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Spinning a yarn

As President Clinton plotted his political comeback last year, education became a vital ingredient in the "positive values" agenda he designed to contrast himself with Republicans, his fallen chief strategist says in a new book.

"The Republicans had a values agenda, but it was largely negative," writes Dick Morris in Behind the Oval Office, his account of almost two years as Mr. Clinton's strategist. "It was anti-gay, anti-sex, anti-single mothers, anti-abortion, anti-everything-but-the-nuclear family."

Mr. Morris, who abruptly left the campaign late last year after his relationship with a prostitute became news, said he urged the president to focus on things most Americans want for themselves and their children: an affordable college education and schools with the computers to teach children job skills.

Armed with the proposals, Mr. Clinton coasted to his re-election.

"In the end, the values agenda succeeded in laying out a new plan of action for the country, one that America focused on during the months before the election," Mr. Morris writes.

While Mr. Morris identified the need to talk about values earlier in his stint as a Clinton adviser, which began after the gop sweep of the 1994 elections, he helped refine the agenda bit by bit, as the White House searched for ways to counterpunch against Republican nominee Bob Dole.

Mr. Morris recalls designing a whistle-stop tour that took Mr. Clinton to the Democratic convention. In the planning, he sought an education issue to promote for a day.

He went to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley--whom he calls "my best friend in the Cabinet"--and suggested that the federal government offer a "universal year of prekindergarten schooling." But Mr. Riley countered with a literacy initiative designed around volunteer tutors.

Mr. Morris liked the idea, and scheduled a presidential announcement--but only after polling confirmed it would be popular.

He also notes that Bob Dole would have been wise to take on teacher tenure instead of the teachers' unions.

"They could have taken the education issue away from us," he writes.

--DAVID J. HOFF [email protected]

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