Yes: The right wing must learn that all or nothing at all ms not a road to victory in politics.
Ordinarily, there is an easy way for majority political parties in the United States to become minority parties -- and some rightwing Republicans are working at it assiduously these days. Fortunately, for the party as a whole, President Clinton is working just as assiduously to keep that from happening. Indeed, despite the best efforts of too many Republicans, Clinton is very likely to provide the Grand Old Party with more senators, more representatives and more governors than they dared dream of as recently as three months ago.
This is because Americans who expect to vote in November seem prepared at last to put issues of character ahead of their pocketbooks, and one thing Clinton has done and is doing -- as I understand the meaning of "is" -- is give this year's Republican candidates character as an issue. Those of us who for any number of reasons like the idea of a Republican majority in Congress and a plethora of Republican governors can only say, "God bless Bill Clinton? For where else can Republican voters, in fact any voters, go this year without in effect condoning the president's words and deeds?
Unhappily, however, Clinton's sins seem not to have assuaged the complaints of the right and left wings, but primarily the right wing of the Republican Party.
In some ways this is understandable because the governing center of the party has been less than consistent in recent years in living up to its promises and commitments. But a foolish "consistency," as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "is a hobgoblin of little minds." And this especially is true in the politics of governing. The fringes of both parties often forget that in government it seldom is possible to get a whole loaf, and in a government such as ours you are sometimes lucky even to get a slice.
This doesn't mean the party's leaders or its elected officials should stop trying to live up to their promises, but it does mean they also have to be agreeable to compromise if they want to get anything done. The trouble with many in the right wing of the party -- although it also is true in the left wing -- is that they often would rather go down in flames than live to fight another day. All or nothing at all is not the road to victory m American politics.
Now it is true that the record of Republicans in the 105th Congress is nothing to brag about, but it could be worse -- and just maybe it couldn't be better. After all, political parties in the country as a whole, as well as in the Congress, are not monolithic blocs; their members do not march in lockstep.
Republicans in this Congress generally are, but certainly not entirely, conservative largely because their constituencies are not entirely conservative. As a result, you have a Republican contingent in the House that largely is pro-life but has enough pro-choice members to block much pro-life legislation, and in the Senate help sustain a veto of legislation that would have outlawed partial-birth abortion. You have a Republican majority that opposes a kind of campaign-finance reform that would limit free speech, but it is kept alive in the House of Representatives by Republicans who advocate such reform. The same is true of legislation that would limit an individual's right to smoke. On every issue of consequence -- and many of little or no consequence -- there will be a minority of Republicans who, with Democratic help, vote to block the will of the conservative majority. That is a problem that right-wing malcontents seem to prefer to deal with by walking away, or threatening to walk away, from the whole party even though that inevitably will result in returning the Democrats to majority status.
Some people at both extremes of the GOP seem never to learn. In 1964 it was the liberal wing of the party that walked away from Barry Goldwater and turned the nation over to Lyndon Johnson and Great Society socialism from which we have never recovered. Funny thing: None of those so-called moderate Republican leaders -- Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, Mark Hatfield or Chuck Percy, ever won their party's presidential nomination, never even came close, mainly because they mistakenly thought they were in the mainstream of their party. There are some so-called "Rockefeller Republicans" who think that today. Boy, are they wrong! But even so, we hear fewer complaints from them than from the right wing.
Of course, what happened after Goldwater is that the party moved neither to the left nor the right; it moved to the center and picked Richard Nixon and retained the "me-too" Republicans in the Congress who had dominated the party since the days of Tom Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower.
And there it stayed until the advent of Ronald Reagan, who is the only true conservative president the right wing can point to since its emergence in the early 1960s. And if they look closely they will note that even during the halcyon Reagan years they did not get their way on many of the social issues so dear to their hearts, such as abortion, elimination of the National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities and abolition of the Department of Education. Indeed, that department expanded during the Reagan years while the national debt exploded.
Of course they don't blame Reagan for these failures and they certainly did not walk away from him or the Republican Party in those days. Why then, should they walk away from it today? Why should they sit on their hands? In fairness, most of them don't. Mostly it is a few loud whiners who pretend to speak for the rank and file in much the same way that Jesse Jackson pretends to speak for black Americans.
Unfortunately, those who walk away and those who advocate taking a walk will not advance their cause in the long run, which can best be advanced by working within the party. To do otherwise merely is to hand victory on a silver platter to the Democrats and the social liberals who dominate them.
By LYN NOFZIGER Nofziger is a GOP political consultant, a former aide to President Reagan and the author of Nofziger: A Political Memoir and four Western novels.
No: Republicans, terrified of Clinton and liberal media, have become low-octane Democrats.
While Republicans already are savoring the prospect of November victories as a result of "Monicagate" and other presidential embarrassments, it may be a good idea to look critically at where their party may be headed. In what is intended as causes for Republican optimism, syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak observes that while Clinton's job-approval rating remains high (near 60 percent), 65.9 percent of those questioned by national pollster John Zogby think the president is a negative role model. This means that even that majority of Americans who believe Clinton has done his job well may be turning against him, and his party, because of the character question.
This view of how Republicans can and should beat an otherwise successful president -- by dwelling on his sex life -- is becoming old hat. One encounters it every day in the New York Post and at least once a month in the Weekly Standard and other self-described Republican periodicals. What usually is suggested is that Republicans should pursue Clinton's popular, moderate positions and avoid being confrontational on divisive issues. On the Sunday after the Republican congressional victories of November 1994, for example, Weekly Standard editor and conservative Republican strategist Bill Kristol warned against being adventurous. In remarks made on ABC TV's This Week, Kristol urged his party to cleave to the center and "prepare for winning the presidential race" by not being abrasive. In the Feb. 12, 1995, New York Times, the former Dan Quayle adviser offered further thoughts in this moderate vein. While he expressed delight about "the political progress on equal rights for women" already achieved, he and other Republicans had to convince women voters that on "the big question of where do we go from here" the GOP has the answers.
This tepid opposition to the social left -- often expressed even more tepidly by congressional Republicans -- yields lots to the other side. Indeed why should anyone trust conservative Republicans to implement policies -- such as affirmative action for women, Justice Department involvement in sexual-harassment and discrimination cases or the integration of women and gays into military combat units -- which the right generally has resisted? And if said Republicans really groove on the rhetoric and policies of the Democrats, why should they present themselves, or be taken seriously, as an opposition? This remains a valid question even if one accepts the contention of Maggie Gallagher, Ben Wattenberg and other Republican journalists that Clinton has scooped Republican and conservative issues by featuring family values (though in a recast form), and by ending federal contributions to Aid to Dependent Children. Clinton is credited, furthermore, with advancing positions that historically are not conservative or Republican ones but play well among corporate executives and some libertarians, to wit, ending tariffs in our trade relations with Mexico and Canada and opposing any restrictions on our present liberal immigration.
Without questioning the concern about Clinton's personal failings voiced by George Will, Cal Thomas and other Republican journalists and, even more vociferously, by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, I am nonetheless forced to come back to Kristol's big question of "Where do we go from here?" Are Republicans willing to move beyond slime and offer substantive alternatives to the party and president they are attacking? Or, is their focus on presidential character an attempt to win on the cheap, without providing anything conspicuously different from what still are viewed as popular Clinton policies?
In a gubernatorial race now dragging on in Pennsylvania, Republican Tom Ridge keeps assuring us that he is "moral" and "honest." Though Ridge does not belittle his opponent openly, he is trying by indirection to tar all Democrats with Monicagate. He is not doing so from the right but, like fellow-Republican Gov. Christine Whitman in New Jersey, combines anti-Clintonism with liberal social stands. Ridge has moved to the left of his Democratic predecessor, Bob Casey, on social issues including abortion, and two years ago vetoed a bill approved by the legislature which would have ended state support for affirmative action.
Republicans, by now terrified of the left-leaning media and Clinton's apparent policy successes, have become low-octane Democrats. Afraid to appear immoderate to leftists with conviction, Republicans talk vaguely about family values or else quibble about details before caving in to such liberal boondoggles (and lawyers' dreams) as the Americans with Disabilities Act. Republicans like Pat Buchanan who criticize groups that do not practice "family values" have paid dearly, though some have not paid with their careers -- if, like Trent Lott, they treat homosexuality as a partly therapeutic problem and then apologize for being insensitive.
