President Clinton's Program Picks Up Some Momentum

HOW to explain what appears to be a Clinton revival? Let's go back for a look at that big momentum the president enjoyed when he took over at the White House. We wrote then that President Clinton's "Big Mo" rested on a voter demand, shown in the discarding of George Bush, that something be done about the economy and other troubling domestic problems.

Well, in just the last week or so it became clear that Mr. Clinton, despite his many blunders, was getting something done. His economic plan (or some of it) moved through the Senate; his college aid program moved forward; and the Senate passed legislation revising congressional campaign finance laws. But while Clinton supporters were hailing all this as "victories," in all instances they clearly were accepting "something less" and calling it satisfactory.

Where were Clinton's investment spending and business tax incentives that were to regenerate the economy? Where was the prospect of an exchange of community service for college education? And where was the use of public financing to replace special-interest money? These Clinton proposals had been dropped or delayed.

Meanwhile, under David Gergen's guiding hand, Clinton sought to bury the hatchet with the press by entertaining editors at a dinner in the White House, schmoozing with reporters at a barbecue on the White House lawn, and holding two press conferences in two days.

Is there, indeed, a new wind blowing in favor of the president? His backers proclaim this is so, and it does seem clear that Clinton is being treated a little more favorably in the press. A New York Times editorial speaks of "Bill Clinton's Brightening Sky." But a Washington Post editorial puts the new wave of Comeback Kid stories in this realistic light: "You can almost count on the fact that the good news will eventually get played down again, and the problems, if left uncorrected, will loom even bigge r the next time around."

One writer, New York Times reporter Thomas L. Friedman, probably has found just the right imagery when he compares the Clinton administration with a boat headed out to sea, "dragging its anchor, with half the passengers seasick and several crew members having fallen overboard. There's constant trouble in the mate's mess, and the captain is navigating by the stars, having long ago lost his charts. But," Mr. Friedman concludes, "By gosh, it is forging along."

Yes, it does seem to be forging along. But many of us are still holding our breath. Will it make it?

Even while Clinton's standing has plummeted, he retains the basic element for getting something done: There continues to be wide public support for better living conditions, an improved economy, and cleaner politics. The voters rejected Bush because they felt he was resting on his oars. Clinton can still make use of the public's burning desire for a change for the better - a feeling which came through strongly in what voters told pollsters during the presidential-campaign period.

But Clinton has become an outstanding example of the old axiom: "What gets you elected may get you in trouble." That has to do with all those promises a candidate makes along the way that come home to haunt him. So, even as he is "forging" ahead Clinton is getting some new bad news: Big-city Democratic mayors are grumbling; Clinton isn't helping them the way he had promised. And while renewing his pledge to "end welfare as we know it," Clinton's aides are finding that this objective is eluding them.

Also, many liberals are becoming dissatisfied with the compromises Clinton sat back and let happen as the Senate finally put together its budget-tax bill. For example, Rep. Pat Schroeder (D) of Colorado says she opposes the gas tax, which looks like it may mean an increase of 6 cents a gallon or more.

The outcome of Clinton's basic economic legislation is not yet in sight. Will Congress finally accept it? And if so, in what form? It's far from being a "done deal." But things do seem brighter for Clinton. Certainly, the Clinton-ordered strike on Iraq has improved the public perception of his presidency.

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