SUPPORTERS of President Clinton are wringing their hands these days, wondering why it is that the president evokes such hatred on the right.
Now, I concede that there are strong feelings out there among conservatives, but not, as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne would have it, because Mr. Clinton is such a powerful adversary. Let us not forget that this president was elected with only 43 percent of the vote.
This is the administration that stumbled and backpedaled its way through the first year in office. This is the president that got off on the worst possible footing with the U.S. military (when before have we seen the commander in chief the butt of such ridicule by uniformed soldiers?), alienated the center by nominating Lani Guinier for the civil rights job at Justice and then alienated the left and the Congressional Black Caucus by dumping her, irritated feminists by dropping two female nominees for attorney general and managed to squeak through his budget by just one vote, though the Democratic party controlled both houses of Congress.
It was not exactly a year that qualifies Bill Clinton as a political Colossus of Rhodes. Indeed, his one great victory, on NAFTA -- for which he deserves due credit -- was purchased with Republican votes, votes that will not be there for health care or other Great Society programs Clinton may have up his sleeve.
Moreover, it's a little strange to read laments about conservative dislike of the president from people who have been accustomed to attacking Republican presidents for infield practice. Liberal political analyst Bob Beckel thinks that conservatives are raising questions about Mr. Clinton's sexual conduct because they cannot battle the president on ideas. Funny, as I recall it, liberal Democrats perfected the technique of attacking Republican presidents on "sleaze" and so-called corruption rather than argue about taxes, crime or the economy.
Columnist Dionne conjectures that conservatives hate President Clinton because he is succeeding in changing the country's "political landscape." He has succeeded, Mr. Dionne writes, in puncturing the myth, created by conservatives, that raising taxes on the rich hurts the economy.
Nonsense. Mr. Clinton's tax hikes will not even be felt until April. And the fact that the economy is picking up steam now, after a prolonged slump, is not evidence that raising taxes had no effect. Even if the recovery persists, we will never know how much more things would have improved without the weight of added taxes.
The debate about what taxes do to incentives and job creation will go on forever, but what is not in doubt, among reasonable people, is that the government makes poor use of the taxes it collects.
Mr. Dionne is right that conservatives fear the Clinton health plan, but not, as he seems to imply, because it will work. Conservatives recognize that the Clinton plan is premised on a falsehood (that our health care system is in "crisis"), that it is misrepresented as reducing "costs" and that it threatens both Americans' freedom to make their own decisions about treatment and the quality that has made American health care the world's leader.
Moreover, conservatives understand Mr. Clinton's game plan. In an anti-government age, Mr. Clinton hopes to create yet another entitlement that will make people dependent on the state. By doing so, he hopes to enlarge the constituency of the Democratic Party to include members of the broad middle class who do not think that other entitlements, like welfare, benefit them.
Finally, columnist Dionne argues that Mr. Clinton is getting to the right of conservatives on some important issues. "No one gives tougher speeches on crime, the value of work or the dangers of family breakup than Clinton," he writes. Ah yes, fine words. But the truly infuriating fact about Bill Clinton is the distance between his words and his acts. His budget contains a huge increase in traditional welfare programs. His attorney general opposes all get-tough measures on crime.
And as for family values, well, lip service is a start, one supposes, but hardly the sort of stuff that changes "the political landscape."
Mona Charen is a syndicated writer.