Clinton's comeback trail

I found it hard to believe what the president's recent pollster and Hillary Clinton's current pollster - Mark Penn - was telling us at a Monitor breakfast the other day. To the question, "Will the president be campaigning for the vice president and first lady?" Mr. Penn had answered, "yes." And when asked, "How much?" he said, "some."

Here I asked, "Well, whatever happened to 'Clinton fatigue,' which was supposed to make the president a political liability in this campaign?" And Penn, with a shrug of his shoulders, said that "Clinton fatigue" had disappeared.

I know that the president has been itching to get back on the stump to help his vice president and his wife and, not too incidentally, himself. But, until rather recently, the White House strategists were accepting this judgment from pundits and pollsters: That the farther away Democratic candidates could pull from the president, the better their chances of being elected.

So it was that Al Gore began his campaign with strong criticism of the president's scandalous conduct. Obviously he was trying very hard to disassociate himself from his own enthusiastic words when, only a few hours after impeachment, he'd said that Mr. Clinton was "one of our greatest presidents."

Indeed, Mr. Gore pulled away so much from the president that Clinton became miffed - or appeared to be miffed. Or was it a Clinton-staged reaction to give the appearance of credibility to Gore's claim of a difference between the two of them?

Mrs. Clinton, too, made it clear from the start that it was her campaign for the Senate and she was doing it on her own, keeping her husband in the background on the few occasions he joined her in New York.

But then, in just the last weeks, something occurred. Obviously, Gore has been told it's not political poison to be close to the president. Since the evening he sat behind the president at the State of the Union speech, he has been proudly citing his accomplishments as a part of the Clinton-Gore administration.

And when Mrs. Clinton formally announced for the Senate, there was the president - still in the background but very much a part of the show. And now, well, Penn says Mr. Clinton will be campaigning "some" for his wife.

What's happened? Have we seen another episode of Bill Clinton as the "Comeback Kid?" Has he been able to rehabilitate a presidency that once seemed destined to be permanently disabled by scandal and impeachment?

Well, "rehabilitation" may be too strong a word. But one cannot fail to see that this president has been working tirelessly to rescue his presidency and to erase his negative image.

In foreign affairs, there's been Kosovo, Ireland, the Mideast, and trips abroad (another coming up). Domestically, there's been Clinton's proposals (almost every day) of programs or steps he's taking to try to deal with one problem or another.

Indeed, I have noted that not a day goes by that the president isn't on TV with a speech, some new legislative initiative, an expression of regret, a visit to an area suffering an emergency, something.

Anyone has to conclude that this is a very busy president who simply won't let the scandals destroy his presidency.

Of course, Clinton's critics will say that this show of tremendous, never-ending activity is the way Clinton is changing the subject or trying to change the subject. It could be both: That Clinton is trying to be a good president and also trying to make people forget his disgraceful conduct.

But whether it is a president who is changing his image with substantial acts or with political smoke and mirrors - or with a combination of all that - I think that we have to conclude: This president has somehow escaped a hole which it had seemed he'd never be able to dig out of.

And, furthermore, he has proved he could remain effective - although much less effective than he would have been had there been no scandal and impeachment.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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