The Magazine

The Clinton Referendum

Oct 30, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 07 • By FRED BARNES
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To overcome the Bush advantage, Gore desperately needs a big event or a dominant issue to emerge suddenly. More of the same isn't likely to alter the fundamental structure of the race. Yet more of the same appears to be Gore's strategy. He's relying especially on Social Security, the hardy perennial for Democrats late in a competitive campaign. It's worked in the past by scaring seniors that Republicans would take away their benefits, and it's conceivable it will work again. Probably not, though, since Bush has drummed up popular support for his Social Security reform, which would allow all wage earners to invest part of their payroll taxes in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.

The last resort for Gore is Clinton. The president is itching to get involved. On his own initiative, he ridiculed Bush last week while addressing congressional Democrats. And he'll be campaigning with Democrats in the closing weeks of the campaign -- though not with Gore under current plans. Clinton has already intruded in the race for his successor far more than most outgoing presidents, and he's done so in a particularly unpresidential way. An argument could be made that since Clinton is the source of Gore's trouble, his campaigning at the vice president's side would have a salutary effect, driving up turnout and serving as the hair of the dog that bit Gore. But this would clash with the central message of Gore's candidacy: that he's his "own man," not beholden to Clinton. Gore's sad fate is that he may not be electable with Clinton, or without him.

Conservatives have a right to congratulate themselves for Gore's predicament. If they had winked at Clinton's wrongdoing, as polls suggested they should, and settled for a bland censure of the president, the overriding Clinton factor would never have emerged. This would be a campaign about continuity, and Gore would win easily. "There are 13 people who are responsible for where we are now," a Bush adviser says. "They are the House impeachment managers." Reviled at the time by Democrats, pilloried by the media, scorned by Senate Republicans, they played a historic role, holding Clinton accountable, seeking just punishment, and, not least, shaping the 2000 race and paving the way for a likely Republican victory.

Fred Barnes, for the Editors