There has been much talk of a possible move toward support of the Clinton-Gore ticket by many so-called Reagan Democrats and neoconservative intellectuals who have become increasingly unhappy with the Bush administration. Some, indeed, have already made the move. Others remain unconvinced that the Democratic party has really freed itself from the leftist forces whose accession to power in 1972 drove them out in the first place.
Among the most prominent of the “old-time” Democrats now coming home to the party is Richard Schifter, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs from 1985 to 1992. Mr. Schifter here explains why he believes that Governor Clinton has earned the renewed backing of the traditional Democratic constituency. But to Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford, the changes in the Democratic party are nothing but a form of election-year camouflage, and he makes the case for supporting George Bush. The President, Mr. Sowell argues, may be “the lesser of two evils,” but he is the lesser “by a considerable margin.”
The 1992 Democratic party, led by Governor Bill Clinton and Senator Al Gore, has shed its leftist fads and is once again appealing to the American mainstream. The question which some voters might ask is whether the new approach is a mere façade (a “Trojan horse”) or whether a fundamental change in direction has taken place, which brings the party back to where it was prior to 1972. I believe that the change is genuine, that Governor Clinton has succeeded in sidelining the left-wing activist minority which for years has put its stamp on the national Democratic party. In doing so, he is returning the Democratic party to the foreign and domestic policies initiated by Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.
In his message to Congress in April 1917, President Wilson called upon the country to fight
for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.
The ideas set forth by Wilson in that message remained alive in spite of his failure at Versailles and his inability to persuade the U.S. Senate to allow the United States to join the League of Nations. Wilsonian internationalism inspired Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Roosevelt led the Allied war effort which defeated Hitler, but the task of dealing with the postwar world fell to Truman. And it was Truman who succeeded where Wilson had failed. Forty-five years ago he laid the foundation for a United States policy consistent with Wilson’s goals, a policy designed to protect the free world against totalitarian encroachment.
Truman’s effort began with his appeal to Congress, in 1947, to assist Greece and Turkey against Soviet efforts at subversion. It continued with the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt the economies of Western Europe, with the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), with the international development assistance program, and with the decision to use our military strength to repel the North Korean invasion of South Korea. As formulated in the years 1947-50, the Truman foreign-policy approach guided the United States for more than four decades and ultimately proved resoundingly successful.
In the late 40’s, most of the opposition to Truman’s foreign policy came from the Republican Right, led by Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, which rejected Truman’s “globaloney.” There was also a Left opposition, which urged accommodation to the aspirations of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Unable to gain a significant foothold in the Democratic party, these supporters of accommodation, heavily influenced by the then still effective Communist party of the United States, created for the 1948 election the Progressive party, which nominated former Vice President Henry Wallace for President.
Truman’s surprise victory in the 1948 election fully vindicated his Wilsonian internationalist foreign policy. Four years later, Robert Taft was defeated in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination by Dwight Eisenhower, who was committed to continuing the Truman foreign policy. Bipartisan support of Wilsonian internationalism thus seemed assured.
The war in Vietnam tore this overwhelming majority consensus to shreds. In the wake of that war, many erstwhile supporters of the Truman policies reconsidered their position in its entirety and—joining hands with the New Left of the 60’s—urged a less activist foreign policy and acquiescence in the worldwide expansion of the Communist sphere of control and influence. By 1972 these advocates of accommodation and isolationism had not only won a foothold in the Democratic party but were able to garner a majority at the Democratic national convention.
This radical change in the foreign-policy outlook of the national Democratic party was matched by an equally radical change in its domestic-policy outlook. The Democratic party of Roosevelt and Truman had been committed to job creation and economic growth. New Dealers had been proud of having substituted work relief for the dole. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” had been the way President John F. Kennedy put it a generation later. But the New Left strain which now expressed itself in the Democratic party rejected economic growth, derided “unfulfilling, dead-end jobs,” and advocated redistributionist measures as the only appropriate solution to the problems of poverty.
These leftists also opposed the traditional liberal ideal of a color-blind society and called for aid programs based on race rather than need. Instead of seeking to improve public services, they advocated so-called “community-action programs,” which allowed a handful of radical activists, with insignificant community support, to advance personal agendas that had little, if anything, to do with the needs of the poor.
The result of this change in direction of the Democratic party was the rejection of the national ticket by a large segment of the traditional Democratic constituency: blue-collar workers and the lower middle class. In spite of the continuation of the unpopular war in Vietnam and the unattractiveness of the Republican candidate, the Democratic national ticket in 1972 registered the lowest percentage of the popular vote since 1924 (when LaFollette’s Progressive-party candidacy siphoned off a large percentage of Democrats) and the lowest percentage in the electoral college since the emergence of the Republican party.
