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The Party of the People Is No More : Clinton's crew: The sell-out to moneyed insiders may deserve a cleansing, sweeping defeat.

July 10, 1992|JACK BEATTY | Jack Beatty, a senior editor at the Atlantic, has just completed a biography of Boston's legendary mayor, James Michael Curley.

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee is a lobbyist. Those given to seeing the world in a grain of sand could make much of that resonant particle. For Ron Brown is not only an African-American, which is fitting in a party sustained by black votes; he is also a partner in the mother of all Washington lobbying firms, Patton, Boggs and Blow, which is lamentably fitting for a party whose claim to represent the common man and woman is vitiated by its lucrative alliance with lobbyists and PAC-men.

This is a scandal. It is a scandal that, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the man who advises Bill Clinton on U.S.-Israeli relations is also the general counsel to the largest of the pro-Israel lobbies; the man who advises Clinton on foreign policy is a lobbyist for Toyota; the man who helped Clinton select his running-mate lobbies for Occidental Petroleum, and the man described as Clinton's "general adviser" is a vice chairman of Washington's most odious PR firm, which has specialized in shilling for bloody-minded dictators. And yet Clinton vows to clean the stables of "high-priced lobbyists and Washington influence peddlers."

It is a scandal that Stuart Eizenstat, who has lobbied against unions for the National Assn. of Manufacturers, should loom so large in the Clinton campaign. In an article titled "Should Japan Fear Bill Clinton?" in a recent issue of the International Economy, Eizenstat writes, "How well founded is this Japanese fear of the Democrats? Not very, in our opinion." With Eizenstat at Clinton's ear, American workers, not the Japanese, are the ones who should fear the Democrats. On his dual role as corporate lobbyist and party fixer, Eizenstat reassured writer William Greider: "You'd be hard-pressed to find a relationship between my advice to the Democratic Party and my client list." You could hang a desolating exegesis on the decline of a peoples' party on just that one sentence.

It is a scandal that a former Democratic congressman, Ohio's Thomas (Lud) Ashley can plausibly say of the Washington law firms that employ this nexus of coat-holders: "If you ask me who the Democratic Party is, it's those firms."

It is a scandal that the Democrats should have fallen into such hands, and not only for the sake of ideology. For this tatterdemalion crew reeks of failure. They are the morticians of the era of Democratic defeat. To seek advice from these discredited men shows wretched judgment on the part of candidate Clinton and augurs ill for his success should he survive their political wisdom and make it to the White House.

It is a scandal that an institution once identified by half of the electorate as "the party of average working people" is now seen as that by only 13%. "Anomalous as it might seem," Greider writes in his important new book "Who Will Tell the People?" "Wall Street is a major source of financing for the party of working people."

It is a scandal that 70% of the party's political contributions now come from corporations; and that the average age of the party's 100,000 regular contributors is 70--people old enough to remember when the party delivered for working people.

I write this with a sorrowing heart, for, given the alternatives, the Democrats remain our nation's last (if not best) hope; but the only cure for a party so debauched may be sweeping defeat--the loss of the presidency, the Senate and the House. From the ashes might emerge a party not of Washington lawyers and lobbyists and Wall Street plungers but of the beautician and the barber, the hotel worker and the carpenter--the people who have been losing ground under a Reagan-Bush government of the rich, by the complacent and for the comfortable. That is where the Democrats' roots are; that is also where the votes are. But you can't play footsie with the National Assn. of Manufacturers or seek approbation from the Wall Street Journal and speak for such people.

So we will have to endure agonies of hypocrisy next week as the Democrats loft paeans to a populist past from which the lure of the big money has pulled them far, far away.

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