President Clinton, in his State of the Union address, brings to mind the dilettante revolutionary intellectual in 18th century France who, while visiting a companion, hears a noise, looks out the window, and sees a rabble marching through the streets with torches and clubs, heading for some royal administration center.
"I have to follow that mob," the revolutionary exclaims to his companion. "I'm their leader."
Now the president, stung by the Republican capture of a majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in last November's election, has declared himself, in the annual speech to Congress, the leader of this new political mob. Indeed, the president declared his administration would do everything the conservative Republicans in Congress promise to do, and not let children go hungry. Demagoguery aside (where does the Contract with America starve children?), Mr. Clinton imitated the Republican plan even in name, calling his a "new covenant".
In fact, any Republican, had he or she never heard Mr. Clinton before, likely would, after the speech, make him a contender for the party's presidential nomination in 1996. His speech, although criticized by many for its length at 1 hour and 21 minutes, offered many sensible ideas.
The trouble for the president is everyone has heard him before, and now question his sincerity. Mr. Clinton won't set the public policy agenda for the next two years. Congress, with the Republicans now in the majority, will. Mr. Clinton had his chance in the past two years, when the Democratic Party controlled Congress. Then he could have tried to have enacted all the conservative-sounding themes he mentioned in his address, if he truly believed in them.
Mr. Clinton broke his previous "covenant" with the voters. He campaigned in 1992 on a promise for a middle-class tax cut, yet he was instrumental in having Congress enact the largest ever (and unfairly retroactive) U.S. tax increase.
On another matter: Having seen their biggest cause evaporate with the end of apartheid in South Africa, social investors now have to search for new opportunities for divestment. One such investor, Kinder Lydenberg Domini & Co., has focused on Newt Gingrich and the New Wave conservatives in Congress.
"(S)ocial investors need some ray of light in the winter of Gingrich and Gramm," it notes in a news release.
Perhaps, KLD, to name a starting target for its "Newt" social policy, will create a benchmark divested of the parent of HarperCollins, the publisher of Mr. Gingrich's much-discussed forthcoming tomes.
The implication is KLD prefers the existing social policies that have turned large sections of many cities into urban war zones and public school systems into remedial education centers, that have left thousands of children living in squalor and many adults in dependency, that have destroyed thousands of jobs and created a most unpropitious climate for investment.
The people at KLD at least ought to read through the president's State of the Union address - and the Contract with America - for some new, social investing ideas.