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Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2000 / 19 Adar I, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Clinton remains No. 1 issue -- IN A SPEECH to the California Democratic Convention, Al Gore accused rival Bill Bradley of political treason.

"Sen. Bradley claims he's doing us a service because he doesn't want to see Democrats bashed in the fall," he told the party faithful. "His proposed solution is to bash Democrats in the spring."

With those words, Gore defined the 2000 race for president. In Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf's phrase, he "shaped the battlefield." Any Bradley attack on the Clinton-Gore fund-raising sleaze of 1996 is an attack on "Democrats."

John McCain agrees with those terms of war. He's made clear that the 2000 Republican nominee should be the one most ready and able to launch a frontal, all-out attack on what the Arizona senator calls "the truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore."

The Democratic and Republican candidates will be judged, both Gore and McCain agree, by their proximity to the current president.

Any shot by Bradley for booting the health-care issue in 1994 or shaking down Buddhist nuns two years ago is being made by Gore to boomerang against the challenger.

Meanwhile, the feisty McCain scores points on Bush by divebombing those "truth-twisters" currently in office at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Clinton, true to character, refuses to acknowledge his role as the campaign's prime target of opportunity for attacker and defender both.

Here is what a National Public Radio reporter asked at last week's first-of-the-year White House press conference: "I'm wondering if you could comment on both aspects of your influence, both the negative, the fact that everybody seems to be running against your behavior, and also, on the other side, why everyone seems to sound like you when they discuss policy."

"Well, I think for the Republicans it's probably good politics to do that," Clinton answered, "because they spent years and years trying to tell everybody how bad I am. However, people are very smart, and it's pretty hard to convince them that they should hold anyone responsible for someone else's mistake, particularly a personal mistake."

Once again, Clinton is dismissing as a faux pas not just his months-long behavior in a West Wing hallway with a young White House intern on the presidential payroll a young woman brought in to learn, ironically, how government really works but his decision to recruit his staff, Cabinet, friends and party into a year-long campaign of cover-up.

Just "personal"?

Public conduct that laid the basis for impeachment by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives? Votes to remove him from office by 50 Senate Republicans and a censure resolution signed by 29 Democratic U.S. senators, including most of the party's big-name liberals?

Instead of taking public responsibility for "personal" acts, it could be argued, President Clinton must take personal responsibility for what were undeniably public acts.

Until he bites that bullet, his chosen successor must keep on defending the tainted Clinton-Gore administration, and Republicans will continue to beat his veep "like a drum."

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.


02/23/00: Will Ross Perot aid POW McCain?
02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

© 2000, NEA