Damage Control Is on the White House `Agenda'
THE president has returned from Omaha Beach to find he is under fire at home. Actually, the cannon sending shells into the White House is only a book - but what a book! It's by investigative reporter Bob Woodward who, along with Carl Bernstein, did so much to bring down President Nixon. Whatever Mr. Woodward writes is bound to get any president's attention.
The book, ``The Agenda,'' written after Woodward had been given free access to top people within the Clinton administration, depicts a White House in chaos and a president who is indecisive and reluctant to delegate.
The president and his people have had difficulty dealing with Woodward and his devastating book. They know they can't try to discredit him. So two leading Democrats - national party chief David Wilhelm and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri - dropped by to tell reporters at separate Monitor meals last week that how President Clinton deliberated over his initiatives and decisions wasn't that important. The important thing, they said, is that he's been an achieving president.
Mr. Wilhelm compared Mr. Clinton's legislation and decisionmaking to sausagemaking - ``ugly'' to look at. But, he said, the product really counted and Clinton's product was impressive.
Robert Strauss, President Bush's ambassador to the Soviet Union but always strongly tied to the Democratic Party, said, ``Woodward describes a White House in chaos, but in every White House I've seen - and I've seen a lot of them - there's chaos in their decisionmaking process.... There has to be a continuing argument between the political and substantive sides; that tension must be there. That's the way a White House functions properly. But it is described as just the other way'' by Woodward.
Asked about Woodward's reporting, Mr. Strauss said: ``There is no question but what Bob Woodward is one of the most successful investigative reporters this town has seen. But I think that the book is an exceedingly inaccurate reflection of this White House. I think his reporting in terms of words and content is factual but putting them in the context in which he put them was an unfair reflection of this White House.'' Strauss believes the Clinton people made a mistake in giving Woodward the access they did.
I am troubled by the way Woodward sources his quotations. But I, too, honor Woodward's integrity and accuracy. What really bothers me greatly about the Clinton that emerges in Woodward's book is the president's uncontrollable temper. Just one example: ``Clinton was on Air Force One heading for Chicago, thumbing through his briefing book and schedule for the one-day trip to help sell the economic plan. That book said that Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago had wanted to meet with Clinton, but the president's busy schedule had not permitted it.''
According to Woodward's account, Clinton exploded with obscenities: ``Clinton raged on, noting the obvious: Mayor Daley was only the most important politician in Chicago, Chicago was only the most important city in Illinois, and Illinois was only one of the most important states for 1996. In the confined spaces of the plane, Clinton stormed on and on. It was truly awful, on the end of controlled violence. `Why are we not organized to do this?' Clinton screamed.''
David Gergen, according to the book, was ``stunned'' at this outburst and said he had never seen anything like it before in his life. Mr. Gergen has confirmed publicly that this incident occurred but says the president has curbed his ``temper eruptions.'' I hope so. We don't need a president making some crucial global decisions while having a fit of temper.