I missed this from Jonathan Bernstein: A plain blog about politics: Catch of the Day:
[I]t's a good excuse to tell my favorite GOP-scandal-obsession story, which I've told here before, but unless my search skills are awful it appears I haven't told it for some time now. This was about the Clinton-era White House travel office story...I tried to explain the scandal last time, so you can click over if you want a bit of context, but you don't need it (although if you do click through, you'll get the Frank Grimes theory of anti-Clintonism). The basic idea was that it was a major fizzle of a scandal, but that didn't prevent it from looming large for at least some Republicans trapped in the mid-1990s early and primitive version of the conservative information feedback loop.
Anyway, the story (which may be apocryphal, but is too good to drop; if anyone actually has a source for this, I'd appreciate it see update below)) is that during the 1996 debates the Dole campaign arranged for the guy who had been fired from the travel office to sit in the front row. The theory, you see, was that Clinton would panic when he saw the victim of his supposed corruption -- I guess it's sort of on the analogy of Hamlet's "catch the conscience of the king" plan, except even less clever. Because, well, first of all, Bill Clinton was highly unlikely to be thrown off his game -- uh, had they ever actually watched Clinton in action? And second of all, because, as the story goes, Clinton wouldn't recognize the guy; he had never met him, and as president had less fictional things to pay attention to.
I'm sorry for repeating myself, but it really is my favorite Clinton story. The thing is that the important context for Clinton-era scandals is that Fox News didn't exist, and the blogs didn't exist, and still they managed to obsess about this stuff. And not just on the fringes, as was the case with some of the more bizarre left-based obsessions during the George W. Bush years; the Clinton "scandals" were very much mainstream within the GOP. So much so that (okay, if the story is really true, but I do believe it is) a presidential campaign fooled itself into believing that it was actual news, not puffed up silliness. Which, of course, hasn't changed a bit.