By: Adam Moses  | 

The Road To The White House: A Student’s Guide To The Issues Underlying Campaign ‘96 (Vol. 62, Issue 3)

In just two weeks, many students on campus will be voting in their first ever presidential election. In a University where politics plays a part of everyday life, the election provides yet another opportunity for students to discuss, debate, and take an active role in confronting issues affecting the entire country.

Yeshiva College Dean Norman Adler commented that he “looks forward to the elections because they engage the students in their education...Part of the education of the mind is to do something active... this is incorporated in the inspired debates and involved discussions which students participate in around election time.”

Some students, however, find it difficult to be excited by what they expect to be a less than nailbiting showdown. They view a Clinton victory in the upcoming, elections as a fait accompli and thus consider the entire process “a waste of time since it’s a blowout.”

As would be anticipated, students are split on who to vote for. A majority of students interviewed supported Clinton, however, a strong minority expressed support for Dole. One almost universal opinion of the students and faculty members was that no candidate options was a good option and that voters were forced to select from the proverbial “lesser of two evils.”

Mike Weinshelbaum, a YC junior, commented: “I’m really disappointed with the selections that we have to choose from. It says something about the state of affairs in the country today when the quality of the candidates is as poor as it is.”

Not only YC students were disaffected with the candidates, professors reflected this attitude as well.

Dr. Anthony Beukas, Head of the Speech Department, was concerned that “no one is being honest, no one is being direct... The candidates are not coming, in with information to back-up their policy assertions.”

Dr. Ruth Bevan, Head of the Political Science Department, characterized the current campaign “as a turning point in how campaigns are run” because “the public was not involved at all.”

Both political conventions were as scripted as television infomercials, with little substantive discussion of the issues. Fed up with the predictability, television networks have threatened to boycott future political conventions. This, according to Bevan, could have significant implications on subsequent election campaigns. Beukas similarly alluded to the “tremendous disservice of this possibly being the last election with [televised] nominating conventions, Ithinkitwill be a tremendous loss to the American democratic process.” 

Despite her concerns, Bevan still feels comfortable voting for President Clinton, believing that he “somehow still has a consciousness of justice that can be appealed to.” She believes that “a reasonable majority of professors are Clinton-leaning, although there are a few who are very obviously on the other side of the fence.”

One such professor, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, was disappointed with President Clinton’s handling of Israel's recent “tunnel crisis”. Rabbi Tendler feels that Clinton should have clarified to reporters that the Arab rioting was unrelated to the archaeological excavations, and merely an excuse for their actions. The fact that Clinton knew this, yet did not mention it in his address shows “a lack of integrity, and proves to me that Clinton is not a true friend of Israel.”

Rabbi Tendler also has problems with the Dole camp, and feels that neither of the choices are perfect.

One common theme reflecting the divide of public opinion at Yeshiva, is the universal desire for the democratic process to work effectively.

Whether talking to supporters of Clinton or Dole, to the politically inspired or the apathetic, to those who viewed the caliber of the candidates as dubious or the entire shift in the system as foreboding, all agree that it is both theoretically possible for our democratic system to work and imperative that it does.

On Israel

Many students placed unparalleled importance on a candidate’s positions on Israel in influencing their vote. “If the candidate has a favorable Israel policy, he has my vote,” remarked Sean Rosenblum, a YC sophomore, Most students agreed that Jerusalem should be retained under the jurisdiction of the state of Israel and that the United States should embark on measures to formally recognize this status.

“It’s ludicrous for the United States not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” asserted Michael Gewirtz, a YC sophomore.

Clinton's policy toward Israel has evoked different responses by American Jews. He has provided strong support for the Israeli government's attempt to achieve peace with its Arab neighbors. This support, however, has generally been predicated on the process established by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his left-wing coalition. During Labor government rule, American-Israeli relations reached arguably unprecedented levels of cordiality. Much of this, though, was attributable to the personal relationship between Clinton and Rabin, as well as to Rabin’s willingness to make concessions suggested by the Clinton administration. Although Clinton’s personal commitment to Jewish causes Israel appears to be significant and altruistic, his relations with the state of Israel have stagnated since Binyamin Netanyahu assumed power a few months ago. Perhaps Clinton’s greatest foreign policy gaffe over the past term was his all but explicit support for Shimon Peres over Netanyahu in the recent Israeli elections. This approach backfired when Netanyahu emerged victorious from the tight contest.

