In the run up to this campaign's first presidential debate the focus was exclusively on the debaters. But what about the rest of us? How should we prepare to watch the next act of the ultimate in political performance art?
There's time to get ready. No one should show up cold for the next one. It's essential to have an understanding of the issues, who has best addressed them, and how honestly, before tuning in. Otherwise, you set yourself up to be deceived.
The best advice is not to watch the debate at all. Listen to it on radio. This helps focus your mind on what is being said, not how it is said. Catch the replay later on C--Span and compare your first reaction on radio with the distortion that TV brings. Remember, most people who listened to the 1960 Kennedy--Nixon debate on radio thought Nixon had won.
Then, you must consider that one of the debaters is not known for telling the truth. Bill Clinton effectively uses a rhetorical machine--gun approach to overwhelm his listeners with distortions and half--truths, then quickly moves on.
To better inform your judgment on the president's debate comments, you may want to check out the Republican National Committee's 500--page 1996 Bill Clinton Fact Book. Titled Shameless, it documents statements made by Mr. Clinton in recent years.
These show that the president has supported both sides of almost every issue. On school choice, then--Gov. Clinton said in an October 1990 letter to Wisconsin state representative Polly Williams, a school--choice advocate: "I'm concerned that the traditional Democratic Party establishment has not given you more encouragement. The visionary is rarely embraced by the status quo." Two years later, Mr. Clinton told the National Education Association: "We shouldn't give our money to private schools in a system that will undermine the integrity of the public school system."
Taxes? Mr. Clinton promised not to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for his social programs. In fact, he repeatedly promised a middle--class tax cut. Then, when he did raise taxes retroactively, he denied the middle class was affected. This prompted Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D--N.Y.) to say: "It will be the largest tax increase in the history of public finance in the United States or anywhere else in the world." And the president proposed a value--added tax and other taxes to pay for a nationalized health care plan developed by his wife and her socialized--medicine friends.
Abortion? Gov. Clinton sent a letter to Arkansas Right to Life on Sept. 26, 1986, that said: "I am opposed to abortion and to government funding of abortions. We should not spend state funds on abortions because so many people believe abortion is wrong." By 1991, he had flipped, telling the National Women's Political Caucus that he opposed overturning Roe vs. Wade: "I think it's the right decision. I think we should leave it intact."
On the issue of jobs vs. the spotted owl, presidential candidate Clinton said in 1992: "I have enormous sympathy for loggers. They have to make a living." But when Mr. Clinton took the Oval Office, the loggers lost to the owls. New environmental laws were written at the Northwest Forest Conference in Portland, Ore. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that the team appointed by the president to develop the plan to save the owls "was convened and did its work in violation of" the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
On so many issues-health care, legal reform, deficit reduction, ethics, national security-this president has been shameless in his quest for political expediency, not integrity.
Recalling such things is how we should prepare for the next debate. The evidence shows that Bill Clinton will say and do anything to win reelection. If he wins again, he will do whatever he pleases afterward. If that's the kind of person we want for another four years, we will be holding a mirror up to our own character, and his will be the reflection we see.