by Thomas Sowell, economist, senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, and nationally syndicated columnist. 5/1/96.
It is hard to imagine a lot of people getting excited about either Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, but this year's presidential election is momentous for the country nevertheless, simply because we are at a crossroads.
The country has far more at stake in this year's elections than the Republican Party has. If Mr. Clinton is re-elected, the Republicans will get another shot at the White House in another four years, and four more years of Mr. Clinton may be just what it takes to produce a Republican landslide in the year 2000.
For the country, it is by no means that simple or that rosy. Judges that Mr. Clinton puts on the federal benches all across the country will be able to turn criminals loose for decades into the 21st century. Whole industries and occupations can be devastated by phony lawsuits that liberal judges allow in the courtroom.
Bureaucracies and bureaucratic harassment of citizens are virtually guaranteed to expand in a second Clinton administration, despite his rhetoric about "an end to the era of big government." The national debt being passed on to the next generation can also be expected to continue increasing, despite phony "balanced budgets" projected by putting all the spending increases in the next few years and leaving the cuts to be made after Mr. Clinton leaves office.
The very concept of law as a system of known rules can go right out the window if the supreme court gets packed with justices who feel free to circumvent the Constitution and issue edicts reflecting their own ideologies and crotchets. Last year the high court was able to muster only a 5-to-4 majority for a decision that carrying a gun near a school was not interstate commerce. That is how closely balanced it is between sanity and insanity.
It can take the country decades, if not generations, to recover from the effects of a second Clinton administration on law, on bureaucracy, on crime, and on racial polarization. We as citizens have far more at stake than the Republican Party does.
The cold fact, however, is that the Republicans have the only realistic alternative to a second Clinton administration. Whatever Mr. Dole's shortcomings, he will not lead the charge to the left and into social disasters.
Unfortunately, neither Bob Dole nor the congressional Republicans in general have any impressive track record at getting their points across to the public. The way Bill Clinton outmaneuvered them completely on the government shutdowns made the Republicans look like rank amateurs.
Many presidents over the years have had to sign legislation that they did not like, because vetoing it would shut down the government and make the president unpopular. Bill Clinton, however, was able to veto the bill, shut down the government and then blame it all on the Republicans, who had voted all the money needed to keep the government going full blast.
Where were the Republicans while all this was going on? Talking jargon about "CBO numbers" vs. "OMB numbers" and wandering off into all kinds of vague generalities.
The smartest thing the Republicans could do between now and the November elections would be to get Rush Limbaugh to give them a series of seminars on how to state your case in specific and persuasive terms. Otherwise, your principles will be like the tree that fell in the forest without being heard by anybody.
In politics, being tongue-tied is as bad as being wrong. In fact, it is worse. You can be wrong and still win politically by turning reality upside down with clever words, as Bill Clinton has demonstrated repeatedly.
The Republican message is much closer to what most Americans believe. That is why Bill Clinton intercepted that message in his State of the Union address and is running with it now, during the election campaign. Once re-elected, he will of course drop the pretense and go back to the usual liberal big-spending, growing government, racial quotas and soft-on-crime judicial appointees.
If Pat Buchanan came out in favor of feminism and affirmative action, no one would believe him. But Mr. Clinton can come out in favor of traditional values and be believed by enough people to put him back in the White House for four more years.
That is because, as an old song put it, "it ain't what you do, it's the way you do it." Republicans had better learn to do it right, for the sake of the country, even more so than for the sake of their party. They had better phone Rush pretty soon.