Clinton, Blair offer old, tired liberalism


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton and Tony Blair, the twin towers of Nouveau Liberalism, recently have experienced contemporaneous spasms of public dyspepsia.

Prime Minister Blair entertained the British public recently by hinting that his political opponents were guilty of, among other things, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He also labeled Prince Charles a "goon" for refusing on human-rights grounds to dine with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Mr. Clinton in similar fashion has tossed the race card on the table with unseemly liberality, claiming that bigotry was responsible for the Senate's decision not to elevate a Missouri judge to the federal bench.

And that bigotry was behind North Carolina Republican Sen. Jesse Helms' request that the administration forward investigative files pursuant to former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun's nomination as ambassador to New Zealand.

Ms. Braun is an ex-senator -- in part to a series of imaginative financial irregularities, ranging from the use of office funds to purchase jewelry to the misappropriation of Medicare money intended for her mother.

Whining boomers

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Blair are the first baby boomers to head their respective nations, and they respond to adversity the way many in their (our) generation do: They whine and cry out for immediate, universal attention.

Mr. Clinton's exhibitionism has reached such heights that he wants to ring in the new millennium by delivering a speech to the men and women thronged on Washington's historic mall. (Pity the poor staffer who was bold enough to say, "But Mr. President, the celebration is not about you!")

Such megalomania powers the Clinton-Blair phenomenon.

The two men have breathed life into the liberal movements in their country through the sheer force of their ambitions and personalities.

They took on leaders who had inherited the estates of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, and set about making the men look like drooling has-beens.

Mr. Clinton ritually referred to then-President George Bush in 1992 as "old Bush."

The irony is that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Blair are the last toadies for ideas that long ago lost their luster and power. Despite the palaver about "third way" politics, the two guys are troglodyte left-wingers who still want to impress their old professors.

But look around. The act is wearing thin. Gerhard Schroeder rode the Clinton-Blair wave to victory in Germany, and his coalition is beginning to collapse already. Germany doesn't have the luxury of a booming economy and domestic harmony. Its voters need results now.

Unfortunately, results are the one thing the apple-polishing left-wingers can't produce. They're gifted primarily in the art of promising.

They have retailed the idea that government can achieve virtually anything and have adopted sales techniques pioneered by the Jimmy Swaggarts of the world.

They tell deeply personal tales. They gush emotion. They express their yearnings as achingly as any public figure in recent memory.

Satanic allies

They press their palms against their hearts, look toward the skies and ask in agony, Why, oh, why? And they portray their foes as stooges of Satan. The principal difference between them and Mr. Swaggart being that the huckster's victims can stop writing checks when they figure out that they're being bilked, while heads of state can continue to exact tribute.

In this sense, the apple-polishing leftists have demanded much from their countrymen but given little. Only a few hopeless saps actually believe that the government can "ensure" health by mandating health-care coverage. Most understand that any "universal" government program ensures universal incompetence and inconvenience.

So now Mr. Clinton has shifted the debate. He now portrays conservative reform as a vicious assault on innocents: Social Security reform is tantamount to war on the elderly, Medicare reform is an attack on the poorresistance to hate - crimes legislation or gun control constitutes a tacit endorsement of racism and murder.

Easier choice

The president had to make a choice some time ago about whether to use his final months forging bipartisan agreements on pressing matters, such as Social Security and Medicare, or clubbing Republicans like baby seals. He chose the latter because it is easier and more fun.

For him, politics is a venue not for shaping history, but for pounding competitors. The result is that his final days will be marked by increasing acrimony. He will divide the public in such a way as to weaken both parties - and in a fitting finale, he will blame the mayhem on someone else.

Tony Snow writes a syndicated column.

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