It's not often the US experiences the final year of a lame-duck president in a second term. The list includes 12 out of 41 presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Grant, Roosevelt (Theodore), Wilson, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, and now Clinton.
In his home stretch, Bill Clinton is trying to balance political weakness with his old strengths: the boldness of new ideas, spoken well.
Next week, he gives his last State of the Union address - his sixth before a Republican-run Congress. That GOP opposition and his own failings have left him with a very mixed record.
Still, he told the Monitor (story, Page 1) that his speech will include "the most ambitious set of proposals since my first year." One of those is to eliminate the national debt in 15 years. If it happens, that would be a legacy the GOP can't deny him.
Another legacy may be his attempt at a fresh dialogue on race. Trying to end "racial profiling" by federal agents is his latest action on this national problem. Such projects fit his strategy of using small steps over time to bring about "big change." Indeed, another "small step" is warning Congress not to give citizenship to Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez. That shows Clinton's capacity to identify with real family needs despite the pressure of politics.
After his personal drama and impeachment over the Lewinsky affair, will we see a new Clinton this year?
To some degree that depends on his attempt to "gain some spiritual anchor that will enable me to give up resentments and disappointments and anger - and to understand that in seeking forgiveness, I had to learn to forgive."
The wisdom learned from "letting go" of many things, as he calls it, may have come late to this president. But it's never too late for a lame-duck president to walk straight, smooth his feathers, and fly away with honor.
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