Clinton’s helpful but haunting legacy

Like the Republican National Convention, Democrats have prepared a carefully crafted and scripted nomination celebration. Besides the invocation — presented by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, who called for abortion’s end — there was little difference of opinion amongst speakers, only a consolidation surrounding Al Gore’s centrist platform.
Despite the ostensible order and structure, the vice president’s primary concern — distancing himself from his boss — is unlikely to go as smoothly as the convention’s planners expect their gathering to be. The overwhelming shadow of President Bill Clinton, as well as his love for the spotlight, will make it difficult for Gore to disentangle himself from the administration of the past eight years.
But while he attempts to establish his own identity and ideology in voters’ minds and distance himself from the moral lackings of Clinton, he wants to take credit for America’s recent prosperity, as do both Clinton and his wife Hillary, who is running for a hotly contested New York senate seat. All three claim that the increased standard of living for the average citizen is mostly because of Clinton-Gore policies.
Whether that is true or not, Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, will have a difficult time reminding Americans of their role in the good times without bringing reminiscences of the administration’s flaws and scandals. Perhaps the greater challenge is keeping Democratic delegates and party leaders from too much Clinton hero worship.
On opening night, Clinton reveled as long as possible in the party’s spotlight, recounting his eight years and submerging himself in the resounding applause. The president then ducked out of the spotlight after praising Gore and has chosen, wisely, not to campaign vigorously for his successor.
Although they are trying to move beyond Clinton, the Democrats still love him immensely, while the general public readily awaits a change. The party’s lingering enthusiasm for the President makes disentanglement unlikely, especially to voters. Gore — once advised to act more like an alpha male — simply does not possess the rousing political voice of his predecessor.
The party’s swift response to California Rep. Loretta Sanchez’ Playboy fund-raising event further illustrates Gore’s need to blur his Clinton connection. After Gore and Lieberman disapproved of the mansion site for the Latino fund raiser, and the Democrat leadership removed her speaking slot at the convention, Sanchez relented and moved the event to Universal Studios. Gore’s opposition to the Playboy fund raiser is likely out of deference to his chosen moral conscience, Sen. Lieberman. While he does not want an outward image that might endorse Hugh Hefner and the exploitation of women, he was not above accepting $1,500 from Hefner and his daughter.
Even as the president is handing the Democratic party’s torch to Gore, the Clinton family has remained intimately involved in the political arena. Hillary Clinton exploited her first-lady status during the convention and campaigned for the New York senate seat she is seeking — a rarity at a national convention — further obscuring the purpose of the gathering: to transfer party leadership to the vice president.
Gore’s greatest impediment to the White House might not be his amiable and personable rival, but Clinton and his legacy. Lieberman alone cannot supply the Democratic ticket the moral ballast that Gore is seeking.