mate a card-carrying conservative. (Note to the shriekers: The man never claimed he was a compassionate liberal.)
The demonization of an opponent as not merely inferior but evil--as a knowing fraud who serves the interests of special pleaders against the public good--is a standard of the Clinton-Gore playbook. Clinton became president with a campaign that painted George W. Bush's father, a decent man and a good president, as an awful fellow who, in service to his awful fellow members of the privileged class, had sacrificed the well-being of working families. Gore won the Democratic primaries this year with a campaign that painted Bill Bradley, a decent man and a good senator, as a traitor to his party, a quitter and a propounder of policy that would single out blacks and Hispanics for special harm.
Yes, slime ball has been good to the Clinton-Gores, and they have every reason to think it will continue to be. Thus, in their hoped-for never-ending hurrah, the glorious dynasty will sail on, with No Controlling Legal Authority in the Oval Office and the former first lady in the Senate and the former first (slightly impeached) husband, free, white and in his psyche still 21, back in Little Rock unfettered to pursue whatever fancies his thoughts lightly turn to (the mind boggles).
Well, perhaps. But there is growing reason to think that the old game has run its course. It never was all that successful. Clinton never mustered a majority victory, and his administration saw the Democratic Party achieve minority status on every level of elected government save his own. And while Clinton is brilliant at performance politics, Gore is barely competent; Hillary is flatly incompetent. Then there is what is euphemistically called Clinton Fatigue. It isn't fatigue; it is revulsion; and it has grown considerably in the last year. As Clinton, in the grip of his endless narcissism, has more and more abandoned the pose of repentant sinner for the truly felt role of outraged victim-hero, public opinion has hardened against him. The demography-crossing thing that undergirds this election year, I think, is a strong, broad desire to punish Clinton and his kith with a denial of further power.
This dynamic greatly eases the paths of both George W. Bush and Mrs. Clinton's opponent, Rick Lazio. Voters do not want to punish the Clintons at the expense of the nation, but as long as that minimal goal is met they are willing to take a chance on change in power. So Bush and Lazio need not be great. Acceptable will do. And, manifestly, they are acceptable. The funny thing is, they are acceptable for precisely the same reason Clinton was. To the fury of the Clinton-Gore camp, the Republicans seem to have learned the lessons of triangulation. For its two main chances to end the Clinton-Gore regime, the GOP this year puts up men who are naturally likable, who have mastered the bland language of inclusion, who have massaged their positions to a purposely muddled middle ground and who--above all--stand proudly for being as nice as possible to as many people as possible.
Interestingly, both Bush and Lazio are betting it makes sense to include in the number of those who should be treated nicely . . . their opponents. They are betting on the appeal of Reaganesque sunniness ("There you go again," with a blithe smile) over the Clinton-Gore tactics of the knife and the club. It's a pretty good
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