Preying on Perotians

July 11, 1992 should not have been a relaxing day for George Bush. He was running third in the polls, behind two men he thought would not be taken seriously. Instead of falling as the economy slowly improved, unemployment was actually rising, and his job rating had never been worse.

But on July 11, Bush played golf. Always an early riser, he started out at 6:40 a.m. for the Cape Arundel course in Kennebunkport and played 18 holes. Nothing happened that day. As Michael Wines of The New York Times wrote in the press pool report for the day: "Four hours, 10 words, no news."

Okay, so Bush was on vacation, and everyone needs a break. But Bush never seemed to understand that politics demanded commitments of him beyond his duties as president. A president can afford a break; a campaigner can't. Bush wanted to separate these two jobs--that he did so helped unseat him.

Bill Clinton does understand his role as campaigner, and he gives time to both governing and campaigning. Too much time, it seems. According to Fred Barnes of The New Republic, Clinton can't seem to quit his job--he sleeps only about six hours a night, and he works most weekends.

To say he's masterful at it is cliched, but it's hard not to mention the bottomless political skill of a man who can turn a rough first 100 days to his advantage: Clinton doesn't point to his specific missteps (mainly not cutting out the pork in his stimulus package when moderate Democratic Sen. John Breaux asked him to, thereby sparking a fight over the pork that the Republicans won). Instead, he says, "I may have overextended myself, and we've got to focus on big things."


But Clinton is coming up on a bigger political problem, one that he hasn't addressed yet. The problem has to do with Perot voters.

Perot drew 19.02 percent of the votes on November 3--more than any third-party or independent candidate except Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 and Millard Fillmore in 1856, who were both ex-presidents when they received 21.53 percent and 27.39 percent, respectively.

And as Wall Street Journal pollsters Peter Hart and Robert Teeter said last week, Perot has stunningly retained his constituency even "five months after Election Day."

But Clinton has not begun the gargantuan and ultimately unavoidable task of appealing to these voters. In fact, while he's doing a great job making his brand of neoliberalism appealing to liberals, he may be alienating the Perot voters in the process.

The neoliberal appeal to liberals has manifested itself on three fronts so far: Appointments, the budget and gays in the military. On all three, the Perotians have lost.

Contrary to what some political watchers have said, seeking racial diversity in appointing his Cabinet did not politically hurt Clinton. Americans who value equality of opportunity and the establishment of minority role models (and most do) can accept this essentially political move. Even Republicans must acknowledge that George "I-picked-Clarence-Thomas-because-he-is-the-most-qualified-not-because-he's-Black" Bush did the same.

Indeed, the problem was not too much diversity, but too little: Clinton didn't work for ideological and political diversity as well as racial. The president didn't include a single Perot supporter among his Cabinet appointees. Most were old-line liberals, and only a few (Bruce Babbitt at Interior, Richard R. Riley at Education, Robert B. Reich at Labor, and possibly Les Aspin and Lloyd Bentsen at Defense and Treasury) could be considered New Democrats, who appeal more to Perot supporters.

As for the budget, Clinton included a host of new spending measures and tax incentives that meet neoliberal criteria (i.e., they emphasize the role of markets and efficiency) while addressing traditionally liberal concerns. But the Perotians' chief concern--the deficit--was not attacked with the ferocity they wanted.

Clinton included tax breaks for new firms and new investments in plant and equipment. He asked for more spending for infrastructure (highways, mass transit, a network to link up public facilities)--the kind of thing that will make the U.S. more productive in the long run. He included $3 billion here for energy research and development and $5.75 billion there for tax incentives for those who would invest in low-income housing.

He hacked out billions from the Defense Department budget, and cut piecemeal in other areas: nuclear reactor research, federal employees, water treatment, and federal freebies to corporations. (For example, the Clinton budget would require pharmaceutical companies to pick up a larger share of the Food and Drug Administration's budget.) All in all, stuff that makes neoliberals and (all but the most unreconstructed) liberals alike happy.