Now what's next, Mr. President?

While on vacation I kept being reminded of an interview I had with a candidate for governor of Ohio a number of years ago.

To many questions I asked about what he was going to do if elected, he unvaryingly answered, "Don't rock the boat."

That candidate was James Rhodes. For the life of me I can't recall whether Mr. Rhodes, when he became governor, did any major boat-rocking.

Anyway, I got the clear impression from the people I brushed shoulders with in Florida this month that the "don't-rock-the-boat" attitude was what was saving Bill Clinton's bacon.

What I heard was helpful in explaining - at least to me - a poll I saw, which showed that alongside the strong majority of Americans who wanted Mr. Clinton to stay in office almost as many respondents said they thought he was guilty of what he was charged with.

So the president slipped out of the noose that the Republicans had prepared for him.

It was another perils of Pauline escape for Clinton. He got his presidency back; but he didn't get his good name back - certainly not all of it. He'll have to wear that "I" of impeachment, which the House gave him, in the pages of history. And while he's still the president - and a popular one, too - there is still a question as to how much he can now govern. That is, can he get some important things done?

Here the eminent historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, throws light on this president's prospects. He has weighed in with this observation: "The failed impeachment of Andrew Johnson left a wounded, weakened presidency, one that lasted for many years, and I think the failed impeachment of Bill Clinton will do the same."

Mr. Schlesinger - who had an insider role in the Kennedy administration - says that Johnson's impeachment undercut the authority of the presidency for three decades, until Theodore Roosevelt was able, through boldness and innovation, to bring back public respect for the highest office in the land.

When he succeeded Richard Nixon, the honest, plain-spoken Gerald Ford brought a breath of fresh air to the White House as he proclaimed, "the end of our national nightmare."

But Watergate lingered on, throwing a shadow on Mr. Ford's presidency, particularly when he pardoned Nixon.

Jimmy Carter's "non-Washington" look brought him to the presidency. But this very decent man couldn't get things done - at least not enough to please the voters.

Was it voter distrust of the presidency, stemming from Watergate, that kept Mr. Carter's hard work and diligent effort from fully succeeding? I think so.

Then came Ronald Reagan. And Mr. Reagan, like Teddy Roosevelt, inspired the nation and restored authority to the presidency.

Clinton acts and talks as though he could still move mountains. And he's shown during all of his travail that he has boundless energy and an amazing ability to push aside his troubles and try to do his job.

But how does Clinton contend with the obvious residual of the trial - the widespread lack of trust in him that's everywhere? The polls show that most people (many are the same ones who "approve" of him) don't trust him.

Richard Lugar, the Republican who is so highly respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle for his integrity, expressed what even many Democratic senators were saying in off-the-record comments when he explained his vote for convicting Clinton: "He is not trustworthy."

After the president's first four years a group of historians, polled by Schlesinger, gave Clinton a "C" grade for his performance during his first term.

Clinton was aware of this rating and, we understand, was aiming to bring up that grade to an "A" by doing some great things in his second term.

But can a president who has been badly beaten up during this scandal and who must now deal with a Congress that doesn't trust him really improve on his record in the two years remaining?

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Now what's next, Mr. President?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today