Same Old Democrats


July 22, 1992|By BEN WATTENBERG

NEW YORK. — New York -- We are governed by those we elect, but also, subtly, by the political parties they represent. That is fine. Candidates without parties, like that nutty, foolish liar Ross Perot, can leave us too vulnerable to personal caprice.

To vote wisely, each by our own lights, we ought to examine not just candidates, but the essence of their parties. In politics, as in life, culture creates policy. Leaving the Democratic convention, we should ask: Who are these putatively new Democrats?

Let me rate, and rant, by my own lights:

There were stirring aspects to the Democratic Convention. Recall the magisterial Barbara Jordan denouncing both white racism and black racism, decrying separatism, censuring ''political correctness.'' Recall Sen. Bill Bradley's eloquent plea for pluralism. Recall Gov. Zell Miller's invocation about why only Democrats can claim the rags-to-riches American idea.

There was, too, the heartening emergence of a corps of first-line black leaders. Freed at last from the political yoke of Jesse Jackson, we saw the likes of Reps. John Lewis and Mike Espy, Andrew Young, Mayors Maynard Jackson, David Dinkins and Sharon Pratt Kelly, coming into their own.

Much of the platform made sense. Much of what Bill Clinton said in his acceptance speech made sense. Together they sketch out his vision: to ''re-invent'' government.

All that is to the good, and will influence policy.

The strategy was basic: The incantation of the word ''moderate,'' so that sympathetic journalists would buy it. They did. Of course, incantation is not reality, but, then again, political reality cannot be changed without incantation first.

We saw that Democrats can talk the talk. But will they walk the walk? Let's look at other elements of the party.

There is still a mean, sanctimonious and very liberal aspect to this party. Did you like the lecture on family values from Ted Kennedy and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.? Do you believe, as Jesse Jackson does, that Dan Quayle is like the baby-killing King Herod? Do you believe, as some AIDS activists indicated, that Ronald Reagan killed people with AIDS?

Do you believe that the Democrats are ''the party of women,'' or are they the party of feminists or man-bashers? How would you like it if the Republicans said they are ''the party of men''?

Do you believe, along with Mario Cuomo, that America is headed for ''shipwreck''? Because free markets don't work, what we need is a bigger dose of government?

Are you concerned about a party that barely mentions victory in the Cold War and the gulf war, Congress and quotas?

Do you like psychobabble, and that icky, liberal, let-it-all-hang-out stuff? Did you like that video presentation about how the candidate's drunken stepfather, lacking self-esteem, beat his mother? Do we need the candidate intimately whispering ''I love you'' to his wife, and to one hundred million others, via television?

Do you have a problem with a party that will not allow its candidate to go along with a reasonable abortion position -- legality with moderate state restrictions? (The Republicans are worse.)

Do you like a party that glorifies a parade of victims: gays, lesbians, poor people, the homeless, single parents?

All that is in the culture of the party, and it, too, ends up influencing policy and life in America.

I cease my rating and my ranting. As ever, there's good news and bad news. The best news is that neither President Bush nor Governor Clinton is isolationist or protectionist. The candidates that were -- Pat Buchanan, Jerry Brown, Tom Harkin and Ross Perot -- are history. The republic will likely survive.

On balance: Mr. Clinton is a good candidate, perhaps prodigious, with some powerful ideas. He is in a party that still has an out-of-touch dimension. Rest assured the Republicans will tell us all about that.

A key question concerns whether Mr. Clinton will, on big issues, tell his liberals to stuff it. Another is this: Are the Republicans any better? We shall learn more about that in August, in Houston.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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