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Jewish World Review August 3, 2000 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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New Hope for Nice Guys -- WITH ONE CORONATION well along its well-greased way, and the other soon to follow, it is a good moment to assess the fundamental state of things in the biggest races of 2000; and, fundamentally, things look cautiously good for the end of the Clinton-Gore era.

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 bet.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


07/27/00: But What About Dad?
07/20/00: U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone
07/13/00: President With a Porpoise
07/06/00: The Importance of Being Earnest
06/29/00: A Press Obsession With the Death Penalty
06/21/00: Gore and the Goodies
06/15/00: Network Snooze
06/01/00: Sunshine on My Shoulders
05/24/00: Last Chance for a Hardened Prevaricator
05/17/00: Cuomo's Thought Police
05/10/00: Hammering DeLay
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
04/19/00: Imitation Activism
04/12/00: Why they hate Bubba
04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
03/08/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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