Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On Dole's Canvas: Clinton Portrayed as Untrustworthy Issue Isn't Whitewater but Leadership Style

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

On Dole's Canvas: Clinton Portrayed as Untrustworthy Issue Isn't Whitewater but Leadership Style

Article excerpt

Bob Dole, struggling in his quest for the presidency, wants you to know that he's a man of character and President Clinton is not.

But he's not reviving the old stories about stories about womanizing or the Vietnam draft or murky financial dealings. He's talking about Mr. Clinton's style as president. The indictment: Clinton talks like a conservative and acts like a liberal.

"He'll look you in the eye and tell you exactly what you want to hear," said the Republican Senate majority leader in a recent speech to supporters. By contrast, Mr. Dole says, he's a principled conservative who will do what he says he's going to do: reform welfare, balance the budget, fight a "real war" on criminals, and conduct a foreign policy of strength and decisiveness.

All the old Clinton character issues are still there, lurking below the surface, bubbling up at times (as with Whitewater) to the front pages. Late-night hosts also seem to have an endless supply of Clinton punchlines, providing the public with a steady reminder of the president's foibles.

But Clinton did win four years ago - even with the old character issue dogging him. And Dole campaign officials know they can't sit back and hope something major breaks on Whitewater. So Dole is focusing instead on a character issue they say is ultimately more important to the nation - how Clinton has governed.

"The insincerity of Bill Clinton's rhetoric and actions will continuously remind voters of the importance of character," says Christina Martin, a spokeswoman for the Dole campaign.

Democrats call Dole's approach a dishonest and desperate effort to revive a campaign that has failed to get off the ground. While Dole officials say Clinton has been slippery on just about every issue, Clinton campaign officials say the president has held to his beliefs and vetoed bills - such as a balanced budget and welfare reform - to protect the public from bad legislation.

They also point to polls that show Clinton ahead of Dole in areas of character and values (in addition to being well ahead overall). A Harris poll last week put Clinton ahead of Dole 52 percent to 40 percent on the question "Who do you think has the better character, Bob Dole or Bill Clinton?"

'Honest and truthful'

On the question of which candidate "shares my values," a recent Pew Center poll put Clinton ahead of Dole 47 points to 37 points. But that same poll found more of the public believes Dole is "honest and truthful" (39 to 34) and "keeps promises" (35 to 32).

"Ultimately, one doesn't get the idea that people trust either of them," says Humphrey Taylor, chairman of polling firm Louis Harris and Associates in New York.

Dole officials play down recent polling data, saying the public still hasn't focused yet on the race. And they say they've only just begun to make the case about Clinton's lack of presidential character. …

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