Many traditional Democrats did not abandon the party entirely. If candidates for Congress, state, or local office supported traditional Democratic ideas, they stayed with them. It was the impression left by the national conventions that turned off these traditional Democrats. And so, for the last 24 years we have had divided government: 20 years of Republican control of the presidency, 24 years of Democratic control of the House, and 18 years of Democratic control of the Senate. When Americans have voted for President they have registered their concern about the leftists who have asserted themselves quadrennially at the Democratic national convention, who have appropriated the term “liberal,” and have caused old-time liberals to be dubbed “neoconservatives.” Even in 1976, in the aftermath of Watergate and running against an unelected incumbent President, the Democratic candidate won just barely.
The altered character of the Democratic national conventions stemmed from the disintegration of the party organizations and the change in the system of electing delegates. Since the days of Andrew Jackson, patronage and favors, sometimes also illegal favors, had been the lifeblood of our political parties, giving rise to a profession of party functionaries who had a very personal stake in winning elections: victory provided them with their bread and butter. The creation and expansion of the civil service, competitive bidding requirements for government contracts, social-security and welfare payments, and increasingly rigid rules against conflicts of interest drained that lifeblood from the party organizations. Increasingly political work passed into the hands of volunteers.
Political volunteer activity is an upper-middle-class sport. Volunteer activists are, typically, college graduates who have the time and the resources to work on political campaigns. Most members of this group have tended toward conservatism and have constituted the natural support of the Republican party. Their Democratic counterparts, smaller in numbers, were relatively new to the role of party leaders, having replaced the local bosses.
As distinct from the Republican leaders, who reflected the mainstream of their party, the new Democratic leaders held positions to the Left of a substantial portion of their political base. Moreover, the Democratic party attracted a small but extremely active and vocal group, very often young people who were the children of well-to-do parents, and who engaged in political work on single issues associated with the Left fringe and far removed from the concerns of the Democratic party’s traditional base. Through primaries and caucuses, in which only a small percentage of the electorate participated, they were able to exert a disproportionately large influence on the nominating process, an influence which would inevitably hurt the party in the general election.
In an effort to overcome the problem posed to the Democratic party by the single-issue activists of the Left, to make the national Democratic party once again competitive, a number of Democratic officeholders formed, in 1985, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). One of these officeholders was the Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.
I had not known a great deal about Bill Clinton when I first met him a few years ago. What impressed me then and on other occasions was that he discussed social and economic issues thoughtfully and constructively, without using the buzz words, slogans, and rhetoric of the new liberalism. He also impressed me as extraordinarily knowledgeable. He had a great deal of factual data stored in his mind, available for use in support of his analyses of public issues and his proposed solutions. His looks resembled those of John F. Kennedy, but his demeanor, his breadth of interest, and his mastery of the facts reminded me of my own political idol, Hubert Humphrey. (Clinton may also have resembled Humphrey in his loquaciousness, but as some of us used to point out, Hubert had a lot to say that was worth hearing.)
Today, the principal concern of the electorate is with the state of our economy. The laissez-faire approach is clearly not working. Lowering the federal discount rate has not sufficed to put the unemployed back to work, to remove the fear of job loss from others, and to reverse the downward slide in our economy. Nor will 500,000 private-school vouchers improve the quality of our education system. And the decay of our urban centers and our infrastructure will not be arrested by the operation of the private sector.
There are no easy solutions to any of these problems, nor can all of them be solved by government. But a government which is not fully aware of the gravity of the problems, or whose leadership is not deeply interested in them, or which is ideologically committed not to intercede is not qualified to lead the country at this time.
It is against this background that the presidential candidates are to be assessed. Governor Clinton should not be judged on the basis of the pronouncements of the left-wing groups which in recent years have held a dominant position in the Democratic party, nor is it necessary to judge him only on his own pronouncements, let alone on whatever his views may have been when he studied at Oxford and Yale. He can be judged on a truly unique qualification: close to twelve years of experience as chief executive of a state with serious, endemic, long-term economic problems.
Clinton has not solved each and every one of these in his years as Governor of Arkansas, but he has shown that activist government in the tradition of Roosevelt and Truman, and a chief executive who has vision, commitment to problem-solving, and energy to carry through on this commitment, can effect significant improvements.
In this Arkansas microcosm of the problems he would face as President of the United States, he has successfully applied himself to the task of attracting industry and thus creating new jobs, to improving the quality of education through measures which include competency tests for teachers, and to expanding rural health-care programs. His administration has attracted attention for the quality of public service which it has rendered. His long tenure as Governor has demonstrated not only his dedication to public service, but also the satisfaction of the electorate with his accomplishments.
In contrast to his twelve years of highly qualifying experience on the domestic scene, Governor Clinton has not had any responsibility for the management of foreign affairs. Here is where we have to look to his association with the Democratic Leadership Council and to his own public statements for indications of his point of view.
