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Lewinsky Scandal Tipped Presidential Approval Ratings

President Obama's approval ratings have continued to droop under the weight of criticism about his handling of the Ebola crisis as he has steadfastly refused, as critics have demanded, to close the U.S. border to anyone traveling from West Africa.

Curiously, Monica Lewinsky, now in her 40s, has resurfaced to talk about her love affair with President Bill Clinton. A Washington Post political blogger sees a connection.

Presidential approval ratings have taken on a partisan flavor, just as other aspects of political life. Gallup generated data showing the most polarized viewpoints of Presidents over the last 50 years have occurred since 2000 with the contested election of George W. Bush.

The gaps between Republicans and Democrats is astounding. Approval ratings for Obama in 2012-2013 and for Bush in 2004-2005 showed a 76 percentage point spread among partisans.

President Bill Clinton's approval rating in 1996-1997 was 85 percent by Democrats, but only 23 percent by Republicans — a 62 percentage-point spread.

President Ronald Reagan's approval rating in 1984-1985 was 89 percent by Republicans and 29 percent by Democrats — a 60 percentage-point spread.

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Ebola Scare Elbows onto Political Stage

The arrival of the Ebola virus in the United States has claimed a lot of attention that otherwise would have gone to a stepped-up war on terror and the looming election November 4.

The death of a Liberian man in a Dallas hospital and the resulting exposure of two health care workers who treated him have spiraled into questions as large as whether the United States should close off its borders to anyone who has been in West Africa where Ebola has become an epidemic.

The Obama administration ordered tighter checks at major U.S. airports where most flights from West Africa land and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention is busily trying to train health care workers in protocols for treating persons with Ebola virus symptoms.

However, Americans have grown concerned after a series of missteps at the Dallas hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan died after he was initially sent home. The chief clinical officer for the hospital has apologized for mistakes that were made. 

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Returning the Joy to College

The joy of college has turned distinctly dour these days as the high price of tuition and the elusiveness of post-graduation jobs are plunging some students into depression. The problem is especially severe for graduate students with sky-high debt and limited prospects.

Getting into college may be a gigantic headache for the more than half of high school graduates that the College Board says are unprepared for the academic rigors to earn an undergraduate degree. In some states, such as Delaware, only a quarter of students who took the SAT scored high enough to be considered college-ready. Oregon beat the national average, but still hovers below the 50 percent readiness mark.

In San Francisco, city officials are managing a campaign to give kindergarteners a starter donation for a college savings account. Each child gets an initial $50 deposit. Children enrolled in the National School Lunch Program receive $100.

The early-start on a college savings account rests with a study that shows even small amounts set aside for college create expectations the student will attend college. For students from low-income families, even small amounts of savings prove a strong motivation, as they are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate.

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Plagiarism and Politics

Monica Wehby finds herself in a controversy over "borrowed" campaign material, which should could address by sharing her own views written in her own hand.A Twitter exchange about candidate plagiarism raises a good question about how to judge authentic candidate thinking.

The exchange on Twitter centered on Oregon GOP Senate challenger Monica Wehby's embrace of Republican white papers on health care and the economy as her own on her campaign website. In addition to plagiarism, the fudged positions were embarrassing for someone who is a pediatric neurosurgeon and has a campaign slogan that says "Keep Your Doctor/Change Your Senator." Wehby is trying to unseat Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley.

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The Democratic Challenge from Within

Liberal democracy may be the only socio-economic system left standing on the modern world stage, but that hardly insulates it from serious challenges from within, according to Francis Fukuyama.

Communism has receded as an economic challenger and even states such as China that offer expanding economic opportunity to its people in return for obedience to one-party rule are finding it harder to retain control. Liberal democracy is in the global wind. 

However, in his new book, "Political Order and Political Decay," Fukuyama explores how you can lose while winning. He suggests America's political development is going in reverse — and not in ways that the federal government's sharpest critics allege. 

Fukuyama describes the decline with an American government that is weaker, less efficient and more corrupt — not bigger. The evidence of decline, he says, can be seen in a government unable or unwilling to tackle major challenges, while submitting itself to the will of well-heeled special interests at the expense of a population experiencing widening income inequality. 

In his earlier work, "The Origins of Political Order," Fukuyama said liberal democracy rests on three pillars – fair, multiparty elections; political accountability; and the rule of law. His latest work suggests that elections alone don't guarantee a liberal democracy and that their value can be undermined by resulting political dysfunction and chipping away at who actually can vote.

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