Republican strategists have been quick to dismiss
the significance of the
Democratic victories during this November's elections. Republican pollster Whit
Ayres declared that they "tell us almost nothing about the likely election
outcomes a year from now." But the off-year gubernatorial elections in New Jersey
and Virginia--held in the first year of a new president's term--usually tell us a
great deal about where American politics is headed. For four decades, elections
in New Jersey and Virginia have accurately registered changes in the relative
national strength of the two major parties. In 1989, for instance, Democrats
swept the two states, foreshadowing the Democrats' victories in 1992. In 1993
The populist movement lasted barely two decades, disappearing by the turn of the last century. Yet the movement's themes have continued to esonate in American politics. Politicians with sharly divergent agendas-- from Jimmy Carter and dRonald Reagan to Jack Kemp and Tom Harkin-- have evoked the legacy of populism. Bill Clinton called his campaign platform "Putting People First" and accepted the Democratic nomination "in the name of all those who do the work, pay the taxes, raise the kids and play by the rules." Once in office, he has continued to sound populist notes, warning that his economic program would take aim at the "privileged elite."
In South Carolina, the National Right to Life Committee ran radio ads bludgeoning Arizona Senator John McCain. "If you want a strongly pro-life president," the ads said, "don't support John McCain." But McCain has never voted for abortion and until this election has always been known as a pro-life senator. Why the attack ad? The reason is that McCain has sponsored campaign finance reform, which the National Right to Life Committee adamantly opposes. But instead of criticizing McCain for backing a measure that is popular, even among many Republican voters, the committee has portrayed him as being the patron saint of baby killers.
On April 27, Al From, the president of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), and Will Marshall, the president of the DLC's Progressive Policy Institute, had lunch with John Swee ney, the president, and Steve Rosenthal, the political director, of the AFL-CIO. These four people had met but had never talked amicably or seriously together before. Since that luncheon, there have been further discussions on the phone, and From and Marshall have met with the leaders of the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association. When I talked to Marshall in June, he was on his way to Montreal to speak at the executive committee of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
There is another side to John McCain. (And no, it's not the volcanically unstable side alleged by GOP whispering campaigns.) Although best known for his heroism as a POW in North Vietnam and for his forthright stands on foreign and military policyand rightly celebrated for backing campaign finance reform and anti-tobacco legislationsince December 1996, McCain has also been chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The committee is an important one, overseeing, among other things, telecommunications; television and radio; the Internet; aviation; railroad and highway transportation; manufacturing and competitiveness; and science, technology, and space.