Bill Clinton is doing a slick job of cutting the ground from beneath his opponents' feet. As I listened to the Democratic Convention speeches, I realized that Clinton's latest strategies are a masterly exercise in carrying the war into the enemy's camp. I t's harder for the opposition to criticize you if you embrace some of their pet values.
Hillary's "it takes a village" slogan appropriates the conservatives' "family values" concept and stamps it firmly with the Clinton trademark. The Democrats have called for a return to traditional values of courtesy, and refuse to trade insults with their opponents. Consequently, any personal attacks by the GOP can now be deprecated as completely unprovoked.
However, Clinton's most astute action was his signing of the welfare reform bill. By restricting welfare payments to five years, the president seemingly acknowledged and acted upon the opposition's complaints against government handouts. He then smilingly passed them the buck, so adroitly that they'd look churlish to refuse it.
His message? If you object to subsidizing unlimited welfare payments, now is your chance to show your sincerity. Let's see you business-owners out there creating jobs so these people CAN get off welfare. I've done my part; now it's up to you guys to do yo urs. Let's try it your way. What's the matter? It IS what you wanted, isn't it?
Clinton even offers tax incentives to those employing ex-welfare recipients. How can anyone who supports the American work ethic repudiate such a move? It's a courteous gesture that invites his opponents to work with him, while landing the ball neatly in their court. It's also cynically self-serving.
Clinton knows perfectly well that the poor, as a respected authority once said, will always be with us. Contrary to Democratic predictions, no policy can ever permanently remove the underclass. Welfare reform will be no help to a single mother of three y oung children who can't simultaneously work a minimum-wage job, pay for child care and eat. But when, after five years, a lot of welfare recipients are still unemployed, it won't be the president's fault. Those businessmen just won't have risen sufficient ly to the occasion.
Salespeople have a pitch similar to Clinton's. It's known as the "reciprocation" strategy. The basic idea is to offer something that makes you look like Mr. Good Guy. Then, when you request something perfectly reasonable in return, your target looks like an ungracious jerk if he turns you down.
You've often seen it. You sit beside an acquaintance at the ball game. He treats you to a soda; no big deal, he's just a nice fellow. He enthuses about how team games are important in building kids' characters. You find yourself agreeing, and the atmosphe re becomes pleasantly neighborly. Later, when he produces tickets for a drawing in support of his son's baseball league, how can you refuse? They're only $6 each, and you DID just agree that team spirit is what the country needs.
Clinton's pulling the same thing. The GOP believes that welfare dependence is bad for the country, so he's challenging the party to put its money where its mouth is. If welfare reform doesn't drastically reduce chronic unemployment, the GOP will share the blame. It's a clever political move to blur the lines between the parties a little. He's making the parties appear to have the same goals. Having done that, he can ask if the other side is pulling its weight toward our common goals and if not, why not?
I admire Clinton's strategy. He's achieved a lot for his party with that signature on the welfare reform bill. However, his courtly "let's all work together for the good of the country as a whole" stance would be more convincing if it were focused less on boosting Democratic ratings and more on truly benefiting the unemployed.
Kaye Patchett is a creative writing senior. Her column, 'On Reflection,' appears every other Wednesday.