Embracing Suburbia

JUST WHEN YOU thought the Clinton fundraising apparatus had already worked its way through the entire playbook of crass influence-peddling and heavy-handed arm-twisting in its quest for cash, the White House last week invented a new shakedown: an event at which Democratic mayors of large cities were forced to fork over $25,000 each for the privilege of drinking with Gore, dining with Clinton, and being briefed by cabinet secretaries. Even Lyndon Johnson at his sleaziest would never have dared to put the arm on the mayors of his own party to sell them the access to our nation's leadership that should be theirs by virtue of the offices they hold. The presence of two key cabinet members on whom the mayors are dependent for moving federal funds through the pipeline--Rodney Slater, a hack who handled road contracts for Gov. Clinton in Arkansas before his elevation to transportation secretary, and Andrew Cuomo, the take-no-prisoners pit bull who is Clinton's Housing and Urban Development secretary--underscores that this is government by fundraising.

How ironic that the mayors were forced to shell out in support of a president whose welfare-abolition bill has done more to contribute to accelerating the rot of our cities than anything Ronald Reagan managed to do in his eight years in office. Not only that, but the jobs-creating programs for urban America which Clinton promised when he was first elected were quickly sacrificed, the infrastructure of our cities has continued to decay with no help from the Bubbaphiles, and Cuomo is presiding over cuts in HUD housing subsidies for the poor that are decimating his department's relevance. It is this series of betrayals for which the mayors were asked to cough up cash.

That 20 of them did so only proves that they've learned the lesson of this administration: You only get what you pay for. The mayoral fundraiser confirms the sea change in the Democratic Party orchestrated by Clinton: as Al From, the president of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, crowed last week, "This is clearly not our father's party. It is now the party of the new economy and suburban values, embodied by Al and Tipper Gore," the dreadful duo whom those who orchestrated the corporate takeover of the Democrats have anointed for the year 2000 to replace Bill and Hillary.

Noticeably absent from the mayoral shakedown event were the Democratic mayors of Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and other important cities in New York, who got a slap in the face when Clinton used the line item veto to cut an additional $200 million in Medicaid for residents of the Empire State. At the same time, Clinton left untouched the $50 billion giveaway to the tobacco industry, which, in the new Clinton-GOP tax plan, will be able to deduct the cost of the increased federal cigarette tax from its payments to victims in the settlement of the multistate lawsuit against them.

Throwing more poor kids onto the social trash heap while making a present of $50 billion to the nicotine merchants hasn't seemed to harm Clinton's popularity in the slightest, however. A new Pew Center poll by Andrew Kohut, taken after the president's line item veto announcement, shows that Clinton's approval rating is now comparable to Ronald Reagan's at the same point in his second term. Even more discouraging, the Pew poll also shows that the number of Americans who want to see an alternative to the one-party/two-name system has declined sharply in the last year. Only 49 percent now favor the establishment of a third party, as opposed to 58 percent last summer.

The all-power-to-the-white-'burbs mentality now seems more firmly in control of the Democratic Party than ever. After all, almost four-fifths of House and Senate Democrats voted for the tax and budget bill that Republicans hailed as a major victory. The upward-spiraling costs of political campaigning in the electronic age have shackled congressional Democrats to the corporate fat cats who pay for their campaigns, and even supposed rebel Dick Gephardt joined Clinton 10 days ago for another conclave of the wealthy that netted over $2 million for the party.

There are only two things that offer any possibility of breaking this cycle: radical campaign reform that sharply limits spending and provides public financing, or a severe economic downturn that reveals the fundamental weakness of a paper economy whose hallmark is jobless growth. Congressional stasis guarantees that the former won't happen. Progressives looking for a glimmer of political hope are therefore reduced to regarding the Wall Street jitters of recent days and waiting to see if the bubble bursts. And that's hardly what one could call a proactive strategy.

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