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Ten Tips for Clinton As He Takes Office

By Thomas E. Cronin. Thomas E. Cronin writes regularly on American politics and is a professor at The Colorado College in Colorado SpringsColo. One of his recent books is "Inventing the American Presidency." / January 20, 1993



AFTER a long campaign and an uneven, often trying transition period, Bill Clinton is finally president. Soon the grand festivities of inauguration week will be over, and he will have the chance to provide the leadership for change he has spoken about, sometimes eloquently, for many months.

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The dynamics of the American economy, national security, and the health of our democracy increasingly revolve around the presidency. This was not the precise intention of the founders of this republic. Yet the permanently preeminent presidency is the product of forces that continue to roll and events that cannot be undone. Unique, necessary, and always some what dangerous, the American presidency conceived 206 years ago was a brilliant gamble, and it has served us well.

The enduring challenge for us is to encourage the presidential leadership that we need while ensuring the strength of alternative constitutional processes that will guarantee responsible and accountable democratic leadership.

We look to President Clinton now to define, defend, and promote our nation's basic values. We look to him and his new Cabinet to provide the sense of direction and much of the vision that a nation this complex continually needs.

We ask him to work with Congress and major interest groups to prepare new programs and legislation to treat the problems of the nation - and we ask especially that they move rapidly to get our economic house in order and promote greater integrity in our election and representational processes.

Expectations are high; they always are on these occasions. Yet Clinton is winning even more favorable ratings, support, and attention than usual. In part this may be due to his endless campaigning. Yet it is also because so many Americans now yearn for creative initiatives and breakthroughs at home and abroad.

What follows are 10 suggestions for the new team in the White House. They are the suggestions of a seasoned White House watcher and a former White House aide, and they borrow from scholarship on the modern American presidency.

1. Insist that everyone on the White House staff and in the Cabinet reread and grasp the meaning of the United States Constitution, particularly the all-important Articles I and II as well as the Bill of Rights. Too many recent White House aides and Cabinet officials have either disregarded or failed to understand the principles of constitutionalism that govern our political system. The Clinton team should read Louis Fisher's excellent "The Politics of Shared Power" and Terry Eastland's new and provocati ve "Energy in the Executive." The majority report of the Iran-contra congressional hearings and the Tower Commission Report are also required reading for those who would truly appreciate separation of powers as they ought to be.

2. The Cabinet and the White House staff must turn the administration into an effective learning organization. However prepared the new recruits may think they are, much of the rushed preparation for presidential leadership is on-the-job learning. New issues arise all the time. New responses and appropriate answers will arise only if the White House is designed as an effective place to learn from past mistakes and as a place that reaches out to those who can and will help point in the right direction. Ev ery administration learns anew that what is required to win the White House is different from what is required to govern the nation.

3. Don't underestimate the importance of the symbolic functions of the American presidency and don't listen to the critics who are beginning to scoff at the recent use of symbolic rituals. The American presidency is more than just a political and constitutional institution. It is a focus for intense emotions. The presidency serves our basic need for a visible and representative national symbol to which we can turn with our hopes and aspirations.

FROM Washington and Jefferson to our day, presidents have personalized the job and helped remind Americans of the republic's meaning. Each president is asked in some way to reaffirm the greatness of our ideals and define the promise of a more exalted future. Much of this co-mingling of the political and the culturally symbolic in presidential performance is an understandable human response to societal yearnings; leaders often have no choice but to fulfill tribal roles, no matter how pragmatic, educated, sophisticated, or secular the society. The human heart ceaselessly reinvents rituals - and at least a touch of royalty and shamanism.