Clinton continues to support the land-for-peace principle. Earlier this month, he subjected himself to a potential political sacrifice by hosting a Netanyahu-Arafat summit without assurance of Israeli concessions. Clinton continues to oppose American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as he believes it would offend Palestinian Arabs who have ambitions to ultimately make Jerusalem the capital of their state. Clinton has consistently been in favor of maintaining U'S. aid to Israel at its current level.

Dole’s record on Israel is less consistent, however, his current platform positions favor Israeli interests more than Clinton's. Dole opposes any U.S. pressure on the Israeli’s for unilateral concessions during peace process negotiations. He also favors suspending aid to the Palestinians if they don’t comply with their side of the agreements. Dole sponsored a bill to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus formally providing American recognition of Jerusalem as the Israel's capital. Dole has criticized Clinton for meeting with Syria's President Hafezal Assad in Damascus and for not being more reserved in his support of Shimon Peres in his failed election campaign. Although his support for foreign aid in general as well as foreign aid to Israel has been questionable, Dole has not suggested that foreign aid to Israel be reduced when addressing the issue.

Most YU students tend to support Dole’s positions on Israel, but were concerned, citing past inconsistencies and remarks. Many worried that Dole’s reversal on Israeli issues is merely an effort to pander to the American Jewish community.

“Despite the fact that I'm generally politically conservative, it’s obvious to me that Dole’s current statements on Israel don't reflect his previous statements, and should be considered questionable,” one student said.

Other students, such as sophomore Chaim Herman, maintained support for Dole and expressed confidence that “Dole would be ‘onboard’ with Israel.”

On Education and Student Issues

“Both candidates have some worthwhile ideas on financing higher education, They obviously realize that this is a vital issue for many students,” commented Brent Kessler, a YC sophomore.

Education as an issue, is of integral value to the YU Financial Aid Office. Records reflect that more than three-quarters of students receive some form of financial aid from either the University, the government, or both.

Clinton has proposed the introduction of a $1,500 Hope Scholarship to defray the first two years of college expenses for students whose family income is below $120,000. The second year of eligibility would be contingent upon the student maintaining a “B” average in academic courses taken. The student could also decline the Hope Scholarship for a $10,000 college tax deduction throughout their college education. This plan would be available for students whose family income is less than $100,000.

Clinton has also promised that every school will be wired for Internet access by 2000. He has advanced a school construction initiative to rebuild schools over the next four years. Finally, Clinton has called for anew GI bill for American workers, promising a $2,600 grant for education and training of people who are laid off.

Dole’s education proposals also reflect his acknowledgment of its importance. He has proposed programs so families with incomes of below $85,000 would be eligible to deduct student loan interest from taxable income. Dole also favors penalty-free IRA withdrawals for higher education expenses. Moreover, a family would save $500 per year of federal taxes for every child. Dole also supported tax-free education grants from employers to permanently extend the employer-provided educational assistance for undergraduate education.

Dole’s most innovative and controversial program is the Opportunity Scholarship program. Through this program, four million middle and low-income families would receive educational grants of $1,000 to $1,500 for four years, enabling them to select to enroll their children in private or parochial schools if they wish to do so.

Dole’s Opportunity Scholarship received the emphatic commendation of Elliot Ganchrow, a senior political science major, who referred to it as “one of the three cornerstones of Bob Dole’s domestic policy, and a convincing reason to support him.”

Others disagreed, arguing that diverting funding and students from the public school system would serve to further destabilize a system that cannot afford to sustain any more losses. Aharon Weinstein, a YC junior, commented that “it would be tragic to our public school system” to enact a program such as the Opportunity Scholarship proposed by Dole.

