Prague, 14 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Presidential election day in the United States is less than a month away and public opinion polls continue to show the incumbent, Democrat Bill Clinton, leading. His opponent, Republican Bob Dole, wrestles with tactics for reversing his campaign's status. Press commentary today and over the weekend surveyed the president's comfort and the opposition's quandary.
WASHINGTON POST: Dole ought to get rid of the concept of the 'character issue'
The paper said yesterday in an editorial: "The first thing Bob Dole ought to do about the 'character issue,' as it is called, is to get rid of the concept altogether. It is a semantic trap and a muddle. As the term is now used, it is an intellectually slovenly catchall for everything from personal gossip, which is irrelevant, to legitimate public issues, which aren't. The second thing Dole ought to do is make up his mind about it."
The Post concluded: "The subject has been especially awkwardly and jerkily handled by Dole. If he can't figure out what is and is not fair game on this question, and assert his position to his noisy advisers and so-called pals, you have to ask how he would handle all the comparable but incomparably more important business that comes before a chief executive."
LONDON GUARDIAN: Older voters are more hostile to Dole
Commentator Jonathan Freedland recently visited the Sunny Isles, Florida, retirement community. He found that Dole's contemporaries, elderly Americans, favored Clinton's candidacy. Freedland writes today: "It is one of the more striking surprises of the 1996 campaign (that) older voters are more hostile to Mr. Dole than (is) any other age group, favoring Mr. Clinton by 54 points to 34." He writes: "The Democrats and trade unions have been running advertisements in Florida for nearly six months accusing the Republicans of wanting to slash Medicare, the government-run health insurance scheme for the elderly."
Freedland says that in U.S. politics pensioners "usually get their way." He adds: "The old folks want Mr. Clinton to keep it that way, and make sure that life in Sunny Isles stays sunny."
NEW YORK TIMES: Why is a lawyer president indifferent to constitutional rights?
Columnist Anthony Lewis comments today: "Bill Clinton has not been called to account in this campaign for the worst aspect of his presidency. That is his appalling record on constitutional rights. The Clinton years have seen, among other things, a series of measures stripping the courts of their power to protect individuals from official abuse -- the power that has been the key to American freedom. There has been nothing like it since the Radical Republicans, after the Civil War, acted to keep the courts from holding the occupation of the South to constitutional standards."
Lewis asks: "Why, especially, is a lawyer president indifferent to constitutional rights and their protection by the courts?
NEWSDAY: Clinton as a tax-and-spend liberal?
In the U.S. newspaper, editorial page editor James M. Klurfeld wrote Saturday: "Here they go again. Unable to dent Bill Clinton's lead in the polls even after the debate and with time running out, Bob Dole's political consultants are reverting to form -- running ads that call Clinton a tax-and-spend liberal." Klurfeld said: "I've watched politics long enough to understand that rule No. 1 is that whatever works is fair. But the Big Lie undermines democratic debate. Clinton as a tax-and-spend liberal? It's pure demagoguery. You don't get elected six times as Arkansas governor if you are a tax-and-spend liberal."
WASHINGTON POST: Pundits are inventing an internal war among congressional Democrats
Should Clinton's Democrats gain a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Representative Ron Dellums would be in line to chair the Armed Services Committee. Representative Charles Stenholm would be expected to chair the Agriculture Committee.
The paper Saturday published a commentary under their joint bylines. They wrote: "The lack of drama in the presidential election has cleared the stage for pundits to invent (and preview) a supposed internal war among congressional Democrats over the heart and soul of the party. We offer a perspective from the battle's staging area: the contest for committee chairmanships should Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives."
The writers said: "Both of us are in line for such chairmanships. Given our personal ideologies, which are as far apart as you can get within the Democratic caucus, we should be among the most energized antagonists. Right?
"Wrong. Charlie Stenholm, the conservative hawk with an Air Force base pumping life through the heart of his Texas district, feels no trepidation about Ron Dellums, his ideological opponent, directing the Armed Services Committee. Likewise, the liberal protector of the urban underserved is calm about the prospect of having his rural opposite in charge of life-sustaining food programs for the poor."
They concluded: "The Democratic Party never will be everything Ron Dellums or Charlie Stenholm would want if either of us could be king. But we both know that diversity produces strength, ensuring that our party truly represents the breadth of American thought."
NEW YORK TIMES: Dole's campaign has decided to pour resources into California
Richard L. Berke writes today in a news analysis: "Confronting polls that show President Clinton dominant in nearly every region of the country, senior aides to Bob Dole said on Sunday that they had tentatively decided to pour resources into California while pulling back in other important states like New Jersey and Ohio." He says: "The strategy is considered risky, and the decision comes quite late for a national campaign: just three weeks before the election and at a time when Dole continues to trail the president in national polls by double-digit margins."
NEW YORK TIMES: The debates might have sounded like people reciting gibberish
In a news analysis in yesterday's paper, David E. Rosenbaum wrote: "To the untrained ear, the debate last Sunday night between President Clinton and Bob Dole and the one Wednesday night between Vice President Al Gore and Jack Kemp must have sounded like people reciting gibberish."
The analysis continued: "But the fact is, if you disregard all the memorized statistics and carefully rehearsed one-liners, you can get a sense of the differences between the candidates and the parties. This much seems clear -- If they get elected, Bob Dole and Jack Kemp can be expected to do their damndest to get government out of people's hair." It added: "Bill Clinton and Al Gore, if elected, would stress the ways the government can improve people's lives."