Jewish World Review June 21, 2002 / 11 Tamuz, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Too often, we look at our nation's politics in the abstract, without a global context - but adding that context can yield new insights.
When Bill Clinton won in 1992, his victory was matched by the success of center-left parties throughout the world that brought liberal, labor or social democratic governments to 13 of the 15 member nations of the European Union (EU).
George W. Bush's triumph is, likewise, part of an international surge in center-right parties that have put conservative or Christian democratic parties in power in seven of the EU nations once run by the left (Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Holland and France). In France, the left didn't even make the second round runoff election. Germany might switch next.
Why is the right winning?
Leftist parties have always focused on economics in general and income redistribution in particular. Indeed, most modern social-democratic parties were founded as a political expression of the labor movement's demand for industrial fairness. When such parties existed before the age of the unions, labor has taken them over, as with the Democratic Party in the mid-20th century United States.
But economics no longer work as a key political issue. Globalism determines the winners and losers of the economic game much more than any national policies. International bankers are replacing nation-state presidents and premiers as the key movers and shakers in the markets. The left's agenda is a fantasy. Voters realize that a promise to raise incomes is as serious as one to change the weather. (Indeed, with the saliency of global warming and climate change as issues, perhaps the weather is more amenable to political intervention.)
Economic decisions are made in Brussels, Zurich, New York and the other centers of high finance. If you're visiting Washington about economic concerns, the man to see is Alan Greenspan in the Federal Reserve Building. You can wave at the White House as your taxi takes you there.
The right has never bothered much about economics. It knows, implicitly, that its favored clients - the rich - won't win much public sympathy. Burying their implicit message of income redistribution - upward - the right has long based its political appeal on social issues like crime, immigration, morals, social standards and such. These issues remain potent even in a global economy. The left is talking economics and the right is talking values. That's why the right is winning.
Can the left come back? Absolutely.
For examples of how to do it look at Clinton in the United States and Tony Blair in the United Kingdom.
Clinton was elected as the ultimate liberal/left jobs candidate. His 1992 campaign theme, "It's the economy, stupid," did well as America struggled to emerge from its 1991 recession whose effects lingered well into early 1993. The Democrat was, of course, helped by the Independent candidacy that year of billionaire Ross Perot, who drew 19 percent of the vote, mostly from likely Republican voters. Needing only 43 percent of the vote to win in a three-way contest, Clinton won by using the old left technique of an economically based campaign.
In his 1996 race for reelection, Clinton briefly claimed credit for turning the economy around but focused heavily on social issues. Signing Republican-sponsored legislation to wean welfare recipients from lifelong dependence on the dole, Clinton featured his efforts to improve education, ban guns, hire extra police, cut the budget deficit, extend family leave for new mothers, support for abortion rights, and battle to keep drugs and tobacco away from children.
Across the ocean, Blair was also finding social issues as the key to his campaigns. Rather than hew to the traditional Labour agenda of helping to put more pay in the envelopes of the working man and woman, Blair promised to reduce waiting times at health clinics, raise educational quality, reduce crime, battle public corruption and improve the environment. Economic issues received short shrift amid Britain's Tory-induced prosperity as Blair surged to victory on social issues.
The enterprising Social Democrat will find a plethora of values positions on which to run in place of the traditional bread-and-butter issues. Global warming, pollution, education standards and healthcare reform, for example, are great issues for any liberal candidate.
But, here the left needs to copy a bit from the right. Triangulate - solve the problems that normally concern the other side. When Bush focuses on education, he steals the message of the left and co-opts it just as surely as Clinton did when he signed welfare reform legislation. When the left invades the territory of the right and solves problems that normally reside on the other side of the fence - crime, immigration, drugs and moral values - it can be a hard force to stop.
But when the left campaigns on economics, it's a pushover.
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