Clinton's `Change' May Need Revising

PEOPLE keep asking me what that anger out there is all about. It's clearly about crime and welfare and taxes and illegal immigration and much more. But to find what underlies the widespread public ire that boiled up in the election, it is helpful to look to history and the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Roosevelt stirred up more anger and hatred than any other president of my memory. He was presiding over what has been described as a peaceful revolution in which he brought about tremendous social change. This was welcomed by a strong majority of Americans at a time when so many were suffering from the Great Depression. But the ``hate Roosevelt'' segment of the population was very large and its feeling intense.

The angry resistance President Clinton has stirred up is evidence that a president is inevitably going to meet with trouble if he seeks to bring about vast social change in a period when most Americans are contented with their lot.

The economy is going well. Employment is high. And then Mr. Clinton comes along with his universal health-care plan - a program of the size and impact of Roosevelt's Social Security - and much of the public says ``No,'' resoundingly, when it finds out that its cost will be high and will have to be borne by the taxpayers.

I was in late high school and college when Roosevelt was pushing through his New Deal. In my college economics courses the professors were telling us that a redistribution of wealth was sorely needed in this country, and that was what FDR was seeking to accomplish. He sought to take away from the relatively few ``haves'' and give to the ``have nots.''

Oh, yes, it is arguable that Clinton was elected because he was advocating ``change.'' But ``change'' means different things to different people. To many it meant a changed climate in America where crime and drugs would be tackled effectively. But those voters look around and can't see that things are any better today. They have little faith that Clinton's crime bill will do much to help them.

Clinton continues to argue that he wants to avoid the Republicans' ``trickle-down theory'' and that he can find the money for his programs by leaning hard on what he calls the ``wealthy.''

But the voters have come to see that when Clinton talks of the ``wealthy,'' he is targeting a huge number of middle-income Americans - from whom most of the yelps of pain and anger are coming.

Roosevelt met with big reverses. His attempt to pack the Supreme Court failed; some of his initiatives were ruled unconstitutional. And though he lifted the hope of many Americans, the depression hung on. But he pressed on, never giving up on his dream of a country where everyone could have a chance of a better life.

But what will Clinton do now, faced with a Congress that will be even less inclined to pass his social legislation? Will he, too, press on? He said he would at his post-election press conference. But the test of his resolve will come later when he faces the GOP-controlled Congress.

Some observers here who know the Arkansas scene say that Clinton set a pattern as governor there that he may well follow now.

When Clinton was defeated after one term in the early 1980s, he began to sound and act much more conservative. And his wife even became ``Hillary Clinton'' in response to many widespread objections to her hanging on to ``Hillary Rodham.'' He was elected for a record five two-year terms.

Will Clinton drop his health-care plan - which he had said was to be the centerpiece of his domestic program? Will Mrs. Clinton fade into the background? Will Clinton soft-pedal ``change'' and simply rest his hopes for reelection on an economy that keeps purring along?

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