A Reformed President?

Running, running, running for 23 years, Bill Clinton this week said no more campaigns, except possibly for a seat on the school board back in Arkansas. Does this mean the consummate politician with the aw-shucks grin will stop seeming to calculate the returns on everything from pensively bitten lip to welfare flip-flop?

We hope so, because the country needs precisely the leadership qualities that President Clinton apparently offers - economic prudence, social sensitivity, international resolve. And now he has no reelection excuse for failing to follow his best principles. Mr. Clinton can be a new kind of Comeback Kid, returning to the high standards of ethics and sincerity promised in '92.

Americans yearn to be able to accept their leaders at face value. If chameleon Clinton can now convince them that what you see is what you get, anybody can. And many others ought to, if trust is to flourish in the political landscape once more.

Even Bob Dole, who made trust a campaign issue, let down many who trusted his senatorial stands on social and economic issues more than stands he switched to on the stump.

Clinton was called dishonest by more than half the voters in an exit poll Tuesday. The overall vote suggested his perceived integrity in foreign and domestic policy was considered more important than his questioned integrity in the realms of White House operations, political spin, and personal conduct.

Clinton can still reflect and reinforce Americans who live their working lives in accordance with firm personal ethics. George Washington spoke for them on the nation's first Inauguration Day: "The foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality."

Perhaps before the 53rd Inauguration Day, Clinton will not only continue his genuine and admirable efforts toward humane and efficient government but also act to dispel the legal clouds shadowing these efforts. Two ways to start: Bolster rather than cast doubt on the work of independent counsel Kenneth Starr in his Whitewater and White House investigations. Obey rather than evade existing finance law while promising "campaign reform."

Many must join in honest efforts if trust is to flourish in the political landscape once more.

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