The President's 'Bully Pulpit'

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IF indeed President Clinton has brought about a more-favorable public perception of his performance, Sept. 25 may be later cited as the moment when he began to turn things around.

The occasion was the Monitor luncheon at the White House, where the president admitted to having been through ''30 stormy months'' and then went on to say how things from now on would be different.

He said he would put an end to his presidency being ''defined'' by the Republicans in Congress. Instead, he said he would seize the initiative by using the ''power of the presidency,'' which he said he had been neglecting, to define his own presidency. He said he would do it the way Teddy Roosevelt had displayed his influence when he was in the White House - by using the chief executive's position as a ''bully pulpit.''

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The president went on to say he would define his presidency by ''using the president's power to do things.'' Well, in the three months since he uttered these words, Mr. Clinton has done some things. He's championed the little fellow in the budget debate and thus raised public approval for his administration to new heights. And his resolute decision to send US troops into Bosnia - despite public opinion and much of Congress being opposed - has not eroded his overall public standing. Instead, a lot of people, even those who think he's wrong on Bosnia, seem to like a president who says this troop deployment is the humane thing to do and insists he's dead set on doing it.

Some of the news reporters at that luncheon gathering said afterward they thought Clinton's strategy for recapturing the initiative from the Republicans was no more than an empty hope, uttered out of frustration. Indeed, the facts indicated that they were right: Newt Gingrich and company were in control of Washington. They seemed to have the president on the run. Clinton seemed destined to play second saxophone to Newt's solo trumpet for the next two years. But now the president is blaring out.

And Newt? He says he's going to put his instrument in its case for awhile. He acknowledges that the Washington stage pretty much belongs to the president now and he admits, wryly, that he has put his foot in his mouth too many times of late.

IN trying to explain to us why he had encountered such rough seas since he took over the presidency, Clinton said: ''I think I underestimated the importance of the president, even though I had read all the books and seen it all and experienced all that went on in my lifetime.'' Here, again, Clinton was emphasizing how he had failed to employ the power of the president to keep the spotlight on himself and on what he was doing.

So the president told us what he was going to do - and then went on to do it, turning what was beginning to look like a failed presidency into one that might make it to another four years.

Since the Republicans seized control of Congress in the fall of 1994, Clinton had pretty much taken to his tent. Had he given up? Was he sulking? People were asking questions like that. But not now.

Clinton is up there in the polls about where George Bush was after being in office this long. That comparison should prompt some sober thought in the Clinton camp, however. After 33 months in office, the Bush people and pollsters were predicting ''four more years.''

Clinton has again shown his resiliency. He's once again the ''comeback kid.'' But his future is not at all clear.

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