Presidential Lessons Learned From the Past

The column ``Wilson's Lessons for Clinton,'' May 19, was right on the mark. Both Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton assumed office as liberal democrats whose party had not occupied the White House for many years. Both were elected in three-way races with less than a popular majority.

In 1913 as in 1993, the new president recognized that there would be a need to restructure his party and redirect its goals. Each saw his election as a mandate for change. In his first inaugural address President Wilson said, ``No one can mistake the purpose for which the nation now seeks to use the Democratic Party. It seeks to use it to interpret a change in its plans and point of view.''

Like Clinton, Wilson made several important commitments during the election campaign. While Clinton's were debt reduction, health-care reform, and job creation, Wilson's were tariff reduction, banking and currency reform, and a more effective regulation of business monopolies. All were intended to improve the lot of the middle class.

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When it comes time for Clinton to champion health-care reform, it might be instructive for him to review some of Wilson's early battles. While most would concede that Clinton like Wilson is dedicated to improving the nation's welfare, it is not clear that when the going gets rough he will be willing to battle for his program against the lobbies that will be in opposition.

Wilson never relented until he achieved all three of his goals. Compromise was not in his nature. He undoubtedly paid for this in his second term when he attempted to have the United States enter the League of Nations.

The present-day world turmoil seems tame compared with the struggle that had broken out in Europe in 1914, but Wilson was not deterred from his domestic agenda while he maintained a consistent policy of neutrality in the European war.

Clinton's main problem in Bosnia is his seeming inconsistency. It is too soon to pass judgment on a new administration. Most Americans wish him well, but time is running out and it must be demonstrated that important political lessons are now being learned. Andrew E. Gibson, Short Hills, N.J. Asst. Sec. of Commerce, 1969-72

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