Governor Clinton’s colleagues on the Democratic Leadership Council, particularly those who serve in Congress, have been clearly identified with an activist role for the United States in support of the cause of freedom internationally and with the defense programs needed to make such a policy credible. As questions have been asked about Governor Clinton’s position on Desert Storm, I can testify that on December 31, 1990, he told me that he was in favor of military action against Saddam Hussein. He reaffirmed that position with his support of a strong stand against Saddam in the recent crisis over UN access to the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry.
Though experience in foreign affairs is important, at this juncture in history vision in foreign affairs is an even more critical requirement. Truman’s grand design has worked. Communism was ultimately contained. The Soviet threat is gone. A new approach to foreign policy is now needed to deal with the problems which our country faces as a member of the global family and as the one to which so many other countries look for guidance and inspiration.
We need to formulate a policy which responds to the worldwide yearnings for freedom and democracy; which confronts the danger of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of outlaw states or outlaw groups; which seeks to stop the gross abuse in some countries, including the world’s most populous one, of internationally recognized human rights; which understands the threat posed by the new radicalism in the Islamic world; and which is prepared to address the serious prospect of worldwide ecological degradation.
Wilson, Roosevelt, and Truman understood that in the 20th century a policy recognizing the force of ideas which move people constitutes the best Realpolitik. Ronald Reagan, who reached political maturity as a strong supporter of President Roosevelt, adhered when he became President himself to a policy of Wilsonian internationalism, “for a universal dominion of right by . . . a concert of free peoples.” It is the abandonment of that policy by the present administration in favor of a view of the world in terms of power blocs and geopolitical analyses which do not take ideology into account, combined with a lack of appreciation of the role which the United States can continue to play as the principal advocate of the cause of freedom, that underlines the need for new leadership.
Since Americans are geographically far removed from scenes of war and oppression, their initial reaction is understandably one of reluctance to get involved in such matters. But history has shown that Americans respond to activist presidential leadership in the field of foreign policy.
They are, however, more likely to follow the presidential lead, particularly when it requires an allocation of funds to assist foreign countries, if they are not beset with domestic economic problems. Our recent experience has shown that a President who is perceived as uninterested in economic affairs is handicapped in his pursuit of foreign-policy objectives. Governor Clinton can win popular support for an activist foreign policy because he is known to be concerned about domestic conditions and the fate of those who have been hard hit by the present economic decline. An activist policy can, of course, be carried out only if our country’s economic strength is restored.
Governor Clinton’s speeches and political associations do indeed reveal a commitment to Wilsonian internationalism. In two major addresses, one at Georgetown and one in New York, he has spoken out for a foreign policy aimed at advancing the international democratic cause. And he has gone on record on these issues at a time when the general public most assuredly is not clamoring for foreign-policy pronouncements by the candidates. From his statements and from his identification with the Democratic Leadership Council, we can expect him to frame a comprehensive new approach appropriate for the post-Leninist era.
That such an approach is not now in place is demonstrated by our experience with Iraq. Our policy of helping Iraq prior to August 1990 has been explained away as just an error, an aberration. But it was more than that. As can be seen from the documents recently submitted to Congress, that policy was the natural outgrowth of an approach which could in 1989 look at Iraq’s oil resources, its strategic position, its hardworking, reasonably well-educated population, and yet disregard the fact that Saddam Hussein had established a totalitarian dictatorship reminiscent of Stalin’s, was operating an all-pervasive secret-police force which used murder and torture to attain his ends, and in 1988, after the end of the war against Iran, had used chemical weapons to kill thousands of Kurdish civilians and cause tens of thousands more to flee the country.
It is in this context that concern about our policy toward Israel fits in as well. I have a high regard for James Baker, for his efforts as Secretary of State in the peace process, and for his approach on the settlements issue. What I am concerned about is where we go beyond that, how Israel fits into the present administration’s geopolitical construct.
I can visualize our highest White House policymakers looking at a map of the world, analyzing all available data on population, resources, and markets, and then drawing conclusions similar to those drawn regarding Iraq before Saddam Hussein overreached. If we were able to ignore Saddam’s murder and torture victims, if we were able to ignore the genocidal attacks on the Kurds, where will we stand on an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative defense edge? For the United States to remain steadfast on such issues, it will have to set aside 19th-century Realpolitik and affirm our commitment, in Wilson’s words, “to the rights and liberties of small nations.” Will we?
Governor Clinton has said that he understands “the meaning of secure and recognized boundaries,” that he believes that a “peace that does not provide for Israel’s security will not itself be a secure and lasting peace,” that “as we promote peace in the Middle East . . . , so should we also promote democracy in the Middle East.” These are, I concede, mere words, but they seem to fit into a world view based on a commitment to the democratic cause rather than a geopolitical calculus.
