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Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2001 / 28 Teves 5761

Morton Kondracke

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Clinton ain't going away, folks -- PRESIDENT CLINTON has left office, but he intends to remain the titular leader of the Democratic Party. For the party, that can't be good.

Or maybe it can. When George W. Bush is sworn in, Clinton's sky-high job approval ratings become irrelevant. His personal favorability ratings, deservedly low, become dominant.

But, wonder of wonders, the public's opinion of Clinton's personal qualities has undergone a sudden transformation as he prepares to depart -- from just 48 percent positive in May to 64 percent now, according to the Pew Research Center.

Pew calls the phenomenon "Clinton nostalgia," but every indication is that he intends to make himself more than just a memory, that he will remain a forceful presence on the political scene.

He has unceremoniously bumped aside Vice President Al Gore as the leader of the party, forcing the Democratic National Committee to accept his man, Terry McAuliffe, as national chairman.

Gore preferred to keep on DNC Chairman Joe Andrew, but DNC members were told that "the Clintons" -- the President and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. -- wanted McAuliffe, who is a prodigious fund-raiser.

Clinton, for sure, will help McAuliffe raise money. But it's likely his influence will not stop there. He will no longer be a policymaker, so leadership of the party in that sense will pass to Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle, S.D., and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.

Nevertheless, all the signs point to Clinton having something to say about virtually everything that's going on in Washington and the world, especially critiquing the performance of his successor.

Clinton has already joined the Democratic claque opposing Bush's election as illegitimate. In Chicago he said, "The only way (the Republicans) could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida."

That fits in with other graceless Clinton statements of late about Republicans. In several legacy-burnishing magazine interviews, for instance, he claimed that Republicans owe him an apology for impeaching him. The fact is, Clinton's legacy is a mixed bag. He presided over great economic times and arguably helped the prosperity along by advancing free trade and helping balance the federal budget.

It has to be remembered, however, that although deficit reduction became a Clinton priority in 1993, the actual balancing of the budget was forced on him and the Democrats by the Republican Congress elected in 1994.

Clinton did advance the cause of health insurance for all, going at it incrementally when he couldn't do it comprehensively. He also increased education funding and made college more affordable.

On the other hand, he was a moral and cultural disaster. He defiled the environs of the Oval Office, lied under oath and was impeached.

Along with improving American education, he instructed adolescents, according to a recent survey publicized in USA Today, that oral sex is not really sex.

Moreover, the disaster was not merely "personal." He promised "the most ethical administration in American history" and then sold overnights in the Lincoln Bedroom for campaign contributions, along with utterly demolishing the remnants of post-Watergate campaign finance laws.

According to Election Day exit polls, by 68 percent to 29 percent voters said Clinton would be remembered more for his scandals than his accomplishments.

Despite "Clinton nostalgia," last week's Pew poll reported an almost identical result. Is this what the Democratic Party wants in a spokesman?

It's argued that Clinton has been good for the party, winning elections and pulling it toward the center. But he never actually won a majority of the popular vote, even against weak Republicans. In addition, the party's Congressional strength hasn't yet recovered from his 1994 debacle.

In 1993, Democrats held 258 House seats and 57 Senate seats. Now they have 211 and 50, respectively. It's true that Clinton came to office as a New Democrat, advocated a "third way" and repaired the party's image of being soft on crime, dedicated to high taxes and big government and dismissive of middle-class values.

On the other hand, in recent years he has begun leaning left again. If there was anything he should have done, it is to have secured Social Security and Medicare for his own and future generations.

However, when it came to the test, he followed rather than led on entitlement reform. Consequently, both programs face ultimate bankruptcy unless his successor can produce a fix. Clinton presumably will oppose Bush's proposals.

There's no question that Clinton is a superb tactical politician, gifted at establishing personal rapport, making rousing speeches and wriggling himself free from tight spots. But for a leader, the Democratic Party should look elsewhere. Clinton nostalgia will fade, and his baggage will only get heavier.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


01/19/01: Bush should try for legacy as 'Great Reconciler'
01/16/01: Left-Center Rift Re-emerges For Democratic Leaders
01/12/01: Clinton doing Bush no favors in Mideast
01/09/01: Bush and Democrats can deal
12/14/00: Will Daschle make it his business to get along with President Bush?
12/08/00: GOP is in danger of ruining record on medical research
11/27/00: Some fascinating stories about how and why people voted
11/22/00: GOP Survived health bullets, but one is left
11/20/00: Can next president and Hill deal?
11/15/00: With nation split, leaders must reach across party divide
11/07/00: The Envelope, Please:Bush Beats Gore, GOP Holds Hill
11/03/00: Parties appeal to two 'gospels'
11/01/00: Lurking in the shadows
10/26/00: What's Gore's Social Security plan?
10/18/00: While Bush, Gore debate surplus, Congress spends it
10/16/00: Two debates leave lots of questions
10/03/00: What questions should be debated?
09/28/00: Gore and Bush should prepare to lead
09/19/00: Bush let values issue slip away
08/25/00: Gore hands center to Bush
08/22/00: AlGore, look to future, not to Bubba
08/08/00: 2000 race could leave high road for low
08/03/00: Convention must point Bush to center
08/01/00: GOP Readies 'Debt Lockbox' As 2000 Strategy
07/27/00: Cheney adds heft to GOP ticket
07/25/00: Foreign, Defense Policy Deserves Full 2000 Debate
07/20/00: Truman Show: Gore Replays 1948, But Bush Isn't Dewey
07/18/00: Bush Must Fight Gore's Drug Plan As 'Bad Medicine'
07/13/00: Mexico's Election Supports U.S. Action On NAFTA, Bailout
07/10/00: Abortion is good for something --- just ask AlGore
07/06/00: Meet Steve Ricchetti, Bubba's secret weapon
06/30/00: AlGore is down, but is he out?
06/27/00: Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform
06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
06/13/00: On Stem Cells, Bush Has Wrong Pro-Life Stance
06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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