On Tuesday, we learned that Bill Clinton is a liberal, O.J. Simpson is a criminal, and Rep. J.C. Watts, a black Republican from Oklahoma, is the ideological heir to Ronald Reagan. What a night!
After saying a year ago that "the era of big government is over," President Clinton invited the country to sup with him at a banquet table loaded with federal food. He says he wants to spend $51 billion more on education, but acknowledges the same system into which he wants to pour these enormous new resources has produced legions of kids who can't read by the eighth grade.
And he would continue the imprisonment of middle- and low-income parents and their children in these intellectually failing schools by allowing them their "choice" of public schools. This is like allowing the condemned to choose their means of execution. Real competition that would raise all intellectual boats must include private schools so that every American can exercise the option the Clintons had when they enrolled their daughter in Washington's elite Sidwell Friends.
The president demagogued on Social Security again, suggesting that Republicans had better not touch retirees' Social Security checks. This brought what sounded like boos from the Republican side.
Mr. Clinton also wants to move the hand of big government into mammograms and mastectomies and put a computer in every home so that even "a sick child must no longer be a child alone." This laundry list sounded like what it was: the product of polls and focus groups with something designed to please almost everyone and make people feel good about him.
But even the president and O.J. had to step aside for J.C. Watts. In his Republican response to the State of the Union address, he said more in less time than the president said in an hour (see next page). Mr. Watts began with his own story: a small-town boy who grew up to be a star football player, parents who instilled character in him, a man honored to be experiencing the American Dream.
Mr. Watts rejected the idea floated by some timid Republicans that working with Democrats means pretending there are no serious ideological differences between the two parties. He also rejected the idea of government as our keeper. Then Mr. Watts spoke of knowledge beginning with "the ancient wisdom that we are nothing without our spiritual, traditional and family values." What good does it do to hook kids up to computers if it merely speeds up the process by which they receive bad ideas?
Mr. Watts said he didn't get his values from Washington but from his parents. He pitched the balanced budget amendment which he said "will lower your house payment, your car payment, your student loan."
Democrats must have been worried about Mr. Watts' image and his power to persuade. Press reports told of how a fundraiser used his speech to solicit campaign contributions. The fundraiser sent out a mailing timed to coincide with the speech. This story is not in the same league (or even in the same universe) with the White House's flagrant fundraising improprieties.
It's clear, just as the era of O.J. Simpson is fading, along with Bill Clinton's big liberal government, the era of J.C. Watts is dawning. He could be the quarterback the Republicans have been scouting for.
copyright 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate