Clinton's Task

BILL CLINTON set the right direction by emphasizing teamwork across party lines in his victory speech early Wednesday morning. Conciliatory remarks help reknit the country following a campaign. They have special poignancy in a year when "change" became the dominant rallying call.

The most notable feature of this election was the revitalization of the American electorate. People got interested and involved, after early assessments that many might shun the political process in disgust. Instead, over 100 million went to the polls, the highest turnout since the early 1960s.

These newly motivated voters helped Mr. Clinton, who won majorities support among women, the young, seniors, and blacks. But whatever their gender, age, or ethnicity, voters wanted, above all, to see government work for them, not idle in gridlock.

It was a big win for the Democrats, but hardly a landslide. Millions stayed with the known Republican philosophy of George Bush. Ross Perot's feisty, independent candidacy garnered nearly 20 percent of the vote. Exit polls indicated many voters opted for Clinton's message of "change," even while holding to the low-tax, low-spending theme that had buoyed GOP candidates since 1980.

The new president's first task, therefore, is to consolidate support. He must follow through on his promise to reach out to a variety of Americans in shaping his team. He needs working relationships with all parts of society, including those in the business and financial communities knocked off balance by his win.

Consensus-building will be crucial to the success of Clinton's domestic program - which will include, we trust, strong initiatives in some areas that barely figured in the campaign, such as recovery from economic and social devastation in the country's cities.

Large tasks await Clinton overseas as well, though these, too, were little discussed in the campaign: how to shore up Russia's wavering experiment with democracy; how to consummate Middle East peace, a process that demands activist diplomacy; how to strengthen the United Nations, which finds itself saddled with more peacemaking responsibilities than its resources can bear. Free trade, in this hemisphere and worldwide, will require firm presidential leadership.

In that arena, and others, Clinton will be following through on priorities set by President Bush. The outgoing president leaves behind a stronger record than the fall campaign - and a slack economy - gave him credit for. As the president-elect acknowledged, Mr. Bush deserves the nation's thanks.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.