There was a time when Republicans stood for constitutional principles and against federal administrative overreach, but lions of conviction such as Robert Taft eventually lost the party. Who needs a constitutional republic with distributed powers when a federal behemoth can dispense largess, or enhance voter self-esteem, more efficiently? Today's Republicans, like Democrats, draw patronage and, indirectly, votes from an omnipresent administration they helped to install and now desperately support. Today, Republicans have no inclination to change that system and imitate Democrats while disguising their greed and ideological drift as moderation or preparing for the presidential race. Small wonder that House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his followers offer no opposition when the federal government imposes, directly and indirectly, quotas in the workplace and at educational institutions receiving federal aid! In their rush to please advocates of big government and the civil-rights lobby (both of which condemn them as reactionaries), congressional Republicans cannot openly embrace such classical liberal notions as the equal treatment of citizens. Jubilation about porous borders, adamant refusal to stand up for white Americans when Clinton depicts them as the exclusive source of racism in his misnamed "Dialogue on Race" equivocation about the judgmental implications of representing tree family values and the introduction of racial quotas, even before the Democrats supported them, are all actual GOP positions.
Together with these testimonies to opportunism, we have the theatrical efforts of the party to outdo Democrats in the game of racial victimology. These gestures include the decision by Gov. George Pataki of New York, to have the Georgia flag taken down from the New York state capitol because of its inclusion of the Confederate battle ensign; the rallying by leading congressional Republicans, including my own congressman, Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, to an ill-conceived national apology for slavery to blacks; and the eagerness of Republican senators to second Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun's refusal to renew the charter of the philanthropic organization Daughters of the Confederacy because their seal had a Confederate flag. Equally childish was GOP presidential candidate Robert Dole's attempt to reach out to Jewish voters in 1996. In campaigning, Dole not only praised the right-of-center Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, but publicly urged the Israeli premier to go toe-to-toe with the Clinton administration.
Unfortunately for Dole, most Jewish voters are not neoconservatives but favor the peace process in the Middle East, while being disproportionately numbered among Clinton's outspoken fans. Dole's behavior, like the me-tooism practiced by congressional Republicans when Clinton committed troops to Bosnia and bombed questionable military targets in Afghanistan, raises doubts about Republican leadership. In one case partisan opportunism and, in the other, lack of responsible oversight may be seen in a party that stands for nothing very distinctive, save perhaps for the National Rifle Association and multinational corporations.
Republicans do have the chance to stand for something more, if their power brokers and strategists decide to go back to being old-fashioned Republicans. Devolution of power, a moral and constitutional crusade against social engineering and judicial governance, and a rejection by Republicans of harebrained outreach schemes likely to offend their white male and Southern conservative electoral base are principles and attitudes that the GOP should keep in mind as it looks toward the future.
It might also learn a proper lesson from the Democrats who have set the long-haul national agenda ever since the New Deal. Despite the temporary reverses of the early years of the Reagan administration, Democrats have pushed the electorate -- and usually the Republican Party -- toward a redefinition of democracy and constitutional government. They successfully have identified both with administrative rule and an expanding centralized welfare state. Contrary to their claims of independence, Republicans march in Democratic shoes. They too accept the institutional revolutions wrought by the New Deal and Great Society, and the most they dare do is nibble away at these achievements by challenging their extensions. The power acquired by the Democratic left to resocialize Americans though the courts as well as federal administration never has been lost -- and will not be without a legal counterrevolution. In the meantime the Republicans muddle through with neither direction nor vision, offering an electoral difference without a significant distinction.
Until they provide both, I shall not waste my time voting for their candidates. Until they champion a return to meaningful self-government among citizens who truly rule themselves, Republican politicians will remain exactly what they have become, dispensers and recipients of patronage living on public money.
BY MARK MILLER Miller is the executive director of the Republican Leadership Council, and has been a GOP fund-raiser for several candidates at the national level.
Yes: The GOP's leaders wisely have stressed core beliefs in fiscal conservatism.
