The Magazine


Elizabeth Drew's Account of 1996

Jun 16, 1997, Vol. 2, No. 39 • By BRIT HUME
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But despite her dismay at what she considers the failure of campaign- finance laws, 1996 proved to be the year when fund-raising excesses carried a heavy price. The scandal over illegal contributions from foreign sources, Drew reports, stalled the Clinton campaign's momentum in its critical final weeks, holding his vote below the 50 percent he craved and preventing the Democrats from regaining control of the House. "It was," Drew writes, "as if the Gods had stepped in to punish Clinton for his arrogance and insouciance when it came to fundraising." Of course, it was not the gods, but the voters, who decided based on press reports that Clinton and his party had gone too far and punished them for it at the polls. The fact that democracy's most basic safeguards appear to have worked here, and more effectively than the Federal Election Commission ever could have, seems lost on Drew.

And here we have the fundamental problem with Whatever It Takes. Its premise is that the key players in this election were a small group of men operating largely out of public view in their Beltway offices. She makes a good case that as such people go, they were as influential as any. But she never demonstrates that their machinations were in any way decisive. Indeed, the evidence in the book suggests precisely the opposite. Consider the case of Rep. Greg Ganske, the Iowa Republican and one of three GOP freshmen whose reelection race she tracked closely. Unlike the other two, Peter Torkildsen of Massachusetts and Randy Tate of Washington, Ganske won reelection. "He had wriggled out sufficiently from the Gingrich problem," she writes, "and he had a weak opponent." In describing Randy Tate's defeat in Washington, Drew quotes a Democratic operative: "You had a fatally injured incumbent and a good candidate on our side. We ran a better campaign and had a better candidate." She does not argue with this assessment, and with good reason. Despite all the excitement in Washington and in the pages of Whatever It Takes about the power of political action committees, lobbyists, and campaign donations, the principal forces in American elections remain the candidates, the issues, and, most of all, the voters.

Contributing editor Brit Hume is Washington managing editor of the Fox News Channel.