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Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 1999 /8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Clinton's last hurrah -- PRESIDENT CLINTON HAS LAUNCHED his third national campaign. The first two were to win the highest office in American politics. This last is to reach the highest place in American history.

"I have been profoundly moved by the pure power of grace," he proclaimed at a prayer breakfast two weeks ago, thanking his legions of followers for the "unmerited forgiveness" they have showered upon him for the sexual behavior and cover-up of 1997-1998. Having thus dealt with the worst scandal of his public life, the 53-year-old has sought to set some other Clinton issues right with his vast, steadfast constituencies.

High among them was his failed 1992 campaign promise to end discrimination against gays in the U.S. military. Rather than defend the "don't ask; don't tell" rule he helped bring into being, he derides his inaugural effort to allow openly homosexual people to serve their country as "that awful battle I waged and didn't win."

This is classic Clinton spin. By admitting his failure to achieve equal opportunity for gays in the military, he gains strong credibility with those advocating the change. Instead of defending himself as a politician who won his supporters a better deal than they had, he leaves office as a commander-in-chief frustrated that he couldn't do more.

That's the stuff that legacies are made of. Far from being the defender of the status quo, he leaves office as the country's greatest presidential fighter for gay rights. On that inevitable day when the final wall of discrimination comes down in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines, Clinton will be brought back for the signing ceremony.

The man in the Oval Office has begun a similar spin on that other big-time failure: health care. To Clinton, last week's vote in the U.S. House of Representatives for the "patient's bill of rights" puts Americans on a stronger footing. It gives them a better shot at seeing the doctors they want to see, getting the experimental treatments they want, winning those deadly person fights with their HMOs.

As the president spins the issue, this is just one more struggle on the road to full health-care protection for all Americans. In this protracted conflict, the defeat of the Bill-and-Hillary health-care plan of 1994 was merely a battle lost. The war continues, and the Clintons are on the side of the patient. Expect this final campaign to continue through January 20, 2001. William Jefferson Clinton has learned from Ronald Reagan that a president's greatest chance of winning the battle of history is a strong, passionate constituency that liked what he did and wishes he were still around to do it.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
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08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
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08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
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08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
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