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I was glad to see Kopkind, not just because he is garrulous and funny but because the piece he had written with Cockburn just before the convention that now brought us together pressed the very question that ought to have been weighing on the mind ofevery thinking journalist and delegate in the hall: Is the Democratic Party a lost cause? Writing when just about everyone was still assuming there would be a three-way race for the Presidency, Kopkind and Cockburn asked: Why not a fourth candidate? “Has there ever been a more propitious time for a candidate of the left, with the task of winning not the 50 percent necessary in a twoway race but the 25 to 30 percent needed in each state in a four-way contest?” The writers suggested it might not be too late for Jesse Jackson to break off and run as an independent. Another article in the same issue of the Nation made the case for the building of a third party, a recurring dream of leftists who feel abused by the Democratic Party, and one that is getting serious consideration again by feminists, labor and remnants of the progressive crowd that hoped to build the Citizens Party in the 1980s. By the end of convention week, of course, the theoretical mathematics had all been jumbled by Perot’s sudden withdrawal. Jesse Jackson had stayed on board the Democratic oceanliner; Mario Cuomo was there too. Both of them had at last agreed to swab the deck for Captain Clinton. There would be no third choice and no fourth choice. Bush vs. Clinton; take it or leave it. Despite all that or maybe because of that the question continues to nag: Is the Democratic Party in such an “advanced stage of decay,” as the Nation put it, that it can no longer fulfill its original purpose that being to counterbalance the power of the moneyed interests and the wealthy few? Is the party, in fact, so far from its ideals of organizing and elevating the working class and the disenfranchised that it ought to be abandoned to the dwindling core of party loyalists, corporate funders and overeducated elites who so ardently yearn to speak for the “forgotten middle class”? Or is this a defeatism that we cannot afford? I put the question to Kopkind. Given the near impossibility of succeeding with a third party, why is it not at least somewhat more realistic for progressives to work for the transformation of the Democratic Party? Is it not easier to take over an existing enterprise, with all its machinery assembled, than to build something from the ground up? Kopkind’s answer was that it is not necessarily so. The Democratic Party, he said, is so tightly controlled by Washington lawyers, corporate fatcats, and the party insiders that it is simply not available to other owners. Any attempts to limit or remove the present controlling interests would be doomed to fail. So why waste the effort? The argument can go around and around, as it has, in fact, for more than 100 years. If you are willing to imagine a mass movement, such as the populist movement of the 1890s or the labor movement of the 1930s or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, you can imagine an uprising the Democratic Party, fatcats notwith standing, would be forced to respond to. If you further imagined an energized social movement that was specifically geared toward seizing control of the Democratic Party, a movement that truly had the numbers behind it, how could the party rebuff it? But then, if you can imagine all that, you can just as easily imagine such a movement creating its own party and launching out on its own terms. Either way, it ought not to be a law of American politics that the Republican Party, as the party that speaks for the wealthy minority, the fundamentalist minority and the racist minor Is the party so far from its ideals of organizing and ele vating the working class and the disne franchised that it ought to be aban doned to the party loyalists, corporate funders and overedu cated elites? ity, should have a claim as a majority party. The sheer numbers favor a party that speaks for a coalition of people in the lower and middle income range, who favor liberty from government intrusion but benefits from governmental activism and who haven’t given up hope that the races can get along. Sheer numbers don’t mean a thing, of course, as long as citizens remain unorganized, alienated, unregistered to vote and without hope that politics can be meaningful. And that is where we are in 1992. The high theory, the “WhatIfs,” and the democratic idealism can make a journalist feel silly at times. The arguments take us up and down a closed staircase, the stenciled lettering on the doors advising us to try another level, the old populist dreams resting on dusty pipes, like a placard advertising a candidate who is not even in the running. rro the next level, then. The newspapers and commentators of July would have us view the Clinton-Gore ticket as a great wising-up of the Democratic Party. Ross Perot himself, for all his disdain of the media, must have bought the media line; his stated reason for getting out of the campaign was that the Democrats had revitalized themselves. By the end of convention week Clinton’s people were reported to be pleased with the way things had gone. Their strategy was taking shape. The road to making the Democrats a majority party was opening up to them. The way they would do it would be by winning back the Reagan Democrats who, to hear the pollsters tell it, are the most important bloc of voters in the nation. The loyal Democrats were assumed to be reliable. Those wavering Southern white males, independent-minded suburbanites and urban white ethnics who fell for Reagan were seen to be the key to victory. How to impress them? Stand up to Jesse Jackson, for starters. This had already been achieved by Clinton’s public chastisement of Sister Souljah, the black rap artist, at Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition dinner. Second, join the Republicans in elevating welfare as a symbolic issue and assert that too many poor people are on the dole as a way of life. Third, cast the campaign as a crusade for the middle class. This is a campaign strategy that was formulated in the laboratory of the Democratic Leadership Council several years ago, when the great mass of the electorate was still presumed to be in sympathy with the presumptions of Reaganism. Democratic liberalism, it was decided, could no longer win the approval of the majority. So a cautious, chastened Democratic Party would have to reposition itself as a “moderate” party. This has won almost universal approbation from the mainstream press. Real, live “Reagan Democrats” were sought out by reporters. Two forty-something voters in suburban Philadelphia were quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer giving a tentative O.K. to Clinton: “I believe in helping them,” one said about people on welfare. “But they should do something back. They shouldn’t just sit there and wait for the check.” Clinton struck this voter as “a conservative Democrat that’s not going to give everything away.” Suddenly, Clinton was said to be 30 points ahead of Bush in public opinion polls. According to the papers, Clinton is not as liberal as the usual Democrat he’s in favor of the death penalty, he says government isn’t the answer to every problem, he’s not a bleeding heart for the poor… This is the level of debate the campaign will be waged on in the coming months. At the same time, there’s a new element of anger and rebellion among the voters that the DLC strategy hadn’t counted on. This allows Clinton to inject a tinge of populism into the message. He took pains at the convention to show himself as a regular bubba, a man who had risen above family difficulty and wasn’t part of the East Coast elite. And for a campaign slogan, he settled on “Putting People First.” \(This seemed to especially capture the imagination of USA Today, which probably can be expected soon to trumpet poll results showing “Large Majority of Us Favor Putting People It would have been interesting to conduct a poll of the assembled delegates as to what Clinton might mean by “people first.” Clinton himself never delineates exactly what order he intends to upend. One Clinton delegate I interviewed suggested he might mean. putting American interests ahead of those of foreigners. Hmmm… But that would be Pat Buchanan’s slogan: “America First.” Others thought he meant putting human needs ahead of military weaponry in the government’s bud 6 JULY 24, 1992