Other Issues

On the issue of crime, both Clinton and Dole have expressed similar sentiments regarding the necessity to curb violence. Clinton has embraced extending the Brady Law's seven-day firearm waiting period to cover domestic violence offenders in addition to the already prohibited felons and fugitives. He has urged a ban on the production of “cop-killer” bullets that pierce police vests, and has also called for a national non-emergency police number to be used in non life-threatening situations. Dole also favors an extension of the Brady Bill, however he proposes extending it to adults convicted of violent offenses when they were juveniles. Dole proposed further revamping the Brady Bill with a plan to allow instant background checks on prospective firearm purchasers and thus eliminating the waiting period entirely. Dole has also vowed to double federal funding for state prison construction over the next four years. Finally, Dole has indicated that he will seek a federal initiative to try juveniles thirteen and older as adults if they have committed “violent” crimes such as murder and rape. Abortion has probably created greater division among Americans than any other issue in the past decade. This past year, the House and Senate voted to outlaw “partial-birth abortions,” a procedure in which late-term pregnancies are aborted by pulling out the fetus feet first, bursting the skull open and literally vacuuming out the fetal brains. Clinton vetoed the bill, insisting that an amendment be added to allow for the procedure in cases where the mother’s life is at stake. The move was perceived as a drastic shift to the left for Clinton, and in the Vice-Presidential debate two weeks ago, Vice-President Al Gore reinforced this position, saying “we would never take away a woman's right to chose.”

Bob Dole has traditionally been aligned with the pro-life flank, although on a Sunday morning talk show last year, Dole, in a move perhaps calculated to attract the female vote, attempted to shift more toward the center on the issue. Vice-Presidential candidate Jack Kemp also admitted in the debate that a constitutional ban on abortion would probably never happen, and that Republicans would try to use persuasion as opposed to force to convince others not to perform abortions. Affirmative action has strongly divided Americans. The program was instituted to promote fairness and equal opportunity in the workplace for people of all races. Many feel, however, that the result has been “reverse discrimination,” where individuals of minority races are given jobs in lieu of whites with better credentials simply to fulfill the quota of the program. Clinton insists that affirmative action is essentially a good program that needs revision, not dissolution.

However, he has not taken much action, if any, to correct the problem. While it is not immediately clear what Dole would do with affirmative action if elected, Republicans would surely mount the pressure on him to discard the program entirely.

As for taxation, Clinton has proposed an exemption from capital gains taxes on the sale of homes under $500,000 for joint filers and $250,000 for single filers. The President also favors a $500 per child tax credit for every child under 13 whose parents earn less than $75,000 a year.

Perhaps the most prominent aspect of Dole’s platform, and the element he most frequently invokes is the prospective supporter, is the fifteen percent income tax cut. It is arguably the cornerstone of his efforts to achieve widespread popular appeal. He proposes to paying for it by cutting in other areas of the federal budget. Dole has supported the $500-per-child tax credit for every dependent child under 18, however, the ceiling on parental income would be $110,000 for dual filers and $75,000 for single filers. He has also favored an increase in the capital gains tax exemption for homeowners. His plan differs slightly from Clinton's, but it also allows an exemption of up to $500,000. Dole would also halve the capital gains tax on all non-home transactions.

Welfare reform came under new public scrutiny over the past few months because of legislative consideration of a Republican-sponsored welfare reform bill. Clinton diplomatically navigated his way through a potentially debilitating conflict by signing the bill with “significant reservations” and committing to repeal or amend certain objectionable provisions if elected to a second term. While Clinton's more liberal constituents and supporters were annoyed by his signing the bill, they were partially appeased by his stipulation to follow his more liberal vision in his second term. Clinton’s signing the bill was of paramount importance, strategically preventing Republican attacks on his inability to pass legislation to which he previously committed.

Under Clinton's Welfare-to-Work program, former welfare recipients, employers, and local businesses would receive some new benefits to compensate for the void generated by the welfare reform bill. Direct monetary benefits would be provided to companies in the public and private sector to facilitate employment of those deemed by the White House as the “1 million hardest-to-employ welfare recipients.”

Tax benefits for employers hiring former welfare recipients would be provided under the revised plan. Through the Brownfield initiative and the Community Development Financial Institution, additional funds would be allocated to provide tax incentives to enhance economically distressed regions.

Much of what Dole espouses about welfare reform has been adopted; the welfare reform bill effectively negating any philosophical distinction between the two candidates. He would, however, propose certain changes in the bill if elected. He would support efforts to suspend or reevaluate the eligibility of welfare recipients if they test positive for illegal or controlled substance usage. Dole would also advance programs to prevent welfare fraud through the establishment of fingerprint identification systems.

Clinton’s Environmental policies include cleaning up toxic-waste dumps and giving protection agencies additional authority to oversee the massive effort.

Dole supports “policies to keep our environment safe and clean.” He has not, however, advanced any concrete legislative proposals or expressed any definitive parameters for attaining this goal. This is probably because of his conception that the current condition of the environment is not as dire as many liberals tend to assert. Dole has also expressed conceptual support for developing non-polluting electric vehicles.

For families, Clinton has tried to provide specific program proposals, including a plan to make twenty million additional middle-class families eligible for an IRA expansion program that would allow for penalty-free withdrawals for “major life expenses” such as college payments. Clinton also endorses an augmentation of the eligibility parameters for the family leave law. Under the proposed regulations, people would be able to take up to twelve unpaid weeks off work for the care of a child or parent. Expansions in the existing legislation will also allow people to take off twenty-four hours a year for childhood education, elderly care or routine family medical purposes.

Dole too has a number of initiatives with no direct parallel found in Clinton’s platform. In response to a supposedly inadequate national economic performance, Dole has advanced proposals to enhance economic development by limiting regulation and providing greater benefits to the populace. Dole favors increasing the estate tax exemption for businesses. He believes that this will allow family-owned businesses to stay in their respective families.

Dole has proposed a program to reduce auto insurance premiums by an average of $221 by lowering legal expenditures due to lawsuits. Under the proposal, some policies would cover “pain and suffering” while others would exclusively cover “economic damages.”

Dole plans to drastically revamp the Internal Revenue Service, which he perceives as being fraught with gratuitous bureaucracy. He intends to eliminate many jobs that he believes are unnecessary and simplify the filing process for federal taxes.

Dole has also integrated policy on illegal drug usage into his platform. He cites an increase in drug offenders as clear substantiation that the “war on drugs” as pursued by Clinton has failed, and claims that if he is elected, he will make it a critical priority that 1,000 new community-based, anti-drug coalitions are established, using federal seed money if necessary. He would elicit assistance from the private sector for this program. Dole has criticized Clinton for not adequately funding the drug czar’s office, and has committed to fully funding this office. Dole also favors reforming federal drug treatment programs by shifting many of the treatment programs to religious institutions. He believes this measure would mitigate unnecessary bureaucracy in the existing federal programs.

Dole has expressed interest in limiting punitive damage awards to $250,000 or three times economic damages in an effort to revitalize the “spirit of innovation and enterprise that made America strong.” He hasasserted this type of tort reform will engender a much greater degree of technological innovation and allow the United States to maintain its position at the forefront of the field of emerging technological development.

Finally, Dole seeks a constitutional amendment establishing a two-term limit for senators and six-term limit for House members in an effort to reduce the number of career politicians in Congress.

On the balanced budget issue, Dole frequently alleges that Clinton is a "tax-and-spend liberal” whose current platform reflects a continued desire to pursue this course despite his quasi-conservative rhetoric. Dole cites Clinton’s proposed spending initiatives for this term which amount to a projected $1155 billion over the course of the subsequent six years. Dole’s new spending measures amount to a paltry $2.9 billion over six years, however, his proposed tax cut would be an expense of $538 billion over six years. Clinton has repeatedly attacked Dole for an unrealistic effort to sharply reduce taxes while balancing the budget. Clinton asserts that it is virtually impossible to achieve both objectives simultaneously without sacrificing crucial government services. Dole responds thatall that will be sacrificed is unnecessary governmental bureaucracy, which must ultimately be terminated anyhow.

