IF THE CORONATION of William Jefferson Clinton in Chicago this week has an underlying theme, it is the triumph of hypocrisy. The docile Democratic delegates are being serenaded by a seemingly endless parade of children's choirs, their sweet warblings meant to muffle the feeble squeaks of protest at the president's signature of a Republican welfare bill that will toss millions of children into poverty and hunger. As these words are written, Clinton is whistlestopping his way to the convention in a railroad car that belonged to Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose legacy he has just repudiated with a force not even Reagan would have dared.
And if Jesse Jackson, who traded his role as the putative leader of the party's left opposition for a seat in Congress for his son, has been permitted to preach a few cadenced criticisms of the welfare sellout from the podium in prime time, this too is part of the White House script: a reversed Sister Souljah-ing (shades of 1992) that allows Clinton again to present himself to angry white males as the anti-Jackson incarnate. Even though a network poll showed that 52 percent of the delegates disapprove of Clinton's kid-kicking, Jackson's tamed protests, bookended by his appeals for unity, were carefully calculated to keep those sheep from straying by providing an emotional safety valve for a few meaningless bleats, in the knowledge that this moment of venting would lead to no sterner censure.
The Clinton administration's vaunted commitment to kids is nothing more than consumer fraud. All the presidential posturing on non-presidential issues--from curfews and the dubiously workable V-chip to laughable abstinence crusades and school uniforms--amount to mere camouflage for Clinton's sharp turn to the right in the wake of his party's defeat in the 1994 Congressional elections. Take, for example, Clinton's decision to end the federal prohibition against jailing minor delinquent children in prisons with hardened adult felons. Call this one It Takes a Gulag: Children from the festering ghettos where drug dealers run the only jobs programs are to be warehoused with their more criminally skilled seniors in conditions of Dickensian horror from which they will emerge brutalized, irrecuperable, and with advanced degrees in thuggery. Who in Chicago will speak for them?
This is but one of the reactionary triangulations schemed by Dick Morris and his pollsters, who have effectively been running the country's domestic policy since the 1994 debacle. Under Morris's guidance, Clinton's welfare sellout was more than simple passive acceptance of a Republican fait accompli. Even as Democrats in the Senate were offering amendment after amendment to soften the assault on the poor and unemployed and their offspring, only to see them voted down, Clinton was pronouncing these results "encouraging," thereby ensuring that the Congress would produce the Draconian legislation Clinton wanted to run on all along.
Thus undercut, the Senate Democrats caved in, and a majority of them jointed the Republicans in bipartisan clubbing of kids. Of all the Democratic senators up for re-election this year, only Paul Wellstone had the courage to vote against welfare abolition, while his supposedly liberal colleagues--Harkin, Biden, Mikulski, John Kerry, and the like--voted with the Republicans.
Clinton's conduct reminds one of Gilbert and Sullivan's Duke of Plaza-Toro, who "led his regiment from behind" except in retreat, "when his place was in the fore-o." The president's flip-flops, betrayals, and tortured self-justifications would easily make him a figure of comic-opera ridicule, were the effects of the policies he has cravenly embraced not so iniquitous.
The New York Times poll showed that while a majority of voters favored the mis-named welfare reform bill in the abstract, they opposed it 39 to 36 percent when apprised of its effects. These numbers demonstrate again that Clinton, with a double-digit lead in the polls over Bob Dole, had more than enough political capital to expend a bit of it in saving children from being condemned to hunger and hopelessness. But the essence of Clintonism is this: There is no element in society so powerless and defenseless as to be immune from sacrifice to ensure an electoral victory. Clinton and his deficit hawks have already given us Republican budgets that slash social spending while increasing the monies lavished on the CIA and Defense Department. (Pentagon pork, after all, is Clinton's only jobs program.) The welfare sellout means that, with the exception of abortion, the last major policy difference between Clinton's governance and that which one could expect from Bob Dole has been removed.
All together now: Four More Years!
The Clinton administration's vaunted commitment to kids is consumer fraud--camouflage for a sharp turn to the right.
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