Unaccountably, this shameless shaping of Clinton as the ultimate political
animal provides a completely unforeseen reward, one which would have seemed
preposterous even three months ago. I'll do the unpardonable here, commit
punditry and say it straight out (no italics, out of modesty): In finding
refuge within the Republican schema and successfully annexing it, our chameleon
chief has effectively eliminated the far right as a major influence in the
electoral politics of this country.
Catch your breath and tote up the most recent evidence: Ralph Reed's wavering on the Christian Coalition's prohibition on abortion; the renewed clamor, now nearly a wail, for Colin Powell (the melanized Clinton), as running-mate savior; Senator D'Amato's calculated fusillade against Buchanan and Gingrich; the already-in-motion stratagems of the apres-Dole contingent of young, pro-choice, urban/industrial region Republican governors like William Weld and Christine Todd Whitman.
The fissures are such that for the first time since 1988 Republicans go into a nominating convention not needing to kneel before Pat Robertson and the party platforms that have required his imprimatur. This convention will be a replica of the Democrats' 1992 New York lockdown, with Buchanan and his confederates shunted away from prime time and into a slot opposite Regis and Kathy Lee. Buchanan's recent utterances indicate that he and his brigadistas will not go gently into that good morning, a portent perhaps of a party implosion of the sort the Democrats recall well enough to have kept them in full cower for the past 28 years.
Between now and November the public can gaze upon the full blossoming
of the Business Party. In timely fashion, we get to witness what one party,
indivisible, with two nominal wings for all, has valiantly agreed will be
its essential function: A sluice for corporate eddies into every corner
of our lives, accompanied by varying degrees of harassment and punition
for those for whom the corporations no longer have any use. Not that the
public hasn't noticed, with polls over the past few years clearly revealing
voters' disillusionment with privatization and their belief in a substantial
government role in the economy, environmental and consumer protection, and
help for the poor. To their eventual chagrin, the victors of '94 paid no
heed to this rumbling undercurrent, though by the time the public demanded
to know "What Contract?" Clinton had become a trafficker
with the Gingrich blitz.
I doubt that even Oval Office impresario Dick Morris had any idea it
would be quite this simple: Clinton jettisons his liberal stigma
and the radical right suddenly ceases to be a major player. As their point
men in the Republican Congress flounder, the behind-the-scenes titans of
moral rearmament and fast-food feudalism face languishment in their walled
enclaves and bunkered compounds.
It's difficult to predict whether these evangelical cranks and their cronies will resurface as a separate political entity. Pat Robertson as a standard-bearer would lead them nowhere, and a coalescence around Buchanan and his anti-trade and lately pro-labor sympathies is problematic at best. Heard any murmurs about a Cal Thomas candidacy?
Any real opposition mounted during Clinton's second term will largely come from the left. Not as petitioners, but as opposition-party organizers. Now that he's been resurrected, Clinton will yield no new ground, even if Democrats regain the majority. Look to what happens the first time House progressives attempt to buck him. A Nixon-like obsession with history's assessment will be the Clinton policy yardstick from now on.
Should he be confronted with mass activism and demonstrations, my guess is that Clinton will choose the hardass option. The logic of his position dictates it, though I doubt it will get so nasty that he sees his old nemesis Lyndon Johnson in the shaving mirror. He deserves a glimpse of Ozzie Nelson, though, another glad-hander groomed and bound by available applause.