Analysis: The return of the liberal agenda
By Bill Schneider/CNN
November 16, 1999
Web posted at: 6:27 p.m. EST (2327 GMT)
WASHINGTON -- Remember the "L-word?" There are signs that the political environment today is friendlier to liberal proposals than it has been for 30 years.
One sign that the times may be changing is that both Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley are running to the left of President Bill Clinton -- Gore, slightly and cautiously; Bradley, a little more boldly.
Gore proposes to license gun owners. Bradley goes further and wants to register all handguns. Both want to expand government spending.
"I will start by making high quality preschool available to every child in every community all across the United States of America," Gore pledged during his official campaign announcement in June.
And Bradley wants to spend on health care.
"Our program would cost between $50 and $65 billion to make sure 95 percent of all Americans have health insurance. We can get this right," Bradley said as he unveiled his plan for universal health care in late September.
A return to the Great Society? Not exactly.
Nobody's talking about deficit spending or big new bureaucratic programs or income redistribution or tax hikes -- well, maybe cigarette taxes. But the idea of more government spending is not as poisonous as it used to be.
There's a surplus, for one thing.
Republicans want give it back to the people. But the people don't seem to want it. The people say: Spend it on important public priorities. So the Republican Congress mostly caved in to Clinton on the budget deal. Liberals drove the agenda.
"There are some losses that the president has sustained, but by and large, I think that the president has won," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) said this week.
For the last 20 years, ever since the tax revolt of the late 1970s, resentment of government has driven the political agenda.
But recently, trust in government has been going up. A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows 34 percent of those questioned trust government in Washington. That compared with only 17 percent in 1994.
Under Clinton, Democrats have proved their credentials on economic management. Maybe, people are beginning to believe the federal government can do something right.
Look at the issues voters are most concerned about right now: education, health care, Social Security and Medicare. All issues on which Democrats have a solid advantage -- just as they do on solving the nation's problems.
But if the issues favor the Democrats, why is Texas Gov. George W. Bush leading the presidential race? Because people may not be voting on the issues. It looks like a personal vote -- for a change of leadership rather than a change of direction.
Won't Bush be a change of direction? People don't seem to think so. He's running as a "compassionate conservative," downplaying his differences with Democrats. For instance, Bush says he's not anti-government.
"I will be guided by conservative principles that government ought to do a few things, and do (them) well and that government should not try to be all things to all people," Bush said.
Bush may be winning the presidential race, but liberals are driving the agenda. Another possible explanation for this new trend may be that Republicans have no agenda. The Cold War is over, crime is down, the economy is good, tax cuts aren't selling, social issues split the GOP and as for a balanced budget and welfare reform -- been there, done that.
And you know what? Republicans may be better off without an agenda. They don't scare people. Bush certainly doesn't.