Town Meetings Renew Focus On Economy

TELEVISED "town meetings" were popularized by Richard Nixon during his 1968 presidential campaign. The carefully orchestrated gatherings, in which candidate Nixon met with hand-picked citizens who would lob softball questions at him, helped him to win the White House that year.

Bill Clinton has eagerly embraced the town meeting, both during the campaign and during his presidency, but his gatherings haven't gone quite as smoothly as Mr. Nixon's. On May 17, for example, President Clinton attended a televised meeting in San Diego where most of the questioners were generally supportive, but some threw hardballs his way.

Lorne Fleming, a self-employed businessman, told the president a "malaise" was beginning to settle into the region and that Clinton's middle-class tax cut had vanished only to lead to "an unprecedented round of new taxes and new spending" that Californians could not afford.

Other questioners were laid-off defense workers and wanted to know how and when they could go back to work. One woman asked Clinton why her tax dollars were helping pay for health care for illegal immigrants.

But the president had no trouble answering even the tough questions, and his advisers were just happy to see that only one audience member brought up the crisis in Bosnia.

The White House aides seem to figure that a renewed focus on the economy - even with a tinge of criticism - would help the president sell his budget plan. Much ado about the do

Tout le monde, it seems, is buzzing about the top issue in Washington. No, not Bosnia. Hillary Rodham Clinton's new hairdo.

She returned to Washington from a weekend trip to New York with her formerly shoulder-length hair cut to just below her ears. The new style is layered on the sides, slightly tousled and swept away from her face.

"I know it's been on all of your minds," Mrs. Clinton told a commencement crowd of nearly 30,000 on May 17 at the University of Pennsylvania. "It is after all the No. 1 issue. I had a friend call me from Japan" after seeing her on TV, the first lady said dryly.

"I told him the truth, that when the president called for sacrifice and asked everybody at the White House to give him a 25 percent cut, I decided to go for a 50 percent cut and do my part."

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