The New Meeting in Town

ONE hallmark of the 1992 presidential campaign was broader use of television; TV talk shows and televised "town meetings" became platforms from which candidates tried to reach wider, more diverse audiences.

President Clinton made effective use of these formats during the primaries and the general election race; he did so again Wednesday night as he prepared the ground for a deficit-reduction package that already is energizing opposition from various factions in Washington.

The program had talk-show trappings: studio set, live audience, theme music playing over audience applause going into and out of breaks. And the audiences were specially selected. But that didn't prevent the president from having to answer edged questions on subjects like middle-class taxes, Haiti, and gays in the military, some of which strayed from his intended focus on jobs, the deficit, and health-care reform.

They served as a reminder that it has been a rough few weeks for the administration.

The president has been criticized in some circles for extending his campaign beyond Nov. 3. But part of a leader's job when governing - especially when elevated to office by only a plurality of the popular vote - is to try to build support for his or her direction. Nor is using the electronic media to sidestep the Washington press corps anything new: How might Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats have been different in an age of TV satellite hookups?

It remains to be seen whether voters will sign off on Mr. Clinton's proposals once they are unveiled; he invited more than one doubting questioner to wait and see, then let their lawmakers know of their support or opposition.

But it is clear that Clinton's "campaign" is going to continue. And it should, if kept in proportion. It provides one more avenue for the president to communicate his program to voters and one more opportunity for voters to take the measure of their president.

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