Back in the Flatbush Brooklyn Dodger era, diehard fans would react to a close defeat on the diamond by saying “We wuz robbed.” That sums up the semi-stunned and angry response of Republicans to Bill Clinton’s State of the Union message before the assembled Congress.
Later, at a Washington, D.C., fatcat Republican fundraiser, featured speaker, Ronald Reagan, told the reactionary faithful that Clinton committed “grand larceny” on crime and welfare reform, “the intellectual theft of ideas you and I recognize as our own.” This is the way vintage Clinton has dealt with his political opponents throughout most of his political career. Steal your adversary’s thunder and turn it into political lightning, but always make sure that you move toward the right when doing this.
The strategy behind the State of the Union address began to work like quick clockwork. With paragraph after paragraph reflecting the polls of Clinton adviser, Stanley Greenberg, Clinton hit the hot buttons. “Three strikes and YOU are Out,” he declared and one could almost see the Republican lawmakers go limp. By the end of the speech, it was cold sweat time for the GOP frantically searching for a way to draw a line in the sand between them and the President.
Immediately, they fell into Clinton’s trap by becoming the extremist, marginal Republicans that Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to delight in showcasing. Leaping into the media spotlight first was fully health insured Senator Robert Dole who declared that there is no health crisis in America. Two weeks later, a Republican pollster labelled such a belief “nutty.”
Next Newt Gingrich fell into the trap. “Two strikes and you’re out,” he roared, adding that he would build stockades on military reservations for the trainloads of prisoners he believes should be sent there. Not corporate criminals, mind you, for Newt knows the financial rewards of distinguishing between street crime and the violence and fraud of suite crime.
Watching this, White House aides were besides themselves laughing. They believe that, with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party having nowhere to go, they can push toward the right, garner the support of moderate rightists and shove the Republican Party to extreme and less popular positions.
Since Clinton has the media “bully pulpit”, as Teddy Roosevelt called the Presidency, Republicans will sound like “me toos, Bill,” unless they carve out some popular positions they can call their own.
This will be hard to do. Clinton is more willing than they to coddle business, as willing as they to keep the federal regulatory agencies in the health, safety and economic justice areas quite quiescent. On foreign affairs, it is George Ronald Clinton to an uncanny degree. He’s cutting programs that big business doesn’t care about and keeping the ones they do care about.
But, hark, there is the opening. The Republicans can go after the scores of megabillion dollar corporate welfare programs that Washington provides. Most are wasteful, breed fraud, dependency and are unfair to businesses that are not demanding handouts from Washington. Subsidies, tax gimmicks, loans forgiven, giveaways, monopoly free licenses, grants, bailouts, and inflated government contracts are some examples of the giant bazaar of accounts receivables that are the federal governments definition of corporate socialism. They amount to well over $150 billion a year and even more in indirect costs.
In the past three weeks, the Wall St. Journal editorials, often harbingers of Republican themes, has denounced two state business welfare proposals — one in Arizona and another in Iowa. The Journal, through its inimitable deferred myopia, has discovered that taxpayers pay for these things!
Were the Republican Party to come out for good old fashion sink or swim capitalism that saves taxpayers huge sums and holds companies to a competitive test rather than a welfare leaning post in Washington, they would have a political winner.
Will it happen? It is hard to overestimate the Republicans’ indentured status to the many industries that both fund them and feed at the Washington trough. We’ll just have to wait and see.