The Best Man Wins
Jude Wanniski
December 24, 1996

 

Memo To: Website fans
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Best Man, Bill Clinton


[Following is the instant analysis I wrote as a Polyconomics client letter on Nov.6, which I think holds up rather well eight weeks later. What do you think? And Merry Christmas, folks.]

November 6, 1996

The Best Man Wins
By Jude Wanniski

Why Clinton? The purpose of a presidential election in our system is to set the direction of government. The mid-term congressional elections are midcourse corrections. The electorate may have its doubts about Bill Clintonís ethical standards, as compared to Bob Doleís, but it had to be inclined to give the President good marks for the sure-handed way he interpreted the 1994 mid-term elections. In the same way, the voters had to scold the Republican Party for the way it handled itself in the 104th Congress. Instead of understanding that the 1994 elections were essentially guides to the President at his mid-term, House Speaker Newt Gingrich interpreted them as a mandate to rule. The voters had to sort all this out, pushing and shoving during this long and fascinating political year. It did an admirable job in rewarding Mr. Clinton with exactly, but only 50% of the vote, scolding the House Republicans by reducing their majority by a handful of votes, and giving Senate Republicans a slightly larger majority for having behaved better these last two years than their House colleagues. In that exquisite sense, it was not a status quo election at all. The Democratic President and Republican 105th Congress have a joint mandate to govern these next two years with a much clearer sense of how to behave. Once again, Ross Perotís presence, with 9% of the popular vote, was a helpful signal to the two major parties. It prevented the President from getting a bigger boost when he really only deserved 50% for a mandate that is entirely defensive in nature. It also reminded the Republicans that they are not going to win a clear mandate to govern in 2000 unless they can unify the forces of reform sufficiently to overcome the natural inertia of the Establishment. 

The only way Bob Dole could have won yesterdayís race is if he had charted a superior course for America. That he failed to do. Torn between inertia and reform, in the end he could offer only a meaningless pledge to keep his word, without telling us in which direction that meant. I voted for him only because I believed that with Jack Kemp at his side as Vice President, he would have been more likely to have improved the state of the economy. It was also my guess that he would have chosen a Cabinet that would be superior in foreign policy. In all honesty, though, the way Dole managed the campaign offered no concrete assurance that these beliefs and guesses were correct. From the moment Kemp accepted the invitation to join Dole on the ticket, he was treated as an appendage to the campaign, in no sense a partner. Both Doleís acceptance speech  and Kempís were drafted to the specifications of the campaign pollster, Tony Fabrizio. Kemp was at least allowed to amend the speech draft presented him, but he was not shown a copy of Doleís speech, or he would have begged Dole to soften the harsh rhetoric, which was as hard as anything Newt might have delivered. The Dole speech, and Kempís accommodation to Dole on Californiaís civil rights and immigration initiatives, set the tone for the campaign. There was not the slightest change in Kempís influence on the campaign from that moment on. Even in its last weeks, when the Dole team was finally signing off on ideas being urged by Kempís core of advisors, the candidate himself had lost all interest in new initiatives. In the November 11 New Yorker, Michael Kelly recounts these last weeks, as Dole unplugged himself from his handlers and did it his way, deciding that if he were to lose, he might as well be himself. His last 96-hour marathon was empty of substance, but gallant nevertheless, to use Cokie Robertsís term.

How will President Clinton interpret this mandate? The New York Times, the primary voice of the liberal Establishment, this morning tells him the election means he has to get along with Republican moderates in Congress, that he has to deal with entitlements, that he canít be too harsh, and that the voters donít want a tax cut for the better off. The Wall Street Journal, the primary voice of the conservative Establishment, will no doubt tell us tomorrow almost exactly the same thing. Today, in an op-ed column, Editor Robert L. Bartley says our government, like governments everywhere, must undertake the painful task of downsizing. With no mention of economic growth, Bartleyís arguments are precisely the same as those made by the fiscal conservatives of yore. Yet beneath the surface much has changed in the Establishment, as the Journal in 25 years has succeeded in talking the Times out of higher taxes.

There are, though, other voices that will be brought to bear upon the government to be seated in January. The most important of these is Kempís, who is instantly the front-runner for both the Republican Party nomination and the Reform Party nomination in the year 2000. It makes no sense for Kemp to think of the GOP nomination in four years without also being the Reform Party nominee. The divisions at the bottom of the political/economic pyramid have to be resolved or the oligarches will remain in power for another generation. When George Will writes, as he did in last Sundayís Washington Post, that "Republicans should apologize to the country for proposing to put Kemp near the presidency," itís clear Kemp has to broaden his reach. Perotís army is still imposing, but it will diminish further unless it becomes clear heíll not head the ticket next time around. Nobody else in the GOP but Kemp could unify the populist forces that were thwarted in this election.

The other voices are those of the governors, Democratic and Republican, who have a more serious interest in what goes on in Washington next year than theyíve had in the past. The welfare bill enacted this year has lit a fuse that will blow up the public finances of state and local governments unless the economy gets on a faster track than it is now. Led by John Engler of Michigan, Pete Wilson of California, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and George Pataki of New York, we can expect pressures for more aggressive action on capital gains tax cuts when the new Congress convenes. It is a sad fact that Republicans easily could have gotten capgains in the last year, even in the last few months, but they did not want Clinton to have the benefit of a better economy. Now, they donít have to worry about helping Clinton get re-elected. In some ways, Kemp can be more aggressive from the outside, giving focus to the growth imperative in the statehouses, via his perch at Empower America. Doleís most important campaign legacy may turn out to be his rescue of Kemp from political oblivion. It should be noted that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was the only Republican of influence who lobbied Dole to put Kemp on the ticket. With Gingrich under a cloud, Lott is the most important Republican in Congress.

The most important Democrat in Congress will be Rep. Charles Rangel [D-NY], who, as ranking Democrat on House Ways&Means, will be the principal link between the White House and the GOP Congress on all matters relating to public finance. If Dole had won, Rangel would have had little influence as only the ranking Democrat. With Clinton in the White House, Rangel will be the most powerful black political leader in the national government in our history. (He will be our guest speaker next Wednesday, at our annual fall dinner in NYC.) Rangel gets along better with Kemp than with any Republican in Congress. In the Senate, freshman Bob Torricelli of New Jersey will be the most important addition to the Democratic ranks, an ardent and eloquent agent of change. He is a gifted orator whose voice will rally the fresh forces of economic growth in his party, a sharp contrast to the wooden bombast of Vice President Al Gore. There are all kinds of promising possibilities that optimism can encourage, which is what we intend to do. The status quo will get one day of rest, but not a minute more.