Tallying Clinton's post-impeachment score

A president famed for making comebacks, for pulling victory out of the jaws of a crushing setback, has been making a valiant effort to recover from his impeachment.

But there's no better evidence than his crushing setback on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to show us that this time President Clinton will not be the Comeback Kid.

Call this treaty defeat "narrow partisan politics," as Democratic leaders have branded it. Call it a terrible blunder, one that will make a nuclear war much more likely, as some critics are saying.

But whether the treaty is hailed or denounced (Republicans claimed it lacked the necessary verification safeguard), its defeat had one implication for the president: It revealed his post-impeachment weakness.

It seems clear that a pre-scandal Mr. Clinton would have been much better positioned to get the bipartisan Senate vote needed for ratification. Presidents usually get that across-the-aisle support for treaties.

Indeed, this is the first defeat of a major treaty since the Versailles Treaty was defeated in 1919.

The president has shown a lot of pluck and an immense amount of energy in his comeback effort. But with the test ban treaty defeat he loses on a pact-approval effort that he had hoped would be the crowning achievement of his administration.

At his press conference, Clinton vowed to fight back on this treaty. But how? At a Monitor breakfast, GOP Sen. Richard Lugar said the president was once again making the mistake of reverting to his "campaign mode."

Now let's take a look at some other post-scandal Clinton involvements.

Kosovo: It's arguable that the Clinton-approved bombing turned the tide in that war, allowing ethnic-Albanian refugees to return home. But Clinton had announced that a major goal of the US involvement there was the ouster of Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, who is still there. So the blurred outcome in Kosovo hasn't helped Clinton much.

Northern Ireland: Clinton's help in moving the sides together has been widely acclaimed. Yet in recent months there has been a slowdown in that peace process.

The Mideast: In the early days of the Clinton administration, the president scored well as a peacemaker. But for some time now he has appeared to be pretty much on the sidelines.

China: Clinton continues to keep up US ties with mainland China, particularly trade relations. At the same time he continues to evoke criticism from those who feel he is ignoring human-rights violations by Chinese leaders.

Russia: Clinton works hard at keeping close ties with President Boris Yeltsin. But since the Yeltsin government is viewed by many observers as being corrupt, Clinton is getting only mixed reviews on this relationship.

The domestic front: A highly partisan, Republican-controlled Congress is making it difficult for Clinton initiatives to move forward. At best he probably must settle for compromises.

It is true that Clinton has been quick to rush to the scenes of several disasters to express his sympathy and pledge government aid. He is truly very good at reaching out to people in distress and showing that he cares deeply about their plight. But this may not count very much among those who will later assess his presidency.

Perhaps the best measurement of the post-scandal Clinton is public opinion.

In recent months several pollsters have told reporters at Monitor breakfasts that Clinton's personal approval ratings have been going down and down since impeachment.

Indeed, it's clear that upwards of two-thirds of America's voters now take a negative view of Clinton's personal behavior.

Some observers have called this voter attitude toward the president, "Clinton fatigue." They see this fatigue rubbing off on Vice President Al Gore - and greatly troubling Gore's quest for the presidential nomination.

The public is tired of this president.

It is ready for him to get off the stage. History may say that he should have stepped aside when faced with impeachment and let his vice president take over.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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