Clinton's Common Touch

GOOD politics partly explains why Bill Clinton has invited 50 average Americans he met on his campaign journeys to Washington for the inauguration and a special "Faces of Hope" dinner. The invitations are a further extension of Mr. Clinton's common-man touch - his desire to mix with crowds and listen to people.

But is that common touch genuine, or just good political showmanship? Probably both. Clinton's folksiness isn't a put-on. It springs from his own relatively humble upbringing and from the Southern culture that nurtured him. That wellspring had to be deep, or he never could have sustained 12 months of shaking hands and chatting.

There's a calculated side to all this, too. Clinton knows the American public's yearning for a government that pays more attention to the problems faced by common people. And he knows that while government programs - the results of long wrestlings on Capitol Hill - may effectively address some urgent needs of a diverse electorate, many other needs won't be quickly met.

But a president determined to keep in touch with average voters - through skillful use of the media and through such symbolic gestures as the inaugural invitations - can hold off the cynicism that sets in as campaign promises of "change" give way to the realities of slow, tough policymaking.

Clinton could prove to be a master of this facet of his new office. And the inaugural summons to the main streets of America could be a brilliant beginning.

It is no longer practical to open the White House doors to a significant portion of hinterland residents, as Andrew Jackson did in his 1829 inaugural. But just knowing that Demetrios Theofanis, a New York city dishwasher; Kathy Gould, a police officer's widow from South Carolina; Charles Rachael, a youth-outreach worker in Los Angeles; and 47 other people from all walks of life are in Washington to usher in the new administration may be a pretty good substitute for many Americans.

Even the most creative common-man touches, however, can't substitute for effective policies - though they may buy a little extra time for shaping those policies.

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