The return to the traditional Democratic outlook on foreign, defense, and domestic policy, as epitomized by the Truman administration, and as reasserted by the Democratic Leadership Council, did not come about without a fight. The groups which had reduced the national party to minority status ultimately coalesced in 1992 around the candidacy of Jerry Brown. The candidate who had taken on the task of carrying the banner for the Democratic-party policies which won the approval of America’s voters in presidential elections was Governor Clinton. He was willing to risk alienating those who for years had alienated a majority of the electorate from the Democratic national ticket. He has redeemed the Truman legacy. He has thereby earned the support of the traditional Democratic constituency. He has accomplished what some of us may have thought was no longer possible: he has brought the Democratic party back to policies which reflect the concerns of the American mainstream.
A man who has the talents of leadership which he has shown in the campaign so far, who has the talents to change the outlook of the national Democratic party, has the talents to lead the country.
After the withdrawal of H. Ross Perot from the presidential election campaign scene, some of the more idealistic hopes and heightened fears of the unknown have both subsided, leaving voters with the all too familiar choice of the lesser of two evils. The great danger in this situation is that many disillusioned voters will become apathetic, at a time when this country stands at a political crossroads. Uninspiring as the presidential candidates themselves may be, the choice made this November can chart the course for this country’s economy, cultural values, and legal system on into the 21st century, and make this a safer or more dangerous world for generations yet unborn.
The economy is at a crossroads because two radically different visions of what is wrong, and what is needed to correct it, are contending in the political arena, in the media, and among economists. The most familiar political refrain is that our economic troubles are a legacy of the Reagan administration, and especially of “tax cuts for the rich” which have supposedly produced the growing deficit and staggering national debt. According to this view, the Reagan prosperity was due to a binge of borrowing, from which we are now suffering the inevitable hangover.
If this vision is correct, then clearly we need to raise the tax rates, especially at the upper end of the income scale, reconsider the deregulation of the economy, and end the “neglect of the cities.” But is it correct?
When the history of propaganda is written, one of the classic triumphs of the art must be the naming of deficits for Presidents—the “Reagan deficit,” the “Bush deficit”—and more specifically the blaming of the growing national debt on “tax cuts for the rich.” Facts to the contrary are not only readily available but blatantly obvious.
First of all, all spending and taxing bills originate in the House of Representatives, as prescribed by the Constitution of the United States. Irrespective of what any President may propose, the House of Representatives controls both spending and taxing, from which the deficits come. There are middle-aged Americans who have never known a time when the House of Representatives was not controlled by the Democrats.
One of the political talking points made by Congressmen who wish to escape responsibility for the deficits they have created is that neither President Reagan nor President Bush ever sent them a balanced budget to vote on. This argument represents the kind of game-playing which has so justly discredited Washington politicians. Can anyone seriously believe that a House of Representatives overwhelmingly controlled by the Democrats was putty in the hands of Ronald Reagan, much less George Bush?
The obvious reasons why these Presidents never sent up a balanced budget were that (1) there was not a snowball’s chance in hell that it would be passed if they did, because such a budget would have to eliminate too many federal benefits that various groups were either receiving or expecting to receive; and (2) the only practical effect of sending a balanced budget to Congress would be to allow the administration’s political opponents to point to the proposed spending cuts, in order to arouse the various interest groups against the President and to allow Congress to pose as the savior of such groups. Even so, whatever budgets Presidents Reagan and Bush proposed, Congress repeatedly appropriated more money than was requested.
Quite aside from the question as to why things were not done differently is the question of what actually produced the budget deficit during the Reagan years. Here the record is very clear.
Official government statistics show that there was a budget deficit of $74 billion in 1980, the last year of the Carter administration, when the federal government had $517 billion in receipts and spent $591 billion. Every year of the Reagan administration saw the federal government take in more money than was either received or spent during any year of the Carter administration. “Tax cuts for the rich” did not reduce government revenue, which in fact rose by hundreds of billions of dollars over what was taken in during any previous year in the history of the republic. The top 5 percent of income earners paid a higher proportion of these taxes than before.
Much verbal sleight-of-hand is used to confuse these issues. Tax rates were in fact reduced during the Reagan administration—and not just for “the rich”—but tax receipts hit unprecedented heights as income and employment rose. As the tax rates came down, more people invested their money in something more productive than tax shelters, benefiting themselves, the economy, and the treasury. By 1991, federal receipts were twice what they were in the Carter administration.
Why, then, was there a growing deficit? Because Congress increased spending by even more hundreds of billions of dollars. The fatal economic fallacy in all attempts to reduce the deficit through tax increases is that it is impossible to take in more money than Congress can spend. All that happens is that an ever-increasing share of the nation’s resources flow into Washington, to be dispensed by politicians for political purposes.
