Presidential Postures Running Parallel

The kicker ``Lyndon Baines Clinton?'' on the front-page article ``Democrats Reflect on Year Marked by Capitol Wins,'' Nov. 26, compares President Clinton to Lyndon Baines Johnson because of his ability to push legislation through Congress. But it suggests other comparisons between them.

Mr. Johnson inherited Vietnam; it became the obsession of his presidency. Mr. Clinton inherited the North American Free Trade Agreement from George Bush. After initial hesitation, Clinton made NAFTA his most passionate cause - overriding the Democrats' natural constituency among working people and grass-roots environmentalists. Vietnam divided the nation. We have yet to see NAFTA's political impact.

Johnson wanted to address domestic issues but was diverted to national security, where he felt less competent and took a tough line as the least politically risky. Clinton - who also wanted to focus on domestic reform - has struck a tough posture. This explains his June bombing of Iraq although the evidence of an attempt to assassinate former President Bush was flimsy.

Johnson preferred to tough out mistakes rather than correct them. Let us hope Clinton chooses otherwise. David Keppel, Essex, Conn.

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