Clinton Critics Should Give the President More Time

WE all knew Ronald Reagan; and, certainly, Bill Clinton is no Ronald Reagan. Mr. Reagan is that amiable actor-president who told good stories but had only a vague idea of what was going on.

That's the way a lot of Clinton supporters portray a man who, as they see it, bamboozled the voters into keeping him in office for two terms.

This is not to be a paean of praise for Reagan, whose detachment from details did get him into trouble in the Iran-contra dust-up and whose privatization of humanitarianism never reached out far enough to the needy.

But Reagan came into the presidency with two clear objectives: to stimulate the economy through tax cuts, and to make sure the United States held the military edge over the Soviets. With single-mindedness he got the job done.

With persistence and sweet persuasion he talked Congress into going along with him. He got his program through, expeditiously, although he had never promised what Mr. Clinton pledged to the voters: That he would give them "an explosive, 100-day action period" that would be "the most productive period in modern history."

To achieve this goal Clinton aides let it be known that he would use Reagan as his model in his early dealings with Congress.

Well, Clinton is, indeed, stirring things up. There's a health-care program that is supposed to include everyone; there's an aid program for Russia; there's campaign-spending reform; there's a national service program; there's protection for the environment, and on and on - all on Clinton's agenda. And no one can say that he (and the first lady) aren't giving their all to see that they get all of this done.

Yet at the 100-day mark Clinton had set for himself he clearly hadn't delivered.

I don't think the 100-day test should apply. Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to work marvels during that period of time. But the climate was right for marvels; the American people, suffering from the Great Depression, were crying out for help. There's been no period as severe as that since Roosevelt.

Clinton's 100-day pledge may have been what is sometimes called "campaign rhetoric," to be excused by some observers because of being uttered during the heat of political combat when such excesses do sometimes occur. But this is the same president who hardly missed a day without lambasting President Bush for breaking his "read-my-lips" pledge not to raise taxes.

Clinton used an interesting word in explaining how he had "misgauged" the climate in the Senate that ended up in the rejection of his $16 billion economy-stimulus package. What he also may have "mis-gauged" is the mood of the American people, who are showing that they may want change - but that they want change without pain or, at least, not too much pain.

But 100 days in office is too early to make a firm judgment on a president. Even a record low in public approval at this juncture should not cause anyone to give up on Clinton. He has enormous resources of energy, and he's literally working night and day. He is the most personable president of my memory since John Kennedy - except for Reagan. And in some ways he is a more likable fellow than Reagan. To many people, Clinton seems more genuine, more authentically sincere.

But Clinton must learn that he simply can't do everything - certainly not everything at once. Funny thing, as I write this I am reminded that I was writing this same thing during Jimmy Carter's stay in the White House. Mr. Carter, too, had far too much on his plate.

So my advice to the president is this: Do take your cue from Ronald Reagan and simplify your objectives. Your political aide put it just right when he had that sign raised in the crowd when you were speaking: "It's the economy, stupid."

Just keep your eye on the economy, Mr. President. Don't be diverted - except when an emergency, like Bosnia or Waco, does require your attention.

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