As for “the rich,” neither they nor their “fair share” of taxes has ever been consistently defined, no doubt because it is more politically convenient to leave them undefined. What the big spenders and big taxers want is what Samuel Gompers wanted: “More.” Last year, the National Taxpayers Union rated Governor Bill Clinton’s running mate, Senator Al Gore, among the worst of the big spenders in Congress.
What makes the election-year politics of “the rich” versus “the poor” particularly fraudulent is that these terms typically refer to statistics rather than to people. People have a continuous existence, while statistics have meaning only as of the given moment when they were compiled. For example, a variety of studies shows that most of those in “the bottom 20 percent” of the income distribution (“the poor”) are no longer there a decade later. For one thing, they have a decade more experience, and that shows up in the paycheck. Yet politicians and the media mindlessly equate transient statistical categories with ongoing social classes. Genuinely rich and genuinely poor people who remain where they are over the years exist, but the two put together are only a small fraction of the American people, however much they may dominate political rhetoric.
We need to understand the facts of the Reagan-era economy, not only because they have been so widely misrepresented, but also because these facts provide important clues as to why things have been going downhill since then. Instead of continuing the Reagan-era policies of getting government off the backs of businesses that create jobs, Congress has found a new way to provide the illusion of free lunches, by mandating costs on businesses instead of raising taxes. But costs that are swept under the rug are just as crippling to the economy as costs that are plainly visible in the federal budget.
Governor Clinton’s much-vaunted program of “change” consists largely of doing more of the same things that liberal Democrats have always done, under the same assumptions and theories, though with different labels and rhetoric. For example, Clinton wishes to mandate health care by calling it “a right, not a privilege.” You can call it Rumpelstiltskin and it will still cost money, handicap American industry, and cost American jobs. So too will mandating that businesses give employees “time off from work when a baby is born or a parent is sick,” as Clinton urged in his speech to the Democratic national convention. Giving out goodies at someone else’s expense is still the name of the political game for Democrats.
The desirability of any of these benefits is not at issue. It is axiomatic that the number of desirable things always exceeds what is simultaneously possible. There will always be “unmet needs” to be provided by government, as long as people are unwilling to face up to the inevitable sacrifices these benefits entail. One of the remarkable signs of this refusal to face reality is the continuing effort to force automobile manufacturers to meet arbitrary mileage requirements, even as they are drowning in red ink, laying off workers by the tens of thousands, and closing manufacturing plants permanently.
To add to the bitter irony, the world’s known petroleum reserves have doubled within the past quarter of a century, during a period of political hysteria over the supposedly desperate need to conserve gasoline. Senator Gore has been among the leading environmentalist hysterics in Congress, and has written a best-selling book on the familiar theme that the sky is falling, based on familiar misconceptions and arbitrary computer models, whose results do not square with actual climate data.
To continue Congress’s pattern of handing out well-publicized benefits with hidden costs, and of responding to orchestrated hysteria by mandating crippling restrictions on industry, is to continue to strangle the goose that lays the golden egg. Yet Governor Clinton has clearly signaled that he intends to stay on that road. He is already covering himself by making the revival of the economy look like some Herculean task: “We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we won’t get out of it overnight,” he said to the Democrats assembled last July in New York.
What is amazing, however, is how quickly an economy can recover and revitalize itself—if the politicians will only let it. Ronald Reagan was in office less than two years before the longest economic expansion in American history began. Korea and Sri Lanka likewise took off economically in a very short time after their politicians backed off from the economy. Even in Lenin’s Soviet Union, a relaxation of the controls that were suffocating the economy after the Bolshevik Revolution quickly brought a sharp upturn under the New Economic Policy. Letting an economy improve is not a Herculean task. More to the point, this supposed difficulty will not be a valid excuse when more political tinkering brings on the inevitable worsening of economic conditions.
One of the many false notes of this political campaign is that what we need is to “end the gridlock” in Washington. This assumes that galvanizing politicians is the way to benefit the economy and the society. Neither logic nor evidence supports that conclusion. The last time we had both houses of Congress and the White House of the same party, and working in tandem, we had double-digit unemployment, double-digit inflation, and interest rates soaring over 20 percent. Gridlock would have been far preferable to this debacle in the Carter administration. Many of the problems of the Bush administration have resulted from the President’s willingness to go along with Congress, not from gridlock.
When it comes to the economy, President Bush has not been crusading for the free market like Ronald Reagan before him, but neither has he been a fountain of new ideas for loading ever more hidden costs on it. He is the lesser of two evils here, as elsewhere—but by a considerable margin. If we ever accept the Clinton prescription of protracted government efforts to get the economy moving again, we will have signed on for more years of stagnation, unemployment, and ultimately inflation as well.
The idea that urban riots are a result of the “neglect of the cities” may fit the liberal mindset but it does not fit the facts of history. Riots have become far more common and far more violent with the burgeoning of government spending since 1960 for welfare-state programs in general, and urban programs in particular. However, the eight Reagan years were not particularly marked by riots.
