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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2000 / 12 Tishrei, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports


Scandalous lack of awe for the office


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WATCHING "West Wing" last week, it struck me what was wrong with the first Bush-Gore debate of the night before.

Watching the fictional TV show, I was struck with the awe we feel for the office of the presidency, this personal emblem of our nationhood and the democratic values it upholds.

Why did the first Gore-Bush debate fail to examine each candidate on how he views this sacred trust, how he would choose to honor it?

The questions Tuesday night dealt with issues of policy — prescription drugs, taxes, education, Yugoslavia. Overlooked was the issue of the presidency itself.

Let me put a sharper point on this: Neither the vice president nor the Texas governor was asked how he would guard the nation's highest office, and the White House itself, from the scandalous misconduct of the so-recent past.

Before this campaign is over, I would like to hear the two men's prescription for that sensitive matter of state.

Bush's timidity is most disturbing. As the challenger, he is the candidate best positioned to condemn what's gone wrong under Clinton, the freest to promise reform.

Given the chance, he did neither. Asked if there were "issues of character" at stake in this election, Gov. Bush said that he was "disappointed" in how President Clinton and Vice President Gore conducted their "fund-raising affairs."

Is that all he has to say about the worst political scandals since Watergate?

To refresh memories, I am referring to the Clinton-Gore scheme of 1995-96 to evade federal campaign-spending limits by exploiting the White House to raise tens of millions of dollars in "soft money." I'm talking about the scores of "coffees" Gore hosted personally in the White House and the Old Executive Office Building, the night-after-night use of the Lincoln Bedroom as a Motel 6 for millionaires randy to pay cash for the cachet of sleeping on the bed of the Great Emancipator.

I am referring to the vice president's conduct during those seven months in 1998, when the president lied to the country about his relations with a young White House intern. Why, during that long national purgatory, did Gore not confront Clinton? Why, once the truth of the charges was made manifest by the DNA on Monica Lewinsky's dress, did he drench Clinton in even higher praise?

Why, on the day of the president's impeachment, did he talk like a paid political hack, saying the man whose misconduct created the mess deserved face space on Mount Rushmore?

Gore should be forced to choose: Either defend this desecration of the White House or vow to end it.

I would prefer, personally, that he did the latter.

Better yet, he and Bush both should be asked to forswear the following:

— No "finance-related events" at the White House on their watch.

— No sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom for contributors.

— No fund-raising calls from the White House by the president, the vice president or anyone.

— No sexual exploitation of White House staffers.

If they both agree to these rules, we Americans will have reasserted our two-centuries-old reverence toward the president's house. If either or both refuse, we will know who we are dealing with.



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.

Up

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