Candidates’ Background

Both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole were raised in rural and relatively impoverished households in the American South and midwest, respectively. While both hold law degrees, they are both career politicians for all intents and purposes. Clinton did, however, serve as a professor at University of Arkansas Law School for a number of years prior to formally entering the political realm. Clinton attended a battery of prestigious institutions including Georgetown as an undergraduate, Yale Law School, and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. By contrast, Dole attended University of Kansas and Washburn University.

Last term, Clinton entered office as the first American president to be born following World War Il. Critics complicated matters for Clinton by emphasizing that he had not served in the military. A controversy cropped up regarding alleged efforts by Clinton to “dodge” Vietnam War era draft programs. This served to further deleteriously impact upon his image as a military commander-in-chief, and served as a springboard for spontaneous ad hominum assaults on Clinton and, by extension, on virtually every policy he adopted of relevance to military affairs. Dole, however, served a distinguished military career. He engaged in active service in World War II during which he sustained a severe injury on the battlefield. This active military component of Dole’s personal experience serves to shore-up his military credentials and influence his personal and political doctrine to no insubstantial extent.

Clinton’s meteoric political ascendancy occurred at a young age with a final leap to the presidency from his gubernatorial post in Arkansas in 1992. Dole’s rise was more measured and plodding, and took place over a far greater period of time. He has recorded public service as a representative in the Kansas State Legislature, U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate serving as both Majority and Minority Leader. He was the GOP nominee for Vice President in 1976 and completed two unsuccessful bids to become the Republican presidential nominee in 1980 and 1988. 

On a personal level, Clinton is generally regarded as significantly more polished, articulate, and cerebral than Dole. This advantage has been most manifest in the presidential debates, during which Clinton has appeared to be substantially more presidential and eloquent in presentation and expression, as well as generally more capable of conveying substantive arguments pertinent to his platform. Clinton’s detractors argue that his personal character is questionable and that his frequent vacillation on crucial issues to satisfy current public demand betrays a lack of ideological commitment.

Republicans argue that Dole’s personal characte is more meritorious than that of Clinton and that he maintains a consistent, unswerving ideological vision. Studies indicate, however, that since Dole is regarded by some Americans as being personally mean-spirited and unnecessarily belligerent, some voters won't even consider him seriously despite possible agreement on issues.

Campaign Strategies

President Bill Clinton, vying to retain the presidency against the challenge of Bob Dole, enjoys a formidable lead according to virtually all recently released major polls.

Despite this, Clinton proceeds with aggressive campaigning efforts across much of the United States. He has outlined an ambitious although unremarkable, platform predicated on attaining significant progress in seven integral areas: Families, Education, Economic Security, Crime and Drugs, Environment, Reinventing Government, and World Leadership.

Clinton’s campaign rhetoricis decidedly focused on past achievements during the course of the previous term. He has assumed the position of accomplished incumbent.

Despite this premise, Clinton has chosen to frame his candidacy within the context of confronting “significant challenges” on a societal level and not exclusively resting on his laurels. His platform also reflects a concerted effort to assume a moderate stance to appeal to undecided and moderate swing-voters as well as disaffected Republicans. This course of action is prudent and has served to preempt some of Dole’s more distinguishing political characteristics.

Dole’s approach has been to characterizethe previous four years of Clinton's administration as profoundly detrimental to the United States from essentially all perspectives with specific emphasis on economic and social conditions. His hallmark complaint is that there is a gargantuan amount of extraneous spending by the federal government that must be reduced and utilized to address taxation injustices and the budgetary imbalance.

Dole has also employed extensive negative campaigning measures in an effort to portray Clinton as relatively inexperienced, more liberal than he indicates, and a politician who has run a photo-op presidency. Dole has suffered from Clinton’s moderately conservative platform stances on a variety of issues that generally comprise the bulwark of Republican policy positions. Dole registered a moderate strategic victory when Ross Perot was excluded from eligibility for the Presidential Debates.