Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2000 /19 Adar I, 5760
Clinton's own pollster, Mark Penn, released a poll two weeks ago showing that a candidate who runs as a centrist in the Clinton tradition can trounce a candidate perceived as being either on the left or on the right.
The poll was conducted for the Democratic Leadership Council, which claimed the survey is evidence of the emergence of a new "vital center" ideology during the Clinton years that the public wants to perpetuate. Penn's poll did not ask questions about specific candidates or factor in Clinton's personal characteristics or those of other candidates, but the poll compared the appeal of various combinations of ideological positions the candidates might take.
A Democratic candidate perceived to be centrist on economics and the size of government and liberal on social issues would beat a down-the-line conservative Republican by 53 percent to 28 percent, according to Penn.
A Republican who's centrist on economic and social issues, but conservative on the size of government, could beat a Democratic liberal by around 10 points, according to Penn.
But in the real world, neither Texas Gov. George W. Bush, R, nor Arizona Sen. John McCain, R, is socially centrist by Penn's definition.
Both Republican candidates favor a ban on abortion, oppose hate-crime legislation to protect gays and resist gun control -- a lethal combination, according to Penn.
Penn says that as voters -- especially independents and young people -- look at the political agenda, the most important factor in determining their preference is resistance to a right-wing social agenda.
A Democrat who's perceived as centrist on social issues trounces a Republican who's centrist on economics, trade and the size of government, but right-wing on social issues, 64 percent to 28 percent. Naturally, the questions arise -- will the Democratic nominee be perceived as a centrist or a liberal? And can the GOP nominee represent himself as a moderate?
Republicans naturally will try to define either Vice President Al Gore or former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., as left-wing and -- to some extent -- the shoe fits.
Both candidates favor abortion more or less without restriction, whereas many polls show significant support for requiring parental consent before minors can have the procedure.
Neither Gore nor Bradley espouses the centrist position once enunciated by Clinton -- but only marginally put into practice -- that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare."
On gay rights, Penn's poll indicates that huge majorities -- 64 percent of all voters, including 62 percent of Republicans -- adopt the centrist position that homosexuality is "a private matter, not a matter for society to either accept or discourage."
But Gore and Bradley are close to the liberal position that government should "accept homosexuality," opposing as they do the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Gore also may be vulnerable for saying -- and never really unsaying -- that he would impose a litmus test requiring candidates for top military posts to support his policy of allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces.
On economics, Gore and McCain are adopting the popular centrist position -- favored by 52 percent in the Penn poll -- that the budget surplus should be used to pay down the national debt and secure Social Security.
Bradley supports the liberal position, favored by only 29 percent, that the surplus should be spent on health care and other social programs. Bush's major tax cut is supported by only 16 percent, including only 24 percent of Republicans.
Gore has moved left on trade -- and away from Clinton -- by assuring the AFL-CIO that he would rewrite the U.S. agreement on normal trade relations status for China if Congress rejects Clinton's proposed pact. And on entitlements, Gore does not agree with the centrist -- and popular -- position that citizens should be allowed to invest some of their own Social Security funds in the stock market. He also opposes market-based Medicare reform.
So Gore or Bradley could be characterized as liberals, but there is some indication that this is not as fatal a brand as it once was.
As Fred Barnes noted in the Weekly Standard last week, "The country has moved left," with 60 percent of voters in a Gallup poll saying Clinton's policies should be continued or replaced by more liberal ones, while only 33 percent called for more conservative policies.
If the country wants a centrist but will tolerate a liberal, that's bad news for Republicans, particularly if Democrats can tag them as
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record