September 14, 2012

JUST A MATTER OF WHICH PARTY GETS TO CLAIM THE THIRD WAY:

Clinton and Bush, challengers to party orthodoxy (Michael Gerson, September 13, 2012, Washington Post)

The drought of innovative rhetoric at the conventions led me to reread two campaign speeches that now seem ancient. The first is Bill Clinton's "New Covenant" address, delivered at Georgetown University on Oct. 23, 1991. The second is George W. Bush's "Duty of Hope" speech, given in Indianapolis on July 22, 1999. (As a speechwriter, I helped produce the latter.)

There are differences between these appeals. Clinton's remarks have an edge of economic populism, including criticisms of the "gilded age of greed and selfishness" in the 1980s. Bush's are less partisan and more religious.

Both approaches, however, are similar in ways that distinguish them from most current political rhetoric. To begin with, these candidates were attempting to appeal to the political middle by challenging their own parties. Clinton pressed for reform of welfare, which should be "a second chance, not a way of life." He criticized racial quotas, saying, "I'm not for a guarantee for anybody. I'm for responsibility at every turn." And while urging corporate responsibility, he also defended corporate profits.

Bush was even more explicit in his criticism of generic Republicanism. "The American government is not the enemy of the American people," he argued. "At times it is wasteful and grasping. But we must correct it, not disdain it. . . . It must act in the common good, and that good is not common until it is shared by those in need." Bush went on to detail several initiatives designed to encourage drug treatment efforts, after-school programs and mentoring children of prisoners.

These efforts to revise the image of the parties said something not just about the candidates but about the parties themselves. Following 12 years in the presidential wilderness, Democrats were hungry enough to allow Clinton some ideological flexibility. After eight years of Clinton, Republicans were in a similar forgiving mood. In politics, desperation can be a creative force -- and could rise in either party following a loss in this election.

Clinton and Bush rooted their appeals in a similar political philosophy -- the explicit rejection of both extreme individualism and statism.

And the same dance is going on between parties of left and right in every English-speaking country.
Posted by at September 14, 2012 4:12 PM
  

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