Clinton's Impressive Comeback


The real story of the Democratic convention was not its unity - although that was of immense importance - but, instead, how far Bill Clinton had come in winning back public favor.

A year ago at a Monitor lunch in the White House the president was trying to explain some comments he had made about the funk he was in and the funk the country was in.

Mr. Clinton was way down in the polls. Some respected observers of the national scene were calling him a failed president.

From that day on the president has been able to carve out a spectacular comeback. How did he do it?

He told our group last September that he was going to view his presidency as a "bully pulpit," using his office as a stage for showcasing his programs and his beliefs. He has done just that - assiduously.

But first he had to take the stage away from Newt Gingrich, who was pushing the Republican agenda with such force and persistence that he was beginning to look more presidential than the president.

The fight over the budget gave Clinton the opportunity he needed to regain public perception that he, not Newt, was running the government. He faced Gingrich down during the government-shutdown crisis.

Further, out of this confrontation Clinton was able to persuade most Americans that he was, indeed, at the nation's tiller and championing their best interests.

And he has used the bully pulpit effectively. Watch him on television - day after day, week after week.

Recently he's been signing bill after bill on TV, giving the impression that he is the one to get credit for all of them no matter how much a GOP Congress had done to shape the legislation. He visits disasters. He honors athletes. He takes a campaign train bringing him into the convention. He's everywhere, even grabbing some TV attention during the Republican convention.

But let's not fail to underscore a unity and peaceful climate at the Democratic convention that gives Clinton such a big boost as he enters the fall campaign.

It's such a contrast - as many observers have already written - to the 1968 convention where the ugly confrontation between Vietnam war protesters and the Chicago police provided Hubert Humphrey with the likelihood that he would lose in November. With such an angrily divided party, how in the world could he possibly win?

I was at that convention, covering the events for the Monitor. In fact, I've been attending national conventions in that capacity since 1956. That comes to 22.

But the 1968 convention stands out most in my memory. It was something like a revolution taking place right around us on the streets of Chicago. Even some of us reporters were shoved by police as we made our way to the convention hall. Then the TV at the hall was focused on the battle on the outside as much as it was on activity within the convention.

So it is that a president who came into the convention with a spring in his step is able to move now into the final stages of his battle for reelection with even greater confidence that he will prevail.

But James Carville, Democratic political consultant, expressed what reporters at a Monitor breakfast in Chicago took as reflecting Clinton's outlook. "Is there going to be a free ride now? No. I'm careful. Optimism doesn't fit in. This is politics. Things happen. I'm not cocky."

Clinton will be out there every day using his special advantage, the bully pulpit, doing his utmost to see to it that Bob Dole isn't able to catch him.

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