WITH President Clinton approaching 18 months in office, it is time to ask a few questions about his performance:
Q: What kind of grades has he earned?
A: He deserves an A for his vigorous and sustained efforts to make some of the changes he promised on the domestic side. He gets a B for the results thus far. In foreign policy Mr. Clinton has shown little grasp; he gets, as he did at the end of one year in office, a shaky C. The on-again, off-again use of Jimmy Carter in North Korea and changes of policy in dealing with Haiti are the latest examples of a president with an uncertain hand at the helm.
Q: What is his chief political asset?
A: A purring economy, which he can argue has been buoyed by a Clinton budget that will bring about sharp reductions in the deficit.
Q: Is his personal style an asset?
A: He's very articulate. And he clearly shows that he has researched his subject and knows what he is talking about. Beyond that the president is personable and never pompous.
Yet evidence is growing that the public is tiring of seeing so much of the president as he sells this or that program or idea.
Asked about this at a recent Monitor breakfast, US Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, who served as Clinton's campaign manager in 1992, said: ``He's committed to doing certain things. He's not going to leave problems unaddressed. Does he pay a price for this? Probably. He's willing to use some of his political capital to get things done.''
Q: Generally speaking, is there public affection for this president?
A: There was; but it seems to be fading. Indeed, for the first time since he took office I am receiving reports from around the country of people intensely disliking him. Richard Wirthlin, a Republican pollster who has won respect for his objective political surveys and assessments, has new findings that show the public's lack of trust in Clinton has soared of late.
Q: Has the president shown any indication that he recognizes this growing lack of trust?
A: He has recently been lashing out at the media. He's charging that conservative Christian commentators and talk-show hosts, together with the press at large, are providing the American people with a warped picture of what he is doing.
Q: What about the press: Is it the villain the president would want us to believe it is?
A: Politicians like to jump on the press. They know that there are a lot of people who are ready to believe the worst about the media and will hail his remarks.
The press does distort and it does make mistakes. But, for the most part (with the exception of the conservative Christian commentators and some radio personalities) Clinton has been getting a good press.
The press is only the messenger conveying the president's message - what he is doing, what his programs are all about. Also, with Clinton's particularly high visibility, and that of Hillary Rodham Clinton, his message often goes directly to the TV viewer.