If facts carried as much weight as ideology, it might be possible to argue the opposite thesis, that government spending and government programs foster the conditions that produce riots. Nor is this idea wholly fanciful. A whole class of “poverty pimps,” hustling messiahs, and “community leaders” has been created and sustained by government programs. Such people have every incentive to promote alienation, racial breast-beating, and resentments of society in general and of more successful minorities in their midst in particular, whether these other groups be Korean and Vietnamese small businessmen today or Jews in past decades.
Virtually everyone recognizes that foreign policy is George Bush’s strong suit. With the ending of the cold war, however, many seem to think that foreign policy no longer matters very much. That view is tragically mistaken.
The fragile new democracy in Russia comes with no money-back guarantee that it will last, and if this nuclear superpower returns even halfway to its old ways, the costs to ourselves and the dangers to our children and grandchildren will be incalculable. World peace does not just happen. It takes work, skill, and experience. Neither Governor Clinton nor Senator Gore has the background for that. Worse, the party they represent is the party of protectionism and of promoting resentments of any foreign commitments that might interfere with domestic handouts.
The cold war was not a unique historical episode. All throughout history nations have had frictions, collisions, and war. To believe that such things are not going to continue, just because the Soviets are not our enemy at the moment, is wishful thinking.
The other great area of foreign-policy concern, the Middle East, by no means represents an unqualified success for the Bush administration. Although Operation Desert Storm boosted the President’s popularity to unprecedented heights, even that triumph has faded with time. As regards Israel, James Baker continued the tradition that American Secretaries of State think themselves better qualified than Israel to determine what is in Israel’s interest and in the interest of Middle East peace. However, there is no clear reason to think that a Clinton administration would do any better.
On the whole, foreign policy is a plus for the Bush administration. How the emerging world of East European nations, and of the successor states to Yugoslavia, sort themselves out over the next several years can have much wider repercussions. World War I, after all, started in Sarajevo. If some deft statesmanship now can prevent American boys from having to go “over there” again, that is surely preferable to burying our heads in the sand of isolationism until problems get so completely out of hand that we are forced to act.
Although the economy is an immediately pressing concern and foreign policy always has a potential for peril, the most fundamental long-run problems facing this country revolve around the internal degeneration of our own society, behind which lies the degeneration of our own values and the degeneration of American education, the family, and law and order.
With the test scores of American schoolchildren falling to new lows compared to those of past generations, as well as trailing the standards of other contemporary industrial nations, something clearly has to be done. To Governor Clinton, and to the National Education Association that endorses his candidacy, the answer is more money. President Bush, however, has advocated parental choice—a choice extending beyond the public schools to include private schools for those who want them.
A choice limited to the public schools, as Clinton proposes, is a choice controlled by the education establishment, which has repeatedly shown its power and craftiness in evading and thwarting educational reforms. Transferring a child from one public school to another can easily be made enough of a bureaucratic nightmare to limit the number of transfers to a level that will not inconvenience the schools, imperil their funding, or jeopardize the job security of any teachers or administrators.
Much more is involved in educational reform than education, though that is fundamental to many other social problems. To an extent that is seldom suspected by the public, American public schools have deemphasized academic training in favor of classroom brainwashing in counter-cultural attitudes toward everything from sex to death. More important, they have systematically undermined traditional morality, family values, and even the parent-child relationship. Our schools have not failed. They have succeeded in substituting their own agenda for the agenda preferred by parents, voters, and taxpayers.
It is within this context that parental choice becomes crucial for both parents and the education establishment. In short, education has become a battlefield in a cultural war that is raging from the art galleries to the Supreme Court. It is an undeclared but ugly, relentless, and ruthless war for the soul of this country.
There are not simply people with differing ideas about cultural values, seeking to express those differences in the marketplace of ideas. Rather, there are people who seek to make their ideas preemptive, to make allegiance to “multiculturalism” a condition of employment in the teacher-hiring process, to brainwash other people’s children behind their parents’ backs and under misleading labels, to shout down speakers who oppose their viewpoint. They do not want to discuss. They want to win.
Many of the critics of the kinds of values being promoted by the self-anointed zealots get drawn into the merits or demerits of sex education, multiculturalism, nonjudgmental “values-clarification” programs, and the like, when the real issue is not what to decide but who is to decide. Whose children are these? Whose tax money is it? What does democracy mean if people cannot shape the society they live in, but must defer to the fashions of the anointed, as expressed by nonelected judges under the pretense of interpreting the Constitution?
A small but indicative skirmish in the cultural wars occurred recently in New York state, when the Court of Appeals threw out as discriminatory a law banning women, but not men, from appearing topless on public beaches. One of these topless women opined on nationwide television that this was a more “healthy” attitude, and was especially good for the children. But obviously there would not have been a law or a controversy in the first place if other people did not believe the direct opposite. Again, the real question is, who is to decide?
