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Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead

By John A. Cloud

When President-elect Clinton runs for reelection in four years, he will most likely face current Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack F. Kemp.

Of course, George Bush's loss means that all bets are off for the Republicans. The party will wrench itself through a purging and soul-searching process the like of which hasn't been since the Franklin D. Roosevelt '04 years in the White House. (A process that finally gave the GOP Dwight D. Eisenhower, a popular improvement over Herbert C. Hoover of immense proportions.) The outcome of this process is anyone's guess.

The post-Bush Republicans will face countless fights, and the hemorrhaging will be intense--especially given the sense of urgency that will come not just from Bush's loss but also from the losses in Congress yesterday.

The issues? Tax cuts versus deficit cuts. Libertarianism versus religious rightism. Protectionist isolationism versus free trading internationalism. Jack Kemp versus Phil Gramm. William J. Bennett versus Bill Weld. Party ideologue and retiring Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota versus James A. Baker III. Patrick J. Buchanan versus everyone. It's gonna be a bloodbath.

Clinton and Gore should pray that bloodbath lasts as long as the Democrats' internal warring did after the failure of Jimmy Carter.

After 1980, Democrats gave up talk of economic growth, strong defense, family values and investment. They returned to themes of redistributionalism and rights with Walter F. Mondale, only to find that special interest politics dismantled majoritarianism in the party.

Michael S. Dukakis's problems were more personal, but he still couldn't decide whether to be the candidate of suburbia or the candidate of economic change. Clinton showed how a Democrat can be both, and the results are in today's headlines.

But it's safe to say that Kemp will be a major player. He won pre-'96 straw polls of the Republican delegates in Houston last August. Social issue right-wingers love him because he's against gay rights and abortion rights. Economic supply-siders love him because he preaches tax cuts in all circumstances.

His main opposition in the party is Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, a pain-before-gain deficit cutter with a mean streak so wide that he may easily alienate Republican primary and caucus voters in 1996. In other words, Kemp is now golden in the GOP. Columnist George F. Will even endorsed him for president this year over Bush.

But what's amazing about Kemp is his ability to attract favorable comments from some Democrats and liberals. These folks, who would normally pale at the thought of an anti-abortion rights, anti-gay former football player in the White House, are attracted to his concern for the inner cities. They like his ideas about empowerment and enterprise zones. In general, he's seen as caring, a quality the Republicans have been in short supply of since the days of Nelson A. Rockefeller.

That's what scares me.

Clinton faces an uphill battle starting today. The transition to a fully Democratic Beltway will take months. The economic recovery needs to be handled carefully. The deficit looms as a problem to hit after the recovery stabilizes. Foreign policy will demand his attention in ways we can't yet envision.

I happen to think Clinton will perform admirably; he has as my governor for the last 14 years.

But I'm not completely naive. Things could go wrong. And all his fragile coalition needs is one or two persistent problems. Make no mistake: The conservatives who are voting for him this year will be his loudest and most immediate critics beginning next year. It won't take much to strip them away.

Enter Jack Kemp. The idea that he could win isn't so far-fetched, especially if he downplays his social conservatism and stifles the religious right in his party. This won't be difficult. The hard right that Bush pandered to this year will take much of the blame for his loss. Prochoice, pro-gay rights Gov. William F. Weld '66 is poised to benefit greatly from this--the idea of a Kemp-Weld '96 ticket should frighten any Clintonite.

But perhaps the real danger here isn't that liberals and Democrats will vote for Kemp, but that they will accept some Democratic version of his ideas.

Kemp's main contribution to Republicanism so far has been the 1981 tax cuts, which passed as a bill he co-sponsored while in the House. His main contribution to Republicanism for the future will be enterprise zones and more tax cuts.

Many Democrats have already embraced the notion of enterprise zones. But they forget who Kemp really is, though--a Republican. Enterprise zones in any meaningful incarnation mean tax cuts for whatever area is carved out as the "zone." The idea is that businesses will crop up in the enterprise zone in order to avoid taxes and regulations, which are eased in most enterprise zone plans. The zones, of course, are intended to be areas of high unemployment and urban blight that need businesses and the jobs they bring most.

But we forget that macroeconomics is practiced on the margin. The enterprise zone will be marginally worse than the area next to it. Yes, some businesses will grow there because startup costs are lower without high taxes and regulation.

But it's also likely, despite what Kemp says, that existing businesses will also move to these marginally worse off areas. Move from where? An area that is perhaps only marginally better.

In Boston, a business in bad-off Dorchester might well move to worse-off Roxbury. What happens to Dorchester? Its city councillors clamor for it to be designated as an enterprise zone to stop the flight of businesses. Then South Boston, only marginally better than Dorchester, requests enterprise zone status as well in order to stem the flow of businesses out of that area. Pretty soon, all of Boston will be one big enterprise zone, free of strict regulations and with a tiny tax burden--in other words, a Republican heaven. Kemp is, at base, a Republican.

A little Monday morning quarterbacking for the Bushies: You folks really screwed this one up. First, this "trust" thing. Yes, focus groups and polls gave Bush a clear margin of victory on the trust scale. But Bush's major problem, as Fred Barnes has written, was never lack of trust. It was lack of credibility.

On family values: Contrary to what many have said, I think this actually could have worked. The problem wasn't the message--most of us agree on the need for personal responsibility and the vitalization of the family.

The problem was in the packaging. Having Buchanan spit fire on the first night of the Houston convention set up a negative image that wasn't shaken until AIDS victim Mary Fisher took the stage--and by then it was too little, too late.

Besides, the idea that Americans would want to institute "a whole range of psycho-sexual repressions," as one commentator put it, is ludicrous. We like our personal freedom too much.

Finally, a word on the future. Fire strategist Mary Matalin immediately. She's rude, and Lee Atwater died before he could teach her to be a really good consultant.

A case in point: Last summer, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, she released to reporters traveling with the president a "News Release" from the Bush-Quayle campaign. The release made a ham-handed and childish reference to Clinton's alleged adultery, which Bush had declared off-limits in his campaign.

Her lack of subtlety and her inability to see the contradiction in releasing such a document so soon after Bush's dictum led to a mini-disaster. The president forced her to apologize, and the press was occupied with the story during an important time for Bush--the post-convention days, when he needed to seem friendly and inclusive to counteract the divisive disaster of Houston. The image of a nastily-run campaign was 180 degrees wrong for the time.

A case from the Clinton files for contrast: Last July, the Bush camp dispatched South Carolina Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. to Washington to bash Clinton as a lefty. A nervous Clinton guy was there, surreptitiously distributing two photocopies to reporters. One was a letter Campbell had written to Clinton in 1989 praising his economic plans. The other was a South Carolina newspaper article quoting Campbell as saying Clinton was "a good friend" who is "not one of those liberals."

It was masterfully handled.

A personal note: I have waited for a Democratic president as long as I have understood politics and government. In addition, Bill Clinton has been my governor ever since I moved to Arkansas.

He is not perfect, but he is principled. He will blunder, but he has vision.

So it is with great happiness that I give up Clinton for the nation. America deserves him.

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