Why the Repubs hate Clinton

Michael Pollak mpollak at panix.com
Sun Aug 6 05:34:00 PDT 2000

[This is the only half-decent thing I've read on the convention. Looking at convention politics from a left perspective is like trying to appreciate Indian music from a rock n' roll fan's point of view: there seems so little going on. So it's easy to forget that in the shared terms of their own world, the simple reason the Republicans hate Clinton is because he's crushed them. It's not really the two elections. The two crushing victories were over the Contract With America and then over the impeachment trial that was the attempt to avenge it. Both times they could swear they were winning and he crushed them. And that's why they hate him.]

[And how do they finally respond in the form of Bush? They become him, as he became them. "Dialectical" is too noble a word for this process. Oozmosis might be closer to the mark. But it has its subtle changes, it's true.]

Financial Times ; 04-Aug-2000

Clinton steals the election show: The president may be bowing out but his political legacy will nevertheless dominate the race for the White House

Philip Stephens

12:00:00 am ; 1026 words

The easy money is on George W. The smart money will wait a while yet. Mr

Bush is ahead. But it will be after Labor Day before his candyfloss conservativism is properly tested against Al Gore's command of the issues. One thing, though, we do know. This presidential election is all about Bill Clinton.

Mr Clinton was only rarely mentioned at the Republican convention this week. And yet he was everywhere. The calculated self-restraint said it all. The president defines the essentially avenging purpose of Mr Bush's campaign. We must suppose there are other reasons why George W wants to get to the

White House. But none is more motivating than to reverse the humiliation

suffered by George senior in 1992. The candidate said it again when he arrived in Philadelphia: the enemy is Clinton-Gore.

There is a delicious irony here. To beat Mr Clinton, Mr Bush must imitate him. The convention choreography was pure New Democrat. The Republican fundamentalists have been elbowed to the sidelines, the moral minority told to stay away. Newt Gingrich's (anyone remember the Republican revolution?) place at the convention is as a paid pundit for a television news channel. No sign either of Kenneth Starr, Mr Clinton's persecutor in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Hard-right populism, Mr Bush has learned from Mr Clinton, is none too popular with those all-important swing voters.

The endless procession to the podium of African Americans, Latino entrepreneurs, single mothers, small-town farmers - they all spoke to the political genius of the president's inclusive politics. The lavish fund-raisers, which poured millions of dollars more into Mr Bush's overflowing coffers, were another lesson learned the hard way from Mr Clinton.

For Mr Gore this is bad news. The gap between the two candidates can be closed. Among those deemed most likely to vote, Mr Bush scored 51 per cent to Mr Gore's 45 per cent in the latest Washington Post/ABC survey. But the polls also say the voters are unwilling to give the vice-president the credit for the successes of the last eight years. And he takes blame for the stain on Mr Clinton's character left by Ms Lewinsky.

Americans have never had it so good. Yet on economic competence, the budget, taxes, the cuddly Mr Bush gets higher ratings than Mr Gore. Time for a change is the oldest slogan in politics. It seems that it is still the most potent.

So there must be relief in the Gore camp that Mr Clinton is about to bow out. His lease on the White House runs until January. But the Democrats' convention in Los Angeles later this month is the chosen moment for his retreat to the shadows. Mr Gore, the vice-president, must be anointed Al

Gore, the next president of the United States.

Mr Clinton, though, won't go away. He is too compelling a figure for that. And the family ambition lives on in Hillary Rodham Clinton's fight for a Senate seat in New York.

As to the legacy, well on both sides of the balance sheet the story is one of what might have been: of the president's political brilliance, and of the personal flaws which tarnished it. Of what he did, and what he didn't do, and what he might have done.

The American people still think Mr Clinton a good leader. His job approval ratings are at 60 per cent, strong by any measure. But the character question - he did lie about Ms Lewinksy - has not gone away.

We can argue forever how much credit the president should take for the longest economic upswing of modern times. The recovery started in the twilight of George senior's incumbency. And it had as much to do with creative exploitation of new technologies as with the White House. Yet the bargain Mr Clinton struck with Alan Greenspan - the Administration would tackle the

deficit and the Fed would hold down interest rates - made it possible.

Critics in his own party say that by worshipping the false idol of fiscal orthodoxy, Mr Clinton sold the pass. He redefined his presidency on Republican terms. The chance to make the case again for good (i.e. big) government was lost. His capacity to empathise with the voters too often

betrayed an emptiness in policy.

I doubt Mr Gingrich would see it like that. When Newt's Republicans swept into the Congress in the mid-1990s, the only question asked was how quickly government would be dismantled. You do not hear language like that from Mr Bush. Sure, once in the White House, he would run to the right. But he would operate within parameters reset by Mr Clinton. If the sheer size of the prospective US budget surpluses give a spurious plausibility to Mr Bush's tax plans, Middle America does not want spending cuts.

It is worth remembering that it was this huge political defeat, the shredding of Mr Gingrich's Contract with America, that lay behind the jihad against Mr Clinton over Ms Lewinsky. The impeachment process, every bit as squalid as the sexual entanglement that had provoked it, was bitterly personal - the last throw of a party outwitted by an immeasurably more able opponent.

The outcome of the Senate show trial also said something else. Mr Clinton spoke to the liberal tolerance of most Americans. They did not like what the president had done. But they thought even less of the holier-than-thou hypocrisy of his inquisitors. Why else would Mr Bush give a place on the

podium at his convention to the only self-professed gay Republican congressman? As for racial minorities, the affirmative action in Philadelphia bears eloquent testimony to a mood cast by the president.

Outside the US, Mr Clinton will be missed. The fashion is to say that he failed to rise to the challenges and opportunities offered to the first president elected after the end of the cold war. There is something in that. But then, leadership has been in short supply wherever you look around the world. Ask around the chancelleries of Europe and Mr Clinton draws plenty of plaudits as well as brickbats.

Tony Blair thinks him the most intellectually able foreign leader he has ever met. Britain's prime minister has a lot to thank Mr Clinton for in the present peace in Northern Ireland. Others in Europe would not go quite that far. But what has impressed them is that Mr Clinton engaged. Sure he checked and rechecked polls before taking risks. But in the end he mostly did the right thing. I cannot think of a European leader who would prefer either of his potential successors.

The polls suggest the American people are hardly more enthusiastic about

their next president. I have a suspicion that, were he allowed to run again, Mr Clinton would win. The next best thing for him is a victory for Mr Gore. Failing that, he will have to settle for the tribute to his presidency represented by those kinder, gentler Bush Republicans in Philadelphia.

Copyright © The Financial Times Limited

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