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Jewish World Review June 23, 2000 /20 Sivan, 5760

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Consumer Reports

Beat the press --
AL GORE has held only one press conference with traveling journalists in the past 119 days. Hillary Rodham Clinton (or Hillary!, as her campaign materials say) has avoided press conferences during her New York Senate campaign. Instead, the Secret Service shoves potential questioners aside. Both are shunning the Sunday talk shows. This is odd. Both of these candidates are articulate and well informed on national issues and capable of learning local issues as well. Both are in a position to boast about the job performance of Bill Clinton, to which voters nationally and especially in New York give high ratings. Yet both tend to shy away from the press.

And both of them–and surely their advisers–understand that there is a cost to not holding press conferences. Reporters who are denied a chance to question the candidate in public tend to get crabby and even hostile. They compile lists of hostile and potentially damaging questions to ask when they finally get the opportunity. They become alert to possible contradictions or changes in position in the candidate's public statements. They create a climate of cynicism and hostility on the candidate's plane or bus.

No sensible candidate risks such a hostile press without a good reason. And for these two candidates, the reason is clear: There are lots of questions they would prefer not to answer.

Poor plumbing. Like, in the case of Al Gore, why his White House E-mails during the Monica Lewinsky period cannot be retrieved. Technical mistake, says the Clinton-Gore White House. Sure. Bill Gates should have thought of that one. Or how, as Gore told the FBI, he missed the talk about hard money during the meeting planning his illegal White House fundraising calls because he was drinking iced tea and had to take a lot of bathroom breaks–the wee-wee defense. Others at the meeting said the vice president was "attentive," and the man conducting the meeting said he held up the discussion anytime the president or vice president left the room. And what about the plumbing in Gore's tenant's house in Tennessee? The one he can see from his own house? Why did it take so long to fix it, and why did his agents bad-mouth the tenant when she complained? And should his former staffer Maria Hsia, convicted of campaign finance violations, be pardoned, and why did he break with the Clinton administration on the Elián González case? Or lie and say he always supported abortion rights?

For Hillary Rodham Clinton, there are also many, many unpleasant questions. When did you become a Yankees fan? And what about those cattle futures? Or give us your account of the conflicting statements about the firing of the White House travel office employees–and who sicced the FBI on them? And what about those Rose Law Firm billing records found in the White House personal quarters? What were they doing there, lining Socks's litter box? Oh, and are you going to bring back the Clinton health care plan?

Al Gore and Hillary Clinton are the main political legatees of an administration whose performance is respected and which can claim plausibly to have produced peace and prosperity. Yet, evidently, neither feels comfortable facing questions from competent, well-prepared, and unawed reporters. Indeed, Hillary Clinton will not venture out except in Potemkin-like campaign events or on programs with Rosie O'Donnell, who gushes over her, or David Letterman, who quizzes her on New York State trivia after providing the questions and answers in advance.

The problem these two able people face is that they have been witting accomplices in the misdeeds of Bill Clinton. Gore wanted to show that he was as gung-ho in raising money as anyone else, and in doing so he violated the law barring fundraising in federal buildings–a law he must have known about as a Capitol Hill veteran. Hillary Clinton has always seemed eager to salt away extra money, like any sensible wife of an oft-straying husband. The phrase "moral values" keeps popping up among the most-often-volunteered issues in polls, and while voters approve Bill Clinton's performance, they clearly want a president who's not so dishonest, evasive, and untrustworthy.

Voters have "Clinton fatigue fatigue," Gore proclaimed months ago. Sorry, but the fatigue is still there. It helps explain why, in a time of peace and prosperity, Al Gore is running behind George W. Bush nationally, and why Hillary Rodham Clinton is polling at only about 44 percent against the widely unknown Rep. Rick Lazio, in a state where her husband won 59 percent of the vote in 1996. And it helps explain why these two Democratic candidates hesitate to subject themselves to questioning by reporters, about 90 percent of whom are Democrats themselves. When Bill Clinton was impeached, Democrats gleefully predicted that Republicans would pay a political price and, out of camera range, gloated that Clinton would pay no price at all. Not quite. The political price for Clinton's misdeeds is being paid not by Republicans and, as usual, not by Clinton himself but by his political legatees, Al Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of the biennialAlmanac of American Politics. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


06/06/00: Reining in regulators: Will the Supreme Court clip Washington's wings?
05/25/00: In plain English: Bilingual education flunks out of schools in California
04/28/00: Gore in the balance: His book reveals a fanatical approach to the environment
04/04/00: President-elect Putin offers a basis for hopes–and for fears
03/14/00: Over the long, long haul, the issues may yet favor the Republicans
03/02/00: Will unions rule? Indispensable to Gore, labor may be the campaign's secret winner
02/15/00: A reformers' party
01/03/00: The voters rule: In Manchester, Mexico, and Moscow, an imperfect system works
01/19/00: The era of Big Promises
12/08/99: Welcome to the world of 'good enough'
11/2/99: Just saying no
11/12/99: Money talks, as it should
10/28/99: Mexico votes – for real
10/03/99: Going against type
09/28/99: The unions go public
08/31/99: China's strait flush
08/25/99: The first two contests
08/03/99: Paddling upstream
07/08/99: Taking Hillary seriously
06/22/99: Trying the lawyers
06/07/99: Facts on the ground

©2000, Michael Barone