IF RUSSIA can abandon communism, the Democratic Party -- in a New York minute -- can say goodbye to income redistribution, the essence of liberalism.
"Growth" -- the economics of the bigger pie -- is the unabashed message of Clintonomics. "Why not change from a party with a reputation of tax-and-spend," intoned keynote lecturer Barbara Jordan, "to one with a reputation of investment and growth?"
While Republicans want to stimulate that growth through tax reduction, Democrats want to stimulate growth through government "investment" (never say "spending") in training and technology. Different painless paths, same growth goal.
Ex-liberals will continue to waggle a vestigial digit at FDR's "economic royalists," but they know that not even confiscation of the incomes of millionaires will put a dent in the deficit. The Clinton platform admits that the passion to redistribute income is as outdated as the cold war.
If conservatism has won, why are conservatives in danger of losing in '92? We can rightly claim that the "misery index," adding inflation to unemployment, is half that of the dismal Carter years, with today's interest rates falling and the stock market rising, but who cares? President Bush is running against a party that is stealing his clothes of growth.
The ticket of the broad shoulders, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, is electable, as the Perot aberration was not (that summertime tent wasn't a home -- and was bound to fold). The buoyant Democrats offer a contrast to the present lassitude and rhetorical aimlessness of the Bush White House.
In a nutshell, the 1992 campaign is about aspects of personal freedom embodied in the word "choice." In education, health care and product or environmental regulation, Republicans stress personal choice and local option, while Democrats prefer national standards and less choice; but when it comes to abortion and the toleration of dissent, Democrats are for personal freedom while Republican dogma calls for national prohibition or restrictions.
How have the Democrats, in convention assembled, presented their aspects of freedom? Not as well as I had hoped; in his desperation to differentiate his convention from the divisive gatherings of the past, Bill Clinton shut down dissent.
He was right to demand a pre-convention endorsement from Jesse Jackson before giving him a speaking slot, because the irreverent reverend has chosen the celebrity of talk-show host to the nitty-gritty of political office. (He called King Herod "the Dan Quayle of his day" in a silly display of Salome tactics.)
But Mr. Clinton was wrong to demand prior allegiance from Jerry Brown, who came with 600 hard-earned delegates. This allowed the far-out Californian to pop off on prime-time newscasts before he was begrudged speaking time from the podium. The foolish Clinton muscle-flexing showed an intolerance of diversity and a tendency to be a sore winner.
The same desire to run a well-dressed, orderly, Republican-style convention slammed the door on anti-abortion dissenters. Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, whose state's abortion restrictions were upheld in the superb Supreme Court decision reaffirming Roe v. Wade, was shut out. Governor Clinton's message: No pro-lifers need apply.
That politics of exclusion opens an opportunity for Republicans at their Houston convention. In contrast to the lockstep-enforcement in Madison Square Garden, the anti-abortion Bushies could give podium time to pro-choice Republican women. A respectful hearing -- with a stern no-booing admonition from the GOP convention chairman -- would dramatize the "big tent" idea and the intolerance of the Democratic convention.
But that is next month's controversy. For Democrats coming home to their party today, it makes good sense to acknowledge defeat of an economic ideology, to come up with an adaptation that can be labeled a third way.
Such "me-tooism" makes sense. What rings false, however, is the spectacle of the party of the people on its best behavior, meekly following its script.
Mr. Clinton's platform "covenant," like the word "convention," is rooted in the Latin convenire, "to come together, agree." His followers rightly agree on wrenching ideological change. But lTC must Democrats forsake their lusty diversity in aping Republican discipline? Sometimes party unity asks too much.
William Safire, a former speech writer for Richard Nixon, is a New York Times columnist.