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Clinton should try talking tough to a hostile audience

Those Democrats, including President Clinton, who are currently planning to seek (or keep) elected public office in 1996, would be wise to ask themselves two questions: Why did Sen. Bob Dole's, R-Kan., Los Angeles speech attacking both "the films that revel in mindless violence and loveless sex," and, by name, the companies that make them, so obviously connect with American voters? And why did a speech by Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, at Liberty College on a similar subject leave not even a ripple in its wake?

Yes, Dole's text was superior, but what impressed voters most was that Dole went to the home court of a rich, powerful and influential group to tell that group what it did not want to hear. Instead of attacking the vulnerable, the usual rhetorical targets of conservative opportunity _ those on food stamps, welfare or unemployment _ Dole took on guys with $200 haircuts.

In stark contrast, following a pattern familiar to many Democratic candidates, Gramm went to Liberty College to caress the erogenous zones of the body politic, where he all but pledged, once in office, to outlaw by executive order the Victoria's Secret catalog.

Just as Clinton was when he promised Iowa farmers he would fiercely defend their subsidies and pledged to a New York Jewish dinner that he would quarantine Iran in perpetuity, Gramm was embarrassingly and predictably conventional. Dole, by shrewd design, was refreshingly and unconventionally confrontational. It's true that you really can tell as much about a politician by the enemies he makes as you can by the friends who keep him.

President Clinton could score even bigger than Dole did in Hollywood if he would just go before an obviously unfriendly audience, such as the National Association of Manufacturers or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. To such a group, the president would then believably say: 1) The next time you or your company has a plant or installation to build, put patriotism and concern for country ahead of profits and cash. "Do the right thing _ build it here in the United States." 2) The next time you have a job to fill, don't split it into two part-time positions to avoid providing employee benefits, such as health coverage. "Do the right thing _ fill that job with one full-time employee with benefits." 3) Let us never again call what so many of our hardworking countrymen earn "the minimum wage," and let us never use the threat of the global economy as an excuse not to raise that meager hourly amount. Instead, let us raise it and proudly call it "the American wage" because we value both work and human dignity.

Democrats must understand that liberalism, the party's activating idea, has lost confidence in its own ability to capture and command a popular majority in support of its agenda. As liberalism abandoned economic and cultural populism in favor of cultural elitism and laissez-faire economics, liberalism became minoritarian in outlook. Liberals turned litigious, ready to forgo the Democratic, legislative fight and chose instead to seek a win in the most undemocratic branch of our government, the courts, preferably before a friendly judge.

In order to be more politically successful, Democrats, including the president, must dare to risk being socially unacceptable to the nation's Establishment, which, in its uncritical embrace of free-trade ideology, remains unaffected by the uninterrupted irresponsibility of Japan in failing, through its closed markets, to demonstrate any sense of international reciprocity.

Clinton and the Democrats were on the right side in the showdown with Japan over fair trade. You want proof? On CNN, my friend and colleague Robert D. Novak, who is ordinarily a compelling pit bull for unfettered free trade, based his opposition to the Clinton position on the president's not publicly reprimanding the "head of the local bargaining committee at the Ford plant in New Jersey, (who) yelled, 'Take on the Japs! Take on the Japs!'

" When raw meat Bob Novak resorts to basing his case on political correctness, you know Bill Clinton has already won the argument.

Democrats and liberals should remember that it's okay _ both intellectually and morally _ to be on the majority side of a controversial issue. And it's sometimes even better to publicly tell a powerful group what it doesn't want to hear, like telling the Fortune 50 that its members who move jobs from the United States to overseas will lose their tax breaks.

Mark Shields; Creators Syndicate Inc.