It's about trust

October 18, 1994|By Myriam Marquez

IN THE PAST 50 years, midterm elections for Congress haven't been too kind to the sitting president's party. Even the popular Ronald Reagan lost a Republican Senate in a midterm election.

This year will be no different.

Based on the polls, the GOP is on to something big. The latest national poll, taken by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, shows that 52 percent of 1,513 voters surveyed are ready to vote Republican and that 40 percent will pick a Democrat.

Nevertheless, Republicans have to be careful about their strategies for a sure win. History shows that the electorate is as fickle as teen-agers in lust.

The year was 1954. Gallup polls showed that 53 percent of voters supported Republican candidates for Congress and that 47 percent backed Democrats -- the GOP's best showing ever. On Election Day, though, the Democrats won the numbers game.

Bill Clinton, who seems to thrive on crisis management during campaigns (and, unfortunately, too often in governance), has started to take on the GOP. His message: Democrats are moving toward deficit reduction and prosperity while Republicans stand for obstruction and more of the supply-side Reagan economic policies that will produce even higher deficits.

Republican candidates, led by Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, offer their own analysis: What Democrats call obstruction, we Republicans call good government. Passing flawed legislation is great claim to fame.

Sitting on the sidelines, watching the political ball go back and forth, one's tempted to dismiss both parties and seek an alternative. The problem is that the alternative is Ross Perot.

As much as I agree with Ross Perot's deficit-reduction crusade and his appeals for ethical government that would put the majority of the people before the money of special interests, the Texas billionaire's knack for conspiracy theories and ( mean-spirited, personal diatribes against whoever is in charge (first George Bush, now Bill Clinton) are a turn-off.

Besides, Ross Perot's actions don't always jibe with his discourse. He argues passionately for campaign-finance reform and for lobbying reform, yet he backs the one party in this election that, in the Senate, filibustered reforms to death.

Bill Clinton, meanwhile, is blaming the defeat of campaign-finance reform and lobbying reform on the Republicans, which doesn't tell the whole story either. Bill Clinton, after all, never gave reform the push it needed. He submitted the legislation and then let the House Democrats stall and stall on a compromise until it became easy for the Republicans in the Senate to kill reforms. Worse, Republicans based their objections on misleading and outright false accusations that such reforms would hurt small groups.

Oh, yes, in the interim, Bill Clinton attended a few big fund-raisers for the party, raising millions of dollars in "soft" money for a back-door distribution of funds to Democratic candidates.

It is that swinging back and forth from politicians in both parties that has the voters so riled up.

Most voters, regardless of party affiliation, are really seeking to trust their candidates. They want to know that the people they elect stand for something laudable -- and will fight for it. At the same time, voters are more open to compromise, based on practical results for the common good than on inaction purely for the sake of partisan demagoguery. Popular support for the anti-crime legislation showed that to be true.

Neither political party is clean when it comes to demagoguery. Perhaps the results of this election, one way or another, will be Congress' -- and the president's -- wake-up call. If it leads to truth-in-leadership, the nation can only be the stronger for it.

Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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