Farah: Clinton in campaign mode

Maher, Steve (SD-MS) SMAHER at GI.COM
Tue Feb 24 16:48:00 MST 1998

from CAS list

*****Clinton in full campaign mode

 I got polled the other day. It sounded legitimate at first. The pollster
 identified himself with a private polling company. He began by asking a
 few basic questions about my age, party affiliation, etc. Then he got to

 "Do you find Monica Lewinsky to be credible?"

 "Would your opinion change if you were told that she gave different
 stories of events to different people?"

 "Would you be more likely to believe Monica Lewinsky or the president of
 the United States?"

 As the survey continued, I became increasingly aware of the fact that this
 was not a poll designed to measure public opinion, but to change it.

 "Do you approve of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's aggressive
 tactics in pursuing President Clinton?"

 "Would your opinion change if you learned that Kenneth Starr has pursued
 allegations against the president for four years and spent $30 million in
 taxpayer funds?"

 "Would your opinion change if you were told that Kenneth Starr has
 relentlessly investigated the stories of dozens of women and their possible
 sexual relationships with the president?"

 As strong as my opinions are on this subject, it became increasingly
 difficult to answer the questions because there was no appropriate choice
 provided. The argumentative nature of some reminded me of the old
 "When did you stop beating your wife?" conundrum.

 This was no small-time operation, either. In the background, I could hear
 the voices of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other pollsters asking similar
 questions. Who knows how many thousands of people are being
 confronted with these questions right now as you read this column? This
 was the kind of "polling" often conducted by desperate political campaigns
 in the final hours before an election - surveys designed to push people's
 beliefs, plant seeds of doubt about an issue or attack an opposing

 But wait a minute. This is February 1998, not October or November in a
 presidential election year. Who commissioned this survey? The
 Democratic National Committee? The White House? My pollster did not
 have any answers for me.

 I suspect there is much more of this activity going on than most people
 realize. After all, I can't remember ever being surveyed before - even in
 an election year. Why me? Why now? What gives?

 I'll tell you what I suspect. I believe there is a presidential campaign
 way. It's a campaign not to elect a president, but to save a presidency.
 And it is being conducted not only in obvious ways - speeches by the
 president, town hall meetings, media events - but in covert ways designed
 to keep Clinton's poll numbers high. I'm not sure who is running it, but
 possibilities are limited.

 Think about it. This is a political campaign unencumbered by campaign
 financing restrictions. After all, no election, no election rules. No
 with foreign money or limits on soft money. "Pollsters" could be hired
 directly by people or political action committees sympathetic to the
 president. What law would be broken? And who cares about the law,
 anyway, these days?

 The key is public opinion - or, at least, perceived public opinion. There
 only one place the battle for the presidency will ultimately be decided,
 that is in Congress. As long as that rudderless ship is being guided by
 - be they legitimate or illegitimate - then Clinton remains in the Oval

 Clinton is at his best when he's in full campaign mode. And that's where
 he is today. He will stop at nothing to remain in office. He will attack
 anyone in his way. He will never resign. According to his once-trusted
 adviser, George Stephanopoulos, he will take lots of other people down
 with him in a plan of mutual-assured destruction if he goes.

 And he's got plenty of ammunition to wage this "war," a word chosen not
 by me but by another dear friend and supporter, James Carville. He's got
 the dirt from some 2,000 FBI files on political opponents at his disposal.
 He's got all the coercive power of the federal government - the IRS, FBI,
 ATF, FEC, etc. - at his fingertips. And, for the most part, he's still got
 media on his side.

 Practically everyday a story breaks that I think should do in the Clinton
 administration. They are the kinds of scandals that would have finished off
 any other president in U.S. history. Yet, Clinton not only continues in
 office, his popularity rises.

 America is on a dangerous path. The law means nothing. Right and wrong
 mean nothing. The polls mean everything. But who's controlling the polls?

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