Jewish World Review August 22, 2000 /21 Menachem-Av 5760
Americans have what Republican activist Jeff Bell calls a "bifurcated" view of the outgoing president -- they approve of his job performance, but they deeply disapprove of his character.
The latest bipartisan Voter.com Battleground survey confirms that by 60 percent to 37 percent, voters approve of the way Clinton is doing his job -- and by 62 percent to 28 percent they disapprove of Clinton "as a person."
Republicans want to tie Vice President Al Gore as closely as possible to Clinton the person, while Gore desperately wants to be linked to the administration's job performance and change the subject from Clinton's personal failings.
At the Republican National Convention, both vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney and presidential nominee George W. Bush endlessly referred to "Clinton-Gore," as though Gore's first name is Clinton.
And they endlessly promised that they would "restore honor and dignity" to the White House. Bush denied he was making any reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal in doing so. Everyone knew he was being disingenuous -- nearly Clintonesque.
No one believes for a second that Gore would behave as Clinton did in the Lewinsky case -- being unfaithful to his wife with a White House intern and lying about it both publicly and under oath. But Republicans hope that the scandal's odor clings permanently to Gore no matter how often he changes his clothing.
Bush kept the game going as the Democratic convention opened here by calling on Gore to say how he differs from Clinton either personally or in policy.
Moreover, every time Clinton appears in public, the media helps tie Clinton to Gore, constantly revisiting Clinton's dual image as a political genius and personal reprobate -- plus the contrast between Clinton's easy charm and Gore's clunkiness.
The reaction of many Democrats to Clinton's valedictory speech here Monday night was that it was good that it raised a high mark for Gore's Thursday night acceptance speech.
Clinton did Gore no great favors with the speech. He spent 80 percent of it recounting the successes of his administration and just 10 percent linking Gore to them, giving no vivid examples that would change the public's perception of Gore as merely Clinton's sidekick.
A Los Angeles Times poll showed that, in sum, Clinton-Gore linkage is working the Republicans' way. Asked what they disapprove about Gore, 29 percent of voters mentioned his Clinton connection and 18 percent called him "not trustworthy."
Republicans haven't even begun to exploit Gore's own ethical problems, notably his participation in 1996 fund-raising irregularities and his awkward explanation of them.
If and when the going gets rough -- reportedly, when Gore begins raising the issue of Bush's appearance at arch-conservative Bob Jones University this year -- Republicans plan to trot out Clinton's famous 1993 assurance that his would be "the most ethical administration in American history" to throw at Gore.
Meantime, Gore demonstrates that he is anxious to be out of Clinton's shadow. Gore advisers admit candidly that his selection of straight-arrow Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., as his running mate was at least partly designed to exorcise the Clinton ghost.
Asked to what extent he expected Clinton to be an issue through November, Gore campaign manager Bill Daley asked me, "You don't expect it to go away, do you?"
Somehow, Gore has got to change the subject -- away from Clinton, away from personality and on to "the future." The majority of polls show that, on most issues, the public sides with Gore.
On the issue that Bush himself defined as central to the campaign -- what to do with the $2 trillion federal budget surplus -- an LA Times poll this week showed that by five to one, voters prefer Gore's approach of paying down the national debt and bolstering retirement programs, as opposed to Bush's tax cut.
When both candidates' views on Social Security were described, 55 percent of voters preferred Gore's plan and only 32 percent preferred Bush's. Gore enjoyed a double-digit lead on health care and lesser leads on protecting Medicare and keeping the economy prosperous.
The two candidates were essentially even on other issues -- abortion policy, gun control, Supreme Court appointments and education.
So, Gore's task is to make the country focus on a choice of "two futures" -- one (his) in which the fruit of the country's prosperity is used for investment in better health
and education for the nation, and another (Bush's) in which it's given to those who already are well-off. Simultaneously, Gore must try to turn back on Bush the allegation that Democrats are partisan, negative campaigners.
Republicans are, after all, trying to tar Gore personally with a brush called "Clinton." Gore's problem is trying to figure out how to make that accusation without seeming to repudiate his political benefactor. Gore had best concentrate on the
08/08/00: 2000 race could leave high road for low