Middle-road progressives see Clinton as straying ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

July 08, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- The Democratic Leadership Council's poll of 1,200 Ross Perot voters just released advertises itself as a road map for creating "a new Democratic governing majority" and President Clinton's ticket to re-election in 1996. But at the same time it provides the basis for thinly veiled council criticism of the man who helped found the DLC and carried its middle-road progressive banner in 1992.

The survey itself, by White House pollster Stan Greenberg, leads him to conclude that "Perot votes are likely to be around for some time to come" and that "their vote was not a momentary response to a quixotic candidacy" but a "statement about alienation -- from conventional parties, big institutions, politics and government." While the Perot voters remain in large part loyal to the Texas billionaire and "are extremely skeptical about all [other] political leaders including President Clinton," Greenberg says, "they are open to him succeeding."

This suggests, Greenberg says, that if Clinton can restore these voters' trust in government by living up to his campaign promises, especially on providing jobs and economic growth and reforming how government does business, he can win their support for re-election. While the Perot voters "have a largely Republican voting history," Greenberg says, "they are refugees" from the GOP now "and up for grabs" if Clinton can make believers of them by his performance over the next three years.

This same poll has been seized, however, by Al From, the DLC president, as a vehicle to convey only slightly disguised disappointment in the man who was his old boss as head of the DLC, implying that by failing in the White House to pursue his 1992 campaign posture as "a different kind of Democrat" Clinton risks losing his chance to win over the Perot voters.

The staying power of the Perot bloc, From said in releasing the poll, provides "a rare opportunity" by which Clinton can expand his base of 43 percent in the 1992 election "to realign U.S. politics." To do so, however, "the president must go hunting where the ducks are," he said. "The starting point for expanding his base is to re-establish his credentials with voters as a different kind of Democrat."

But, From said, "in the first half-year of his presidency, the reverse has happened. Fewer voters today see the president as a new-style Democrat than in February, and as a

result his support among the electorate has eroded." At that time, From said, 60 percent of voters saw Clinton that way, to only 43 percent by late June.

With the survey of Perot voters confirming their deep-seated alienation toward Congress and Washington politics-as-usual, From implied, Clinton was losing his chance to corral them by failing to stick to his campaign posture of going to war against both. From and Will Marshall, head of the DLC-affiliated Progressive Policy Institute, argued that Clinton "can break gridlock only by forging new and sometimes bipartisan coalitions around an agenda that moves beyond the polarized left-right debate," both sides of which are rejected by Perot supporters.

Although Clinton in the White House has continued to talk about combining opportunity with responsibility, From and Marshall at one point observed that the president "as he did during the campaign . . . should emphasize personal responsibility and advance a governing agenda that rewards Americans who work hard and play by the rules" -- a favorite Clinton construction. The clear implication was that Clinton was still saying the right words, but not translating them into policy.

From did say in commenting on the poll that Clinton's economic package for deficit reduction, passed by both Houses, and his plans for national service and health care are all elements of such an agenda. But the sense that he felt Clinton was straying from the DLC straight-and-narrow was unmistakable. And Marshall pointedly observed that Clinton must "govern as a new Democrat" if he hopes to win over the Perot voters and be re-elected in 1996.

All this underscores that Clinton, in his desire to accommodate many views, has some of his most loyal troops in the moderate progressive camp fearful that he is losing his way off the one true path.

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