Albion Monitor /Commentary

The Little Society, The Old Deal

by Eric Margolis

TORONTO -- Observing the U.S. election from abroad, I'm reminded that after Greece lost a catastrophic war with Turkey in the 1920's, the responsible government ministers were taken outside Athens one afternoon, lined up, and shot.

Many angry Republicans may wish a similar fate on the party bigwigs who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and led them to electoral disaster. How could a party riding so high only two years ago suffer such a humiliating fiasco? It was deeply depressing watching Bob Dole stumble through the campaign's last days with all the enthusiasm and optimism of a candidate running against Saddam Hussein for president of Iraq.

Republicans nominated two surefire losers

Remarkably, Clinton's apparent landslide comes in spite of new financial scandals that buffet the White House almost daily. Honesty, as my acute mother observes, is out of fashion in America. Dishonesty, chicanery, and slipperiness are as a la mode as Madonna, cigars, or martinis with cranberry and triple sec.

Many voters didn't care a hoot about Dole's invocations of moral rectitude, nor about Clinton's shady finances, his jailbird cronies or his scandal-ridden cabinet. Voters were snarling: "Politicians, don't dare touch sacred cow programs, like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Veterans Benefits. Don't tread on us. Balance budgets elsewhere."

Republicans committed three inexcusable, catastrophic blunders by failing to heed this reality:

First, Newt Gingrich, giddy from the Republican's 1994 electoral triumph, rashly vowed to curb these middle class goodies before they inevitably bankrupt the Treasury.

Gleeful Democrats immediately trumped the fiscally responsible, but politically foolish, Republicans by scaring voters into believing Newt, the Gingrich who stole Christmas, would make their aged mothers starve in icy doorways. Voters blamed the inept Republicans for last winter's government shut-down that cut off social security checks.

Second, Republicans nominated two surefire losers: Bob Dole, an amazingly poor candidate, simply because he had seniority; and Jack Kemp, a windbag former football player occasionally challenged by thought.

The Republican who could have won, Gen. Colin Powell, refused to run. He bears much responsibility if his party ends up looking like Saddam's postwar army. Off in the wings, meanwhile, the Christian religious right's empty-headed braying drove moderate voters to the Clinton camp.

Disaster Three occured before Labor Day when fat cat Democratic unions unleashed a Pearl Harbor on the napping Republicans. Nearly US $40 million worth of negative TV ads terrified many credulous voters into believing Republicans would eliminate old age pensions, slash medical care, promote smoking, and persecute women. Republican were caught flat-footed and never recovered from this debacle.

A virtual Demo-Republican president who makes comfy, sensitive noises

Americans re-elected Clinton, not so much as a hard- driving president, but as a sort of national master of ceremonies -- a non-threatening, amiable, slightly roguish fellow will a cheery twinkle in his eye, whose job is to make people feel good while doing absolutely nothing.

Americans are fed up with politics and politicians. They don't need any more laws or legislation. They are swamped by government. Americans crave inaction, not action: bring on The Little Society, the Old Deal. Less is more, and the best less is Bill Clinton. The grim Midwest Cato, Bob Dole, might actually have cut middle class benefits and gone after the national debt.

A consummate political shape-shifter, Bill Clinton, seeing his own Democratic Party shunned by Americans in 1994, abandoned that sinking ship, adopted moderate Republican policies, and, in effect, became the Republican candidate in all but name.

Many voters like the idea of a virtual Demo-Republican president, who makes comfy, sensitive Democratic noises, while he remains gridlocked with a fiscally prudent Republican Congress.

Eric Margolis is a syndicated columnist and foreign affairs analyst for the The Toronto Sun

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Albion Monitor November 7, 1996 (

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