There are two types of political leaders in democratic systems of government: those whose political power grows in tandem with that of their party and political base, and those whose political power grows on the back of their party and political base. Former president Ronald Reagan was probably the most recent archetype of the first type of political leader. Former president Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are textbook cases of the latter type of political leader.
Reagan's political maneuverings over the years were led by what he referred to as his 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt speak no ill of a fellow Republican." For Reagan, the strengthening of the Republican Party and the conservative camp in the US was an end in itself as well as a means towards his own political success. During his two terms in the White House, Reagan transformed American policy and politics at home and abroad and had a lasting impact on the way Americans perceived their nation. When he left office, the conservative-Republican base had become the majority camp in American politics and society. More importantly, American strength, wealth and self-assurance at home and abroad grew in concert with Reagan's political power.
Understanding that his own liberal Democratic base was the minority in the US, Clinton based his political strategy on what his former political adviser Dick Morris referred to as "triangulation." Clinton was not guided by a core principle of loyalty to party and to his political base, but by a desire to amalgamate his personal power. Clinton rallied his base by emphasizing his personal affability and by offering patronage positions and perks. He rallied conservative swing voters by implementing conservative economic, social and international policies. When Clinton left office, his political camp not only remained a minority, it was as bereft of new ideas as it had been when he entered office. While Clinton remained personally popular throughout his tenure, he left no enduring or transformational legacy on America. Indeed, if anything, Clinton's legacy is the implementation of Reagan's vision for American society.
The major difference between Sharon and Clinton is that Sharon abandoned the policies of his own rightist Likud political base in favor of those of the radical Left despite the fact that his political base constitutes the majority of Israelis. Aside from this important distinction, Sharon and Clinton's political machinations have been notably similar.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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