Democratic win should bring end to legislative gridlock

November 04, 1992|By JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Bill Clinton's overwhelming victory over President Bush should signal an emphatic end to the executive-legislative gridlock that has plagued the nation's politics through the Bush years.

Mr. Clinton, who made a campaign pledge to launch a "first 100 days" to rival that of another Democrat who rode into office amid an economic crisis -- Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 -- will move into the White House on Jan. 20 with a most hospitable political climate to act with dispatch on that pledge.

The Arkansas governor's own 31-state victory, with 355 electoral votes to no more than 178 for Mr. Bush, gives him a powerful persuader in his dealings with a Congress that will be solidly controlled by his own party -- a 58-42 margin in the Senate and 259-175 in the House -- and already favorably disposed to much of his agenda.

The Democratic Congress is poised to pass and move to Mr. Clinton's desk a number of bills vetoed by Mr. Bush and they should provide ready vehicles for cooperation between the new president and the new Congress. At the same time, Mr. Clinton in his campaign expressed differences with many Democrats in Congress on some issues, including the best formula for xTC reducing the $4 trillion federal deficit, for health care reform and the line-item veto, which the Arkansas governor has favored and Congress institutionally opposes. So it will not be all smooth sailing.

The impressive Clinton victory helped limit a widely predicted loss of incumbent Democrats in Congress in the wake of banking and post-office scandals and additional losses as a result of redistricting in line with the 1990 census.

Nevertheless, there was a significant protest vote cast in behalf of independent Ross Perot -- 19 percent with 97 percent of the popular vote reported -- although he failed to carry a single state. Republicans are already contending that the Perot candidacy cost them the election, but exit polls yesterday indicated his candidacy probably did not affect the outcome.

What it may have done, however, was help boost turnout across the country, reversing a negative trend ever since the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, culminating in less than half of the eligible voting,age population casting votes four years ago. Much of the new voter registration, though, was among young voters who according to exit polls gave half of their votes to Mr. Clinton, 30 percent to Mr. Bush and only 20 percent to Mr. Perot.

Even before the voting began yesterday, Mr. Perot was being credited with bringing the issue of the federal deficit to the

forefront of the campaign dialogue. But the fact was that neither Mr. Clinton nor Mr. Bush addressed it in appreciably more detail with Mr. Perot in or out of the race, and Mr. Perot himself did not get much beyond generalities on the matter himself, for all the time and money he spent in his unprecedentedly expensive and self-financed television campaign.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, re-elected last night, argued that Mr. Clinton does not have a mandate for his agenda because the combined vote of Mr. Bush and Mr. Perot exceeded his. But he said the Democrats "can't say there's gridlock" anymore, and they won't be able to blame the Republicans if things don't go their way.

Mr. Clinton's landslide buries the pessimism, current only a year ago, that the Democratic Party was withering on the vine. Such talk was also heard about the Republican Party in 1964 after the Lyndon B. Johnson landslide over Barry Goldwater, and refuted four years later in the victory of Richard M. Nixon over Hubert H. Humphrey.

A key to Mr. Clinton's success was his ability to forge a more moderate image for the Democratic Party, casting it as the champion of the middle class as well as of the economically and socially disadvantaged, while holding onto liberals and the party's most loyal voting bloc -- African-Americans.

The white, blue-collar Democrats who defected to the Republican standard in the three previous presidential elections -- dubbed Reagan Democrats -- helped seal Mr. Bush's fate by returning in droves to their old party in such key industrial state battlegrounds as Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois.

The suburban vote, which was a key to Republican victory in the Reagan-Bush era and for the first time was expected to be larger than either the city or farm vote, went to Mr. Clinton, according to exit polls, giving him 45 percent to 37 for Mr. Bush and 18 for Mr. Perot.

Mr. Clinton shared the spotlight last night with "the year of the woman," with at least four new female Democratic senators elected -- Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois, the first black woman in the Senate; Patty Murray in Washington; and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer in California -- and the re-election of Barbara Mikulski in Maryland.

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