The great giveaway game

TONY SNOW

December 23, 1992|By Tony Snow

IT'S official: The '90s is the Decade of Inclusion.

Bill Clinton has made "inclusion" a hallmark of his permanent campaign, offering balm, bucks and solemnities to all.

And some Republicans, eager to prove they are not Bible Belt Torquemadas, also pose as partisans of the open door.

The battle for inclusion represents the latest installment in both parties' struggle to seize the great American middle ground. For them, "inclusion" provides a much-needed nonce word -- a cozy, empty, inviting euphemism for "pandering."

During Mr. Clinton's two-day encounter session for economic policy wonks, he invariably mentioned "inclusion" in the context of spending. That thrilled his audience, which included academics auditioning for administration jobs and philanthropically correct capitalists on the prowl for favors.

Despite his insistence on political novelty, Mr. Clinton apparently intends to build inclusion the old-fashioned way, by purchasing constituencies one at a time. No fireside chats for the man from Arkansas: His bully pulpit will be an anchor chair on the political equivalent of the Home Shopping Network.

He's not alone. Impressed by the president-elect's success at the polls, a group of moderate Republicans recently put in its bid to play the Inclusion Game.

Rep. Tom Campbell of California announced the formation of the Republican Majority Coalition by declaring, "We are inclusive, not exclusive."

He and his co-founders want to build a party that steers clear of controversies about "values." They vow to avoid vexing moral quandaries, from abortion to the teaching of ethics in schools.

These make-nice Republicans have taken up the mantle of the Laodiceans, whom the Book of Revelations says were "neither cold nor hot. . . [but] lukewarm."

Yet like the Laodiceans, they invite contempt. Having given up the chance to define themselves by principles, they can define ++ themselves only by dollars-and-cents promises. At best, they can create cover for libertarians in the Republican fold.

The efforts of Mr. Clinton and the new Republican faction may backfire. The problem with pandering is that it really gets people's avarice flowing. It only creates more special interests and sets them against one other in the struggle for loose federal funds. As government grows, so do divisions.

The feud was joined even before the election. President Bush was stunned at the second debate, a question-and-answer session, when speaker after speaker rose in anger to demand something from Washington.

Finally, the president said in exasperation, "Every question, almost, says how much more money can you spend from the federal government."

If our two political parties are to create a culture of inclusion, they will have to stop encouraging the base instincts of greed and envy and begin appealing to what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature."

They will have to stand for something, stake out clear principles and invite Americans to support a vision for America's present and future.

Haley Barbour, a candidate for Republican national chairman, has noted that Ronald Reagan created a governing coalition with a "one-wing" party -- a party of predictable ideals and aims.

That approach offers dividends, but it exposes politicians to the risk of having to say yes to some people and no to others, rather than offering pillowy reassurances to all.

The inclusion-by-pandering forces, in striving to offend no one, will offend everyone. They have laid themselves open to recriminations from people who, having concluded that Washington has become a clearinghouse for checks and perks, will never feel satisfied so long as someone else gets an unclaimed piece of the pie.

Mr. Clinton and the Republican majority coalition understand that America desperately needs an uplifting politics of inclusion -- one that calls people to serve a higher mission and enables us to feel justly better about ourselves.

Unfortunately, they miss out on the equally crucial corollary: You build movements around disciples, not supplicants.

Tony Snow is deputy assistant to the president for media affairs.

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