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Clinton Grabs GOP Agenda for His Own

January 30, 1994|Robert G. Beckel | Robert G. Beckel, a political analyst, served as campaign manager for Walter F. Mondale in 1984

WASHINGTON — Body language can tell you pages about a politician. As he stood in the well of the House of Representatives giving his first State of the Union Address on Tuesday, President Bill Clinton was high octane-- hands punching the air, shoulders back, head high, eyes on the prize.

Look now at the Republican members of the House and Senate, clustered together to Clinton's left, looking for all the world as if they had just heard their favorite dog had been hit by a truck.

Well, in a way, that was true. The dog, in this case, was the GOP hammerlock on such red-hot issues as crime and welfare reform, and the truck was Clinton.

At the end of Clinton's long--probably too long--speech, the Republicans limped from the House floor to the waiting press hordes to report the crime. "He stole our agenda," they insisted, or "We were there two years ago" or, my favorite, from House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia, "I said that last year." How are all these poor Republican souls ever going to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and carry on?

But it wasn't just welfare reform that brought gas to the heart of the downtrodden GOP. Herewith, a trip through the Clinton State of the Union and his words--with the appropriate response from the injured party.

"This year, many people urged me to cut defense spending further . . . I said no."

"What," say the Republicans, "that's our line. We already lost our best defense card when all the commies went away. It's the GOP that holds the line on defense cuts." Not any more, boys; meet the commander-in-chief.

"Let us resolve . . . to reclaim our streets from violent crime and drugs and gangs." And, said Clinton, let's put 100,000 more cops on the streets and put three-time felony offenders away for good.

This one really hurts. Poor old Phil Gramm, the right-wing senator from Texas and presidential wannabe, was left to mumble, "Words are one thing, actions another." Get a life, Phil--the President was holding the bill passed by the Senate. He told the House to pass it, and he'd sign it. The toughest crime bill ever. The Clinton crime bill. Don't you love it, Phil?

"Hunters must always be free to hunt; law-abiding adults should always be free to own guns."

Yep, that's a Democrat talking. This is not to suggest that Clinton will win the gun-nut vote. But it sends a message to gun owners that, although Clinton will seek tougher gun control, your guns will be protected. No Republican response here, save for some guttural sounds from the stalls in the Capitol men's room.

"To all those who depend on welfare, we should offer, ultimately, a simple compact. We will provide the support, the job training, the child care you need for up to two years, but after that anyone who can work, must."

You boys better get used to the fact that you've been trumped by a better poker player who has a far better feeling for America than you suits ever will. The public wants welfare reform. But they don't buy the GOP position of mean-spirited retribution toward "lazy welfare queens." Rather, they take Clinton's view that welfare as currently structured does not work--but the need to help these folks is important and we better figure out a way to do it so these people (read, our fellow citizens) have a decent shot at the American dream.

"Our problems go way beyond the reach of government. They are rooted in the loss of values and the disappearance of work and the breakdown of our families . . . . We can't renew our country till we realize that governments don't raise children, parents do."

\f7 The most unkind cut of all. From the Republican general in charge of values, Dan Quayle, to the cultural-war minister, Patrick J. Buchanan, Republicans have claimed cultural values as their own. And now this Democratic President, with his own moral problems, lays claim to the mother lode. No way. Way boys.

You could have had the values message but you blew it. You assumed the public could never believe that Democrats had any values. After all, Democrats were the party of gays and feminists. But more important, you saw values as a negative attack agenda against the party and their leader. You saw a value agenda as a way to divide not unite. You let the Christian right lead your fight--not as forgiving Christians but as moral interventionists.

The American people are suspicious of messengers carrying moral agendas to their living rooms. Clinton understands this. He sees what the majority of the country sees--we better regain our values as a people together if we're to find our way home, using values as a guide, not as whips.

Clinton used his bully pulpit Tuesday night to rally the country to the great challenges that all Americans face. He did it with words they understand, with an agenda for change and a road map to get there together. Do you get it, Bob and Newt? Nah!

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