How Dole could have used the issues to his advantage
In a more or less conservative country, the more or less conservative candidate, Bob Dole, should have been a lock for the presidency; the only problem was President Clinton. Clinton had moved rightward positioning himself between Newt Gingrich's zealous revolutionaries on the right and liberal democratic barons on the left. Clinton's speeches started sounding like a Republican was giving them. Bob Dole had followed the Nixon ideology of going "starboard" in the primaries and coming back to the center in the general election. The only question was whether Dole had gone too far right and would not be able to recover in time. With Clinton's move to the right and his advantage of incumbency, Bob Dole would have to present some exciting new ideas to win over the American people.
Throughout the history of presidential elections, there have been a few issues that always appear: abortion, crime and the economy. The position taken by candidates on these issues could make or break their campaign.
The first of these issues, abortion, has been a hotbed of controversy. The pro-life versus the pro-choice groups. Throughout his political career, President Clinton has been adamant on supporting a women's right to choose. Clinton stands firm on the fact that abortions should be "safe, legal and rare" without many unnecessary restrictions. To further show his hard stance on abortion, Clinton vetoed a bill in April that would have banned a rarely used procedure termed "partial birth abortions." President Clinton defended his decision, calling it justifiable in extreme situations, such as cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. Unlike Bosnia and gays in the military, Clinton has not wavered on this issue. Bob Dole on the other hand has taken just the opposite stance on abortion. Dole opposed the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. In 1983 he voted for a constitutional amendment to overturn this settlement but has since softened his stand and supported an amendment to restrict abortion except in cases of rape, incest and if the life of the mother is in danger. Dole, not surprisingly, supported a ban on "partial birth abortions" and has condemned President Clinton for vetoing it, saying, "A partial birth abortion blurs the line between abortion and infanticide, and crosses an ethical and legal line we must never cross." Dole's position could pose a potential obstacle to the presidency. His stance is responsible for his huge gender gap. Women perceive Dole as rigid and insensitive to their needs. What Dole must do is stick to his guns but reassure the nation that even though we do not all agree, we must not let it divide us.
Another mainstay, in terms of issues, is that of crime. With gun control legislation being debated in the congress and rising rate of drug use among teenagers, the nation as a whole is acutely aware of this persistent dilemma. Clinton is the first Democrat in a long time to take the crime issue from the Republicans. A law and order president, Clinton has supported the death penalty, and backed the "three strikes you're out" policy of life sentences for three time convicted criminals. The President also signed the Brady bill establishing a five day waiting period to buy handguns and also pushed the mainly Democratic, 1994 crime bill which sanctioned 100,000 new community police officers. Dole has supported almost every anti-crime legislation that has passed his desk in his 35 years in Congress, but in a show of partisan politics led an opposition fight against Clinton's crime bill. He called it "pork laden" for its support of such frivolous programs such as midnight basketball, which called for a program to open up school gyms to inner city youth in order to keep them off the streets. Dole also tried unsuccessfully to undo the provision for 100,000 police officers, arguing instead that communities should be free to spend their money in any manner they wish and supported overturning the ban on assault weapons. In addition Dole has been critical of Clinton's judicial appointments calling them soft on crime. He has pledged to appoint tough judges who will be tough on crime, especially drugs. Dole must use this issue relentlessly. Even though crime numbers are down, crime is still a problem. Dole must repeat his call for prisoners to work 40 hours a week to help compensate their victims and then move quickly to the drug epidemic. Dole must use Clinton's slip ups against him. Recall that Clinton said that if he had to do it all over again, he would inhale. Dole must also use fellow Democrats against Clinton, such as representative Charles Rangel, who has been quoted as saying, "I've been in congress for over two decades and I have not seen a President who cares less about this issue."
With the federal deficit in the trillions of dollars, the government has been increasingly trying to cut back spending but more must be done. The American public has grown very wary of the excess money being spent by government. Any presidential hopeful must address this issue adamantly. Clinton took many steps early in his first term to show his New Democrat ideology through heavy deficit cutting, and due to a big tax increase, the deficit has fallen from $290 billion to $130 billion during his first four years. He also called for a line-item veto, a Republican idea, for three years before getting it passed. Clinton would use this as a waste cutting tool. Since that, however, Clinton has neglected the issue, particularly on the balanced budget, suggesting 10, 8, and 7 year proposals. Last year his opposition to a 7-year balanced budget forced two partial government shutdowns.
During his congressional career, Bob Dole was a deficit buster, supporting a balanced budget while belittling supply side tax cutters. In an effort to combat Clinton's double digit lead in the polls, Dole has reverted to a plan for a three year, 15 percent income tax cut and a $500 per child tax credit. Although this would still up the deficit by $550 to $800 billion, Dole insists he can still balance the budget through a Reaganomics style economic growth. Even though support for Dole's 15 percent tax cut has declined he must still harp on it. It will look much more coherent if it is used in context with the cost of college, home prices and the problem of caring for the elderly. Dole must also stress the fact that Clinton is for big government, which means spending big money. This will also make his tax cut more compatible to the people. If all else fails, just say, " The best way to keep government officials from spending your money is not to give it to them in the first place." It worked for Reagan.
Dole did not use the issues effectively, and he did not show confidence in his ideas. Clinton presented himself as a brake between Dole and Gingrich's conservatism and it worked. Dole presented facts and figures, then expected the American public to applaud him. But we're dealing with reality here, to win, he should have been more aggressive and tackled the issues head on. In the end, by not addressing the issues clearly, Presidents Clinton's centrist stand, coupled with the good economy and aggressive campaigning, was too much for Bob Dole to over come.