A campaign divided against itself

Posted: Aug 28, 2000 12:00 AM
Last time I wrote that Gore was not really straying from the Clinton reservation by stressing Old Democrat (liberal) rather than New Democrat (more centrist) themes. Instead, he was employing another familiar Clintonian strategy: populism and class warfare. I also said that a populist strategy was nothing new for Democrat campaigns, but that Clinton and Gore have taken it to a new level by adopting it as a model for governing. It is bad enough that they pit people against people during campaigns, but it is especially troublesome that they continue it during their tenure in office. It turns out that both components of my theory have already been vindicated. The Washington Post confirms that Gore has purposely adopted Clinton's approach for the 1992 elections, which blended populist rhetoric with a traditional values message targeted to the "working class." Indeed, Clinton's 1992 pollster Stanley Greenberg has taken on an increasingly important advisory role to Gore in the past month. The Greenberg factor is particularly significant because Greenberg was one of the principal architects of Clinton's now-famous tactic of governing by the polls. Together, he and Clinton used polling and focus groups to manipulate public opinion in line with Clinton's policy aims. Ronald Reagan, you may protest, did the same thing. Wrong. He did lobby the public to support his agenda but he didn't use divisive rhetoric, race-baiting, senior-scaring and focus group-tested jargon to cajole them. Clinton used whatever means necessary to achieve his ends, and Gore is now doing the same thing in his own right. Contrary to what some have concluded, Gore has not abandoned the center with his apparent lurch to the left. The Gore-Greenberg strategy involves a more sophisticated approach to swing voters than merely to assume they are ideologically moderate, which they aren't necessarily -- a point I've been trying to make for some time now. While Clinton targeted suburbanites during 1996, Gore and Greenberg believe that most swing voters are a few rungs lower on the economic totem poll today. It is those voters Gore is now courting. You don't really believe Gore's claim that he is for the weak and that Republicans are for the powerful, do you? This week, Gore attended a fund-raiser in Fort Lauderdale and collected an estimated $500,000 from 100 "weak" fat cats. He is not for the people, but for his special-interest constituencies. His concern is not for their welfare, but for their votes. Don't take my word for it. Let's see what Gore's running mate, Joseph Lieberman has to say about it. In an interview earlier this week with the Wall Street Journal, Lieberman did his best to soften Gore's relentless assault against producers, achievers and business. Lieberman is somewhat conflicted by Gore's invective against pharmaceuticals and insurance companies because he has steadily relied on them for hefty Senate campaign contributions. Apparently looking at the reporter with a straight face, Lieberman characterized Gore's policy proposals as "quite moderate." What he said next was more revealing: "Political rallies tend not to be places for extremely thoughtful argument. Rather, you have some rhetorical flourishes." Did you catch that? Joe Lieberman, the Democratic Party's Ethics Czar is telling us that you should take Gore's polarizing populism with a grain of salt. You have to understand that he's just in the heat of the campaign. Oh? Well, I wonder which part we are supposed to believe and which we should discard as hyperbole or just downright deceit. Businesses will not be fooled by such double talk. You can't slam business and claim to be a friend of business. You can't pit people against people and bring people together. You can't be negative and usher in an era of optimism and harmony. You can't tear down family values and claim to be upholding traditional values. Bill Clinton is one of the few politicians capable of pulling off an internally contradictory campaign message (appearing to be pro and anti-business simultaneously). Gore doesn't have Clinton's finesse. He's also running against a much tougher opponent than Clinton faced in either of his races. Just ask former President Bush. To paraphrase a great Republican, who was quoting Scripture: A campaign divided against itself will not stand. It will eventually fall of its own weight -- and possibly a little shove from Dubya.