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 Stories for April 29, 1998:

Regular Features:

Panel Reviews the Presidency
Will Clinton Be Remembered for Scandal or Improving Economy?

by D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 29, 1998

Bill Clinton’s apparent weakness for the opposite sex has permanently damaged the presidency; the Christian Right controls Congress; and Pete Wilson may be our next president.

These are a few of the assertions and predictions made by a panel of political experts at UC Extension’s 17th annual review of the presidency, held April 20 in Dwinelle Hall.

Clinton’s sex scandal dominated the discussion, with some panelists claiming the presidential post has suffered irreparable damage.

“Americans are angered not because they are prudish but because Clinton’s carelessness brought shame on the country and the presidency,” said Elizabeth Drew, author, journalist and political commentator.

Dee Dee Myers, Clinton’s former press secretary and contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine, countered, saying “it’s too soon to say what the effect of the scandal will be. He did change Americans’ lives for the better, like balancing the budget, improving the economy and strengthening international trade, that’s what he should be remembered for.”

A healthy economy is more important to Americans than a president with high moral standards, said Mervin Field, founder of the Field Poll and one of the nation’s top political pollsters, citing Clinton’s current 70 percent approval rating.

“While a large portion of the public feel Clinton’s doing a good job, they also believe he’s engaged in a pattern of misconduct and think he’s lying. But Americans seem to accept that,” said Field.

Panelists agreed that the media’s coverage of the scandal exaggerated the situation, providing “infotainment” as opposed to serious news.

“We are in the age of the spectacle. Look at the coverage of O.J., Tonya Harding, the death of Princess Diana and now Clinton,” said panelist Haynes Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and political commentator.

Myers said the proliferation of media outlets competing for stories lowers journalistic standards and puts undue pressure on the president.

“Kennedy had three days to make a decision on the Cuban Missile Crisis; today Clinton would have 30 minutes,” she said.

The discussion then turned to how the scandal might affect upcoming congressional and presidential elections.

“Clinton’s troubles will have a profound influence on elections. However, they may not help Republicans, as one would expect,” said Drew.

“Because Republicans aren’t attacking Clinton’s morals more aggressively, they are alienating the Christian Right, which heavily supports the party with contributions and grassroots efforts. The Christian Right controls Congress,” she said.

Drew went on to say that if Clinton comes out of the scandal clean, Al Gore has some definite advantages in the 2000 election, although he is not a shoe-in and there are many other potential contenders.

In fact, Field suggested that Pete Wilson could win the presidential election in 2000. His prediction was met with loud hissing from the audience.

“Don’t count Pete Wilson out. If the state economy is good when he leaves office, it’s possible he could carry California’s 54 electoral votes, which would help him immensely in the election,” said Field.

The annual review of the presidency discussion was co-sponsored by the Institute of Governmental Studies and moderated by Gerry Lubenow, the institute’s director of publications.

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