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Jewish World Review July 12, 1999 /28 Tamuz, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Econophone

Post-impeachment vindication?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
THE GREAT QUESTION of the last two years of the 20th century in American politics is: Have the American people gone totally soft? Do they shrug off lying, law-breaking and immorality as trifles?

The Democratic Party had a lot riding on the yes proposition. After wavering for a while, party poo-bahs consulted the polls and decided to back Bill Clinton to the bitter end. On the day that the president was impeached by the House of Representatives, Vice President Gore spoke for the party when he proclaimed Bill Clinton a "great president." When he later announced his own campaign for the office, the vice president expressed his dismay at Clinton's conduct. Gore is hoping that the voters who excused Bill Clinton's deceit and dishonor will similarly bless this duplicity.

The polls were unequivocal throughout the Lewinsky scandal. The voters did not wish to see the president impeached or removed. Republicans, who had been banking on anti-Clinton sentiment to motivate their own base in the 1998 elections, saw their majority sliced thin, instead. (It wasn't pro-Clinton sentiment, but rather disappointment at the bloated budget deal that kept many self- described conservatives home that year.)

When Republicans persevered in the impeachment process in spite of the results of the 1998 elections, Bill Clinton and most of the Democrats in Congress were stunned. Didn't they understand that this would hurt Republicans in the polls?

In point of fact, it did. During and immediately following the impeachment, generic party preference polls (a favorable or unfavorable view of a party) tilted significantly in the Democrats' favor. According to USA Today, the Democrats favorability rating ranged between 42 and 51 percent during that period, while Republicans lagged with 36 to 42 percent.

But while a week can feel like a year in politics, the changes in the polls in the months since should remind politicians of the pitfalls of living in the moment. By April of this year, the Democrats' generic advantage had been erased, and now, with the release of the "battleground poll" -- a joint Democrat/Republican project -- a new and ominous trend for Democrats is beginning to show up.

Fifty-one percent of voters now judge that the country is off on the wrong track, and a perception of a lack of moral values is central to that sentiment, according to Celinda Lake, the Democratic half of the Battleground poll (Ed Goeas is the Republican half). By a whopping 20-percent margin, voters believe that Republicans are the party that can better represent the values of faith in God, personal responsibility, ethics and honesty.

Now a cynic might say, "Well, yes, but voters don't care about ethics or morality." That's too harsh. When asked to name one paramount concern, 25 percent of those polled cited ethics and morality, while other issues like education and the environment pulled only single digits. Further, among voters who named ethics and morality as a major concern, 57 percent chose Republicans as the party that would provide better leadership. To further cloud the Democrats' morning, voters also believe that Republicans are the party better able to "maintain prosperity."

The right track/wrong track number correlates closely with the health of incumbents (and for these purposes, Gore is the incumbent). The vice president is certainly taking the hit, for now, for Bill Clinton's disgrace. His unfavorable rating is 42 percent -- extremely high for someone about whom the voters know relatively little. Bill Clinton's personal unfavorability rating is 67 percent.

As if all this weren't bad enough from the Democrats' point of view, the Battleground poll also revealed the existence of a new class of elderly voters -- Reagan seniors. Those ages 60 to 69, who were middle-aged when Reagan was elected, are far more likely to vote Republican than older seniors.

There were many who believed that Republicans were foolhardy to do what they thought was right -- impeach Bill Clinton -- in the face of public opinion urging the other course. The Democrats obediently followed the polls. It now appears that the Republicans have been vindicated politically. For once, virtue has been more that its own reward. left.


JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate