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Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2000 /27 Shevat, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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The parties change colors --
IT IS ESTIMATED that between the two of them in the last several debates, former Sen. Bill Bradley and Vice President Al Gore have spent the entire federal surplus for the next century. When will NBC News do a "Fleecing of America" segment on the Democrats?

Still, one cannot help but notice that the Democratic Party ain't what it used to be. In order to stigmatize Bill Bradley as too liberal, Gore has been quick to remind voters that the former senator opposed welfare reform. The sound you hear is of heads wobbling dizzily. Too liberal for the Democrats? Is that even possible? It is now.

Recall that in 1992, Bill Clinton ran on a platform promising, in part, to "end welfare as we know it." Upon taking office, though he enjoyed the rare privilege (but double-edged sword) of a Congress dominated by the same party, Clinton not only failed to end welfare as we knew it, he never even sent Congress a proposal to reform welfare at all. Instead, he invited Marian Wright Edelman, the Congressional Black Caucus, and every other liberal interest group to the White House, and handed each a pen to start drafting his dream bill. What emerged was the greatest expansion of welfare entitlements ever proposed.

Only after Republicans achieved a congressional majority in 1994 did real welfare reform begin -- despite nearly unanimous Democratic disapproval. The president found things to quibble with on two separate occasions, and both times, vetoed welfare-reform bills. But calculating Dick Morris, tallying poll results in his dungeon below the White House (well, that's how one pictures him!), approached the chief in 1996, and explained the facts of life: Veto this bill one more time, and you can kiss a second term goodbye.

Welfare reform worked. It worked because conservatives were right all along. The system had long since ceased to be a safety net, and had become a hammock. Many welfare recipients were capable of work, but found collecting welfare checks more agreeable. The Democrats called this social justice. But most Americans agreed with conservatives, who called it corruption.

(The final chapter of welfare reform has not yet been written, however. There is a hard core of the unemployable -- drug addicts, the mentally retarded and the emotionally disturbed. When time limits approach for these welfare recipients, hard choices will have to be made about what to do with them -- and their children.)

The Democrats no longer believe in unlimited welfare, but they are girding their loins for fights over sexuality, specifically gay rights. Republicans have scarcely begun to think about those issues.

The Republican candidates can be divided into three categories -- the unqualified, the undistinguished and the unacceptable. In the first category, one must include Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes and Steve Forbes. Each is about twice as bright and three times as thoughtful as the average politician. But statesmanship is not merely a matter of ideas. If it were, James Madison would have been one of the great presidents, and Dwight Eisenhower one of the worst. As it was, Eisenhower was a success, and Madison a failure. In addition to intelligence, statesmanship requires subtlety, indirection, charm and practicality -- and experience counts.

In the second category, one must place George W. Bush. He is pleasant and solidly conservative (which is why he'd get my vote), but he cannot explain the simplest policy. He utters a couple of prepared sound bites, and then, smiles for the camera. And the sound bites aren't even catchy. He recites the need to welcome those who disagree on abortion into the party, but misses a chance to show sincerity by failing to add, "and then, we must seek to persuade them." One trusts his judgment, but enthusiasm withers a bit more with each debate.

Finally, alas, in the unacceptable column, is John McCain -- the sexiest, funniest (they are linked), most admirable of the lot. One longs for a president who would, just by example, erase the shame with which Bill Clinton stained the office. But the price is too high. McCain has drunk too deep of Potomac water, and strays too often in the direction of the liberal ruling class. He would break our hearts.

The choices are far from perfect. But it could be much worse. It could be 1996.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate