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Clinton Scored Budget Victory, Despite All

But if the GOP wins significantly more seats, the president may not be able to stop right-wingers next year.

October 20, 1998|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer is a Times contributing editor. E-mail:

After the president's stunning victory in the budget battle, some wag said: "If we could only get Clinton embroiled in yet another sex scandal, we might get Hillary's health care plan passed." If that's what it takes for Bill Clinton to provide bold leadership, I'm all for it.

We knew the man functioned well under pressure, but who could have predicted the comeback kid's finest hour would occur at the moment his enemies seemed to have him down for the count? I'm willing to admit that when it comes to sex, he's given to the inappropriate manners of an adolescent. But when will his critics concede that Clinton, despite his troubles, must be judged one of the most effective presidents in modern history?

Anyway, who cares what those naysayers think? Not the children who will have smaller class sizes because he insisted on money to hire 100,000 new teachers. Not the baby boomers who will be thankful that he stopped the Republicans from spending the surplus on a politically motivated tax cut before ensuring the viability of Social Security and Medicare. Not those whose jobs depend on a world economy strengthened by freeing up International Monetary Fund credits, which the Republicans had held hostage to partisan politics.

What did the Republican leadership win? Tree killing in Alaska and a ban on new money for public school construction or renovation--although there is a desperate need for both throughout urban America--and two major military hardware boondoggles built in the hometowns of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss). And oh, yes, Uncle Sam will remain a deadbeat dad at the U.N., unwilling to pay his back dues and the cost of U.N. interventions that we initiated.

Clinton came through with a progressive budget that does quite a bit for the American public, those same folks who give him his high job approval ratings. Which underscores the importance of the November election.

Polls tell us that while most Americans give Clinton high marks for the way he takes care of the people's business, it's a closer call among the "most likely voters." We're also told that the right-wing base of the Republican Party has been "energized" by the sex scandal; they're evidently an easily aroused bunch if they managed to be turned on by the results of the Starr investigation. Not so the 75% of Americans recently polled by the New York Times, who termed Starr's work a "waste of time and money."

Sensible folks, the American people, but the trick is to get them to vote for Democrats in the congressional races. Sounds blindly partisan, yes, but how else do you stop Republicans determined to drive Clinton from office? Of course, political sophisticates will tell you that the Republicans do not really intend to remove Clinton, for that would give Al Gore the incumbent experience to be unbeatable in the next presidential election. No, they just want to immobilize Clinton. But for the national interest, that is worse.

If the Republicans increase their majority in Congress, the budget victory Clinton scored will be impossible next year. Pretty scary to think of Gingrich and Lott in control of a veto-proof Congress. It would delight the wannabe theocrats who are their key allies. The veto threat has been the only barrier standing in the way of the Pat Robertsons and Gary Bauers, who control much of the action off stage in the right wing of the GOP. Choice for women would soon be gone.

The sad truth is that Republican moderates are no longer a serious force. Indeed, Clinton now stands in for the slightly right-of-center politics of what once was known as the Eisenhower-Rockefeller wing that set the tone for the Republican Party. Just recall how sensible were the views of Richard Nixon and even Barry Goldwater in their last years as compared with the crowd that now controls their Grand Old Party. For example, Goldwater blasted homophobia, while Lott compares gays to kleptomaniacs.

The moralizing Puritans control the GOP, and those of a more libertarian bent, who believe the party can still stand for less intrusive government, are kidding themselves. It is obvious that the religious right has seized upon the details of the president's private life as a prelude to policing yours.

Sorry, folks, but even if you are an old-fashioned conservative in the Goldwater mold, this year the Democrats are your only choice.

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