By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Read Skocpol, Teixeira and Rogers, and the Greenbergs, and you come away not only with a concrete theory of the election, but a pretty good roadmap to the Gore campaign since early August, with Greenberg on board. To the white working-class parents a in, say, Michigan or Ohio, those distant or impersonal companies that ration their health care, profit off their own parents‘ medications, raise the price of heating oil in winter, or sell violent video games to their kids -- all these institutions -- require a president who’ll keep them in check. Once you accept Greenberg‘s, and Skocpol’s, and Teixeira‘s contention that these middle-income Midwesterners are the key to the election, then Joe Lieberman’s davening and Al Gore‘s newfound populism both fall into place.
Word of Greenberg’s new employment didn‘t get around until midway through the convention, which is why Gore’s acceptance speech -- specifically aligning himself with the working middle-class struggling to makes ends meet -- so totally stunned the DLC. Lieberman, after all, had been the DLC‘s chairman for years, and DLC president Al From clearly viewed the convention as the occasion to assert the DLC’s dominion over the party for years to come. The only cloud on the horizon, he wrote in the summer issue of the DLC‘s magazine, The New Democrat, was ”a new political analysis that has gained favor in left-leaning circles. The essence of that analysis, articulated in a new book by Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers, is that the swing voters in America are downscale, non-college-educated, working-class whites. . . . We need to resist the latest effort to divert Democrats from the New Democratic course.“
From’s reaction to Gore‘s speech, then, was little short of apoplectic. ”Attacking oil companies and pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies will not win elections, I guarantee you,“ he guaranteed journalists Steve and Cokie Roberts in their August 22 New York Daily News column. After his initial outbursts, From has largely stayed silent, surely because Gore’s polling not only jumped immediately following his speech, but jumped chiefly among the very white working-class voters whose importance From had discounted. Among white men making between $20,000 and $50,000 annually, Gore‘s support increased by 9 percent between late July and early September in the Post polls; in the Zogby-Reuters poll, he went from trailing W. in early August by 19 points among voters with no more than high school diplomas to leading W. by 9 among the same group last week. (For that matter, a late-August Harris Poll showed 74 percent support for Gore’s attacks on HMOs and oil, tobacco and drug companies.)
The DLC isn‘t the only wing of the party that’s had trouble with the applied Greenbergism of the new-model Gore campaign, of course. The Anti-Defamation League has grumbled, quite justifiably, about the public religiosity of Joe Lieberman. Civil libertarians are just beginning to react to Gore‘s support for marketing restrictions on the entertainment media’s exploitation of children. (A ferociously complex issue: One could certainly make a Marxist case that capitalism in its developing stages exploits children as workers, and in its advanced stages exploits children as consumers.) Nonetheless, largely as a result of his neo-populism, Gore has been able within the past week to win the hitherto elusive support of both Teamsters and turtles (more precisely, the Teamsters executive board and Friends of the Earth). The teamsters and turtles -- and, for all I know, Greenberg -- may justifiably harbor doubts about the actual populism of a President Gore. But plainly, with both the core and swing voters whose support Gore needs, his newfound populism resonates.
The other factor making Gore more palatable to progressives is the continually growing surplus, which is almost forcing him (as it is forcing Gray Davis on the state level) to embrace new government programs unthinkable in the dark days of the deficit. Indeed, the total cost of Gore‘s new programs -- expanding preschool, prescription-drug coverage, and the like -- is roughly the same as W’.s tax cut. Unfortunately for W., respondents to last week‘s Post poll ranked cutting taxes ninth in importance out of 16 issues -- well behind assistance for schools and medical care, and the other causes on which they place greater emphasis and with which they’d prefer Al Gore to deal. With the election now increasingly turning on issues, W.‘s tax cut -- 43 percent of which goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans -- looks increasingly like the most bone-headed major proposal a presidential candidate has run on in years. Think of it, though, as GOP identity politics: With the death of communism, the drop in crime, the elimination of the deficit and the end of welfare, cutting taxes, particularly those on the rich, is the Republicans’ last defining issue. Simply to abandon it is tantamount to their admitting that the era of small government is over.
Thus W.‘s dilemma: He can’t profitably attack Al Gore on the issues, and with Gore‘s personal credibility now on a par with his own, the kinds of personal attacks he’s been leveling at Gore don‘t carry much weight either. (”If we can’t trust Al Gore on debates, how can we trust him on anything?“ one recent Bush commercial rather plaintively asked.) Gore‘s commercials betray no such strategic desperation. He’s smooched with Tipper and prayed with Joe and chastised the HMOs. Or, to quote the concluding words of one Gore spot that went up in 17 swing states just after the convention, ”Al Gore. Married 30 years. Father of four. Fighting for us.“
Now, that‘s a campaign that knows what this election is about.