(2 of 3)
Meanwhile, out on the campaign trail, despite the flames and sparks, all four leading candidates have a way of sounding a lot like Clinton as they leave ideological purity to Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes and trundle down the center of the field. Bush and Gore both call for the deployment of faith-based organizations to backstop government; Bradley and McCain share examples of campaign-finance abominations. By last week, McCain was even borrowing Gore's class-war vocabulary to attack Bush's tax plan. Both sides have ceded ground: the Democrats are each pushing health-care plans that, in their level of ambition, do not come close to matching what Bush's father proposed back in 1992. The leading Republicans, while denouncing the Democrats' proposal that gays be allowed to serve openly in the military, settle on Clinton's compromise of "Don't ask, don't tell," rather than calling for a return to an outright ban.
Now that Clinton has made Social Security the Holy Grail, everyone has to sip from his cup. McCain spent last week denouncing Bush's "fiscally irresponsible" tax-cut plan for threatening Social Security while returning 60% of the surplus to the top 10% of wage earners, "like most of his top contributors." Said McCain: "I don't believe rich Americans need tax breaks." His plan, which he intends to unveil this week, would cost about $600 billion over 10 years, or 40% less than Bush's, and focus on Social Security protection and on propping up lower-income Americans. McCain's campaign chairman, Rick Davis, admits that the plan sounds a lot like what Clinton has said over the years. "Maybe Bill Clinton stole these concepts and made good use of them," he said. "But we're going to take them back."
Bush's plan gives a nod to the tee-time-and-tonic-water Republicans who like cuts in the top marginal rate. But he broadens it by slicing rates for the working class too and jabs McCain for caring more about paying down the debt than providing relief to a single mother earning $25,000 a year. While Bush is positioning himself to McCain's right, he still ignored a major, long-standing G.O.P. priority: his plan leaves capital-gains-tax rates untouched. And all through his speeches and policy positions are signals that he is the kind of Republican who cares about "those who live on the outskirts of poverty" and vows to "leave no child behind"--postideological promises that, during primary season at least, would once have been uttered only by a liberal Democrat.
When Bush extols the "men and women who work hard, dream big, love their family, serve their neighbor," it brings tears to the eyes of New Democrat guru and Clinton friend Al From. A wonderful speech, he says. "I wish I'd written it. In fact I had, several years earlier." Bush gave three education speeches last fall, compared with just one on foreign policy and tax reform. With the exception of a provision for school vouchers, Bush's education plan was shamelessly similar to one the Democratic-leaning Progressive Policy Institute published in its journal.