SOLOMON: Clinton Triumph: A Big Win For "Ultra-Centrists"

Now that Bill Clinton has sailed to victory, the press is awash in talk about his second term. Many pundits are advising the president to stay with the prevailing winds so that he can continue to triumph as a moderate.That would please a lot of Americans -- including most journalists -- who are wary of "ultra-liberals" and "ultra- conservatives." But we lack an appropriate label for the new breed of Democrats bent on hugging the political center as soon as their pollsters can find it.Let's call them "ultra-centrists."Moderate on the surface, the ultra-centrists are actually quite extreme about seeking the center of power's gravity. Their dedication to compromise is the point of shamefulness. Few principles are so inviolate that they can't be spliced, diced or gutted.Of course, expediency is an old story in politics. But the Clintonites have a phenomenal knack for shredding their supposed ideals and turning the result into confetti to celebrate their exemplary moderation.Like much of the Washington press corps, the ultra-centrists see winning as proof of wisdom. More than ever, they are preoccupied with pragmatic matters, such as the lowest common denominator in the political math problem known as the electoral college.Meanwhile, many in the media business claim to be little more than flies on the national wall. "We're just paid observers," the Chicago Tribune's editorial-page editor told Newsweek. But, in tandem with top Democrats and Republicans, news media set the mainstream boundaries -- defining what merits repeated attention.In recent weeks, media piety about campaign contributions has been wondrous to behold. Megabucks have always flowed to politicians -- as well as mass media. If it's awful that the Democratic and Republican parties take huge corporate contributions, why is it fine for Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather to get millions in pay every year from network owners General Electric, Disney and Westinghouse?Like their conservative compatriots, ultra-centrists don't ask such questions. Clinton and Al Gore join with GOP leaders to keep dipping into the same well as the big names of TV news. Shared assumptions are compatible with corporate agendas: maximizing profits while minimizing concern for people at the lower rungs of the economic ladder.In the words of a Nov. 4 Washington Post headline, "Democrats See Future in `Militant Centrism.'" So, what is "militant centrism"? The Post described it as "the drive to force an internal realignment of the national Democratic Party by wresting power from the party's liberal wing."The Sunday before the election, Clinton spoke at a black church in Tampa while Gore made the rounds of four black churches in Detroit -- attending to a core constituency that they'd spent much of the last four years ignoring. Nearly half of African-American children remain below the poverty line; the new welfare "reform" law will make the situation worse.This year, the media cacophony has all but drowned out voices asking why poverty is so widespread in our country. The same administration that agreed to annual military spending of $266 billion -- even more than the Pentagon requested -- has made no effort to develop federal programs that could uplift tens of millions of low-income Americans.Instead, the news media are rife with political cliches, the frequent enemies of meaning. Typically, on election night, Cokie Roberts informed ABC's viewers: "The economy is great." Glib generalizations obscure the people who suffer the truth of evasion's consequences.Near the end of his victory speech Tuesday night, Clinton declared: "We proclaim that the vital American center is alive and well." On Wednesday, the White House chief of staff, Leon Panetta, summed up the message from the election returns: "If you want to move forward, move to the vital center."But, routinely, the center is more craven than vital. In the 1950s and 1960s, the center equivocated during the great battles for civil rights. While the Vietnam War took its tragic toll in blood, the anti-war movement grew because the center could not hold. Since then, with issues ranging from the environment to social justice to human rights, the leaden center has been an albatross weighing heavily against progress.Days before the election, Clinton used the motto that another incumbent, Ronald Reagan, made famous: "It's morning in America."Uh-uh. For many of the people shut out of the media fixations, it's mourning in America. The ultra-centrists are fabricating a bridge to the 21st century.

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