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Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 1999 /22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Battle of the Bubba clones -- THE KEY MAN in the first Gore-Bradley debate was not on the stage. Bill Clinton was the hidden topic lurking behind both candidates' answers.

Vice President Gore broached the issue first. He shared the first questioner's "disappointment and anger" at Clinton's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky matter. He did so without the questioner himself ever saying what he felt about the long-running Clinton scandal, much less mentioning the president.

"He's my friend," the VP continued, hoping to put the monstrous matter behind him. "I took an oath under the Constitution... and I interpreted that oath to mean that I ought to try to provide as much continuity and stability... as I possibly could."

The attempt here is to find honor in his Deputy Dog-like devotion to Clinton of 1998-1999, behavior that reached screech level in Gore's Impeachment Day cheerleading on the White House lawn.

That many independent voters view duty and honor as divisible is a bitter, belated assessment Albert Gore, Jr. of Washington, D.C., and Nashville, Tenn., seems unwilling to swallow. Then or now. He recalls again and again his steadfast opposition to the Reagan budget cuts of 1981, his yeoman's service in the long struggle with the Newt Gingrich congress starting in 1995. He now attests that this rabid defense of Clinton as one of the country's greatest presidents of all times is simply another part of his political "perfect attendance record."

There are two problems with this Clintonesque "spin."

One, the Constitution does not require that the vice president report to the president. He is a constitutional officer in his own right with the legislative position as president of the Senate and the executive duty to succeed to the presidency should that office become vacant.

Two, there is no written or unwritten code of vice presidential conduct that requires a veep to stand on the White House lawn, just minutes after the House votes impeachment, and cheer a president as if he had been the innocent victim of a long, drawn out affair. "No president should lie to the American people," Al Gore might have said last year and thereby put the issue of his own integrity in the matter behind him. By saying nothing back when it might have mattered, he pretty much assured that it would matter now.

One of those clearly intending to use the "Clinton" issue against Gore is former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. Asked to name the key elements of presidential leadership, he started the bidding with "integrity" -- not the current president's long suit.

Of course, Bradley did some "spinning" of his own in New Hampshire last Wednesday. Asked his reason for quitting the U.S. Senate in 1996, the former New York Knick said there were things he wanted to do that he could not do on Capitol Hill.

What he failed to note was the experience of his last re-election campaign. He barely defeated an unknown rival while outspending her 15-to-1, dumping more than $12 million into a race to fend off a woman with less than a million in her war chest.

What Bradley also failed to note was how he spent that last campaign back home dodging voters' questions about a recent New Jersey tax hike. Despite his presence on the Senate Finance Committee and keen interest in tax reform, Bradley took the aloof position that he didn't have to answer questions about "state" issues.

The tragic irony here is the picture of two candidates both trying to escape the legacy of Bill Clinton even as each makes a sneaky attempt at his well-practiced "spin."

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.


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

©1999, NEA