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Thursday, May 16, 1996

Nelsons Rule!

Watching Hillary Clinton transform herself into Harriet Nelson convinced me that it was only a matter of time before the man of the house reinvented himself as Ozzie. He has finally done so, with customary valor, striking a blow to "strengthen the American family" by opposing same-sex marriage. Admonish me if I'm making too pat a conjecture here: essentially, upwards of 20 million citizens cannot have their unions certified because they can't directly beget a little Ricky? (I just had a vision of some unctuous White House minion offering an explanation: "Understandably, this administration is opposed to all unproductive congresses.")

Opposition to the legalization of gay marriage is one of the Republicans' few remaining issues, and in usurping it Clinton continues his headlong race to that wholesome patch of nowhere popularly known as centrism. With Dole in nimble retreat from the policies of the Republican Congress, the spectacle of him and Clinton striving to manufacture enough campaign issues upon which they differ should easily surpass all expectation levels for grimness. Remember how Thorny would drop over for Saturday breakfasts as Oz padded about the kitchen in a dressing gown and pajamas and they engaged in animated disagreement about nothing that had to do with real life?


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.

Copyright John Hutchison 1996
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