The Center Folds


One hoary post-election tradition is the voter survey, and in November 1996 the centrist Democratic Leadership Council asked more than 150 questions of 1,200 registered voters nationwide. The results, packaged as Rebuilding the Vital Center, offer supporters of limited government some cheery news.

When asked what they thought the proper role of the federal government is, more than twice as many respondents stated it should not interfere with people's lives (30 percent) as said it should "solve problems and protect people from adversity" (13 percent). More people believed that the government should stay out of the economy (18 percent) than said the government "should spend on social programs" (15 percent). Meanwhile, when asked to choose between "better" government and smaller government, only 28 percent said that the federal government should "deliver essential services at a reasonable cost." More than twice as many, 65 percent, said "the federal government has become too big and intrusive and needs to be cut back no matter what."

Many of the other questions presented typical partisan claptrap–asking self-described Clinton voters how important it was to them that he signed the Brady Bill, or "stepped up efforts to bar illegal immigration," or "helped to enhance peace efforts in Ireland, Bosnia, and the Middle East."

The way other questions were formulated, however, underscores the egotism that runs wild inside the Beltway. How important was it for a Clinton voter that the president "cleaned up toxic waste sites and increased safeguards for meat and poultry"? (Imagine Slick Willie in a moon suit.) Or that he "helped move one million people from welfare to work"? (Wow. The Executive Branch must hire lots of folks.) Or that his "budget plan resulted in a 60% decrease in the deficit"? (As if the GOP Congress didn't nudge him along.)

In the foreword, DLC President Al From says, "Clinton's decisive victory offers a roadmap for Democrats to forge a new and lasting majority coalition in national politics." Of course, he couldn't get an old, temporary majority to vote for him in either presidential race.