Clinton's Woes Lifting Bush — for Now

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Overshadowed? President Bush in Tennessee pushing his education plan So how are the woes of the old White House working out for the new one?

JC: No question that the Clinton scandals have helped Bush to this point, for the obvious reasons — Bush ran on the need to restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office, and Clinton is proving him right.

And it didn't start out that way. Clinton left office in relatively good odor — his job approval ratings were sky-high, and even his personal ratings were not as low as they had been during the Lewinsky days. And that exit was threatening to add to Bush's problems with the way he was entering office, the questions of his legitimacy and the way he was elected.

Now, the Florida story is totally buried at this point, and the attention paid to the Clinton mess is allowing Bush to get his foothold in office with a relative lack of scrutiny. Bush's own poll numbers keep going up the more trouble Clinton gets in, and everything he's done to "change the tone" in Washington, however superficial, has taken on additional weight.

Is there some point when all this becomes a bad thing for Bush?

JC: Well, the obvious downside is that the coverage of Clinton has obscured Bush's own message, but it's still an overall positive for him right now. But next week, Bush outlines his budget plan to a joint session of Congress. That's essentially the State of the Union for a first-year president, and it will be his big public test, as far as fitting the tax cut into an overall budget.

That's the time when we'll get another round of public salesmanship from Bush, and if the Clinton story manages to take some other major turn then, it'll turn into a problem for Bush's ability to get the public focused on what he wants to do.

But for now, Clinton is mostly the Democrats' problem?

JC: Oh, they're pissed as hell. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt certainly wish they still had the White House to help them hold the line on tax cuts, like last year, but they sure don't miss him now.

With a Republican in the White House, there's only so much coverage the Democratic agenda is going to get. And for top Democrats like Daschle and Gephardt, instead of getting the ink they need for stunts like the Lexus and the muffler — which was pretty good political theater — it's all going to Clinton.

Bush isn't yet using his pulpit as effectively as Clinton did; he's not misusing it either. And until Bush really needs the spotlight to himself, the main effect of the Clinton's post-presidency is to make Bush's presidency look good.