IN the weeks leading up to President Clinton's State of the Union address, we heard the White House and party spin doctors say that this speech would ``reinvent'' or ``redefine'' his administration - that after two years and a midterm election, we would finally learn where and for what the president stood.
The idea that the White House can reinvent the presidency every three months is a bankrupt strategy. Bill Clinton has defined his presidency very thoroughly through his actions, not through his rhetoric.
During the first two years of his administration, he raised taxes to unprecedented levels. He expanded the growth and scope of government, and he proposed the government takeover of our health-care system.
Now, in just three minutes of his 81-minute State of the Union address - two paragraphs - Clinton set the tone and agenda for the next two years. His decision to oppose the Balanced Budget Amendment defines him completely.
Clinton did say he supported a ``balanced budget,'' but that is what we have heard for the last 30 to 35 years. We all support a balanced budget but never get to one; Clinton has yet to submit one.
Clinton went on to say in his speech, ``We didn't hear the American people singing, we heard Americans shouting, and now all of us, Republican and Democrats alike, must say, `We hear you.' '' Clinton didn't hear what the American people were shouting in the November elections. He still doesn't. Americans said, ``Mr. President, we have got to change the way you do things in Washington.'' Congress did hear, and it acted decisively with the House passing a Balanced Budget Amendment and the Senate poised to follow suit.
With Clinton's rejection of the Balanced Budget Amendment, he tells the American public that he refuses to embrace the message of the Nov. 8 elections. He is saying, ``We are going to keep Washington just as it has been for the past 30 years.''
The 1994 elections and the results it yielded are paralleled by very few in our nation's history. Only in these few elections do we witness the whole of the nation coming forward in such a massive voter shift. Much of the election was shaped by the debate to balance the budget in the 103rd Congress, a debate in which the president put his full weight behind killing a Balanced Budget Amendment.
The debate was intense and, in my judgment, would have been won if Clinton had supported this measure. As he voiced his opposition, however, one could hear the special interest groups that have become dependent on the federal government and its largess cranking into action.
Their weapon against the amendment was to frighten America about a fiscal discipline and a new set of rules. Opponents led by Clinton started picking out groups of Americans and saying, ``If we start setting priorities, you may be affected.'' This technique has blocked our ability to come to grips with setting priorities time and time again.
If this nation does not find a way to discipline its financial management, it will be unable to care for anyone.
Is it possible for a family, business, community, state, or nation to effectively provide for its needs and priorities if it is in a financially weakened or unhealthy state, if it is undisciplined in the process by which it governs itself, or if it has accrued debt to uncontrollable levels?
One need only look to Mexico to see what happens without sound financial management. By every report, the poor and the disadvantaged are going to suffer.
The 1994 elections gave the public an opportunity to say, ``We want the way things are done in Washington changed, and we're going to change the people who represent us there.'' The voters did so in overwhelming numbers.
The representatives sent to Washington supported the Balanced Budget Amendment. Many representatives who opposed it were not returned.
The American people realize we must change the way we deal with the governance of this country. They believe that the government has become too big, exacting too much of the fruits of their labor. They work from January to June, some until August, before they are able to keep the first dime for their own dreams. They see a government that has become intrusive.
The Balanced Budget Amendment is both symbol and substance. It symbolizes that we are going to change and reorder the way we manage our financial health. It says loudly and clearly that finally we are going to come to grips with the setting of priorities and force ourselves to pick what we can and cannot do.
The Balanced Budget Amendment is a fundamental core process that forces our nation to set priorities and assures us that we will always maintain financial integrity. This amendment is critical to our ability to take care of our responsibilities for ourselves and our responsibilities as leader of the free world. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.