This was only one of innumerable issues on which judicial preemption has been the method of decision-making, not only in cultural matters but throughout the economy and society. Too much of the discussion of these legal trends is in terms of the specific merits of the particular decisions as public policy, and whether the policy chosen was “liberal” or “conservative,” when the momentous question is whether we are witnessing the judicial repeal of the American Revolution.
On this crucial issue of the right of ordinary Americans to decide where their taxes are spent, what community standards of decency shall prevail, with what values their own children shall be raised, whether criminals are to be punished or turned into social experimental projects, whether people shall be treated equally as individuals or preferentially as groups—on all such issues of cultural values and democratic government, the presidential candidates of the Democratic party, over the past twenty years, have consistently come down on the side of the self-anointed elites and their usurpation of power from the ordinary citizen.
The fundamental problem of the Clinton-Gore ticket is the same as the fundamental problem of all the Democratic presidential tickets of the past twenty years: their values and priorities are not the values and priorities of the American people. Given that, the candidates have no choice but to run a campaign of camouflage, with lots of American flags flying and lots of use of the words “family” and “values,” much like the wartime strategy of counterfeiting the currency of the enemy in order to devalue it.
The successes or failures of Democratic presidential aspirants, both in the primaries and in the general elections, have generally reflected their success or failure at maintaining the camouflage.
As long as 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis held onto his campaign image as a nonideological, businesslike technocrat, interested in “making things work,” he soared far above George Bush in the polls. Only after he was exposed as the dyed-in-the-wool liberal ideologue that he had always been throughout his career did he sink in the polls and almost disappear on election night. Democratic presidential candidates with liberal reputations too well known and too long-lasting to deny—George McGovern and Walter Mondale—did not even achieve a transient lead in the public-opinion polls before being buried under an avalanche at election time.
The one success story among Democratic candidates of the past two decades—Jimmy Carter—only underscores this pattern. Carter took a position to the Right of his Democratic rivals during the 1976 primary season and was able to depict himself as a moderate in the general election. Only after four years in office tore away the camouflage did he go down to the same inglorious defeat as the others.
This year, the first Democratic candidates to vanish in the primaries were the unabashed liberals Tom Harkin and Bob Kerrey. Clinton has played the old Jimmy Carter role. Whether he will be able to maintain his camouflage until November depends not only on him but also on how well the Republicans successfully expose him and his vice-presidential running mate. The media, sharing many of the same values that the Democratic candidates try to camouflage, call it “negative advertising” when the fraud is exposed.
Clinton clearly understands the importance of camouflage. His invocations of “family” and “values,” and his publicly leading in the Pledge of Allegiance, show that he has done his homework on the Dukakis debacle. His wife Hillary, whose sarcastic comments about housewives making cookies almost let the cat out of the bag, has been kept almost hermetically sealed from the press in the campaign. Her directorship of the so-called Children’s Defense Fund, which is seeking to get the courts to create a new “right” for children to sue their parents, is being quietly forgotten.
This “right” to sue parents, incidentally, is not about child abuse, for which there are already laws on the books. Children should be able to sue for separation, according to so-called “children’s advocates,” who will of course collect fees from the taxpayers if they succeed in getting children’s “rights” established, in addition to gaining a victory for the brave new world they envision. One spokesman for the Child Rights Alliance, another advocacy group, argues that children should have the right to be heard in court as soon as they can talk: “We have experience with children as young as three years old saying, ‘I don’t want to live here anymore.’”
The role of the family is crucial, and the systematic undermining of its effectiveness and legitimacy in recent decades has produced social disasters that can only get worse if this trend is not reversed. For those politicians who have been part of this process, including Governor Clinton, the crucial political issue is how to cover their vulnerability and turn the tables on their critics. This they have largely succeeded in doing thus far, partly due to the ineptness of their opponents, perhaps epitomized by the choice of the Murphy Brown television program as the appropriate battlefield.
Social-service agencies, public schools, and judicial activists have all amputated functions of the family and transferred them elsewhere. The choice of the age at which children are to be introduced to sexual matters, for example, and the manner of introducing them and with what moral values, was long ago taken out of the hands of parents. As with so many other assumptions of superior wisdom in an avant-garde elite, the actual results have been disastrous, whether measured in soaring teenage pregnancy rates—after years of decline before “sex education” was widely introduced into American schools—or in the growing incidence of venereal diseases, including AIDS. Yet among Clinton’s claims to social concern was his pushing so-called “sex education” into the Arkansas schools. Like his wife, Bill Clinton has clearly chosen his side in the cultural wars.
The public image of being pro-family may be created by simply proclaiming “family values” at a political convention, by baring family secrets on nationwide television, and by pointing to the tax dollars spent subsidizing families or family-surrogate agencies. But all of that misconceives the role of a family.
