Clinton's New Activism

IN Baltimore on Aug. 8, President Clinton unveiled requirements for federal contractors to disclose their chemical emissions. In Charlotte, N. C., on Aug. 9, he signaled action to curb teenage smoking. On Aug. 10, he announced that action in the form of proposed FDA regulations on marketing cigarettes to minors. On Aug. 11, he proposed a ban on all nuclear testing. The president also vetoed the congressional resolution to lift the Bosnian arms embargo and sent National Security Adviser Anthony Lake to West Europe and Russia with a new "made in the USA" peace initiative.

Few details have been released of the peace plan, but it appears to rest on what is seen as the "new reality" created by the Croatian takeover of the Krajina Serbian pocket - a takeover for which the Clinton administration flashed an amber, if not a green, light in advance. The new reality is that the last hope for maintaining the semblance of multi- ethnic states in the former Yugoslavia has faded.

The premise of the American plan is a new version of the international map for the partition of Bosnia, now with greater emphasis on creating contiguous ethnic units. The Bosnian government would be asked to give up the enclave of Gorazde, defensible only with NATO air power, in return for a tract of land near Sarajevo that would make the Bosnian capital more viable.

So far, the Bosnian government has refused. Whether the American plan works or not, it is part of a blizzard of administration initiatives in both foreign and domestic affairs.

With Congress in recess, leaving behind a stack of unfinished business starting with welfare reform, it is noteworthy how the president has been finding ways to move into the vacuum. In recent weeks, he has, by executive action, eliminated restrictions on security clearance for homosexuals. He has placed restrictions on executive branch employees dealing with lobbyists. He has redefined the rules on affirmative action and on school prayer in light of Supreme Court decrees.

And, with Congress faltering on the issue of welfare reform, he went before the nation's governors in Vermont to tell them that much of what they wanted in the way of empowerment, he could give them by speeding up waivers authorizing states to experiment with new welfare systems.

This new presidential activism is clearly the result of a strategic decision. Being viewed as the "tough veto president" may not work for Mr. Clinton as well as it did for Truman, the last Democratic president to face a Republican Congress.

Voters, fed up with bickering and gridlock, seem not in a mood to reward purely negative action. Issuing orders and regulations, White House advisers hope the president will give the impression of not just standing there, but doing something.

THIS isn't to say that we're witnessing the "Incredible Growing Presidency," the headline on last week's cover of The New Republic.

A long article by Michael Lind argues that the United States is evolving from a congressional republic into a full-fledged presidential state. That notion would probably make Clinton smile ruefully as he battles with Congress and heads toward a massive collision over spending priorities in the fall.

But, short of a presidential state, Clinton seems intent on presenting himself as a president who makes things happen - the kind of president the Ross Perot legions say they want.

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