Unleashing Clinton may get the yellow-dog Dems moving for Gore, but there’s a big risk because Bush is energizing his conservative base, and how better to get them to come out than in protest against the immoral Slick Willie and his phony, lying protégé?
Since Gore totally lacks Clinton’s political gifts, his Clintonesque positions fall flat—not to mention the fake note of the Arkansas bird dog in the room that no one notices. It’s a real problem.
Take gun control. After Columbine, Clinton moved for a niche issue beyond pressing the flesh—which he does a lot better than Gore—so the administration pushed for insignificant trigger-lock reforms. The mere suggestion sent the NRA into a heightened campaign against any legislation. As a result, the ever timid Gore, who originally mouthed reform, backed off. Now, in battleground states like Michigan and Ohio, Beta Man is outspokenly supporting hunters’ rights. This is, of course, a far cry from Bush’s vow to let every citizen pack heat, and indeed Texas lets its citizenry carry concealed firearms.
The upshot of the Democrats’ tinkering with the gun issue is to raise once again the question of Gore’s credibility. Which is he: the progressive who talks about tightening gun regs in the cities or the earth-toned country-boy sportsman’s friend? Clinton might have carried it off, but in Gore’s tight-assed, herky-jerky way it comes across as phony—which it is.
In 1980 the voters were offered a choice between Jimmy Carter, another pseudo-conservative Southern Democrat, and a real conservative, Ronald Reagan. They chose Reagan. It’s the same sort of feeling that today buoys Bush, who shares with Reagan—and Clinton—a folksy assurance that he is the real McCoy.
Footnote: On Monday, things didn’t appear to be getting any better, what with the Gore camp’s plans to energize what’s left of its base by tearing into Nader as a “spoiler.” Using tired old Ted Kennedy and Minnesota’s retiring Paul Wellstone to bring out the base is a tactic that’s bound to backlash and hand more votes to Nader and Bush.
By the end of last week, members of the Reform Party were defecting to Nader right and left. In Georgia, the anti-Buchanan forces in the Reform Party all but bolted for Nader, who has only write-in status in the state. Said Georgia Reform Party vice-chair Jerry Reed: “I’ve always admired Nader personally. . . . He’s always been a top-drawer, honest person. I would have liked to see him run in the Reform Party.”
Buchanan press secretary K.B. Forbes responded to the Macon Telegraph that “the lack of support” from Reed’s organization, which is not recognized by the Buchananites, is “irrelevant and inconsequential.” Earlier in the week, three former top Reform Party officials in Texas announced for Nader. They are Paul Truax, a founder along with Ross Perot; Lee Pepper, the former state chair; and Sandy Madison, Tarrant County chair. All said Nader’s goals were closer to those of the original Reform Party than Buchanan’s.
Meanwhile, 12 of Nader’s early-day top lieutenants, known as Nader’s Raiders, have signed a “Dear Ralph” letter, which beseeches the consumer champion to get out of the race before he ends up electing Bush. “The attached opinion polls now show that you are drawing between 3 and 8 percent of the total vote in each of 9 states: Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin—a level of support which is equal to or more than the present differences in support for Al Gore and George Bush,” says the letter. “More importantly, your candidacy has reduced Al Gore’s support to between 42 and 45 percent since most of your likely voters would be in the Gore camp if you were not on the ballot.”
The letter goes on to lambaste Nader for breaking a “pledge to us” not to campaign in states where Bush might beat Gore and then launches into a screed: “You have sacrificed for the benefit of the common good your entire adult life, as we, your friends and colleagues, know well. There have been countless occasions where you stayed in the background when that helped achieve the maximum benefit for others. It is time for you once again to step aside in the best interests of our nation. It would be a cruel irony indeed if your major legacy were to erase the victory from the candidate who most embodies your philosophy.”
Bush’s proposal to pull U.S. troops out of the Balkans NATO force and leave the policing to the Europeans infuriated Madeleine Albright and was instantly denounced by Gore, both of whom believe withdrawal at this point would lead to the destabilization of NATO.
Despite the laggardly pace of liberalization, Serbia is beginning to forge new bonds with its former partners in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Thus, economic reform is to be based on the successes in Slovenia and Serbia’s former enemy Croatia, which now views Serbia as a market for goods and services. But this hopeful scenario is being slowed by Kostunica’s baffling attitude toward the supposedly ousted strongman Milosevic. Frustrating progressives, the new president has agreed to let Slobo and his cronies continue to play an open role in the nation’s politics. The result is to slow reform and even drag things to a halt.
In Croatia, the imprint of the West is visible at every corner. According to my colleague Jasminka Udovicki, who just visited there, “The cities look like they came from Austria. Dalmatian towns, only recently battlegrounds, have new roads, lovely winding walkways by the sea, and charming small hotels. Much of the investment is by Italians. You can buy anything. All the multinationals are there.”
According to Udovicki, Croatia has forged cultural links with greater Europe through appearances by visiting writers and musicians and gallery exhibitions of foreign artists. “Most amazing to Serbs, Croatians greet you with open arms.” It seems like just yesterday the two were at each other’s throats. “But now Croatians flock to the theater to watch a play performed by visiting Serbs about national guilt. After the performance, the audience of Croatians and Serbs launch into a lengthy discussion of who was to blame for what, and at the end the Croatians emotionally thank the Serbs for coming.” Of course, for the Croatians, Serbia beckons as their nearest and most promising market. As if to underscore the economic ties, as soon as Kostunica took over, the Croatians announced they were prepared to supply oil from the Dalmatian coast.
However, economic unrest continues. In the past few days, Udovicki reports, the government “raised prices of all staple foods and has gone so far as to remove flour from the warehouses so that bakers can’t provide bread, and prices go up.” As a consequence, the ultranationalists in the Serbian Radical Party blame the new government for driving up prices.
Pressed by Tim Russert to say whether he’s for or against abortion, George W. Bush declared on Meet the Press that “there’s going to be abortions one way or the other and we got to convince people that adoption is better. But that’s going to require leadership that doesn’t use the issue as a political club.”
Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz and Theresa Crapanzano