Families do not exist to be recipients of government largesse or targets of social experiments. Despite desperate analogies between the family and the welfare state, families and family values are about reciprocal obligations—in sharp contrast to political one-way commitments of tax money or blind underwriting of risky behavior, whether by savings-and-loan executives, welfare mothers, or AIDS-prone groups like homosexuals or drug users. Contrary to current elite fashions, families are “judgmental” about behavior, which is emphatically not a matter of “doing your own thing,” because other members of the family suffer emotionally, financially, and through public stigma when one of them goes wrong.
Families are about autonomy and privacy, not about government programs or “telling all” on TV. Families are not cells of a governmental structure or guinea pigs feeding at the public trough. Today, and for the foreseeable future, families are besieged. They face the intrusions of social workers, the brainwashing of their children in the public schools, and now the threat of lawyers grabbing a piece of the action by representing children in lawsuits against parents, if the so-called Children’s Defense Fund has its way. The public scarcely suspects how pervasively parents and family values are undermined in the public schools. You would have to see the books, the movies, and the programs to believe them. (My research assistant, a mother, said that she had trouble sleeping at night after viewing for me more than twenty movies routinely shown to children in public schools.)
Family values are the antithesis of the values of the welfare state, though Clinton and other partisans of the welfare state measure their “commitment” to the family the way they measure so many other commitments, by how many billions of tax dollars they are willing to pour down the bottomless pit of government programs.
One of the growing factors in family issues, as in a wide spectrum of other social issues, is the courts—and especially the federal appellate courts, whose judges are appointed by the President of the United States. Such appointments have become an enormous responsibility, with implications for the whole future of this society, precisely because so many judges, including Justices of the Supreme Court, have expanded their own roles into social policymaking. Too often, such policies have been assessed by whether they were “liberal” or “conservative,” when they should have been assessed by whether they were any of the judges’ business in the first place.
Governor Clinton has again clearly chosen his side. He has publicly announced that he will use a political “litmus test”—the abortion issue—to determine who gets nominated to the Supreme Court. Does anyone doubt that other political tests will follow? Or that this will solidify the role of the courts as political policy-makers? It is also worth noting that many in the media and elsewhere who criticized President Bush for allegedly using abortion as a litmus test in choosing Supreme Court nominees are now strangely quiet when Governor Clinton clearly and blatantly advocates such a litmus test. The media are equally quiet about the fact that the Bush-appointed Justices actually split on the recent abortion decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, contrary to the cynical allegations.
Governor Clinton’s plans for the federal judiciary were perhaps even more clearly revealed when he publicly indicated that he wants to appoint New York Governor Mario Cuomo to the Supreme Court. Can anyone doubt that Justice Cuomo would be another vote for going easy on criminals?
With the United States Supreme Court almost equally divided between those who want to make policy and those who want to enforce the Constitution as written, the whole future of the rule of law in this country is at stake. The media and the Senate Judiciary Committee seem wholly preoccupied with what kind of policies the Justices will make (with where nominees “stand” on the “issues,” as they put it), when in fact we are at risk of losing what people have fought, bled, and died for, for centuries—the ideal of “a government of laws and not of men.” For those who support judicial activism, the only question is whether the arbitrary edicts from the bench are “liberal” or “conservative” arbitrary edicts.
The election campaign thus far has clearly demonstrated that Governor Clinton is savvy politically. He knows that the blatant and breast-beating left-wing of the Democratic party—including, but not limited to, Jesse Jackson—is strictly a liability with the voters. So, too, are the congressional Democratic leaders, whose legislation and spending have contributed so much to the country’s economic and other problems, whose check-bouncing was an embarrassment he did not need, and whom he kept far in the background at the Democratic convention.
On the fundamental assumptions behind the failed policies, however, Governor Clinton’s record and proposals put him squarely in the liberal camp, however much his rhetoric tries to create a different image. He is for more spending, more taxes, and more power to a self-anointed elite preempting the rights of ordinary citizens to make their own decisions individually or to shape the destiny of their society through the democratic process.
This election is momentous, not because the two men are giants—God knows they are not—but because the country stands at a crossroads in its educational system, in its economy, in the role of the family, in the role of the judiciary in a self-governing democracy, and in the kind of world our children will inherit on the international scene. On all these issues, President Bush and Governor Clinton point to different futures for this country.
For all his faults, the President stands closer to the fundamental values of the American people, whether in the schools or the courts, and is on the side of those who want both institutions to limit their intrusions into things that are none of their business. He has resisted the quota bills that repeatedly appear in Congress under the label “civil rights,” though he has not resisted enough, and ultimately succumbed on this front in 1991. As in other areas, such as taxes, Bush’s shortcomings are in failing to stand up to the Democrats, but it is the Democrats who are pushing in a dangerous direction.