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Jewish World Review Feb. 2, 2000 /29 Shevat, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame -- BILL CLINTON, who just gave his last State of the Union speech, remains a linchpin to his party's union. He has the power, if employed prudently, to build not just a legacy but a dynasty as well.

Prudence is the key. He can give speeches so rousing and partisan they will shake the rafters loose. But to win the majority of votes Democrats need next November, the president must match the noise level with content.

Put bluntly, the swing voters (restless Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans) need to hear and see why they should trust Clinton's party to another presidential term.

Other Democrats confess a mixed or negative view of Clinton. Many like his policies but disapprove of the man personally. A smaller number like neither.

It comes as no surprise that the poll found no significant number of Democrats who like Clinton the man but dislike Clinton the president.

No. The recurring debate in this country, especially among those Americans who vote, is what to say about Clinton's behavior, particularly his over-the-top lying about the sleazy fund-raising campaign of 1995-96 and the sleazy Monica Lewinsky affair with which it coincided.

"We invited foreign governments into coffees at the White House at a time when critical national security decisions were being made, and being made about China," Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., said last week. "It was embarrassing and it made me sick."

Kerrey, who fought Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 1992 and now backs Bill Bradley, is by no means alone in his condemnation. Ask voters what bothers them most about the Clinton era and they are likely to cite, even more than Monica, the notorious conversion of the White House into a Motel 6 for Clinton-Gore fund-raisers, the nightly rental of the Lincoln Bedroom for campaign cash and the employment of the American presidency itself as a one-stop-shop for foreign influence-peddling.

Whether Hillary Rodham Clinton wins a Senate seat this autumn in New York is out of her husband's hands.

But to help the Democrats win nationally in November, President Clinton can and should deal with this small but raging undercurrent in his own party.

The Iowa polling shows that Al Gore, his vice president, does especially well among those partisans who back Clinton both politically and personally, not so well among those who cheer the president but question his character.

To keep the White House in Democratic hands this fall, President Clinton needs to show that he gets the message, that he accepts the personal blame for the taint he has given both his party and the presidency.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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