The slick packaging of Bill Clinton in the last two presidential elections would have made any Madison Avenue executive proud. He ran as a Republican, but has served in the White House like a liberal Democrat. In both 1992 and 1996, the president employed rhetorically soothing nostrums such as personal responsibility and replacing welfare with work to mask both his tree ideological agenda and his liberal governing philosophy.
While the president's call for personal responsibility has now sadly been seen to apply to everyone but himself, his record of increasing taxes, watering-down welfare reform, calling for nationalized health care and advocating more federal bureaucracy is demonstrative of his belief in the primacy of big government.
The successful centrist rhetoric of his campaigns was supplanted in the White House by employing the traditional liberal Democratic messages of more entitlements, class warfare and the traditional pandering to liberal special-interest constituencies.
As the party approaches the 1998 midterm elections and the 2000 presidential contest, it is acting upon the need to outline a broad, conservative economic message that reflects the party's core belief in limited government, lower taxes and individual freedom.
While President Clinton's moral transgressions are an easy and tempting target for the GOP -- and will no doubt be an issue in many 1998 elections -- the longer-term goal of the Republican Party must be to delineate clearly the stark philosophical and policy differences between the two parties.
In order to continue electing more Republicans, and to become a lasting governing majority, the GOP must broaden its electoral appeal beyond narrow and divisive moral issues by emphasizing issues that both unite our party and attract like-minded Democrats and independents; issues that convey our bedrock principle that individual economic and personal freedoms must, and should, supersede an omnipotent federal government that infringes upon individual liberties.
An extensive national-issues survey of 77 swing congressional districts (in which the Republican candidate won or lost by 10 points or less) recently conducted by the Republican Leadership Council clearly shows that the Republican Party's economic and education ideas, if properly showcased, are winning issues to a majority of voters.
Three key findings of the national-issues survey are:
* The center of the electorate favors the Republican Party's economic agenda by solid margins. When asked if they agree or disagree with the GOP's position on economic issues such as taxes, government spending and a balanced federal budget, 49 percent of all voters said they agreed, while 31.6 percent disagreed. Furthermore, the Republican Party's efforts to help small business by reducing the tax burden and onerous federal regulations are equally popular and should be at the forefront of the GOP agenda. The bedrock GOP tenet of allowing working people to keep more of what they earn is a proven winner.
* The electorate strongly supports the Republican Party's education initiatives. Specific Republican education initiatives, such as competency testing for teachers, is supported by 92.6 percent of voters, while merit pay for our best teachers is backed by 84 percent of the electorate. In addition, 87 percent of voters support using the tax code to enable parents to create tax-deferred education-savings accounts -- an initiative vetoed by the president.
* Republican candidates who focus on economic and education issues are far more viable than candidates who advocate a specific moral agenda. The survey found that the electorate's rejection of a specific moral agenda is very broad -- even among Republicans. Asked if they favor or oppose the federal government passing legislation in support of a specific moral agenda, 57.9 percent of Republicans opposed it, while just 26.1 percent were in favor. By a 58.6 percent to 18.9 percent margin, the electorate prefers a Republican candidate who supports economic and education issues over one who supports a specific moral agenda.
There's no question that continuing the success of electing Republicans-- and continuing successfully to function as a governing majority party --is a challenge we face not just in the next election cycle, but in the next millennium.
Yet, in order to continue building on our recent successes, the Republican Party must seek to broaden its base and expand its appeal -- not just circle the wagons. The continual challenge for the Republican Party will be to highlight and differentiate ourselves from the administration and its liberal Democratic acolytes in Congress who, every election year, fake right but always run to the left.
We in the Republican Party must have the courage and the determination to stand up for our principles of limited government, lower taxes and individual freedom -- and do so with conviction and a strong belief in the very principles that are the cornerstone of the American character.
What Americans want and deserve from their elected leaders are policies and programs that advance individual economic prosperity, reduce government intrusion into their daily lives and provide for a better education for their children. Americans deserve to have their hard work benefit both their families and the nation as a whole. Leaders who focus on this agenda need not fear a veneer of slick Madison Avenue salesmanship. It's taken some time, but this veneer is now wearing off Bill Clinton.
BY PAUL GOTTFRIED Gottfried is a professor of humanities at Elizabeth-town College and is the author of The Conservative Movement and the forthcoming book After Liberalism.…